Wait Until You See This Staircase Makeover

Got a boring staircase? Wait until you see how I gave ours a bold modern farmhouse update using stain and wallpaper murals! Video tutorial included.
staircase with wallpaper mural

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Since spending a weekend updating our ugly staircase, I can't stop staring at it! I go out of my way to walk by it so I can just enjoy the sheer beauty of it! LOL.

I'm going to walk you through the staircase makeover and share the products I used with you, but first I need to show you where we started!

Staircase before makeover

staircase before

80's oak and how to banish it!

I'm a child of the 80's. It was (mostly) a great decade. Stirrup pants, big hair, Growing Pains (who else had a crush on Kirk Cameron?), shoulder pads in everything, Family Ties, Chicago, Journey and Bryan Adams ballads.

What could be wrong with all that good?

Well, amazing music aside...I think the hot home decor trends of the 80's were wallpaper and oak stain. Two trends that many of us are still trying to reverse in our homes!

Our home, built in mid-80's, had its fair share of oak. Thankfully and bless their heart, all of our cabinets and trim were painted white before we moved in. The only room we had to give a major overhaul to right away was our living room. Oak paneling and a wall of built-ins made the room so dark, and it was all in, you guessed it, orangey oak! We updated that room with paint and it looks bright and airy and like a completely different room! Click here to see how we gave our dated living room a bright and fresh makeover.

But our stairs were another story. Stuck in the 80's with that orangey oak, the semi-shag carpeting that just dates it...and who even knows what's living in shag carpeting? Ew!

Mr DIY and our son spent a couple weeks ripping out the carpeting and installing beautiful wood laminates on our stairs. It was a process. You can read all about our new waterproof laminates that look just like barn wood and how we did the stairs by clicking here.

We also replaced the flooring at the front of our home, and ripped out the carpet in the bedroom and installed the same barn wood laminates. And I thought we were finished. The floors looked so much better.

The stairs looked better but...

staircase with wood laminate treads

Something was off...those orange oak newel posts and banisters just jump out at you, don't they? And not in a good way! The stain color takes away from the overall update of the staircaase.

I knew I should be ecstatic about having wood stairs, but the whole effect was still dated and a little bit vanilla.

How to update a boring staircase

So I did some research and ordered a water based stain from Amazon in walnut. I also found an amazing wallpaper mural design that's modern and totally removable, and I set to work updating our stairs one weekend.

Updating stair banisters and newel post

The beauty of this water-based stain is there is very little odor, you can apply it over old stain (as long as you rough it up a little with sandpaper first) and it dries very quickly. Plus, soap and water clean-up! That is a huge plus in my DIY book!

There was a bit of a learning curve with this stain application (which may be why there are lots of mixed reviews on Amazon), but I found an easy way to make it work and I'll share that in a little bit.

I started by sanding the newel posts and banisters. Not removing the oak stain but roughing it all up to give the new stain something to grip. I used 120 grit sandpaper.

Then I wiped everything down and vacuumed all the sanding dust. At this point, the stairs still looked oak, but the finish was dulled. 

The next step was taping off to protect the walls, floors and rails from stain. I used good old aluminum foil on the last rail because it was so close to the post that is attached to the walls. You can see in the picture below there's only an inch or so between the rail and the post. I used painter's tape everywhere else I needed.

taping off

Painting darker stain over oak

I mixed up the stain really well and poured a little into a jar just to make it easier to apply and reduce the chance of spillage.

The stain container suggests brushing the stain on, letting it sit for a few minutes and then wiping off. So I tried this, but was unhappy with the look when I wiped it off because so much of the oak (that I was trying to disguise) was revealed. Plus if you let the stain sit too long, it gets tacky and wiping it just leads to a non-uniform look.

What worked best for me was to brush the stain on in one small section at a time (maybe 8"). It didn't look like the stain is gripping too well because there were a few air bubbles and streaks. But I moved on to an adjacent small section and added stain, and then immediately went back to the first section and using the brush was able to better blend the stain and add a little more as needed. Does that make sense? So I didn't wipe any off. Because it's water based, you can get away with this!

This pic below was after the first application. It looks a little streaky. Once I brushed back over it again, it blended together and looked really good! 

applying stain

One thing to keep in mind is to always brush in the direction of the grain! That will make a big difference in how it looks.

I was Dreading this project. Notice the capital D?

But it actually wasn't that bad, and once I got into my groove, it went very quickly. And here's the best part...any little stain that got on the rails (or even the wall), came right off with a damp paper towel! I'm a messy painter but I was so pleased to see that all my little mistakes were immediately reversible! I gave the stain a day to dry and then I brushed on a matte poly topcoat for protection. Check the supplies list below for all the products I used.

staircase with darker stained banister

Such a huge improvement but I wanted to take it a step further and add some personality to the stairs.

Adding wallpaper to stair treads

I shared this project on Instagram as I was just starting out and got some questions about how exactly to apply it.

Watch this short video to see how I applied the wallpaper mural to my stair treads.

The darker stain and modern farmhouse wallpaper mural completely transformed our boring, dated 80's staircase and added a huge WOW factor! Doesn't it look a thousand times better?

staircase with dark banister and wallpaper mural

staircase makeover

What do you think?

Is this a project that you might want to do in your own home? Aside from replacing the carpet, updating your staircase with a modern farmhouse look can be done in a weekend!

staircase makeover

farmhouse entry bench

I love how much personality our stairs have now! They have finally graduated from the 80's and are up to date! If we ever sell this house and the new owners don't like the wallpaper murals on the stairs, they just peel off! If only they knew about peel and stick wallpaper in the 80's right? 😉

Supplies I used to transform my stairs

If you loved this project, please share with a friend and Pin it!

modern farmhouse staircase


bringing beauty to the ordinary, 


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  1. You did a great job with the stair makeover. I love the way it looks with the wallpaper!

  2. Such a creative way to spice up a normal looking stairs! Thanks for sharing!


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