September 17, 2017
A simple wooden staircase is transformed with paint and an easy combing technique. The stair treads are masked off, then glaze is applied and decorated with horizontal and vertical markings.

Dear Debbie;
What are your thoughts about painting stairs? We live in the country, and don’t wear shoes in the house so I don’t think chipping is a concern. What’s the best way to go about it if the stairs have to remain in use?

Dear Melanie;

We connect painted stairways with the casual decorating style seen in country and cottage living. Stained and varnished stairs are the most practical, but paint will add tons of character. Staining the stair treads and painting the risers offers maximum visual impact, and the risers get fewer scuff marks. If you choose to paint the stairs as well, select some kind of pattern for the treads. With this type of design, wear and tear will add to the look. I decorated the country staircase shown here using a combing technique. You can buy combs for this purpose at your paint and craft store, but I cut a comb from foam core, making ¼” teeth. The comb fits twice into the height of the riser.

The stairs are first painted with two coats of cream-coloured latex paint and left to dry overnight. Mix a coloured glaze, 1part mustard latex paint and 1part water-based glazing liquid. Do the risers first. Apply the mustard glaze and pull the comb through the glaze horizontally across the top of the riser. Move down the riser and repeat. Wipe off any excess paint on the comb onto a rag. Finish all the risers.

Working on one step at a time, apply the glaze to the step and the lip. Pull the comb in straight horizontal lines across the step. For the tread, pull the comb in vertical squiggly lines down the center section of the step. Gently stipple over the glazed lip to add some texture. Apply 3 or 4 coats of varnish for protection. Matte varnish is the least slippery, so a safer choice.

If the stairs must be used while you are painting them, mask off and paint every other step. When the first group of steps is completely dry, lay sheets of paper on them. Then paint the final group of steps.

Dear Debbie;
I am moving into a house soon that has small decorative tiles around the tub and sink area. These are a combination of blue and beige. Is there any way to paint those tiles to change the look of the bathroom without having to remove the strip from the wall? Thank you so much.

Dear Lisa;

You don’t say whether the decorative tiles are set amidst other plain tiles or have been set up on their own. One popular tiling design is to fill the wall or backsplash with flat tiles and then use a strip of decorative tiles with a raised motif as an accent border. If this is your scenario, then you can paint over the decorative tiles to hide the colour/s, but the raised design will still be obvious. This is not a bad thing. Look for paint that is meant to cover tiles or slippery surfaces. Clean the tiles first to get rid of any dirt and grease. Tape off the surrounding tiles. Paint the decorative tiles, including the grout. Paint the tiles the same colour as the surrounding flat tiles or walls and you will have a very different, more contemporary look.

If your blue and beige tiles are flat faced, follow the same paint instructions. A painted surface will not match the shiny tile surface, so choose a similar finish, for example, matte or gloss.

Debbie Travis' House to Home column is produced by Debbie Travis and Barbara Dingle. Please email your questions to You can follow Debbie on Twitter at, and visit Debbie’s new website,