stair risers with wallpaper removed on some of them


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Today I am going to tell you a story about applying temporary wallpaper to stair risers. It’s a fairly cheap and simple project you can easily accomplish in one afternoon. Unless you try to do it at our house.

You see, at our house, we somehow find a way to turn even the simplest, straight forward project into an ordeal that can stretch on for weeks. If you are looking for the same old boring post about how easy something was, complete with aaahhhmazing “after” pictures you are reading the wrong blog. If you are looking for a post about how someone can mess up royally on even the most straight forward DIY you have found it.

This blog isn’t called “The Witty Gritty Life” for nothing. Most of the time there is wit. This time there will be grit, you’ll see. There may have been fist shaking and ugly crying and the ever so fleeting consideration of calling a divorce lawyer. Over stair risers? Really?  Yes, really. Read on.

Here is a before image of said stairs:

before image of stair risers

Now, before I go on, I have to tell you that this will not be the only “before” picture of this same exact project. It’s just the first one. Pretty grody, right? And that is after they got a serious scrubbing. You didn’t think I had the guts to show you a true before shot, did you? The bright orange treads are not exactly my favorite thing, either, but since they were waxed by the previous owners it’s more difficult to stain them a different color. I digress…

Well, as I mentioned above, things didn’t go as planned, but as it turns out it’s actually a good thing in the end. And because something went terribly wrong, I can actually present this entire project in a way that others might not be able to. And I can answer some questions for you with certainty now, rather than having to guess at it. I suppose that was worth at least some of the aggravation and agony.

Earlier in the year, I gushed about adding temporary wallpaper accents to the home. At that time I h18ad not done any of it yet, but the plans were certainly in the works.

Related: Adding a Fun New Dimension with Temporary Wallpaper

So I recently set out to beautify an area that gets a lot of abuse in our house, our stair risers. We live in a split level home and have a short flight of stairs going up to our bedrooms. They are right off the foyer and very visible to all who enter the house.

Tired of looking at the beat-up, scuffed up mess, and not at all motivated to paint them again, I decided on sprucing them up with temporary wallpaper.

After admiring wallpapered stair risers on Pinterest forever, I knew this would be the right solution for this trouble spot. It just took a while to find the right pattern at a price I was comfortable with.

As decorating projects go, this one is quick and easy and doesn’t require any fancy tools. The most important part is that the stair risers are clean, smooth, and painted to allow the adhesive on the wallpaper to stick properly.

Our stairs were in pretty good shape overall and just needed a good once over to get stray scuff marks off.

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To make the end result more durable, I decided to remove the trim piece at the bottom of each step and re-attaching it after the wallpaper was applied. This will keep the paper from peeling off easily.

Get the measurements for each riser. Stair risers will usually measure the same in a straight run of stairs, except for maybe the bottom step. For me this meant that I could fit three steps worth of wallpaper into one width of wallpaper as each riser was 6″ tall and approximately 36″ wide. The wallpaper is 21″ wide.

One important note on the wallpaper. Subtle patterns like the one I chose, are a snap to apply. If you do choose to use a bolder pattern, you need to take care to match it well, to keep it from looking chaotic.

Once all the pieces are cut, carefully peel off the backing, making sure the paper doesn’t stick to itself. Line up the top edge of the paper with the top of the stair riser and smooth out the paper gently as you go. The plastic dough scraper or old credit card will help with the bubbles.

Related: How to make over a simple Ikea table in three easy steps

Applying each piece of wallpaper was not a difficult job. There may have been a minor mishap when a current Costco card was lost, but I digress.

Here is a rare pic of me in action:

picture of me applying the temporary wallpaper to a stair riser using a plastic dough scraper

As you can see I didn’t even try to suck my stomach in;)

After repeating the process for all seven risers, it was time to step back and admire my handy work.

Picture after temporary wallpaper has been applied to all seven stair risers

Not bad, eh? Except for the bottom trim piece, which clearly needed touching up. Little did I know that this bottom trim piece would be the beginning of all the terrible that happened with this project.

Next, I began to “try” to reattach the other bottom trim pieces. But that was much easier said than done. The trim was made from apparently bulletproof red oak, spray painted white, and it didn’t want to be nailed back on.

Or maybe it didn’t like the nails I was using. In any case, it turned out to be so much harder than I thought. After a few tries, during which the nails went in part way and not any farther, I decided it was definitely better to drill pilot holes. But now the nails that were hammered in partway wouldn’t budge, not one bit.

I even went so far as to cut some of them off with my jeweler’s saw. I figured I could easily patch everything once the trim was down.

This is where I handed the hammer to my spouse. He diligently nailed all of the trim pieces on and put a few more holes and gouges in the trim in the process. My efforts to paint the trim ahead of time so I wouldn’t have to do it in place were down the drain. Completely. That was not the bad part.

When I inspected the trim, I noticed that the very bottom piece, the one in the picture above, was not the same size. So I asked hubby to remove it, which he gladly did.

But then he took the initiative to do something he hadn’t been asked to do and ruined the entire project. You see, in the short time it took for me to shower, he wanted to help me out by sanding the patched trim. Now, normally that shouldn’t have led to the demise of the wallpaper on the stairs.

But when my honey does something, it’s “go all the way or go home”. He grabbed the closest available sanding contraption – a large drywall sanding sponge – and sanded like the devil was after him.

Stair riser after stair riser, parts of my newly and proudly applied wallpaper had a good chunk of its finish sanded off, revealing nothing but white vinyl underneath. It was glaringly obvious to me right away. How he could not have realized what he was doing and proceeding on, well, that eludes me to this day. Must be a guy thing…

This is were the lamenting, fist shaking, ugly crying and ever so brief divorce lawyer thought came in. There was no way of salvaging any of it. And living with it the way it was was clearly out of the question.

picture of wallpapered stair riser with scuffs

After a few days, I was ready to get back in the saddle and undo the hurt and pain having to look at this mess was causing me every time I walked up the stairs.

Removing the damaged wallpaper was easy. It pulled back off each step in one piece. But as you can see, it also took quite a bit of the underlying paint with it. If you were wondering what your stairs might look like if you peel it back off, now you know.

I do suspect that the yellowish layer of paint on our risers was oil-based paint that was painted over with latex. I have since used removable wallpaper on a wall painted with latex only. While re-positioning the paper and peeling it off a couple of times, the paint stayed completely intact.

stair risers with wallpaper removed on some of them

Thankfully I had a little moral support.

Rascal, the black lab mix at the bottom of the stairs

After it was all said and done, I scraped off any loose paint and sanded everything smooth before applying the temporary wallpaper for the second time.

Thankfully there was just enough of it to do all of the stairs once again. So, in the end, it didn’t wind up costing extra. It made more sense to buy new trim for the stairs because the old oak trim is too beat up for me to even want to mess with it. I may be frugal, but I am not a glutton for punishment.

And here it is nearly finished for the second time. The trim is not yet attached in this picture. It needs another coat of paint and I ran out in the middle of the project, but you get the idea.

nearly finished stairs with temporary wallpaper attached and trim cut and painted

Here is a shot of the pattern close up, if you were wondering.

close up image of the temporary wallpaper pattern used in this project

It’s a lovely light bluish-green with a hint of silver shimmer. Don’t you just love the textured look? I chose it, because it has a little mid-century modern vibe to it while remaining fairly neutral.

I just didn’t think I could look at a bolder pattern for very long. And after what this project put me through mentally, I am pretty sure I don’t want to be changing it out anytime soon. Not that it wouldn’t be fairly easy.

All in all, I can only recommend trying this! Just make sure your helpers are closely supervised at all times. Thankfully, our marriage will stay intact and I hope it was worth making some mistakes so you don’t repeat them.

Have you ever considered applying temporary wallpaper to stair risers? Do you have any DIY mishaps to share? Judging by some of the responses I received on Facebook after I posted about this fiasco, I am definitely not alone in having a project ruined! Don’t be shy!

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If you pin it now, you won’t have to remember later!

Learn how to give your stairs an updated and trendy look by transforming them with temporary wallpaper. This is an easy DIY project that requires no special tools and can be accomplished by anyone in an afternoon, unless you make the mistake we did.


    1. Thank you Marlies! I am glad you enjoyed reading it. Things often don’t quite work out as planned and it certainly helps to see the humor and the lessons in it.

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