Staircase Makeover – What to Stain; What to Paint

After months of admiring this amazing gel stain makeover over at Remodelaholic, I finally had a stretch of time off work long enough to dive right in and tackle this project in my home. (My office closes from Christmas to New Years – how awesome is that? I actually started this nearly a year ago but as you read on, you’ll see my project hit an 8 month snag.)

See theirs here:


The BIG difference between the above stair banister and mine – that I failed to notice in advance – was that theirs had white trim along the bottom and as you can see below, mine was all the same wood finish on the bottom:


So when I used General Finishes Java Gel Stain to refinish all the Oak portions of my staircase, I ended up with wayyy too much dark brown, and I hated it!


I’d just spent an entire week off of work (basically my Christmas-New Years break) rubbing several coats of gel stain and topcoat over my entire staircase only to feel totally disappointed when I pulled the tape back for my “Big Reveal”. 😦

What had I done wrong? Why did everyone else’s come out so much better than mine?!?

A frantic trip back to Pinterest made it all very clear – I needed some white along the bottom to even out the look.


It took 8 months before I could work up the energy to sand off the gel stain and paint it white. I was more than jealous when I returned to work and heard about the other girls’ awesome time off relaxing and wine tasting and not messing up their homes.

I was honestly terrified that somehow I’d manage to ruin it even more. But, one day I finally worked up the courage and started on the top section just in case I messed it up.


And turns out, it looked sooo much better!


Tips for Protecting Your Carpet:

I noticed a lot of bloggers end up ripping out their carpet altogether or don’t stain the bottom wood along their carpet because it’s already white. Here’s how I protected my carpet, as well as the white balusters that I left untouched:

blog-tip Use foil to large portions of balusters that you don’t want to get gel stain on. Secure with tape and push the tape up into the gap between the banister rain and the baluster.


blog-tip Only cover the entire baluster with foil if it’s directly next to a rail that’s being painted or stained.


blog-tip Use a putty knife to press and tuck painter’s tape deep down between the tread and the carpet.



blog-tip Tape a rim of paper along the edge to extend coverage beyond the depth of the painter’s tape.


blog-tip Easily tape a drop cloth to the border of paper that lines the edges.


blog-tip Remember after the first coat it won’t look good – keep going until you reach your desired look. I did 4 coats before I was happy with the results because I kept finding little spots that weren’t dark enough and I learned that just trying to patch a little portion didn’t work out.


Before & After – Revealing My White Paint & Java Gel Stain Staircase Makeover






One thought on “Staircase Makeover – What to Stain; What to Paint

  1. Tbh it looked better w/o the white. The prob is the red paint. The reason the comparison photo looked nicer than yours was the better contrast in colors. Even w/ the red, the java looked better than the alternating color patterns you have now created.

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