Tearing Up The Stairs

March 2, 2016

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Well, the downstairs of our home is officially unliveable for the next couple weeks. Last night, we got all of the old carpet out in preparation for installing new baseboards before the new carpet gets in. We owe you a big update on everything else that has been happening down there–we’ve been busy with recessed lighting and built-ins in the media room/playroom–it’s coming!  But first, the stairs carpet was also removed which puts us at a crossroads:


The stairs have always been this “down the road we’d like to do…” and now, with the carpet off the stairs, it’s time to make all of those decisions! Ack! We originally thought we’d like to run the same wood tile on our main floor down the stairs with the carpet downstairs as a runner–to kind of connect to two spaces. But putting tile on the stairs is now sounding like not a great idea for safety sake or an easy job (we’d need to fine exact matches for trim pieces for the sides and bullnose). So, as unpopular as it may be, we’ll be carpeting the stairs. To be honest, I’m still trying to convince myself it will look as great as I keep saying, but I’m not sure we have other options right now.

But! That still leaves us with the option to change out the spindles and railing. It’s kind of now or never. You may remember awhile back, we painted our railings. They used to be this terrible orange-y oak that stuck out like a sore thumb.



So we painted them a high-gloss black (read more about it in this post). It was an incredible, budget-friendly improvement, but we’ve always kind of wanted something a little more simplistic and less curvy. Our two favorite inspiration photos being this one from Architectural Digest:


And this one:


We started hunting and found almost exact matches to the pieces in the second photo at Lowe’s and made a list of what it would entail for our space:

Newel Post Installation Kit  x 3: $69.24

Newel Posts x 3: $200.85

Balusters x 30: $413.10

Baluster Flat Shoes  x 11: $18.92

Baluster Angled Shoes  x 19: $34.58

Handrail  x 2: $152.64

TOTAL: $889.33

We’ll likely pull the trigger on these purchases today and get it all installed ASAP. We also plan on removing the photos in the stairwell and putting in some trim and moldings instead. I’m excited about the the mix of modern simplistic railings mixed with traditional moldings. It’s gonna be good! So much to do before the carpet gets here, but we work best under a deadline. ;)

Would love to hear your thoughts on carpet vs tile vs wood stairs!


What do you think?

  1. Mandy says:

    We are in the middle of this very project at our house. New carpet coming on our second floor has snowballed into 47 other projects we need to get done, including ditching the old golden oak railings! I love your style/blog and am dying to know what decision you made on your staircase. Please share! :)

  2. We put in a pot filler when we did our kitchen in ’07, and I have to say, for us, we hardly use it. For me personally, I don’t think it’s worth the extra money to plumb it. I know people who love pot fillers, but I wouldn’t do it again.

  3. Jenna says:

    I recently discovered your blog and have only read a few posts and looked through your house tour, but one of the things that stands out to me is that your wall art/decor is so sophisticated. I love the pieces you’ve chosen and how you’ve displayed them! Can you point me to some posts about some of the art in your home? LOVE your blog!! (I noticed a comment you’d left on Emily Henderson’s blog, and then when Katie at Bower Power linked to your white concrete countertops post, I thought I had to click over and check out what you’re all about!)

  4. marcy says:

    Newbie here, can’t type my own name!! Where can I find info on what looks like a stair gate??? Many thanks!

  5. Andrea says:

    I’m struggling with the “carpet vs. tile on the stairs” question right now, as well. The existing carpet is so stained and dirty and smelly (ew!) so it has GOT to go! Last year I redid my entire downstairs with the gray wood-look tile and I LOVE it! But now I can’t decide what will look best on the stairs that meet the tile at the bottom, and more (stained, dirty, smell, ew!) carpet at the top. I’m leaning towards the tile for a few reasons: easier to clean; matches the downstairs floor so it will flow well; my two lovely cats won’t be tempted to soil the tile like they possibly would the carpet. I really like this look:
    Although my stairs are not quite so grand!
    I’m looking forward to seeing what you decide to do!

  6. Anthony says:

    I would choose carpet since it cheaper than other 2 parts, lol. I love the way you redecorate your stairs. It’s awesome. Nice share Julia, May God bless you and your family.

  7. meredith says:

    a couple years ago, we had all the carpet ripped off of our stairs and had wood put in– also did new balusters/newel posts at the same time. i don’t regret it at all! no one has fallen any more than they did when we had carpet on the stairs and those few times have always been when someone is running up or down and being careless! the stairs are the first thing you see when you walk in our front door, so it makes such a statement. much easier to keep clean too. even though we are a “no shoes in the house” family, our carpeted stairs still got SO dirty. i never understood it. now i can just vacuum them and wipe them down when needed.

    i love the railings in picture 2 and think they are SO worth it for the impact they will have and still under $1000.

  8. Pamela says:

    I love a white riser and black tread with carpet runner and iron balusters. I think it gives the modern look with family friendliness. Can’t wait to see the update!

  9. Teresa says:

    My family of 5 has survived almost 13 years with wood stairs with no major falls. They’re not as bad/slippery/evil as they may seem. ;) I think they add character. Every time I entertain the idea of covering them with carpet I just can’t do it. I’m sure whatever you two decide to do will look great, though!

  10. Stephanie says:

    I think footwear has a ton to do with falling down the stairs! We are a barefoot household. I loathe slippers and shoes indoors. We have wood floors with carpeted stairs to our basement. Socks on the carpeted stairs have turned into “fun” skiing practice! However, we will be removing the carpet and installing wood. We have 3 dogs and vacuuming the stairs irritates me.

  11. George says:

    I would replace the treads (if they need it) with wood and stain them to match the tile. Then, put a runner down the stairs. It will blend enough that no one will notice. We were able to stain oak treads to match a wood-look tile. It took 20 stains to find a match but it worked.

    i would not tile the staircase. Seems like such as hassle. I don’t like fully carpeted stairs either. They never look good.

  12. Sarah Sperry says:

    I too have been trying to think about this very thing. I hate the way if you put your foot to far forward on the tread, your foot slides off if they are carpeted. All 5 of us in our house have done this and ended up at the bottom of the stairs. I started asking my contractor friend what he would do and he said tile them. I asked about finding trim pieces? He said use a Schulter strip. You have seen them at Home Depot and Lowe’s next to the tile, but they also have many more to choose from specifically for stairs. The also address the safety issue with allowing the strip to sit up slightly higher than the tile to “catch your foot”. They also have some that are anti slip. The durability of the carpet on stairs is my worry. It gets matted down from the constant traffic. Check out Schulter strips and let me know what you think.

  13. Erin says:

    Does the carpet tile company offer any options for stairs? That might be a good solution to have the best of both worlds. If it were JUST for the looks, oooh those clean tiles… Those mod iron railings will look dope in your house!

  14. Allie says:

    Carpet the stairs and if you don’t want it wall-to-railing, put wood trim down each side and then carpet the middle. That is what we have on our stairs and it looks modern and fresh IMO – especially with the right railing. Carpet is essential, not even so much for the kids (they can find a way to fall down anything – although my daughter got knocked down carpeted stairs in our old house was completely fine) but you have a large dog. As dogs age, stairs become increasingly difficult, if not impossible. They are much more likely to slip and then can get seriously hurt or too fearful to attempt again. It is much quieter too – my sister had hardwood stairs put in her new house and regrets them. Her 11 year old dog has fallen quite a few times, even the addition of stair treads didn’t help.

  15. Kelly says:

    I have had both carpet and wood stairs and love wood stairs far more. It’s much easier for me to sweep stairs than vacuum! Easier takes the cake! You could always do a compromise and do a nice runner on the stairs. Love seeing the progress on your home and I prefer the second photo of the new railings, I think it’ll look great!

  16. I love the railings in that second post. I always use felt like your railings didn’t suit your house at all. Even for that style of house they are too curvy with too many balls on top. Besides its your house your should love every inch of it. :)

    As for the stairs. I know carpet isn’t as nice to look at but with kids and a dog I have never regretted doing carpet on ours stairs. It just makes so much sense.

  17. Judith says:

    I’ve always liked the look of carpet as a runner on top of wood (or wood-looking tile), like Younghouselove did in their new house:
    Though I suppose it’d be more difficult to install on top of tile, since you can’t staple the runner into it. You’d also install tile just to put something else on top of it, and I’m not sure that’s worth the extra work.

    For me, using carpet again is truly the next best option. Especially with smaller kids. My grandma keeps repeating the story of how she’d only put down carpet corners (something like this, I don’t know the English term for it: on top of their marble stairs two days before a visit from my parents and me. Then three-year old me took a tumble down there head first that could’ve turned out really badly if my head had hit stone instead of carpet. So I’m a little biased, but since those stairs lead to the playroom and Greta’s bedroom, going for a softer surface would be my preference.

  18. Allison says:

    I think the new railings are a great idea and you’ll be glad you did it in the long run. I do like you have now, but it seems like a temporary fix.

    For the stairs I’d consider black & white risers with a carpet runner to match the basement… I think it’d tie your upstairs to the downstairs nicely and you wouldn’t have the hard surface stairs.

    Similar to this:

    I’d play around with idea of carpeting the landing as well if you do the runners, Not sure how jarring it would be to have the runners on each side with a wood landing in between them (hopefully that makes sense!).

    I wouldn’t do tile… I grew up on wood stairs (carpet was removed when I was 8ish) and even as older children we all slipped and fell down them quite a few times when in a rush, I can’t imagine how much more painful it would’ve been if they were tile!

  19. susan says:

    Wood on the stairs, but painted! (See Lauren Liess) Then, like has already been said, a runner of carpet.
    Personally I’ll never use carpet again ( the dog hair, the allergies, the never really as clean as you think-and the off-gassing…ugh. ) but if you have to, use some painted flooring somewhere :)

  20. Lauren B says:

    I think you’re right to avoid tile stairs (a fall down those would be awful!) and wood can be very slippery if you’re a no-shoes in the house home. We went with carpet for our entry in a very dark, patterned grey (so I don’t die looking at all the dirt the dog brings in). I have no regrets, even though that’s the only carpet we have in the house. As others have said, it’s much quieter and safer – especially for dogs. We’ve got a 100 pound dane mix who just flies up and down stairs- I am really glad we picked something with a little traction. I would not in a million years use light carpet though. That’s my two cents. :) Can’t wait to see what you do!

  21. Sarah says:

    I’m actually really loving the runner look right now with a simple industrial rail. We’re doing our floors in a few weeks and definitely want to rid the carpet on the steps for the same flooring with possibly a runner down the line. You guys have such a great texture to the carpet you picked that I bet it will look amazing either way but I personally love the idea of the tile with a carpet runner. You always make beautiful choices and I’m sure this one won’t be any different. I would definitely at least splurge on changing out the railing

  22. Kelly says:

    We had hardwood on our stairs and after abotu 2 months living here we decide to carpet them. We have a 9 year old pittie that is a crazy one and loves running up and down the stairs so for safety reasons (and future kids) we decided to carpet them…. Seriously the BEST DECISION EVER! It is so nice to walk on carpeted stairs… especially the ones leading to the basement. Just feels more cozy…. our whole house is hardwood so even though its great visually it sure is nice to walk on something soft!

  23. If the choice is between tile and carpet on the stairs, I would go for carpet! Which sounds crazy to say since I’m normally sort of anti-carpet, but it does make it a lot quieter, especially as kids get older and a little more clompey (maybe your girls won’t be, though! My 9-year-old girl can sure make a racket, though). Also, tile on stairs just seems like so much work to figure out, for the end result. I actually like your current railings look great in photos, but again, in person it may be totally different, and you need it to be your style! I do like the second inspiration photo you showed more than the first!

  24. Melissa says:

    I think you made the right call – your house looks amazing, but one of the best parts about it to me is that it revolves around your family and is totally functional for your needs, not what a design magazine says.
    We’ve been talking about our railing and I haven’t come up with a game plan I like, I keep thinking “I should wait and see what CLJ does with theirs” ha, ha! So thanks! And the price isn’t as outlandish as I thought – even though it’s not pocket change, it’s doable.
    Thank you!

  25. Kelly says:

    I think another commenter already suggested this, but I think it’s the solution to your carpeted stair hesitation:

    That flat piece for the balusters to sit on eliminates the weird “carpet around the balusters” look that tends to make stairs look dated. It basically confines your carpet to an area that is more reminiscent of a runner!

  26. Abby says:

    I think it’s interesting that so many people think wood stairs are slipperier than carpet!! I am always shoe-less, and normal bare footed, in my house and my carpeted basement stairs have always cause me more slips than my bare wood stairs to my second floor.

    Either way, I always think wood or wood + runner looks better and is far easier to keep clean than carpeted stairs. Have you considered getting wood treads and staining them to match the tile?

  27. Jeni says:

    After glancing at the comments I don’t think I have anything new to add but I definitely agree that updating the spindles/railing is going to make a huge (amazing) difference! If it were us, we would probably end up with carpet out of laziness. In my head I can actually hear my husband groaning about tiling stairs.

    Sidenote: am I the only one on the internet who finds carpet far more slippery than wood? I’ve fallen at my parents’ home (carpet) but never on my own stairs. I wonder if I walk weird. Lol. Anyway, good luck with all of your decisions! You guys are moving along so quickly it’s very inspiring!

    • I’ve always had the same problem! It’s like the bottom of my feet catch on the carpet, but don’t on wood. For me, carpet runners seem to be the worst. Or, I’m just super not graceful.

    • Lydia says:

      Nope, not the only one. The only stairs I’ve fallen down (butt bumping from top to bottom) were carpeted. My bare feet just slid right out from under me, and down I went. I’ve currently lived with wood stairs for two and a half years and none of us (two adults (carrying one baby) and a five and three year old) have slipped at all.

      But I have no experience with tiled stairs. They sound slippery, and some tile is out of control when wet.

  28. Meghan says:

    I think you may be disappointed with the look of carpeted stairs. I completely agree with all of the comments about wood and tile being slippery, and I think wood stair treads and risers with a carpet runner is the solution. I would put wood on the landing and continue the carpet runner along that as well. You can stain the wood in either the same colour as the wood tile, or a complementary colour.

    • jaclyn says:

      I agree with you and I also think that wood stained to match the tile would be best in combo with a stair runner.

      Also, my husband and I both fell MULTIPLE times down our carpeted stairs and have yet to fall or slip since we’d switched to a wood stairs with a runner.

  29. Mary says:

    All for carpeting the stairs and replacing the rails. I had rails very similar to the second inspiration photo and they looked kinda cheap and like they belonged outside. I could see a railing with clear panels working really well in your space, maybe in gunmetal rather than black.

  30. Julia Laine says:

    I honestly think with little ones, you will be glad you kept the carpet on the stairs. Hard stairs make for a really hard fall too. It’s not a huge $ investment and there will be plenty of time later when the kids are teens that you can change it out. I LOVE the idea of iron railings with the moldings on the wall, the visual I have in my head will look great. Can’t wait to see it all come together!

  31. Kimberlee says:

    Hate to say it, but I would go with carpet-especially if down those stairs is the gateway to the kids area. Wood and tile are slippery. Not to mention the sound-deadening effects of carpet vs solid surfaces like tile and wood. :)

  32. Nina says:

    When my husband and I bought our current house last spring, the stairs were our first project. They were not only tragically ugly and covered with filthy carpet, but also totally out of code. The balusters were so far apart that both our 4 year old and our 50 lb dog could have easily gone right through them and fallen from the second floor. Yikes. We replaced everything… Balusters, railings, newel posts and had hardwood installed all the way down which we stained and sealed ourselves (I’m sore and tired just remembering this). While the stairs are gorgeous and we love them, the slippery wood has proven to be challenging. I’ve only fallen once, but my daughter seems to slip quite often. Worse, the poor dog… Despite our best efforts to keep her nails trimmed and the furry bits on the pads of her feet as short as possible, she just keeps sliding down. Luckily she hasn’t been hurt, but it’s terrifying to hear and see your dog fall 15 steps. At this point, she doesn’t even come upstairs anymore and it’s sad:( We love the look, but if we had to do it again, I’m not sure we would do wood again.

    • Julia says:

      This is reassuring, Nina. Thanks for your comment!

    • Agreed with Nina – Julia, we are so often on the same page, so I’m piggy backing onto Nina: I think carpet will be the way to go, especially since you chose something so timeless and neutral! We recently fixed up some issues with our stairs (with a blog post to come), but now the only problem is that CC keeps slipping on the treads! With kids and Charly and your home being so family friendly, I know you’re going to rock whatever you decide.

      • Meg says:

        Regretfully agree with the pro-carpet contingent. When we moved to our house we loved the look of our sleek hardwood stairs (still do). It was our first home without carpeted stairs, the look of which I have never liked. We giggled nervously as our very nimble-footed dog slid on them occasionally, UNTIL she wiped out and broke her toe. The process of setting the toe and the 2 months of restricting her movement were emphatically not worth the esthetics. Wish we could turn back the clock on that decision. Sigh — go with carpet/runner.

  33. B says:

    Whatever you pick, just be sure that it doesn’t result in your top and bottom steps having different heights.

  34. Melanie says:

    The blend of the modern rail with the traditional trim on the walls will be perfect for your home! Also, carpet ftw. It’s much more cozy and safe. You consistently make great design choices – you’ve got this!

  35. Elisabeth says:

    Why not add wood treads and paint the treads and risers black or white? On the landing you could do a wood floor and paint that as well….or a plywood plank floor. Add the runner on top, or not.

  36. Cara says:

    Yay for carpet on the stairs! When we moved into our current house a year and a half ago they had nasty light blue carpet that stunk. I tore it up one afternoon and found nice wood stairs underneath. I thought it was my dream come true until 2 weeks later I was walking down the stairs with my 2 yr old twins and slipped 5 steps from the bottom. Not my smartest mom moment but thank God I was able to lift them up as I fell or I would have had 2 babies with broken legs. I didn’t escape so well. My entire rear was black and blue and I mean the entire thing. I didn’t walk right for weeks:(. Needless to say, I prefer carpet over hard surfaces every day of the week, especially with little ones. It will look beautiful!

  37. Jeanna says:

    I love the stair treatment in the second photo! Clean and simple. Goes well with the posts and balusters there.

  38. Ling Wang says:

    I actually love the look of your black-painted railing/spindles! We are going to be putting in wood tile for our first floor and have the same dilemma about what to do with the stairs that are currently carpeted along with the second floor. We plan on re-carpeting the 2nd floor so ultimately we decided to carpet the stairs along with the 2nd floor as there’s no good option for the stairs that doesn’t involve more money.

    • Ling Wang says:

      I should also note that we came to that decision for the sake of our dog & future children as a safety thing. I would love to be able to do a carpet runner over wood stairs, but I just don’t know of any way to transition between wood tile and carpet with that set up. I’m eager to see what you end up deciding!

  39. BeccaS says:

    I think tile would look fantastic but since I know you go for function as well as looks….I think carpet is best. I know someone who has tiled stairs and it is amazing how loud it is. I think because stairwells don’t usually have things like curtains to absorb the sound. So when the dog and kids run down the stairs it sounds like a stampede lol Our basement stairs are hidden by a door so the decision was easy for us…carpet. I have two crazy boys who I swear fall down them once a week and the carpet cushions them on the way down ;) I know it will look great no matter what you guys decide!

  40. Brooke says:

    This is going to be so beautiful!! No photos in the stairwell ever again?? Can’t wait to see how it all looks. I hate when one house project forces you to complete another that you weren’t quite prepared for. It’s like order of operations! ha!

    • Julia says:

      I know!!! I actually feel like I’m not mentally prepared to make all of these decisions right now, but it has all snowballed and here we are.

  41. Oh and as Brittany mentioned, ‘ L shaped metal strips,’ I think is referring to schluter strips. They eliminate the need for bullnose, which you may ready know;).

  42. Lucas says:

    I think the simple metal rail will really look great. The current railings are too fussy, formal, and Victorian. Your house will definitely benefit from a more casual and graphic expression of the rail at its core. Have you considered doing a 4″ or so wood section under the rails and along the wall? Then the carpet can act like a runner down the middle?

    The addition of trim on the wall will look great! I know you’re probably missing the look from your old living room!

    • Julia says:

      Your comment hit so many nails on the head. Thank you, Lucas! We’d love to do some sort of wood section on either side of the carpet, we’re just trying to figure out how to do that so it matches our wood tile. We’ve also considered just doing a straight, slanted trim piece down the whole stairs for the balusters to attach into and build up the sides of the stairs for that. So many options, so little time to decide!

      • Brooke says:

        Yes, I agree so much!!! The carpet as a runner would looks so good!!

      • Lucas says:

        With your gumption I’m sure you can get a stain to match. Minwax makes a weathered wood color that over red or white oak may just do the trick!

    • Haley says:

      Yes! I agree totally with this. I love the look of wood steps, but functionally carpet is a lot safer.

  43. My husband owns a tile company so I totally get not doing the wood plank tiles on the stairs. We have wood plank tiles in our house as well but not near the stairs. I personally dislike carpet, (the last we have to rip up is actually on our stairs) although it is completely a personal choice. I myself would consider a small scale pattern tile (black/white)/ and or painted wood. Not sure how helpful that was, ha!

  44. Liz Michaud says:

    I think carpet is a great idea for the stairs especially with kids! I had tile on our old stairs and it just didn’t look right. I have had many carpeted stairs in houses over the years and my only suggestion is that the berber carpets with a little texture and colour variance always keep looking good the longest. Just something to consider! Can’t wait to see what you have been up to in the basement!

  45. Is your tile guy able to manually bullnose your tile? I know our guy has done it for us (although not with our floor tile). Another option is to get those L shaped metal things (dang, don’t remember what they’re called) to run around the edges. We did that on our sunroom stair (ordered the piece in black, i think they come in all colors of the rainbow)

    • Julia says:

      We are our tile guy. Hahaha. Do you have a pic of your sunroom stairs on your blog?! I want to see!

    • Calie says:

      I think it’s called a “schluter” edge for tile (to finish w/out a bullnose or finished tile edge). We used some in our shower along the cubby for shampoo.

  46. Kay says:

    Although I prefer the look of tile on stairs, it can be slippery (and I’m not a fan of the runner look). Carpeted stairs are safest for kids (and adults). I also have many fond childhood memories of sliding down our carpeted stars in sleeping bags with my sibs ;)

  47. Evelina says:

    So exciting that you guys are finally tackling the stairs! I have been following your playroom reno on your Snapchat and it’s looking really great! Right now we have carpet on our stairs and it’s nice and cozy on our feet and helps prevents slips. But I am dreaming of hardwoods on our stairs to match our floors on the main floor. One day!

  48. Kristen says:

    Can’t wait to see the updated railing! I always wanted to change the railing in our previous house and have been thinking about it while we hunt for a new place in the Chicago area.

  49. cd says:

    The inspiration photos are cool, but, really, your current look matches the general architecture of your house and painting it was the perfect way to modernize it a big but still have it make sense. I’d save that $800+ and leave it. It looks great right now. Your house isn’t contemporary or midcentury modern but your other updates still make sense in the space. Don’t over think it!

    • Arli says:

      I agree with CD, simply because I really like the current railings. The only thing I would change perhaps are the newel post caps to something less round and more contemporary. The carpet will wear and get dirty, but is so much softer, quieter and safer for the littles.

    • Julia says:

      I don’t know. I agree the first is way too contemporary for our house, but I think the second is a good match to our modern traditional house. Gonna sit on it for a few more hours.

      • Kait Bombardieri says:

        I agree with the above…love the look of it as is. However, I am sure that whatever route you take, it will look great :)

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