Brownstone Boys: Stairway to Heaven (With a New Runner)

A gorgeous herringbone runner has been installed on our old restored stairs

Editor’s note: Welcome to the 50th installment of Brownstone Boys Reno, a reader renovation diary. We’re excited to publish their tale of buying and renovating a brownstone in Bed Stuy. See the first one here. They also blog at

We faced some tough decisions early on in our renovation about what to restore, repair or replace. Our place is 130 years old and has been renovated several times over its lifetime. Each one no doubt chipped away more and more at the original charm. We wanted to restore as much as we could and were very careful to save as many features as possible even if we needed to re-create some things. The last renovation before we bought created a five-bedroom duplex with no care given to where walls cut through moldings and sloppy paint drips on the woodwork. And in no place were those flaws more apparent than on the original staircase and banister.

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Rug pads were carefully placed on the steps before the rug was stapled to the stair

This week we put the finishing touch on the stairs, a new runner. Stair runners are sometimes a touchy subject. Maybe they are bit too close to carpeting for some people. For us it was a good solution as we wanted to restore our original stairs but didn’t have the budget to take it further. Rebuilding a staircase is expensive!

Our stairs have a lot of character. They have definitely seen some stuff. There were multiple layers of linoleum held in place with adhesive and metal strips with screws. On top of that was a layer of carpet nailed and stapled down. All of this has taken a toll on the original wood underneath.

Once we removed all of these layers we sanded the stairs to see what we were working with. We were pleasantly surprised by how nicely they came out. They were still left with lots of holes and some discoloring, but overall looked better than we thought with a lot of character. Other than some scars from past atrocities the other thing that really shows their age is their squeak. Each tread tells a 130 year old story with every step!

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We were fortunate the binding color matched the rug perfectly

We very briefly considered the option of rebuilding the stairs but they are very solid so it was big expense we really wanted to avoid. Also, so many of the original features we’ve never seen but know were there have already been removed we were really happy to keep what we could. Squeaks, scars, and all!

We knew we needed to finish them some way or they would have been a bit too rustic. We also have an 85 pound dog who slips and slides his way around wood floors. Our solution was to find a very attractive runner that would fit in with the era and style of the place.

Fortunately we came across Annie Selke. They have a herringbone runner from Dash & Albert in a light grey and off-white that was perfect for the space. The color, pattern, and texture fit right in with our old stairs.

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Modern construction typically has 36-inch-wide stairs and rug companies make runners to fit. Our old stairs are a little narrower at 31 feet, so we had to have the runner cut and bound. We found a local company to come out to measure, bind and alter the runner so it is the right size for our staircase.

We just had it installed and all of our problems are solved! The stairs have a much warmer and more finished look, the squeaking has been reduced a lot, and Zuko (our four-legged Labrador) can run up and down without slipping or losing his footing. For one of our favorite features in the house, we feel it’s icing on the cake.

[Photos via Brownstone Boys]

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