It Only Took Us a Year: Painting the Exterior Stairs


Early last summer, we rebuilt our exterior front staircase. This was after we poured new concrete and painted the front porch, but before we built our garden, gave the front door a color, stained the deck and built our porch swing. I list all these things for a couple reasons – for one, we often wonder who all these people are that say they slow down in the summer? Has this become a thing that people say, but no longer holds true? And two, we thought that by the time a few months had passed and we finished knocking out a bunch of our outdoor to-dos, the staircase would surely be ready for paint. Because they were built from pressure treated wood, it needed an adequate amount of time to dry, but summer quickly turned to fall (for half a second) which turned into winter (for like, six months), and before you know it, it’s been a whole year, and you’re still starting at your incomplete staircase.

Until now!


A quick note about pressure treated wood: Because it’s been treated with chemicals to prevent wood rot and damage from insects, it’s recommended that you allow the wood to dry for a month – minimum! – before completing your project with paint or stain. To see if the wood has dried for an adequate amount of time, sprinkle water on the surface. If it beads up, it’s not ready for paint. If the water soaks in, the wood is dry and ready to seal, paint or stain!

The unpainted staircase has been driving us nuts, especially since we’ve been spending so much time on curb appeal during the short lived summer months in Chicago. We knew that if we could just finish the stairs, the front of our home would look much more cohesive! This spring and early summer has been incredibly rainy, which, while great for our lawn and plants (yeah!) was making it difficult to complete the outdoor project.

In my mind, I love to finish a project from start to finish before moving on to the next (which is why the kitchen is eating away at me; an update on that is coming soon!), but with finicky weather and only a few sporadic hours to get the job done, I decided to chip away at the painting in smaller chunks.

Scott pressure washed the stairs one evening, I began painting the next. In between every step came rain, which would delay painting for a few more days. Finally, Scott was like, enough!, and we taped off the stairs, fence and walkway and used our trusty paint sprayer to Get It Done. Really, it saved me hours from cutting in, and we should’ve done so from the start! Every nook and funny angle is perfectly covered in clean white paint.


We used the same paint as the rest of our porch, Valspar Aspire in Designer White (color matched from Clark+Kensington) with an exterior satin finish. With the railing complete, we followed up with the risers by hand:


For the stair treads, we continued with Sherwin Williams Deckscapes opaque stain in Gray Birch. It’s the same stain that we used on the rest of the porch floor, and we’ve been incredibly impressed with the durability. Our only regret is that we didn’t choose a slightly darker shade, as the Gray Birch is light enough to show off foot traffic. (But it does look pretty!)


I used an old paintbrush to apply it right onto the treads, which took me about thirty minutes from start to finish. The first coat quickly soaks into the wood (on the left), whereas the second coat gives a strong opaque finish (on the right):


Finally, our front porch is really complete! (That is, until we move forward with our bigger dream of a tongue and groove ceiling and new siding, but, you know. Baby steps.)


Can I take a moment and throw it back to where we started? The front of our house has gone through a huge transformation in the two summers that we’ve owned the home! This photo was taken right before we began demolition over July 4th weekend in 2013 (I mean, holy cats!):


And today, she’s all, hello, let’s hang out.


Looking at these photos puts into perspective how far we’ve come and how long it really takes – especially when it’s so easy to forget that ourselves. Can you spot the differences in the two years? Trimmed trees! New pavement! A new door and added transom! An extra dog! A garden and repaired lattice and functioning lights and efficient windows and a spaceman!

27 replies on “It Only Took Us a Year: Painting the Exterior Stairs”

  1. WOW. It looks amazing. I wouldn’t change a thing except for maybe adding me taking a nap on that porch swing on a cool Friday night!

  2. What a difference! It must be so, so satisfying for you two. Great job!

  3. The house looks amazing! It’s easy to forget how far you’ve come! Loving all the things you’ve done with the place.

  4. AWESOME! Man, isn’t it great to finish something and then look back at ALL the changes. Your house looks so warm and inviting compared to 2013 :)

    1. 2013 scares me, haha! I had forgotten how overgrown the trees were when we bought the house. You can see that they were literally scraping the porch!

  5. Looks great!!! I need to redo our front porch and steps but haven’t had time to do it yet. We’ve only been in the house for 8 years… yeah… I may just use the same color as you!

    1. Just a heads up that the Grya Birch does show footprints – if you’d like to hide that better, we recommend something a little darker! The white is perfection though, and the Valspar Aspire has held up through our Chicago winter like a champion!

  6. It looks great! I love the painted steps, the grey and white look fabulous!

  7. Seriously inspiring! You must be the envy of the neighborhood these days.

  8. so inviting! really nice job and your garden looks fabulous; it has really filled in.

  9. Do you need a compressor or anything else with the paint sprayer? Love the ease, I’ve just never used one and would love to hear what else you use!
    Looks great!

  10. The transformation is truly incredible…I love how thorough you guys are, and how you always get it done RIGHT! The war with my impatience is a tough battle, but seeing you two go about each project with long-lasting durability in mind is so inspiring. Oh, and can I just tell you AGAIN how fabulous your photography is? That side-by-side with the shoes peeking out at the top? Genius composition…Bravo!

    1. How is the stain on the stair treads holding up? I have exterior wood stairs like yours, and I painted mine with elastomeric paint. It has held up well except on the edges of the treads, where the paint has flaked off badly. I am wondering if the Deckscapes stain would do better. Thanks.

      1. We’re really happy with it! It has sort of worn down on the edges of the treads (similar to what you’re describing), but it’s not flaking at all. It’s just worn because it’s the main entrance to our home, and it gets the most abuse. The wear is VERY minimal though, and our covered deck still looks pretty awesome a few years later! We can’t complain about how it’s held up, so much so, that we’ll be using the same brand on our back patio in a few weeks. I hope that helps a little!

  11. what about painting the treads the door color? (also the porch floor)?

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