Railings and Pickets

The month of June flew by with no blog posts. Work for me took an unexpected turn that created a huge backlog for me. I have been traveling and putting in lots of hours lately. So as life so often does when one part gets busy the rest doesn’t stop. Renovations continued through the month of June with Matt at the helm. While the pace has slowed down considerably we are almost done with the project. Hopefully I can catch up on the progress to date. The results are exciting……

With the Newel posts in place and the treads stained and polyurethaned, the next step was the railings and the risers.  The order of operations confused me a bit here but in the end it all came together. We went with a simple square picket that kept the angular edges the house carried through the new stairs.

For the finishes we opted for a darker stain on the risers. Currently the trend is painted risers and while we like that look also, it just wasn’t a match for our house. It would have looked like we had a renovation. With the contrasting stains the hope is that it will look like it has always been here.

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Lessons Learned Note: I still have a disdain for subcontractors. If you find good ones that will listen to what you want, hold on to them and pay them fairly. Actually overpay them, they are worth their weight in gold. The polyurethaner was an OK sub but he really didn’t listen to what we said. His process is messy. At the point he was staining and polyurethaning the stair treads, we were undecided on the finish for the riser. He translated that as ….. no need to be neat I can slop my stain and paint will cover it. So needless to say the finisher was a little less than amused when he had to first sand down the drips and overages left by the poly guys. The end result is nice but during this portion of the job I personally was a little uneasy. It is just so counterproductive to me for one trade to create more work than is necessary for the next trade. And we all know what they say about it rolling downhill.

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So here is the first look at the light fixtures. more about those later.

20140520-DCS_0062 Originally we thought that we would have pickets on all sides of the stair opening. But once we started realizing the space it made sense to use a half wall for two of the sides.

  • It gave a bit of a financial break, wall is cheaper than railing and pickets.
  • It gave a bit of separation from the two ends of the attic.
  • It added a great deal of stability to the upper railing. With the rail having a solid to attach to it was more stable than railings alone would have been.
  • It also allowed another electrical outlet on the other side of the half wall.

Stairs – Part 2

With the slop and mess of the foam insulation and plaster behind us and the mechanics and wiring in place, it was time to get into the details. The Cornerstone team spent the better part of two days setting the Newel Posts and getting the permanent treads and risers installed. Stairs are complicated. Our stairs are turning out beautiful. They will be the welcoming feature in our foyer.

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Fluted box Newel Post to coordinate the details in the Livingroom mantel.

The Newel Posts were notched and installed adn look as if they have always been there. Matt and I really appreciate the beauty of these posts. Even though they were pricey, they were worth every penny.

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The upper floor Newel Posts without the fluting to help ease the transition into a more casual space.

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The way they turned the corner and ended the base to the wall with a wedge is quality. Most will just straight cut the base to the wall. This nice detail shows Cornerstone’s commitment to quality work.


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We were so excited after the first abbreviated week’s work, little did we know it would only get better and more exciting. The stairs took shape almost instantly. I can barely remember the time when the stairs were hidden behind the closet door. Having drawn the new stair plan so many different times from the napkin sketch when the idea first crossed my thoughts to the CAD plan it appeared just as I imagined it would. In the begin of this idea I wasn’t sure if there was enough room to get the proper run to accommodate the needed rise to get to the attic.  By creating an L-shaped stair it gave us just enough room to run the treads out to a nice comfortable foyer. Seeing this idea come to life was very exciting. It has created a gracious entry and opened up the foyer.

The two closets we sacrificed will of course be missed but the funny thing about this house is that there are more hall closets than I have ever seen in any house, at least there were. Before there were 4 now only 2 remain. although temporarily we have claimed the leftover space at he bottom of the old stairs for a coat closet at least until the kitchen goes to renovation. So for the next year, most likely, we will utilize the odd but useful coat closet at the bottom of the stairs leaving us with 3 hall closets, for now.


Almost instantly they appeared. The stringer for the original stairs can be seen through the back of the new stairs.


First look from landing to front door.

With the temporary treads on and the ceiling opened up a bit, the attic is now open. With our late spring arrival the temperatures have dipped back into the 30’s, the attic is now open. The little things you don’t think about can make the biggest impacts. We improvised a solution. Nightly the opening got covered with a drop cloth and leftover piece of paneling. It made a world of difference in the comfort level and heating on the first floor. Correcting the lack of good insulation in the attic has been one of the goals of this phase of the renovation.

One of the other things we didn’t count on was that Zoe was terrified of this new obstacle between her and her humans. When we would go upstairs to marvel at the progress that had been done that day, she would just sit at the bottom and give us the look.


All cleaned up for the weekend.


Are y’all having fun up there without me?


Renovations Begin – Phase 1


The first time Matt saw the attic space and started dreaming.

One of the things that drew Matt and I to the house was its overwhelming potential, big rooms and solid construction. That was just over 4 years ago. Since that time, we have lived in the house and let it speak to us. The design ideas are somewhat different from the first days in the house and probably somewhat different from they would be if we waited 3 more years. But here we are today and the big renovation starts now.

Up until now, we have just done things in the house that were necessary and practical. We have replaced the oil burning behemoth of furnace with a high-efficiency natural gas boiler, refinished the floors, replaced the dishwasher when it finally gave up and built the infamous fence for Zoe. Just the necessities.

We first prioritized the renovations that we thought would be good to get done in the order with thought. Bathroom, Attic, Kitchen – that was the plan. But then priorities shifted and the seasons came and went and we you get the idea, now the list is Attic, Bathroom and Kitchen.  We know the Kitchen is the last piece of this puzzle but the importance of the attic became urgent when Matt landed a great job in the corporate world. He has quickly outgrown our shared office space and is ready for a real home office and the joys of central AC. Also by relocating the stairs, we set up the kitchen phase by getting the stairs out of the way of future renovations that will align the hallway.

But like most puzzles there are a lot of connected parts and pieces. Figuring out just what to include in this phase of the renovation was key to making it work. This is where we are so glad that we enlisted the help of a professional. Cornerstone Builders saw and shared our vision from the beginning, there really was no question of using anyone else.  The Cornerstone crew have all tirelessly answered endless questions and sometimes in tandem, as Matt and I are usually not in the same place during the days. They are patient and through with their answers.

So for Phase 1 of the Renovation we are including:

  • redirecting and re-configuring the stairs to the attic
  • blowing in open cell insulation
  • attic window replacement
  • removing the upper portion of a decommissioned chimney
  • replacing the deteriorated wood siding on the existing dormers
  • adding central AC to the attic with drop down vents to the 1st floor
  • adding a heat pump system to the attic

We will talk more in-depth about each one of these elements as they happen. So far the Cornerstone crew has been mobilized for two days on site and they have already made a huge impact. The two closets are gone and the foyer is ready to receive the new stairs. The builder decided to do the stairs first so the rest of the construction job would be easier to haul materials up to the upper level. We are excited to see the changes.



Closet guts gone. Protective covering on floor. Dust barriers in place.


Closets gone, making way for the new stairs. Left clean for the weekend.