Handyman, My life

Because I can: Dressing up the staircase

I’ve been in the process of remodeling our house ever since we moved here at the end of 2012. I’ve painted all the interior walls, tiled half of the downstairs and put laminate flooring in the other half, replaced all the upstairs flooring with laminate, tiled the kitchen backsplash, rebuilt the laundry room shelves, painted the kitchen cabinets… The one remaining eyesore was the carpeted staircase.

As soon as Alicia left for Colombia in May, I tore out the staircase carpeting, patched the wall around it as needed, and painted the walls. I hung plastic at the top and bottom to minimize the dust in the house. You can see the carpet tack strips in this picture, after I pulled them up. Nasty things…


Then I put down laminate flooring on the treads. Across the front edge of each tread goes a piece of bullnose, designed to overlap the laminate. The instructions say to use construction adhesive. I used finish nails as well to make sure the wood stayed down and in place as the glue set up. I also added a trim piece across the front of each tread because the bullnose isn’t wide enough to cover it, and the raw wood was ragged and ugly.


I soon found that the overlap only worked on the edge of the laminate that has a trough to interlock with the next piece. This was a problem at the top, where the bullnose had to meet the hallway flooring, because the flooring didn’t have that edge on the side I needed to use. So I routed a shallow trough along the edge to accommodate the overlap. You can see it at the bottom of the picture. I stained the new cut to make it less obvious.

At the bottom of the staircase are these decorative half-circles on each side. They looked like cakes when I tore off the carpet and they only had the padding. (This picture was taken a coupleΒ  of years ago when I was doing the downstairs floors.)


The wide bottom step was an interesting challenge, since I couldn’t wrap the bullnose around the half-circles.


I finally settled on this solution for the laminate: a return on each side to create a frame. It had its technical challenges.


I used the router to create a lip on one edge to accommodate the bullnose overlap. You can see it in this picture. I added a little stain so that the fresh cut wouldn’t be visible.


And the bullnose overhang had to be routed off the bottom of the returns.


The really elegant part of the staircase project is the tile. I tiled the risers to cover the ugly old wood. Since the tiles weren’t quite tall enough, I cut strips from a large tile of similar color to fill the gap. Under the bullnose (above the tiles) you can see a strip of dark wood. That’s actually a trim piece I added, because the raw wood was ragged and ugly.


The bottom step looked really cool wrapped with tile.


I capped the two half-circles with semicircles cut from a large piece of polished travertine, very similar to the tiles. I drew the half-circles with a pizza pan and then used the tile saw to cut or grind away whatever didn’t look semicircular. I had to repeat the process a couple of times until everything lined up.



The staircase looked pretty impressive once the tiling was done, even before I had cleaned up!


The bottom step is the most elegant part. This picture is before the tiles were grouted.


I ought to become a stairway tiling specialist. I haven’t seen anyone else do this kind of thing. I first got the idea watching an old movie on Turner Classics in which a mansion staircase had tiled risers. I applied the idea to my house in Dallas first, with a very different design. I used 2×12 pine for treads and tumblestone for the risers. This picture was taken while I was working on it.


11 thoughts on “Because I can: Dressing up the staircase

    • I don’t much like painting. I do it when I have to, but when I had my handyman business, I never took painting contracts, I only painted what I had repaired. Tiling is actually not very difficult. It intimidates people, but once they get into it, they realize it’s not that challenging.

  1. Really beautiful job, Tim. Hope all is well with you guys! I heard a report of a 9′ alligator in a nearby lake… you’d think we were in FL instead of TX….!!! It’s all this rain, I’m sure. πŸ™‚

  2. Like all of your projects, it looks great. I read about some sheets of tiles that are self-stick. It would be great to avoid working with that noxious mastic and its ilk!

    • I’ve read about self-stick tiles but haven’t seen them in stores. Mastic is a pain, especially with thin tiles. I used thin glass tile on our vanity and the glue came up between them everywhere, a mess to clean up.

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