»
S
I
D
E
B
A
R
«
Painting the Stairway, No Pussyfooting Around
Apr 21st, 2010 by

We chose a funky fleur-de-lis stencil to brighten up the old stairway.

We chose a funky fleur-de-lis stencil to brighten up the old stairway.

We’ve got two stairways in our small Victorian home: one that meets the front door and another that goes to the second-floor from the hallway off the kitchen in the back of the house.

The front stairway is grander and features a shiny oak surface. You could say that’s “a stairway going nowhere, just for fun.”  Now, if I were a rich man I’d replace the back stairway with some fine woodgrain, but since I’m not, I do the next best thing: I paint it.

When we bought the house nearly 16 years ago it was in rough shape and this stairwell had a shag rug that stray cats used as a bathroom. There was also a hole in the wall. We got rid of the rug, disinfected the stairs and repaired the hole in the wall. We then painted the stairs, but the stain only lasted a year or so. So we then put carpeting it on it but that looked shabby only a few years later.

Hopefully, I won't have to paint these babies again until 2014.

Hopefully, I won't have to paint these babies again until 2014.

The solution? Paint, but now I use the best paint available for the job: Fine Paints of Europe. The Vermont company sells a floor and deck paint that is made in Holland and lasts much longer than American paints and stains. It costs more too: $115 for a 2.5 liter can. But it’s worth it.

I’ve used their other paints on walls and trim in a few rooms in my home and those rooms hold their sheen much longer. The colors look brighter too as their paints have a higher concentration of pigments.

I first painted the back stairway with Fine Paints of Europe paint in 2006. I sanded the wood, applied a coating of primer and then two coats of paint. Now, four years later all I had to do was clean the stairs and apply one coat.

I’m getting much better at painting too. Since this stairway has three different colors — white, blue and yellow — the first time I painted it I used lots of painter’s tape to protect each color from splattering onto the other colors. But this time, I only used the tape at the base of the lip on each stair.

Instead I used an angled brush and carefully cut in with a steady hand. This saved time and avoided other problems of using tape, such as bleeding when paint gets up underneath the tape.

There was one problem, however, I wasn’t able to avoid: keeping the cat away from the freshly painted stairs. I had him locked down the cellar for the day but when I opened the cellar door, he skirted around my legs and flailing arms and ran up the staircase ripping off small amounts of his white fur in the process.

Not wanting him to have access to the staircase again, I managed to corner him under a bed upstairs. But again, he ran past me and down the staircase: this time leaving blue paw prints on the vinyl kitchen flooring below.

Okemos was faster than I thought. Click photo to see more photos.

Okemos was faster than I thought. Click photo to see more photos.

More proof that I lost the battle of keeping the cat off the freshly painted stairs. Click photo to see more photos.

More proof that I lost the battle of keeping the cat off the freshly painted stairs. Click photo to see more photos.

‘Beacon Hill’ Backyard Makeover (Slideshow included)
Aug 3rd, 2009 by

Here's the RootsLiving backyard after a "Beacon Hill" makeover.

Here's the RootsLiving backyard after a "Beacon Hill" makeover.

(Click here or the photo above to see a slideshow of the new backyard. To watch it full screen, click on the arrows in the lower right corner of the slideshow.)

Last year, I wanted to turn my small backyard in Malden, Mass. into something rivaling a Beacon Hill garden.

And this is what the yard looked like before the makeover.

And this is what the yard looked like before the makeover.

My home is right outside of Malden Square and friends and family are often surprised at the amount of privacy we have: we have more privacy in the heart of the city than most people have in more suburban neighborhoods.

Yet, the yard was run down so I sought inspiration on Beacon Hill. Every year the Beacon Hill Garden Club has a tour of the hidden gardens there and so as news editor of Boston.com I conveniently decided I would create a photo gallery of the tour.

I knew I wanted to replace the old, crumbling asphalt walkway with bricks and extend the brickwork into a small patio. I also knew I wanted to add some small trees and bushes along the back fence. And I also knew none of this would be cheap, so I did what I usually do before starting a big project: I consulted a design expert so I wouldn’t miss any unforeseen opportunities to improve the yard.

This peace of mind cost about $250. For that, landscape designer Sally Muspratt came to my house and gave me suggestions for about an hour. She liked my basic plan and told me the best way to accomplish it by making a few structural suggestions and by letting me know what plants would do well in each area of the yard.

Here's another look at my urban oasis before improvements were made.

Here's another look at my urban oasis before improvements were made.

And here's the after-shot of the same scene, after the work was done.

And here's the "after" shot of the same scene.

The most important thing she told me was not to waste money planting along the back fence, because a Norway Maple tree in the neighbor’s yard was putting its roots into my yard and would make it difficult for anything to survive. Instead, she suggested I build raised beds there where small trees and shrubs would be able to put down their roots.

I decided to buy the raised beds online at a site called, Naturalyards. And I also decided to buy two trellises; one in each raised bed at Trellis Structures. My friend, Jay Martinez (who works in engineering) supervised and helped install the trellises and build the beds. He also lent me his wheelbarrow, which came in handy when the local nursery dumped five yards of dirt in my driveway for the beds.

The two L-shapped raised beds are mirror images of each other. I planted the same plants in the same location in each one: two Japanese Stewartia trees; two climbing hydrangeas to climb up the trellises; two Japanese Maple trees; six low-bush blueberry plants; two Virginia Sweetspire; and two Redvein Enkianthus.

A look at the side yard before the makeover.

A look at the side yard before the makeover.

And a look at the side yard now.

And a look at the side yard now. Bricks replaced broken asphalt and cobblestones replaced crumbling cement borders.

All of the plants are historically accurate to go with my 1848 house. In other words, most of these plants were readily available in the Boston area during the second half of the 19th century.

For the brick walkway and patio, I got three bids and they ranged from about $5,000 to $15,000. I went with the lowest bid, not only because of the price, but also because I had used these masons before and was a big fan of their work.

After the structural elements were in place, I tended to the smaller details: replacing an old, worn out patio table with a funky, painted, farm table; adding urns, window boxes and planters filled with flowers; and even stepping up the efficiency of my barbecue area by adding a baker’s rack someone was throwing out in the trash.

I may not be able to afford to live on Beacon Hill just yet, but now when I step in my yard, I feel like I’ve arrived.

(Photos and text by Mark Micheli)

Check out other RootsLiving home projects.

»  ©2010 RootsLiving; Substance: WordPress   »  Style: Ahren Ahimsa