Painting A Stairwell: Phase 1 Failure Exposed

June 30, 2011   //  Posted in: DIY, Flooring, Stairwell   //  By: Emily   //  4 responses

I’m not done with the stair painting project. Getting there, though. There was a little snafu along the way; I had a change of heart. There were grand plans laid to start and finish the whole shebang in a single weekend – and I did get somewhere that first weekend, but it was kind of a bust and before I show you the real end result (which should be done by tomorrow and will be posted on Monday) I wanted to give you a little tutorial on my first attempt.

I really liked the concept of having a gradient of color going up (or down) the front of each stair; the samples I developed validated the idea, and I was really digging the top 4 steps of this next painted-on photo, featuring a gradient of gray and gold (the same gray that my sunroom floor is painted, and the same Behr Venetian Gold that’s so prominent throughout the entire house).

Color scaling on the sample photo.As I went forward with that plan, I drew out a more complex sketch of the stair scenario. You might have seen this a few weeks ago if you follow me on facebook (which you totally should, BTW, cough cough). I’m no artist when it comes to playing with a pencil, or in this case, a handsome thin-lined blue sharpie, but this was enough of a visual to help me see how many stairs I was working with and plan the ascent from the first story to the second. Turn your head to the left.

Stairwell gradient planning.

Knowing the number of stairs I had to paint (14 total), I started working on calculating out a gradual transition using the palette I selected: the gold, the gray, and plain white paint to lighten when necessary. Impressed with my precision? The whole 80/20 and 15/80/5 mixes? I was. I was damn proud. The little chemist in me was very pleased.

The whole while I planned, I thought I could visualize pretty easily how the color would vary and extend around the turn in the staircase. Somewhere along the planning process I switched the labels for light and dark gray in the right hand side of the page; it definitely would make for a more gradual and seamless transition from gray to gold.

Precise planning for gradient paint in a stairwell.

When it came to measuring paint for those ever-so-anally precise calculations, I pulled a KitchenAid glass that’s used to measure coffee grounds, not liquids, but it was detailed enough that I felt I could manage to accurately mix the onslaught of shades I had promised myself to.

Coffee ground measuring cup turned paint mixing glass.Not surprisingly, the accurate measurements helped greatly… for the first stair I had to mix for.

I’ll tell you straight up, the problem I had with Phase 1 is that I tried to do one color at a time, either mixing a hint of new color into the remaining formula, or else rinsing the glass out and starting fresh with a new shade. Maybe I was anxious to finish the project in one day, maybe I was lazy, but as I got into it, it showed. The accurate calculations I had planned for went out the window.

I would have been better off finding 14 cups and mixing 14 shades at the same time.

I started with the grays; the bottom step was easy – it was the same dark gray that was straight out of the can. The second step up had a hint of white in it to lighten it up, and same goes for the third and fourth steps. I was still happy at this point, but remember what I was saying about the whole mixing the colors in the single container thing: I would never be able to duplicate the formulas exactly as I had the first mix. It was a total OOPS-PAINT-blame-the-Lowe’s-paint-mixer-for-being-a-single-shade-off scenario live from my house.

Is the gray gradient even that apparent in this photo?

A gray gradient; not so bad.

I left the 5th step plain white and moved onto the top stairs leading to the landing. I mixed the grays with the gold in the same fashion. The whole idea was to make the transition around the corner into darker, richer golds leading up to the second story.

Transitioning from white to gray/gold going upwards.

I have such great ideas. And I was so excited to follow through on this vision. Until I got cookin’.

It was right around the 11th step up that I realized this wasn’t going to play out as I had precisely planned. Of course, by this time I was doing a lame-o job at washing out the glass and remeasuring accurately, and there was no precision to my art.

I was just adding color until it “seemed” different, although once dry, there was barely a change in the shade (that gold has some powerfully strong DNA). You must think I’m a lazy lame girl now, right? I’m cringing, it really was a poor effort. (Note: The top most step is painted the dark gold straight from the can)

Turning up the stairwell; hardly a change in color.And stepping back, I was unimpressed overall. I didn’t even get around to painting the edges accurately, and there was no way to match those colors now. I was sloppy.

Although, I will say that Pete really liked it and encouraged me to follow through on my original vision, but again, there was no way I could self-mix the colors that I needed to in order to match what I had already done. By the time the paint had totally dry, it was painfully obvious that each step would need a second and maybe third coat.


But there’s good news and there’s bad news.

Bad news first: I was so annoyed with my sloppiness that I didn’t even take a picture of the stairs painted at the end of Phase 1.

The good news: I did take a picture at the very beginning of Phase 2 that lets you see the failed effort from Phase 1 (see the slow gradient in this next photo?). I was surprisingly unimpressed by the subtlety in the transition; I definitely had thought that it was going to be more vibrant. Double good news: The photo also gives you a preliminary sneak peek of how I started to correct earlier this week jobber, wink wink. It’s been a long, long week of stair painting.

So come back on Monday; I promise you’ll like what you see.

And I promise it’s more accurate. I’m actually being mind-blown by my attention to detail this time around.




The Backyard Cleanup

June 29, 2011   //  Posted in: Backyard, Garage, Gardening   //  By: Emily   //  5 responses

The transition from winter to spring in Rochester is an ugly one. I gave you a little photo tour of the yard a few months back, but promised that it would improve from looking like this come June:

Back deck, pergolas, new siding, and dead grass.

And improve it has.

In fact, it’s like a totally different space with the fence hidden by roses, the deck furniture out and scattered because we’re not really all that orderly about it, the grill rolled out in the grass, and the tomatoes in the ground. The normally exposed backyard becomes a quaint little haven shadowed by trees and bushes; it’s about this time of year that I stop being able to see my neighbors – they resurface again when the leaves start to fall in October.

An improved yard. Even the grass on the slope leading to the deck came back for us!

It also means that Cody can’t snurf with his little pit bull best friend through the back fence without trampling the lemon mint. Is snurf a term coined by my family and only my family? It’s an adjective meaning to sniff and dig your nose into places it shouldn’t be? Isn’t it weird how familial lingo can make it’s way into international blog posts? And does anyone have any good recipes that include lemon mint because I’m over my dog’s head in it. Anyways, I digress.

Pete and I did some serious grounds work over the weekend and removed everything along one fence that didn’t belong (it’s not always so obvious what’s alive, dead, or a weed until the leaves are fully exposed) and while I had a cleared space, I hung the new mid-century birdhouse on the fence.

Modern birdhouse installed.

You can’t really tell in that picture, but it’s wired to the top fence rail using two simple eyelet hooks and some thin gauge wire that I installed in the sides.

Close-up of the birdhouse hook and wire. This is installed on both sides to keep the house level.

While I had some space cleared that gets decent sunlight, I decided to drop some seeds to see what would happen. These are leftovers from my February efforts to self-start the seeds early (it was too early, it was a flop, I was embarrassed, I’ve moved on). So, they’re now in real earth and we’ll see what happens. My guess? Not much. It is almost 4th of July, after all. Green thumb is quickly turning brown.


Dad’s green thumb, however produces 8′ tall tomato plants. OK, by August they’ll be that tall, but for now they’re babies and nestled into a little caged area.

Dad's tomato plant haven.

He gets all the credit for this project; he did it all by himself while I was at Delta Faucet Company a few weeks ago. Didn’t he do a nice job with the labeling of each variety (6 in all + one self-started plant that appeared in my lawn from last year’s tomato crop).

Each tomato plant is individually labeled.

The tomatoes are accompanied by some mammoth cayenne peppers and lime basil (which was a successful self-start inside, if that helps me redeem by green thumb). I’m already enjoying watching some of the itsy-bitsy peppers take form.

Baby hot pepper. Can you see it?

I should also point out that the side of the garage is ugly. It’s getting an overhaul one of these days, and by overhaul, I mean a nice new coat of paint. I was also picking out colors that matched the siding or were complementary over the weekend. I’ve made up my mind and hope to pick up some paint tomorrow.

Color selection for the garage.

The roses are wonderful, of course; there are 4 different bushes on the fence and I’d tell you all about the different varieties if I was any sort of confident horticulturist, but I’m not. I can tell you that they smell good, are varied shades of pink, and lose their petals within 2 days of being cut and placed on my kitchen island. I actually received a yellow rose plant as a gift not too long ago and will put that into the garden this fall to complement the others.

Rose in the garden.

The berries are off their rocker too. Wild blackberries, not traditional raspberries, the tallest of the plants stands about 8′ straight up in the air. I’m not joking and a photo I snapped doesn’t do it justice; each branch is starting to get weighed down with future-yummy berries that I like to use to make jam from.

Wild soon-to-be black berries.Pete got his organization hat on, cleared out the garage and reorganized the shed. Ahh, cleanliness. Except for the spilled Mountain Dew, which is that wetness you see on the floor. Oops.

That shelving unit is something we scored from a friend over the winter at no cost – it’s the perfect piece for this space.

A well-organized back shed.

The final fun of the day included his Black & Decker leaf blower, which we used to blast the dirt, leaves, and helicopters from my driveway at 240 MPH. It also loosened even more of my driveway asphalt, meaning I’m getting closer and closer to trying to find someone who will repair it for me. Oh, and sorry to the beach-going Acura owner who decided to park in front of my house; we did air-blast off your car when we were done blowing dirt all around it.

Driveway cleaning with the Black & Decker leaf blower.

The Filthy Window

June 28, 2011   //  Posted in: Curb Appeal, Windows   //  By: Emily   //  7 responses

There’s a single 3rd story window in the attic.

It’s charming. As in, I think dormers are cute.

But from a curb appeal standpoint, the paned glass window itself looked creepy – it was painted black and then covered with a screen. For no obvious reason, when the windows on the house were updated a decade or so ago, the attic window received no special treatment.

Front of the house. Post siding, pre-attic update.

I didn’t even know that it could be removed easily (it appeared to have been painted in place the other time I checked into it), but several months ago I heard a crash and noticed it had been blown inwards to the attic floor during an impressive wind storm. Glad I checked right away, because we fixed the situation quickly and didn’t lose too much in the sense of heat efficiency. Considering I hadn’t been in the attic for about 7 months, I was glad I sucked it up and ventured into the dark space. Anyone else still scared that someone lives in their attic?

The fear factor isn’t helped by the huge snowsuit or work suit or something that Pete hung up that looks similar to a dark shadowed body next to the window. I scare easily. As far as I’m concerned, it looks like something out of Criminal Minds. Body bags. Creepy attic folk. Ax murderers.

Creepy attic window and a body bag.

The solution for securing the window at the time was to affix a wooden block to the frame to pin the loosened window in place – you can see it right at the top in the previous photo, and again in this next one. It worked well; there’s no easy way for the window to come free now.

A window blockade - a board screwed into the frame to hold the pane pinned in place.

But the real thing I noticed when the window was out of place is that it was filthy, with chipping paint and glazing, and desperately needed some love. The screen was messed up too, torn in one corner, and it’s not actually the screen you’d expect to see on a window – just a piece of mesh stretched and stapled to the window opening. Classy. And dirty. Hard to clean a screen that’s been stapled in place for decades.

Simple screen stretched in and stapled to the window sill. Getting holey.

Only just this past weekend amidst warmer weather did I disassemble the window again to take some time to clean it up.

I left the screen in place for the time being so that I could try and keep buggers out of the house while I was repairing the paned glass. Sidenote: This is actually the most bug-free house I’ve ever lived in (knock on wood).

I was able to remove the window from it’s encasement by unscrewing the blockade that had been installed, and then spent an hour sanding and scraping most of the loose paint and glazing away on the porch in the sun (I love working at home). New glazing went on in the same day. Luckily, Pete had some; the man has everything; he also taught me everything I needed to know about glazing – he can teach you too, because he actually wrote a bit about the DIY process over on his blog today.

Paned window glazing technique.

When it came to painting, I ended up doing something that I wasn’t planning on. While the painted chipping side was getting repaired, it was still nowhere near as pretty a condition as the unpainted, unweathered side of the pane that had forever faced inward. Instead of spending more time hand-sanding and carefully scraping, I decided to flip flop the pane and paint the better side white. That side was now going to face outside, and the damaged side could face inward.

I’m not sure if you’re allowed to do that or not, but I’ll tell you, it worked for me.

Once it had painted and dried (for days! It was so humid!) I took extra efforts to insulate the inside of the window with some transparent shrink film and the window sill with self-stick vinyl foam weatherseal. These products were actually something I had gotten for free at the Buffalo Home Show that I visited and wrote about this past spring.

A sealed up window. It hadn't actually been blasted with heat yet when this photo was taken.

The reinstall was a snap. I completely removed the dirty screen from the window, along with as many staples as I could detect, and slid the freshly painted window into place snug against the weatherseal.

For added security (never know when a gust of wind is going to blow it out of the window, apparently) I reinstalled the original wood block and a secondary one along the bottom to hold the window in place.

The change from the curb is still quite minimal and probably only noticed on a day-to-day basis by yours truly, but I’m quite happy with the dormer now that it doesn’t look like a creepy Criminal Minds hideaway from the curb (no such improvement on the inside yet).

Updated attic window.