Updating stairs on a budget 

 
          
  Stairs banner before and after  
         
 

Stairs are the hub of the home, so a shabby or outdated staircase can make a poor first impression and lower the tone of the whole property. Frequently it's not only a question of aesthetics - some older stairs are positively unsafe, having been constructed before modern building regulations came into force. The expense of replacing them is often a step too far for many home owners, but if your pockets aren't deep enough for a whole new staircase we can suggest a few quick and easy updates that won't cost the earth. 

 
             
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Replace the railings    

 
 

Fusion stairs

 

Swapping old-fashioned spindles or a solid balustrade for a more contemporary equivalent can transform the look of a staircase for a relatively modest outlay.

Matching newel caps and a new handrail will complete the transformation at a fraction of the cost of new stairs.

You can also make sure that any gaps in the stairs, for instance the distance between spindles or between treads and risers, conform to modern safety standards. These state that no space must be big enough for a 100mm sphere (about the size of a baby's head) to pass through, so 99mm would be the maximum width permitted.

If you're feeling bold, glass panels instead of wooden spindles for your banister can create a sleek minimalist effect as well as increasing the distribution of light within the home. For a more timeless look, oak or pine spindles will blend well with most types of decor.  

 
             
 

Cut out the cupboard     

 
 

Think about removing the understairs cupboard for a more contemporary open-plan arrangement. With a little imagination you could turn the space into a useful study zone, library, seating area... the possibilities are endless.

If storage is a problem, installing a small cupboard or chest of drawers can be a good way to minimise clutter while still keeping an open-plan feel. You can place flowers, pictures or a mirror on top, and use the cupboard or drawers underneath for concealed storage.

If the stairs adjoin an outside wall you might also want to consider knocking through to create a window, letting in extra natural light.

  Fusion staircase with shelving  
             
 

Go back to basics

 
  Wooden stairs  

The modern trend for using natural wood in interior design has encouraged many home owners to pull up their stair carpet to expose the timber treads beneath. Wood is a wonderfully warm material that blends well into both modern and traditional homes, and will not easily become dated.

If staining the stairs, rub down thoroughly beforehand with fine grit sandpaper, following the grain of the wood, then wipe with a damp cloth.

Brush the surface with wood conditioner to prevent the stain leaving blotches, and allow to dry. Apply the stain as thinly and evenly as possible using a clean rag, following the grain of the wood. You may need a second coat if the shade isn't dark enough for your liking.

Finish off with at least one top coat of polyurethane varnish. This will seal in the wood treatment and protect the surface from foot traffic.

As stairs are the most heavily used areas in a household, many home owners like to apply two or three coats for extra durability.

 
             
 

Paint it pretty    

 
 

You may want to paint just the treads or go to town and decorate the whole balustrade if you're feeling artistic, giving the staircase a fresh new look.

Only detailed preparation will ensure a professional and long-lasting finish. Take time to thoroughly sand down the surface first to remove existing paint or varnish, wipe it clean with a cloth then brush on a stain-blocking primer to seal in any knots.

When this has dried, apply two coats of good quality paint - most people prefer semi-gloss. If you want to make a feature of the treads, or the stair carpet, try painting the surrounding trim a uniform colour, so that the treads stand out in contrast. Alternatively you may prefer to match the colour of the treads to the handrail.

While painting treads is fairly straightforward, spindles can be fiddly and time-consuming. Hiring a paint sprayer for the day could prove the ideal solution, speeding up the job and helping you achieve an even finish. If you're planning on doing a lot of painting, it might be worth investing in your own machine.

  Painted stairs  
             
 

Freshen up flooring

 
  Carpeted stairs  

New carpet can brighten up a tired staircase, and is often the only option for home owners whose stairs are made of plywood, MDF or concrete. With a huge variety of colours and designs on the market, you can use carpet to make a real style statement.

If you have a wooden staircase in good condition, you may choose to lay a runner down the middle and paint or varnish the exposed sections of tread on each side. 

Make sure you install a hard-wearing carpet suitable for stairs, ideally with a ratio of 80% wool to 20% nylon.

Select a thick, good quality underlay and fit the carpet so that the direction of the pile runs down the stairs. Don't use shiny or loop-pile carpets as they can be slippery.

To make your budget stretch further, try piecing together several carpet remnants. These will cost far less than a full roll, and you may find you are able to upgrade to a higher specification - always useful for such a high-traffic part of the house.

 
             
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