How to make the hallway look amazing: restoring the banister


The banister is one of the things in the house keeping us sane right now. It sits majestically in our upstairs hallway as a bright, shiny example of DIY gone very, very right. It serves as inspiration for our ability to actually do something ourselves and as a light at the end of the tunnel for the work on the house. It looks fantastic.

When we moved into the house, the banister was painted white. Not just painted, coated. The upstairs piece is original to the house and had a dark wood stain, but somewhere along the way it was painted brown then cream then white. I had no experience ever trying to strip paint from anything, so I figured we could just paint the railing black and call it a day. (Spoiler alert: I love painting things black.)

In the first few months after moving in, I had a number of other projects keeping me busy, so I suggested that Suj take charge of the banister. One of the many things I love about Suj is that he likes to do things the right way. Not that slapping a coat of black paint on everything isn’t “right,” but Suj is a little more thorough and thoughtful when he approaches a task. After some googling and youtube watching, Suj decided he wanted to strip the banister down to the original wood and refinish it.




Before doing anything, we tested the paint for lead because we are equal parts responsible and scared. Test was negative, so we were good to go. Suj started the stripping with a heat gun, but it kept setting off our ancient smoke alarm, and it was pretty slow going with so many layers of paint. The best technique he used was several passes citristrip followed by scraping with a multi-tool. It was horrible and super messy, but it worked. We worked on the project for a few weeks, spending a couple hours here and there after work and on weekends. I think it was sort of meditative for Suj. After we got all the paint off, Suj sanded everything down, applied a stain, and finished up with a coat of gloss. 



We let ourselves off a little easy and decided not to strip the bottom railing. I actually like the look a little better when the entire bottom part is white. A lot of the paint was chipping and peeling, so we sanded those parts and applied primer before we painted.



The results are magical. I just love it so much.


The downstairs portion of the railing is not original to the house, unfortunately. At some point, the prior owners changed the layout of the stairs so they lead straight out the front door rather than turning perpendicularly at the landing. The change probably makes more sense functionally since you don’t have to go through the living room to get from upstairs out the door, but it looks kind of goofy and creates a really awkward space between the stairs and the living room wall. Our contractor is changing the layout back to the original design. Eventually. In the meantime we are looking for a salvaged banister post to replace the ugly plain one we have now. It’s going to look sweet.




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