June 17, 2013

how to paint stripy steps without loosing your marbles: a tutorial

It's been a long time since I've written a tutorial. Not because we haven't been up to lots of things around the house but, well, they haven't been very tutorial worthy. What can I say about a wallpapered piece of plywood other than, um, wallpaper a piece of plywood? For the most part our projects these days involve either planting veggies or flowers in the yard or painting. We're on our second round of painting. In theory, all the rooms that didn't get painted last fall will get paint now. Except for Briton's room. Which we are not allowed to change. Whatever. If he likes half painted walls and a rug over plywood, so be it.
But the stairs. They took some serious thinking and planning. So I thought I'd share. Plus I love them. It makes me smile every time I look at them.

Our stairs are, barring the you may not change this floor in Briton's room, the only raw floors left after the great carpet removal of last August. The living room floor is painted, awaiting hardwood flooring someday, and the upstairs is bamboo floored. But the stairs were a little bit of a problem. At some point we'd like to put new treads in. Nice, solid hardwood ones that will match out kitchen floors. Except man, treads are expensive. Plus since the rise of the steps is also rough plywood, that will have to be replaced as well. Which makes it a big, expensive project. And not really one at the top of the priority list. I've had this stripy steps idea in my head almost since we moved in and the plan has gone through lots of possibilities. Carpet? Too expensive. And also too hard to find in stripes we liked. And also I hate carpet. Canvas runner? Too trippy. I can just see one or all of us falling down the steps when it gets worn and baggy. I almost went with the kind of tape they use on gym floors. Bright, colorful and practically permanent, but in the end, paint seemed the easiest option. And as a result of our many, many painting projects, and painting ideas, we had lots of little cans of different paint colors. Blue from the kitchen, pink that almost was in Evie's room, yellow from the bench, green from, actually, I have no idea where that green came from.

The big challenge, however, is how to get nice, neat, straight lines without going nuts. As it turns out, it's not as hard as it looks but I'll warns you, it is tedious. This is not a one day project. There is much sitting around waiting for things to dry, and then adding another coat, and then waiting some more. But that's good, Because while one stripe is drying you can still walk on the other parts of the steps. Which, unless you have two sets of stairs in your house or you don't need to get up them, is necessary.

So, here's how you do it.
First paint the edges of the steps with your base color. I used the white trim paint we are using all over the house. Sebring White from Benjamin Moore if anyone is interested. It's our go-to white for flat and glossy paints. I decided that I wanted the border to fall 8 inches from each side of the steps and used a ruler to mark that out, then painted about an inch over that mark. After the third coat had dried, it was time for.....another coat. Except this one is special and it's the secret to really neat and clean stripes (I wish I'd figured this out long ago)

Using regular masking tape, no need for the fancy painters tape here, I taped off the line at the 8-inch mark and then painted over the tape with the white. Why? Well, if you've ever tried to use tape to make a perfect line you know that, inevitably, no matter how much you smooth it down, paint is going to leak under. By painting the stripe line first with the white the paint that leaked under is the same as the base and the tape line is sealed in. Once the white was dry I added yellow on one side and dark blue on the other, painting out, again, slightly further than I wanted that particular stripe to go.(It's easier to see on the yellow, but obviously I did the white first)
Again with the paint several coats, tape, paint another coat (hint, don't just paint on the raw side of the tape, otherwise you'll have a weird line in the middle of your stripe and have to go back and touch it up. Lesson learned) then add a new color, until you've filled the space.
There is a lot of dry time needed here but since I chose not to use floor paint (too expensive, takes too long to dry and, in our experience, didn't hold up any better than trim paint) it wasn't too painful. I will recommend shutting your animals in a bedroom or outside each and every time you start to paint and leaving them there till that stripe is dry. Unless you want little yellow kitty footprints on your kitchen floor.

Just sayin.

A little note on cleaning. Because we've lived with painted plywood floors for almost a year now, I've had plenty of time to try out different cleaning methods and have finally struck on something that works. Most of the time my painted floors just get a good sweep and vacuum and then a once over with a Bona mop and wood floor cleaner. But about every three weeks I use a long handled bristle brush and give it a scrub with a mixture of hot water and just a little washing soda. Just a little. Otherwise there is a white film when it dries. I use an old pan and put about a teaspoon of soda in with the water. I follow up with a dry towel to wipe up the water (no standing water on wood floors!) and the floors look almost new. Since the part of the stairs people tend to walk on are stripy and not white, the steps stay pretty clean and have, so far, just needed sweeping.

So there you go. Stripy steps. Not the craziest thing we've done. Probably not even in the top ten (not even close to the time we took a bus and then a train and then another bus to that sketchy IKEA in London when Briton was a toddler. Geesh that was one long, slightly frightening day. )