The "Totally Gutted to Nicely Nautical" Staircase Makeover

The "Totally Gutted to Nicely Nautical" Staircase Makeover

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Janel Laban
Jan 6, 2015
(Image credit: Taken and Submitted by Emily Danforth)

Project by: Emily and Erica

Refinishing the main stairwell was just one small component of the year-log, full scale, gut-renovation of our 1900's Greek Revival house in Providence, RI—but as the staircase is the first thing you see when you come in our front door, we wanted it to be a striking feature.

(Image credit: Taken and Submitted by Emily Danforth)

Because we removed all interior walls on the main floor—and installed a steel beam that spans the length of the space—the stairwell is very present within the resulting open space and we wanted both to set it off and make sure it was in conversation with the entirety of the main floor.

We refinished the stairs by hand, stripping 4 layers of paint with a tiny heat gun (resulting in lots of smoke alarm activations and skin burns and hand cramps) before sealing and staining them with old school amber shellac to give them the dock wood patina we were going for. The entire process took 2 weeks or so (particularly the original handrails, which were a nightmare to strip.)

For months prior to the renovation we gathered oars at various antiques and salvage places. We worked with an imaginative carpenter to incorporate them into the staircase. The vintage Pool Closed sign is a from the lake I lifeguarded at while a teenager in Montana. The whole house has a kind of industrial-coastal-cottage design, so we incorporated lots of industrial-coastal accents and textures.

(Image credit: Taken and Submitted by Emily Danforth)


We found the enormous pendant light at a Restoration Hardware outlet. It's missing its glass and has scrapes, but it's perfect for the stairwell (and just, just barely fits!)

We loved the look of the home's original lath, and while we plastered over all of it on the exterior walls (after first removing the crumbling horsehair plaster and adding insulation—there had been none) we wanted to keep just a section of it exposed on this interior stairwell wall because the texture is so interesting. We sealed it will polyurethane to help with dust.

(Image credit: Taken and Submitted by Emily Danforth)


For now, we've kept the stairwell walls a simple, bright white to help setoff the multicolored frames on the nautically inspired artwork and the patina of the stairs, but eventually we might go with something bolder, darker.

Thanks, Emily and Erica!

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