How hard is it to "update" stairs?

numbersjunkieFebruary 1, 2013

I have traditional oak stairs, with the scrolls on the side and what looks like fir skirt boards on the sides. I have always hated them - too traditional for our contemporary style home. The builder did use square posts and balusters in an effort to make it look more contemporary but it just doesn't do the trick.

I want to modify the stairs to change the look. Thinking about removing the scrolls on the skirt and maybe painting the risers and skirting. All our woodwork is stained now so adding painted trim is scary to me.

The other thing I would love to do is remove the rounded edges on the outside edge of the stair treads and make them square. The rounded edge is a trim piece, mitered to match the rounded edge on the front of the step.

Had anyone attempted something like this? Will I ruin my stairs if I attempt these modifications?

I should mention that we are having new floors installed in one room and were planning to have the steps refinished anyway.

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Removing the scrolls should be easy.

Removing the rounded side of the stair will shorten the overhang of the tread and that may look out of proportion. You will also have to cut off the mitered angle at the front.

I would start step-wise, no pun intended, and remove the scrolls first, then reevaluate.

    Bookmark   February 1, 2013 at 2:19PM
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Difficult to see the stair from here.

    Bookmark   February 1, 2013 at 2:49PM
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Thanks palimpsest. Yes, that was my plan to pull off a scroll on one of the top steps and then think about where to go from there. If I pull of the rounded piece on the outside edge, I could always replace it with a straight piece and I think that would make it more contemporary looking.

I'm also wondering what to do with the skirting on the outside edge (under the scrolls) and also on the inside (against the wall). Its fir (or pine?), not oak like the stairs and I think it looks bad. Wondering if it would look funny is it was painted, given that all of the other woodwork in the house is stained.

    Bookmark   February 1, 2013 at 2:56PM
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Be aware that if you pull off the scroll pieces they're likely trimming over a joint that you don't want exposed. So you may need to replace them with something, albeit in a different style. It also looks like the scroll pieces go underneath the cove molding that's under the treads. That will make for more difficult removal, and it may take the cove molding off with it.

Painted risers/trim with stained treads is a perfectly acceptable modern look. Here's what we did with ours:

Squaring off the treads would be tough to do in place. You could remove them and square them pretty easily with a router, but the remove/reinstall would be a pain. I think the curved edges look perfectly fine.

Consider replacing the square balusters with wrought iron ones. As long as the existing balusters are no more than 4" OC, you could use the existing holes and just swap them out.

    Bookmark   February 2, 2013 at 4:54PM
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