Arthur strives to balance aesthetics, functionality, and quality with costs when planning DIY projects in the home and garden.
This article functions as a guide for a stairs and landing makeover. It includes steps and tips for replacing the skirting boards, varnishing, wallpapering, painting, decorating, and other minor DIY tasks.
In This Step-by-Step Guide
- Replace Carpeting: A few years back, after removing the carpets on our stairs and upper landing, I replaced the pine floorboards on the upper landing with oak flooring.
- Concealing the Bell Wire: Earlier last year, our old single-glazed porch door, leading onto our downstairs landing, was replaced with a modern high-security, double-glazed door. The process of fitting the new door didn’t cause any damage to the surrounding doorway, but in order to fit the new door, the doorbell had to be discounted and dismantled. When I refitted and rewired the doorbell, I took the opportunity of hiding all the bell wire, with some of it being hidden beneath the plaster by chiselling a channel in the brick wall.
- New Consumer Unit and Meter Cupboard: Then late last year, we had our consumer unit (fuse box) modernised to the latest regulations. Then afterwards I replaced the old meter cupboard with a new, smaller and less obtrusive one.
Once all these following modifications were made, the stairs and landings needed redecorating to make good the damage (hence the makeover):
- Replacing the Downstairs Skirting Boards
- Modifying the Wooden Boxing for the Mains Power Supply
- Removing Fixtures and Fittings
- Tidying the Telephone Cable
- Sanding and Varnishing the Banister Rail
- Plastering Repairs and Prepping the Walls for Paint
- Wallpapering, Painting, and Decorating
- Re-Varnishing the Stairs
- Replacing Fixtures and Fittings
Below, I give a more detailed description of the modifications and the subsequent makeover.
Replacing Carpets With Wood Flooring
The first steps I undertook were to remove the stairs' carpet to reveal the wooden stairs, and to replace the upstairs’ landing carpet with oak floorboards.
After removing the stairs carpet I sanded the stairs back to the bare wood before applying three coats of quick drying oak coloured floor varnish.
Concealing the Bell Wire
When earlier last year we had our double glazing upgraded to the latest standards, as well as having all the windows replaced, we took the opportunity to also have our porch doors upgraded. The old inner and outer porch doors were ill fitting single glazed wooden doors that weren’t that secure and let in a lot of draught. The replacement doors are modern high security, well insulated double glazed units.
The fitters did an excellent job in replacing the doorframe, so there was no damage to the surroundings, but afterwards they had gone I needed to rewire the doorbell e.g. it wasn’t part of their remit. Previously all the wiring for the doorbell and door chimes was surface mounted, being held in place with cable clips. Therefore, to make a neater job of it I took the opportunity to conceal the bell wire from the consumer unit to the chimes and then to bury it under the plaster in the wall from the chimes through to the porch.
Using D-Line Mini Trunking
To conceal the bell wire running along the top of the wall, between the consumer unit and the bell chime, I opted to use D-Line mini trunking (8mm x 16mm). I could have buried it in the wall, under the plaster, as I did for the bell wire from the chimes through to the porch. However I’d found using mini-trunking a superb option for concealing small cables on previous DIY jobs e.g. audio cables, and therefore felt it would be ideal to conceal the bell wire along the top edges of wall above the door. The reason for not using the mini-trunking to conceal all of the bell wire is because although trunking around the edge of walls can be unobtrusive, trunking down the middle of a wall is more noticeable.
The mini-trunking I used is white, and at just under 1/3 of an inch high and almost 3/4 of an inch wide is quite small (although you can get bigger sizes). So against the edge of a white ceiling, or down a white painted door frame, it’s unobtrusive. It’s also easy and quick to fix in place because of the self-adhesive backing that sticks to just about anything, and the glue is so good that once stuck in place its permanent.
D-Line Mini Trunking
New Consumer Unit and Meter Cupboard
Here's a breakdown of this process:
Reason for Downsizing the Meter Cupboard
The meter cupboard was originally built to house the electric and gas meters, and with the gas meter being so large the meter cupboard needed to be quite big. So much so that the bottom of the cupboard was six inches lower than the top of the living room door.
However, about ten years ago the gas company relocated the meter to the outside house wall; which then left a lot of empty space in the cupboard. Therefore, with the gas meter out of the way it left plenty of space to downsize the cupboard so that its base would be higher than the top of the living room door.
Reasons for Replacing the Consumer Unit
We’ve added a lot of additional wiring to existing circuits over the years by extending them to provide power to the outside for mains supply, lighting and power to the garden sheds, plus additional mains power and lighting for the recently built conservatory. Therefore, in replacing the consumer unit I could buy a larger one with more fuses so that I could create separate circuits for all the additional wiring and allocate a fuse to each new circuit.
Also, our consumer unit was so old that it wasn’t protected by any RCD (Residual Current Device) circuit breakers. Therefore in our old consumer unit fuses would only trip if you overload the circuit. Whereas RCDs (which are standard in the modern consumer units) detect a variety of electrical faults in the circuits and shut-off the power supply automatically, making it all much safer.
Therefore, for added safety, and because I wanted to the separate the existing additional wiring from the ring main e.g. outside power and conservatory and to give them their own circuits (protected by their own fuse), I decided to replace our old consumer unit with a modern unit that meets current UK Regulations.
For additional resilience, I also decided to add a separate (smaller) consumer unit, with its own RCD circuit breaker, for the outside lighting and power and sheds e.g. in the event of any electrical fault outside it’ll not affect the power supply in the house.
Overview of RCDs
In an ideal world there would be one RCD per fuse, but RCDs are still very expensive. Therefore under current UK Regulations it’s standard to have just two RCD circuit breakers in the consumer unit; with each one protecting half the fuses.
The disadvantage of having just two RCDs is that in the event of one tripping, due to an electrical fault on one of the circuits, then all the circuits covered by that RCD trip; losing half the power to the house. To mitigate against this it’s traditional for the circuits to be split between the RCDs so that in the event of one of the RCDs tripping only half the power on each floor is lost. For example, one RCD circuit breaker will be wired into the fuses for upstairs ring main and downstairs lighting circuit, while the other RCD circuit breaker will be wired into the fuses for the downstairs ring main and upstairs lighting circuit.
UK Electrical Power Supply and Circuits
The power supply (in simple terms):
- The power entering the property is 415V, protected by a 100Amp Fuse.
- This feeds into an electric meter, and then onto
- The consumer unit (fuse box) at 230 volts (50 Hertz) AC (Alternating Current). In contrast, the domestic power supply in the USA is 120v (60 Hertz).
Typical circuits in the consumer unit includes, but not exclusive to:
- Downstairs Ring Main: 32 Amp fuse, 7.3kw maximum load
- Downstairs Lighting circuit: 6 Amp fuse, 1.2kw maximum load
- Upstairs Ring Main: 32 Amp fuse, 7.3kw maximum load
- Upstairs Lighting circuit: 6 Amp fuse, 1.2kw maximum load
- Cooker circuit: 32 Amp fuse, 7.3kw maximum load
- Electric Shower circuit: 40 Amp fuse, 9.2kw maximum load
- Outside Electrics: 16 Amp fuse, 3.6kw maximum load
For further protection, each household appliance plugged into the ring main has its own separate fuse fitted at the plug, for example:-
- Items with a heating element, such as washing machines, dishwasher and electric kettles will have a 13Amp fuse fitted in the plug, giving a 3kw maximum load.
- Other items like a computer or TV etc. will have a 5Amp fuse fitted in the plug, giving a 1.1kw maximum load, and
- A lamp, or other small consumption items, will have a 3Amp fuse fitted in the plug, giving just under 700 watts maximum load.
For Americans, who may not be familiar with British circuits, the ring main is a loop of cable where the live wire goes from the fuse to around the entire ground or upper floor of the house and then joins back up at the fuse. With the circuit being a continuous loop it takes advantage of AC current alternating direction 50 times a second (50 Hertz); which means the cable can take twice the load without overheating. With a ring main, sockets are added to the loop at any convenient point, and there is no limit to the number of sockets that can be added; the only limitation is the maximum load of 7.3kw being used at any one time.
Remodelling the Meter Cupboard
Because of the size of old gas meter the base of original meter cupboard was six inches below the top of the living room door. This wasn’t a problem for us because we’re not particular tall, but it was a hazard for anyone taller than 6 feet.
Therefore, as the old gas meter had previously been removed (and relocated outside), once the new consumer unit was fitted, I decided it was time to dismantle the old meter cupboard and build a new smaller one that doesn't encroach on the living room door.
In designing and building the new meter cupboard, rather than buying new wood, I decided to:
- Recycle wood from the louvre doors originally fitted to the toilet at the top of the stairs; which we replaced with a concertina door when we bought the house, and
- Use oak floorboards, leftover from when I added oak flooring to the upstairs landing, to make the base of the cupboard.
After fitting the new cupboard I then smartened up the doors with three coats of Ronseal Rosewood coloured wood stain.
Remodelling: Final Phase
After rewiring the doorbell, and modifying the electric meter cupboard, the downstairs landing walls badly needed redecorating.
Therefore, it was time to make a detailed list of everything that needed doing, and the order in which to do it. Below is an outline plan of the tasks I identified as part of this final phase of the makeover:
Project Planning the Makeover
- Replace the downstairs skirting boards
- Modify the wooden boxing for the mains power supply and main fuse
- Removal of fixtures and fittings
- Tidy the telephone cable tacked to the living room door frame with D-Link mini trunking
- Sanding and varnishing the banister rail
- Plaster repairs and prepping the walls around the meter cupboard and porch door
- Hanging the lining paper and wallpapering downstairs
- Painting and decorating e.g. emulsion and gloss paints, wood stain and wood polish
- Re-varnish the stairs
- Replace the downstairs two way light switch
- Replace fixtures and fittings
Replacing the Downstairs Skirting Board
When I replaced the flooring upstairs with oak floorboards I also replaced the skirting at the same time. However, the downstairs was a mishmash of old skirting boards that were beyond restoration.
Some of the old skirting was a little more than 2 inches high, half of which was hidden by the floating oak floor (which is laid over the original pine floorboards). Plus with being repainted numerous times over the decades, the skirting had become caked in paint, and almost indistinguishable from the walls.
The skirting board between the living room and porch door was a more recent addition, and quite respectable. However, because the corner of the wall is rounded I wasn't happy with the way the skirting board jutted out with a sharp right angle at that point.
Therefore, not only did I decide to replace all the downstairs skirting boards but I also decided to round-off the corner join for the new skirting board between the living room and porch doors to better match the curve of the wall.
Removal of the Old Skirting
Normally, removing skirting boards is easy; a couple of crowbars and a hammer is all you need. However, because the oak flooring had been laid after the skirting boards so the bottom inch of the skirting was below floor level, it made it almost impossible to prise out the skirting.
Therefore, after some consideration, I decided to cut the skirting boards at floor level using my precision cutting electric Sonicrafter saw; and then prise the top half of the skirting boards off the wall in the conventional manner using crowbars and hammer.
Packing the Wall Prior to Fitting the New Skirting
With it being a 90 year old brick built house with cavity walls, as is so typical for such houses of this age in the UK, the gap across the cavity between the inner and outer brick wall around the windows and doors is little more than wire mesh and plaster.
So it was no great surprise when on removing the skirting board by the porch door large chunks of the plaster came away, leaving a void.
Therefore, before fitting the new skirting, I filled the gap with expandable foam which I trimmed back once dried.
Measuring, Cutting and Fitting the New Skirting Board
Once I'd taken all the measurements I cut all the pieces of new skirting to size; including a section of skirting to round off the corner to more closely follow the curved wall. To get a more rounded effect I cut the two straight pieces at right angels and the corner section at a 45 degree angle on both ends.
Before fitting all the pieces in place I varnished them with the same quick drying oak coloured floor varnish used for the stairs.
Three coats are needed for a good finish, but as the varnish only takes a couple of hours to dry between coats its an easy task that can be done the day before fitting.
Therefore I varnished all the pieces one day, and fitted them the next using ‘no nails’ adhesive. The adhesive is quick and easy to use, and for this type of fixture, once its set its as good as if you used nails.
Makeover of the Mains Power Wooden Boxing
When the house was built in the 1930s the original mains power supply from the street came up through the floorboards on the stairs wall by the living room door. When the house was completely rewired post war, to comply with the new radical electrical Regulation Standards of 1947, the mains power was routed to the house using the same access point. At some point after that a previous owner boxed in the mains power cable and mains fuse.
Then almost 20 years ago the electricity Company upgraded the mains fuse to the latest Standards. Unfortunately, the new 100Amp main house fuse which they fitted is bulkier than the one, so it protrudes out of the front of the boxing.
The top half of the boxing is wallpapered and painted to match the décor, while the bottom half was all painted in a white gloss.
When I made the meter cupboard smaller I had to also extend the height of the top half of the boxing by about six inches which, once wallpapered and painted, would blend into the rest of the wall. However, I wasn’t happy with the bottom half being all white, and neither was I happy with the large hole in the front panel to accommodate the protruding fuse.
Therefore, after some consideration I decided to replace the front panel using a piece of recycled pine stored away in the back of my workshop. While cutting the pine panel to size I also cut the opening to accommodate the protruding fuse; making it neater and smaller than the original, so that it would be more aesthetically pleasing. The other design feature I made to improve the look of front panel was to cut a pull hole in the panel rather than re fit the cupboard door knob that was on the original front panel. The purpose of the pull hole is that it can be used to pull out the panel in the event that access is required to the mains fuse.
For the décor of the front panel, rather than wood stain or varnish the wood I decided to build up the colour with several applications of Jacpol antique furniture beeswax polish to match the living room door.
Fixtures and Fittings
Before prepping the walls for painting and decorating I removed all the fixtures and fittings, includeding:
- key tidy rack and key hook on the downstairs landing
- The two plaques up the stairs, and large photo on the upstairs landing
- The smoke detector
The key tidy, for frequently used keys, is just below the porch light switch; and that would be replaced once all the decorations were done.
The key hook, used for the spare keys, was just a cup hook on the side of the boxing for the mains power supply. When the decorations were competed I replaced the cup hook with a more ornate hook.
The previous occupant had panelled the upper wall on either side of the stairs and the main wall next to the toilet. Since moving in we’ve used these spaces to hang pictures and plagues.
Although our old smoke detector still works, as part of the makeover I decided to replace it with an up-to-date one with additional safety features; choosing one recommended by the UK Fire Brigade.
Telephone Cable Tidy
When the telephone line was originally installed the cable from the outside ran down the corner of the living room door frame next to the wall, and pinned in place with cable clips at regular intervals.
However, each time the doorframe was repainted it was impossible not to get paint on the phone cable. So after decades so many layers of paint had built up on and around the cable that it just looks an untidy mess.
Therefore, as part of the makeover, the method I used to make it tidy was to:
- Carefully prise the cable clips loose and remove them with a screwdriver and pliers
- Cut the same D-Link mini trunking I used for the bell wire to length
- Peel the backing off the trunking to expose the adhesive
- Position the mini-trunking in behind the phone cable
- Press the front cover shut; so that it snapped shut (hiding the cable)
- Press the mini trunking firmly down the whole length of the door frame to firmly secure it in place.
Varnish Wood-Stained Banister Rail
When we bought the house, the banister rail was painted white gloss, as was most of the wood throughout the house.
We’re not fans of white gloss because after five years it’s discoloured and looks more like a magnolia rather than a white. Interestingly, I have known people who don’t bother with white but paint their house magnolia for that reason.
Our preference is natural e.g. to see the wood rather than hide it. The benefits being that not only is it more to our taste but it also requires less maintenance as painted wood needs repainting every five years to keep it looking good while varnished or stained wood will stay good for decades.
Therefore, when I first redecorated the stairs I took the banister rail back to the bare wood and stained it with a teak wood stain. However, with the banisters being in constant use, over the years a layer of grime has built up on rail in various places; especially at the bottom of the stairs.
Therefore, after cleaning all the grime off and lightly sanding down the banister, rather than give it a fresh coat of wood stain I decided to apply three coats of floor varnish. With it now being varnished it will make it easier to keep clean in the future with just a simple wipe of a soapy damp cloth.
Prepping the Walls for Painting
The downstairs landing needed redecorating because of scars left on the walls from downsizing the meter cupboard and rewiring the doorbell and door chime. It wasn’t a case of just repainting as the downstairs landing also needed re-wallpapering due to the damage caused when rewiring the doorbell. Although the anaglypta wallpaper is original from when we bought the house, on the stairs and the upstairs landing it was still as good as the day it was hung.
Therefore, rather than re-wallpaper the whole stairs and landings, I was keen to try to find a match for the wallpaper in the shops, or online, so that I could just wallpaper the downstairs landing. However, with the Anaglypta wallpaper being over 30 years old, I wasn’t surprised in not being able to match it up with any suppliers.
It was at this point I remembered that the previous occupant had a left a couple of rolls of wallpaper in the garden shed. At the time I just put them to the back; out of sight, out of mind. So I spent five minutes rummaging around the back of my workshop (garden shed) to dig out the old rolls to see if either matched; and to my delight, one of them did.
Anaglypta is a paintable textured (embossed) wallcovering, and having found a roll in my shed that matched the landing wallpaper I was able to proceed with just re-wallpapering the downstairs landing before emulsion painting all the wallpaper on the stairs and landings.
The sequence to prepping the downstairs landing walls for painting being:-
- Use a wallpaper steamer and scraper to strip the walls back to the bare plaster
- Make any minor plaster repairs
- Sand the new plaster smooth when dry
- Wash the walls with a decorator’s sponge and warm water.
- The following day hang the lining paper, and leave to dry overnight
- Then hang the wallpaper in the downstairs landing, taking great care to line up the embossed pattern to match the existing wallpaper on the stairs.
Once the downstairs landing was re-wallpapered I was then ready to start painting; the last major phase of this makeover.
Here's a breakdown of this process:
Choosing the Right Colour Scheme
The previous occupant had divided the walls with a dado rail, and plastered the bottom half with a rustic plaster finish.
Our previous colour scheme had been white above the dado rail and a salmon coloured emulsion for lower half. However, this time we wanted a bit more colour; but being mindful that the only natural lighting on the stairs is from the toilet window at the top and the porch door at the bottom, we wanted colours that would reflect a lot of light.
My first feeling was that a lemon yellow above the dado rail and a lime green would reflect a lot of light and be aesthetically pleasing. To see what this might look like my wife test painted a foot square of the each colour on the walls; but it didn’t look quite right. Therefore she experimented with a range of light colours in different shades until we found the combination we liked; which was a sunny yellow above the dado rail and a lime green below.
Rule of Thumb
The general rule of thumb is to paint from the top down to minimise the risk of getting paint drips and runs on freshly painted areas below. Albeit these days most paints are non-drip, and generally don’t run; provided you don’t overload the paint brush or apply the paint too liberally.
The other guide I tend to follow is to use paint that takes the longest to dry first. Which generally tends to be the gloss paints, which can take a day or two to dry; in contrast to emulsions, wood stains and varnish which often dries within a couple of hours.
Therefore I painted all the white gloss first, and while that was drying I then painted the ceiling. Some people when they repaint in gloss will strip the woodwork back to the bare wood. I only do so when necessary, otherwise provided the surface is good and sound, and smooth, I’ll lightly sand the surface to give it a good key, wipe it clean with white spirit to get rid of all the bits and then (when dry) apply a thin even coat of fresh paint.
After painting the ceiling, and once the gloss paint was dry, I then emulsion painted all the walls above the dado rail. The next day I then painted the bottom half of the walls and inside the three framed areas for hanging pictures
The picture framed areas were the fiddliest, especially the acute angles in the corners, but I found using an angled window brush, with a steady hand and lots of concentration, was helpful.
It doesn’t matter how careful you are, paint invariably ends up where it shouldn’t. So once all the painting was complete I spent my time carefully inspecting everything and then touching up any spots that were not to my satisfaction.
Re-Varnishing the Stairs
After all the painting was done I cleaned and washed the stairs and applied three fresh coats of oak coloured floor varnish; allowing two hours to dry between each coat.
Since taking up the carpet and varnishing the stairs, keeping them clean has been a breeze e.g. instead of frequently vacuuming the stair, all it needs now is just the occasional quick sweep.
Finishing Touch: A Stylish Light Switch Downstairs
With all the decorating done the only jobs remaining were:
- Replace the downstairs standard white plastic two-way light switch to a more stylish metal brass fitting
- Refit all the fixtures and fittings
- Then finally sit back with a refreshing cup of coffee and relax
© 2018 Arthur Russ
Arthur Russ (author) from England on March 30, 2018:
I fully agree, because if I hadn’t had been taught woodwork at school I wouldn’t have had the basic knowledge to get started when I had my first home, and may never have gained the confidence to try doing DIY much beyond basic painting and decorating.
Mary Norton from Ontario, Canada on March 30, 2018:
The basic knowledge in school is important, though. We keep promoting that it is not just science the intelligent kids need but hands-on skills.
Arthur Russ (author) from England on March 30, 2018:
Thanks Mary for your input. When I was at school I was taught basic skills in woodworking and metal work from the age of 11 to 13; which did provide me with a useful basic knowledge of these subjects. So I agree promoting the teaching of basic skills like this in school is an excellent idea.
Obviously, at school I didn’t learn enough to become proficient in woodworking, and metal work isn’t my forte; but in studying the basics as school did give me the confidence, so that when I got married and bought my first home I was keen to learn the skills necessary for DIY, initially from library books; but these days the Internet is a lot easier, quicker and more versatile for referencing when I want to learn new skills for various DIY projects.
From my experience, starting small and taking on just simple tasks in the first instance is a good way to build up knowledge and experience; which can then be added to over time in bite-size steps, just like building blocks e.g. building on your existing knowledge and experience one step at a time.
Mary Norton from Ontario, Canada on March 28, 2018:
You are a master at this. I wish I have your skills so I could do some of these things. We keep promoting the teaching of hand skills or vocational skills back in schools but to no avail. I suppose one can learn it from your tutorial but it's quite a learning curve for some of us with not much to work on.