How We Completely Updated our Stair Railings by Only Swapping out the Balusters

April 2, 2020

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In the first phase of our renovation, it felt liked there was a lot connected. The dining room led us to tackle a balcony which led to new windows and doors and doorways which led to floors which led to addressing our stair railings–that were NOT my favorite. But the truth of the matter was, we were already MAXED out on our budget, and we couldn’t afford to add on all new railings.

We talked about postponing new flooring on the stairs and upper landing until we could save up some more money, but the more I looked at what we had, the more I could pinpoint what it was that I didn’t love.

  1. I didn’t love how each stair was trimmed out in wood on the sides.
  2. I didn’t love the ornate wrought iron spindles.
  3. I didn’t love the cream glazed balusters and railing.

But I realized, the shape of the newel post and railing wasn’t all that bad. Could we simply replace the spindles? We took the question to our contractor and were met with a little bit of a hesitation. “We’d have to wood fill every hole on the underside of the railing and sand that down. It would be easier just to get a new railing.” But once I expressed that I’d really love to save this railing (and our budget) and just paint it black, even if it meant filling holes–we got them on board. Here’s how it looks now!

It has made such a night and day difference and I am SO SO happy we were able to reuse parts of the railing–only getting new spindles–which still cost us about $1600 for the custom spindles, install and paint. I looked at SO much inspiration (and shared a bunch in this post) and narrowed it down to a simple wood tapered spindle. I wanted it to be fresh but classic, so we had it all painted the same color–Top Hat Black by Sherwin Williams in their Emerald Urethane Trim Enamel. Warning: It’s smelly! (We left the house for a day and a half while they were painting this.) But I love the high gloss, rock hard finish.

Below is the back staircase which has a much shorter railing that we also refreshed with new spindles and fresh paint.

Although our spindles were custom, I’ve searched “wood tapered spindles” online since and found a plethora of options at really good prices. We only wanted 2 spindles max per stair which required a very specific measurement to ensure that it still met code–so we had a local wood worker make the spindles to all the same height and then the installer actually trimmed from the bottom during install so the angle of the taper was consistent going up the stairs.

We nixed the individual trimmed out stairs for a slick white stringer (the molding going up the rise of the stairs). I really wanted the white risers to look like they were wrapping around seamlessly and I’m so happy with how it turned out and the combination of white, wood, glossy black and our beige baseboards. I’m dying to update the lighting in the stairwells and entry. We’ll be replacing all the wood doors in the coming months, too. I was just going to paint the ones we had but I have gotten so many inquiries about them, I’d rather sell them to someone who will LOVE them for what they are and get new ones–probably painted the same color as the trim.

This black (Top Hat Black by Sherwin Williams) is a wonderful true black. I highly recommend it if you’re looking for a way to modernize your own stair railings. (Another bonus–we were able to pass on the balusters to another family that really wanted them!)

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What do you think?

  1. Love the stairs! We are currently looking to update our steps. It is the first thing people see when they walk in the door. I would like to something similar to what you did. (Except I am keeping the spindles) I am curious about the treads. Did you refinish them? I am trying to keep my costs down because we are at the end of our remodel….

  2. Dana says:

    what finish is this black paint? looks shiny- but is it satin, or a semi-gloss? Looks beautiful!

  3. Christina says:

    Gorgeous. I get so much inspiration from your site. Keep the content coming!!

  4. Barb says:

    The “new” railing looks like the one in my mother’s house, which was built in 1978. Reminds me of that expression, “What’s old is new again.” But I’m glad you like it. :-)

  5. Amanda says:

    Hello Julia! I’m absolutely in love with this transformation. I wanted to paint our all oak stairs black and this post won my husband over! I noticed in the comments below other readers couldn’t locate the color with Sherwin Williams. Did you post an update on that? Also I just loooove the latest post on your exterior. Incredible. Take care.

  6. Tou Kolou says:

    Can’t say I’m a fan. The black doesn’t tie in to anything else in the immediate vicinity and actually sticks out like a sore thumb. I mean, I can see a door in the distance I guess, but otherwise the black looks terribly out of place. White, while pedestrian, would have looked significantly more in step with the overall decor. Seriously, all you “fans” really like the way this looks?! Sorry guys, this one’s a fail in my books.

  7. Kathleen Van Hoof says:

    Love theme with Stair Rail, what a difference it does make to the look of the house, gorgeous!

    Can you share where you were able to find the railings? I’m looking to do something very similar and having a hard time finding a source. Thanks in advance,

  8. Sibila Antoniazzi says:

    Hello Julia, I absolutely love these stairs. We are buying a new house and instead of the builders installing basic spindles I would love to install the same spindles you installed. I went through your Q&As and found that your spindles are 2″ at the bottom. And 1″at the top. Correct? I simply love the look of the balusters!!! Would you mind sharing the person who provided you these spindles? Congratulations on this beautiful project and thank you for sharing your amazing house.

  9. Amanda says:

    Hi Julia!
    I love how this turned out! I am looking for the same size balusters but they are cost prohibitive to have custom made – at least where I live. Can you share the local woodworker that made yours? Maybe they would be interested in selling to your faithful followers!

  10. Anne says:

    Hi! I absolutely love your staircase remodel. I tried looking up Top Hat Black in SW and couldn’t find the exact color. Are you certain it’s Sherwin Williams?

  11. Gina Henley says:

    I love this transformation. You convinced me to paint our spindles, but Sherwin Williams isn’t showing the Top Hat Black Color online. I even called our local store and they said it’s not a color they carry, but can match it. Did you happen to have it matched from another brand. He said it looks like True Value has a color called “Top Hat.”

  12. Loraine says:

    This is another amazing project! What’s the dimension of the spindles? The thickness?
    Thank you so much!

  13. Emily says:

    Did the person who did this work for you custom make these spindles? I’m trying to find something just like this and having trouble. Thanks!

    • Julia says:

      We had them custom made

      • Emily says:

        Thank you! One more question. I can’t find this Sherwin Williams paint color- I’ve called and they said they don’t have anything and I can’t find in their website either ????????

  14. Erin says:

    I’m a little confused. You said you were able to give the balusters away to someone who wanted them. Did you mean the spindles?! I keep staring at the balusters trying to figure out if they are different, but the black paint is the only change I see! (Still learning the actual terms for every part of a staircase, btw.)
    The update to the stairs looks flawless, Julia. You never cease to amaze!

  15. TB says:

    Do you happen to know the color number for Top Hat Black? I’m having a hard time finding it on the SW site. Thanks!

  16. Meghan D says:

    Hi, I posted this question when this blog post came out but it disappeared. Did you do all new treads? Are they just your flooring or another wood you stained to match the floor? Was that an expensive part of the process?

  17. Sara says:

    I love this so much and hope to do something similar in our new home. I can’t seem to find a Top Hat Black paint color by Sherwin Williams. Do you have a number or additional information?


  18. Cameo says:


    What color is the trim? I love all you do! ☺️

  19. Oana says:

    Hey! Just wondering if you could double check on this color. We couldn’t find it in the SW inventory! Are you sure its a SW color??

  20. It turned out very cool, I’m just looking for information about this and get on your page. It looks very beautiful, and most importantly, it is done simply and almost inexpensively. I have long wanted to remake balusters, and now it’s just such a time when there is a lot of free time. I am going to do just that. And then the window was put in order, and the gazebo in the courtyard is furnished beautiful so that you can cook kebabs from your yard and sit, breathing fresh air. Like never before. Thanks for the info, write more!

  21. Claudia Diaz says:

    Absolutely beautiful! Could you tell me what you did with the treads? Were they changed or did you use the old ones? If the latter , could you tell me what finish was used? Were they white washed???

  22. Heather says:

    I absolutely love this transformation. It makes such a huge impact to the feel of the house. You’ve done such a great job with this remodel. I love your style and following along with the progress. Keep it up!

  23. Megan says:

    This looks amazing! I wish it was a DIY! There are tons of tutorials for changing wood spindles to iron, but I can’t find any for the reverse.

  24. Cindy says:

    Very tastefully done! What type of wood are the treads and are they as thick as they look or capped (not sure this is the right term, ha!) on the front and ends?

  25. Julia says:

    Hi Julia!
    Can you provide a link for the rug in your entryway? I have been looking for one just like that.
    Thank you!!

  26. Claudia says:

    Hi Julia

    Beautiful stairs … I wanted to know what was done to the tread of the stairs ? We’re the old ones sanded and trimmed on the sides ? Or did you replace them? If the former, could you please tell me what type of wood they are and what finished was used? We’re they white washed ?

  27. Moriya says:

    Just beautiful! I am so in love with the way this looks. I have a technical question: When the spindles were installed into the treads do you know how they were attached? Just glue? Glue and screws? We’re in the process of building stairs down to our newly finished basement and I’m curious about how these would attach to the treads. I love your design so much!

  28. Kimberly says:

    Enjoy so many of your projects !
    Yours stairs look amazing ! Wanting to paint mine as well
    Wondering why I cannot find
    SW Top Hat Black paint color ?

  29. George says:

    Was it a conscious decision not to paint the natural wood doors and front window grilles black?

    Maybe this topic came up somewhere else.

  30. Kaitlyn says:

    Where can I find wall and trim color?!

  31. Andrea Sims says:

    These look fantastic! I had a similar (though not as lovely) railing and painted it black too. Except I didn’t do anything to the white spindles and now I see yours-that I wonder about doing an all black railing. Of course, your flooring is so lovely and the stairs themselves are too so it helps with the streamlined look of the black. Will you guys be getting a runner? I can’t wait to see your doors…

  32. Rachel Ellis says:

    Okay, maybe a super un related question and maybe you have addressed this somewhere, but your entry rug is kinda perfect. Do you still have the source ????????. Love all you do!! Sometimes when I am thinking about a space or buying some item form my house I think “WWJD” (what would Julia do). Truth!

  33. Jane says:

    Hi there! How did you remove the old iron spindles? I have them and they’re in there with expoy so was thinking of using an angle grinder to cut them and then twist them out. Thoughts? Thanks!

    • Linda says:

      I would also like to know the best way to remove the old iron spindles. Mine are epoxied also. Thanks!

    • Shawn says:

      I have the same question. I would like to replace our “Tuscan style” metal spindles with something simpler and more updated, but the existing ones are also glued (epoxy?) into the hardwood flooring which do not plan on replacing (just refinishing). I can’t find anything online on how best to remove the existing spindles. Since this is an older post, if any other readers have experience attempting this, I’d love to hear how you accomplished it and how it turned out. Thanks!

  34. Angela says:

    It’s beautiful, of course! Can’t wait to see the lighting you choose!

  35. Penny says:

    The black tapered spindles are probably my favorite detail in a whole house full of beautiful details. ????

  36. Melissa says:

    Love it!! What sheen did you use for the Emerald Trim Enamel?

  37. Stephanie says:

    Hi there! So beautiful!! Such an amazing transformation! I would love to DIY re-paint our stairway railing too! Thanks for sharing the paint that was used? Could you also share a bit of the process of removing the old stain/paint from the railing? Did they strip and then prime before painting? Do you have product recommendations for that? Thanks so much!!

  38. Wilma says:

    Or…you could paint the doors black!

  39. Joellyn says:

    It’s gorgeous- and great for everyone to see a budget conscious option. I love to see things reused in a remodel.

  40. Beatrice says:

    That renovated front hall view is AMAZING!!!!!!!

  41. Mimi says:

    So glad the old spindles found a new home and that you always try to re-home items you’re no longer wanting. Thank you for doing that and mentioning it.

  42. Joanne says:

    Gorgeous! I have a similar design here, actually identical. How did you tackle the wood trim? Is it painted? And did you install all light floors or did you sand wood and go light? How much did that cost for the stairs? And what is that flooring? I like it. I currently have white porcelaine 12 x 12 tiles and I have want to pull them out but I know I need to redo all my wood as well so it will cost a fortune.

  43. Kris says:

    Absolutely beautiful classic design!
    Thank you for sharing!

    Can you post the side board again in the foyer?
    Its my Natural esthetic I adore ????

  44. Christine says:

    Did you use alabaster for the risers as well? If so same sheen as walls? We are looking to paint our entryway and can’t decide on which white because our house is north facing. Also thinking of doing paneling in entryway to give it more depth and texture.

  45. Mia Z says:

    Sort of related but I was wondering if you could do a post or a video on how you come to decisions on what to do, what you like and how to stick to your decision. I feel there is some sort of aha moment that happens but probably not. It’s easy to pinpoint what you don’t like but I think much harder to decide on which direction to go and not necessarily always because one is indecisive but because there are so many great ways to change something. Hope that makes sense

  46. jolie says:

    This is probably not the right post but can you tell me if your leather chairs in the living room are comfortable? Would they be a good reading chair
    or is it too loungey? Thank you!

    • Julia says:

      They are SUPER comfortable, but yes, very lounge-y and a little low. Even though I love them so much, I MIGHT move them down to the family room (undecided right now) because they are kind of difficult for our parents to get out of but there is always someone sitting in them, too!

      • Shannon says:

        A modern twist on a classic, love it so much! Do you think that color black would work on a door? Not ready to take the plunge on our own railings quite yet, but want to paint our front door black!

  47. Jana says:

    just fyi, “costed” is only used in the past participle – i.e. “has costed” (here: which still costed us about $1600). You’re just looking for “cost”.

    • Julia says:

      I knew that didn’t sound right! Thanks!

      • Anna says:

        I love that you are OK with friendly, good-faith grammar feedback. Shows how humble and good natured you are :) Can I add another? Past tense of “lead” is “led” (at least according to grammarly). This all looks so good and I can’t wait to see the new lights/doors. You are truly talented!

  48. Rachel says:

    Hi! Love the new look. How much for the new stringer and install? We are advanced DIY’ers (finishing a reno right now to combine our 1960s kitchen/dining rooms into one nice open expanded kitchen – including SO much soffit removal, all new drywall, and demo’ing a 2 story, 3 flue monster internal brick chimney, patching roof, removing fireplace!!) but stairs are a whole other ball game of finish carpentry I don’t know we can take on with good results.

    I’ve been struggling with our current stringers – so dated … we’re just outside DC in VA and labor costs here are astronomical, I’ve been afraid to even ask for a quote from a carpenter. Trying to make decisions before we refinish the whole house of original hardwood to match new reno hardwood.

    PS thanks for all your IKEA kitchen vids/blogs/etc over the years, they have been invaluable!!!! We are hanging the last of 22 new cabinets today :) It’s been a great quarantine project for my husband and me.

    • Julia says:

      Funny enough, the stringer actually got lumped into the flooring install because of how I wanted the riser to seamlessly blend with the stringer, so I can’t give you an exact amount there. Sorry! If you are an advanced DIYer though, I bet you could tackle it. They actually used a chalk line first so that we could visualize the angle and height of it and then cut the stairs out from it. I believe they installed it before the new treads though.

  49. Nath says:

    Gorgeous! Well done!

    I have a weird fantasy that when you swap the doors – you find an arch door for the office –

    and perhaps “hide” or integrate into the wall the one in the staircase..!!

    • Julia says:

      I would love to do BOTH OF THOSE THINGS!!!

      • Kate says:

        At the risk of sounding dumb, I’m not sure what integrating the door into the wall means. Like, no trim? I’m intrigued! Thanks!

      • Julia says:

        Blending it into the wall. Disguising it so it looks like there’s no door there at all. It’s usually done with trim or molding that also exists on the surrounding walls.

      • JL says:

        Nath and Julia, I absolutely love this idea! Camouflaging the closet door would make the two arches the main focus of the entry, framed by that lovely staircase. As for the remaining doors, my vote would be to extend that beautiful black from the other living areas to impart an elegant, upscale look to the hallways (perhaps in a mat finish). Also second the idea to install arched french doors for the office!

      • JL says:

        Nath and Julia, I absolutely love this idea! Camouflaging the closet door would allow the eye to focus on the archways, framed by that lovely staircase. I also second the idea to hang arched french doors into the office. For this and the remaining doors, my vote would be to continue that beautiful black from the other living areas (perhaps in a mat finish); to impart that upscale look throughout the house.

  50. Emily R says:

    Is there a reason why you didn’t match the arch heights?

    • Julia says:

      The one on the right leading into our office was there and we actually felt it was too high. So we’ll address that one when we reconfigure the office door.

  51. Tara says:

    DYING over how beautiful your new staircase is! How is it possible that you created something both classic and modern, moody and light all at the same time?? I’m wondering how it would look to use the too-big candle sconces from the dining room on your stairway… can’t wait to see what lighting you choose!

  52. Brenda says:

    The transformation is remarkable! Thanks for talking through each detail because now I can see and appreciate all the changes. I love your style and your ability to pin-point the details with clarity.

  53. Lori says:

    Such a transformation! That view from the front door ????

  54. Mary says:

    Are you planning a runner for the stairs? We have wood stairs and are slipping constantly. Interested if you are keeping them bare or not!! Love the simpler railing!

    • Julia says:

      I think we will add a runner to stairs. I will say the stairs are not slippery in the slightest but I think a runner would still be nice. I’m experiencing a little bit of decision and spending fatigue right now so I think we’ll take our time choosing one.

  55. MeghanD says:

    Thank you! I’ve been eagerly waiting for a post about your stairs. They are stunning!

    The treads are new. Was that expensive? We have the EXACT same issue. We can do pretty much what you did and it would look divine, but our reads would need to be replaced to match our floor. How did you do that?

  56. julie says:

    This is so beautiful and has so much more of a timeless, not trendy feel. It seems like it would be more difficult for the stair rail installer to fit the new spindles in something existing. Was that the case? Did the builder agree to do it only because you guys are CLJ or do you think he would have done it for anyone? I LOVE that you kept the railing and newel posts, since they were pretty and totally fine. I really, really love how this transformation is turning out.

    • Julia says:

      Hahaha the installer was in his 70s and I can assure you had no idea or care about CLJ. Just a nice talented man who understood budget constraints. And from what I could tell, the install wasn’t that tricky, more the prep of filling the old holes and prepping for new ones.

  57. HeatherB says:

    I tend to be pretty traditional, but I don’t like fussy. THIS, to me, is *kisses fingertips* MU-Wah! Perfection! Clean and not fussy, but doesn’t come across as stark, modern and cold. Love!

  58. Patricia says:

    Good solution when addressing a problem. Knowing your taste in lighting (based on prior choices), have you dreamed up a wish list or mood board for lighting in the front entry? The chandelier is beautiful … in the right home. But I’m guessing it’s on the project list, somewhere behind closet and bathroom and kitchen.
    Enjoying all your projects. You’ve gotten so much done. And so very glad you got as much done as you could before the stay at home restrictions. Much nicer to quarantine in a beautiful home.

  59. Rebekah says:

    This is gorgeous! I doubted you on this one, but the outcome is amazing!

    • Jeanette says:

      I love the new railings! I currently have your old ones. I wonder if I can diy something like your new ones…

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