The Back Hall Project

My friends. It is finished. The back hallway has been refinished and we did it without hiring our hardwood company. Sure, it took us about two months to complete but I honestly think we saved about $1500 with this major DIY project. Nate, me, and Saint Tony (aka my handy man father-in-law who seriously did SO much work with us on this one!) are all very proud of our effort on this baby. So I'm excited to finally show you the final pictures.

To recap, we never touched our back hallway when we moved into the house 1.5 years ago. We figured the ugly linoleum and aged woodwork didn't matter much since it's our side entrance. But as time went on we realized that we use this entrance 95% of the time, including having our guests enter the house this way. Now, it's was totally functional and not 'awful'---in fact, I'm sure some of our friends and family who have used that entrance many times never even noticed it. But we did and it became a top priority of our To Do list once I finally decided what we would do with the mysterious 'door that leads nowhere'. Chalkboard wall for the win!

I began by painting all of the walls and the ceiling, changing the hideous cream/worn color to Sage Gray by Behr for the walls and our favorite Dolphin Fin for the ceilings (used in our kitchen and every hallway already). No big deal, after patching a few cracks and cleaning the heck out of the walls first---felt really good just to get that part finished.

Before and after wall/ceiling paint

Then we had the hardwood company we used for our entire house come and give us a quote for the stairs. One flight of stairs including a landing, all covered in two layers of nasty linoleum? $550 just to refinish them, which did not include removing the linoleum first. That would be another $55/hour and we estimated at least 8-10 hours. Gulp. NOPE.


So the men began pulling up the disgustingness and wore masks just in case it was full of asbestos. Totally disgusting and I remember that long weekend being super hot---it was Labor Day weekend and the guys clocked 15 hours just removing the junk off the stairs. Why, oh why, did the previous owners cover up beautiful maple hardwood floors, original from 1925? I realize it's not all that popular to have plain wooden stairs to the basement, but come on. The very first owner of our house was also the architect and he lived here almost 40 years before the next owners moved in (who we bought the house from, since we are only the third owners!). I really wonder if even the architect immediately covered up the wood with seems like maybe a runner was used at some point, just from how the wood looked once stripped down. But then I think the second owners must have recovered it twice with linoleum during their 47 years here. Everyone has different tastes, I guess, but it was a nice surprise to find all of this pretty wood in decent shape. Sort of like how our entire house was carpeted with blue wool and underneath were the gorgeous original floors. Go figure.


So anyway, after we got that quote it made us a little irritated because we should have just had the company do it when they finished our entire house. Maybe it would have been cheaper then and it would have been DONE, but hindsight is always 20/20. I told Nate that I would have gladly paid $500 for the job but 1-2k? For a set of stairs? No. We both decided that we could totally do this with Tony's help, and being the frugal man he is Tony was also pumped to save us some money.

During the worst part of the renovation:




Before and then after the removal process, but before refinishing the wood:


So much better!




After the floors were uncovered, the guys sanded them down with a circular sander. After that it was all me;)

I polyurethaned those bad boys a total of FOUR coats for our clear finish. No small task but I would just do one coat per night after the kids went down and a nice glass of wine while listening to iTunes Radio on my phone. I admit that I love projects like these so even those four coats of clear finish weren't too bad.

And then it was time for my favorite part, just for the stark contrast from the original: painting the woodwork white. Now, I've talked a lot about my love for white woodwork on this blog and I know it's sort of a touchy subject for old home lovers. But I can assure you that this woodwork had seen better days with it's scaly varnish and it was super dark/dirty from years of wear and tear. I knew the white woodwork would definitely brighten up this small-ish space and then it would match the rest of our lower level, so instead of refinishing the wood I painted it. I used my favorite Sherwin Williams paint, their Adhesion Primer (latex) and then their Pro-Classic paint. I believe I just did one coat of primer and then two coats of paint and it has plenty of shine and 'pop' for me.


Made me sad to cover up this penciled 'Hi Mom!' from the previous owner's son ;( A little eerie since I know she passed away and he was the one who basically sold us the house, and obviously loved his mom and his childhood home very much. Sometimes I like to dream about him coming by the house to check out what we've done, and I hope he'd be pleased and not appalled.


(before and after)

Nate had already prepped the random door-that-went-nowhere and added a piece of plywood to make a secure back across the door frame. I primed that, too, and once my white woodwork was done I painted the new board with chalkboard paint. Now THIS little project was sort of a pain because it took me five whole coats of paint. Mostly because Nate wanted to be assured it will hold up from the writing and erasing and smearing from the kids. After coat five I told him he could do any further coats, but I was done.


(before and after)

We added hooks across the top for our keys, and the two hooks on the side are for Henry's collar and leashes. Functional!


Somewhere in the midst of me polyurethaning, the guys decided to update our back door. It's the original, solid wood door (Tony tells me it's fir), and was painted dark brown. Lots of paint coats, lots of chips, not the prettiest. Tony is the pro when it comes to stripping off paint and restoring woodwork so he volunteered to strip everything off of the door with some special chemical (probably deathly toxic) and a lot of elbow grease. It looked SO good immediately just with the natural wood! I also got Tony to strip down our two doors in the kitchen because those have always bugged me with their super-orangey varnish. I actually do love natural wood doors with white trim, so I knew if he stripped off that old varnish we could just add clear poly to them and they'd look great. Apparently one of the kitchen doors is also fir, the other (along with the rest of our house) is oak like the floors throughout our home. Anyway, we are on the second coat of polyurethane for all three of these refreshed doors and I'm hoping to be done after coat number three.


I had help with this one!

(subtle difference here, but this is one of the doors inside our kitchen, before and after (no poly yet))

Polyurethaning is not that much fun, except for the first coat:


(before and after for the main door, but not yet poly'd. I wish it could have remained this light after the clear coat, but I like the final product, too.)

Before and after, with poly.
Hi, pretty door! Two coats of poly...probably needs another. And I need a better picture of it because it's a lot nicer than these pictures show. Love that the grain is really popping out now.

We also wanted to do something with our gold hardware on the back door, since we were dressing it up so nicely with it's natural wood. We went back and forth about just spray painting the existing hardware 'oiled bronze' to match the rest of the house versus getting new stuff. In the end, we bought a new handle, got an amazing keypad deadbolt, and then Nate had to find a backplate online to match the rest. I guess newer doors have totally different hardware than our 1920's baby so we needed that backplate to cover up the old stains. Re: the keypad entry to our house? I was skeptical but I cannot tell you the number of times it's been extremely convenient for me to just type in our code instead of digging around numerous bags for my keys. Or if I take the kids for a walk I can lock the door without a key, and get back in without having to bring my keys. Genius! The best is when Nate is driving our whole family around, I get out with CC to bring her in before the guys come inside, and now Nate doesn't have to stop his car to unlock the door for us. Mostly I just like that I don't have to remember my keys for everything!! And when my parents are here we don't have to hunt around for a spare key--they can just type the code and come on in.

Before and After


Also got a new light fixture. Might still spray paint the metal base to be dark but right now I just don't even care. The best before and after I have for the light:

Some before and afters?? YES, please.

Well, first I'd like to give a shout-out to these guys. Plus the white paint.

Our 'milk box' where we keep all of Henry's poop bags. (Updated to add: a milk box is where the milk man would put milk way back in the day. It leads to the outside of the house and works nicely to store bags for us;) Also, yes, the light switch near the door is cream and the other one is white. Tony is going to switch out almost all of our remaining 'old' switch plates next weekend, so they are all white and not mismatched!)



Stairs--the wood has lots of dings and nail holes that we tried to fill, but it's definitely a little more rugged than the rest of our house. Fine by us!

Before and after, looking down into the basement from the back door. Basement refinishing is next! Eek!

Chalkboard instead of an ugly door!

Before and after, looking down from our kitchen. Love this one. If I showed no other picture, I would still show this one. The door leading to the kitchen is lighter on the right, the woodwork is now white, the light fixture new, the main door stripped and refinished, new fancy hardware on the door, color on the walls and ceiling, chalkboard wall instead of a random extra door, and of course...wooden stairs/landing now. Just a little different, huh?! I might even post this picture to FB and IG just to be a social media nut. I'm really that into it;)

Top three steps during the removal process versus the end. Wow.


Love these wooden stairs!



The landing is in pretty good shape. Not perfect, but that's alright. We'll forgive it for being so old and so well-loved.


Such a nice way to enter our house now! Makes it even sweeter knowing we did it ourselves.

Onto the next home project!!


  1. Gorgeous! I love reading all your home improvement projects!

  2. Ahhh I love it!! Looks SO good. Those stairs must have been such a b-tch to do... I know just the stairs alone (the risers especially) were super expensive for us to get refinished because they are so hard to sand, and to get the old finish OFF. So worth it though. Love the white woodwork in this area and the refinished doors are beautiful!

    Ummm was thinking of doing a chalkboard wall on the bottom half (below a ledge) of the back wall of our playroom but 5 coats? Hmm... we did have a few people who offered to help paint so maybe we will have them do that instead of our painter who likely will charge a lot more for that little project :) And lord knows I'm not doing that myself ;) I'll just buy a dang chalkboard instead.

  3. Replies
    1. Back in the day the milk
      Man would put the milk though this little door. It opens up to the outside.

  4. This is amazing. I love that your house has so much character and that you brought it closer to its original look without covering 100% of the imperfections up. Gorgeous!

  5. Love the white woodwork!!! What an amazing transformation.

    I have to ask though...Is the switch plate by your back door an almond color? The one above the milk box looks white, but the one by the door looked almond.

    1. Ha, yes, Amy Jo! Should have mentioned that my father in law is replacing the cream colored switch plate to be white next weekend;) good eye!

  6. Amazing!!! It looks so awesome. Must feel so good to have it done! Tony is the man. How incredible to have him around to help and to teach Nate his ways!!

    Maybe a dumb question, but how did Nate attach the piece of plywood for the door that goes nowhere? Will have to see it in person and learn more.

    Nice work!! So fun to keep making the house your own. :)

  7. Love all the before and afters! It is hard to believe anybody would want to cover up such lovely hardwood. You all did a great job, looks so much nicer.

  8. Wow! Amazing transformation! Your husband and FIL have the patience of a saint. And amazing skills too :) My husband would have just gone out and bought a new door, haha! But the wood really does look so beautiful and there is something so charming about keeping original pieces, you know?! The whole thing looks fantastic!

  9. That wood is soo beautiful! Wow, what a transformation. Especially the back door. Your kitchen is beautifully, too. You are so lucky to have a Tony!

  10. I love watching you update your home. Our home is nearly identical in both age and layout. Our side entry has been in a state of disarray since I started yanking up the linoleum to discover gorgeous hardwoods. This post just may give me the push I need to finish it up!

  11. I love watching you update your home. Our home is nearly identical in both age and layout. Our side entry has been in a state of disarray since I started yanking up the linoleum to discover gorgeous hardwoods. This post just may give me the push I need to finish it up!

  12. Looks great! Love the wall color and the complete transformation of that space! And that key pad... GENIUS!

  13. This looks fabulous! I'm so jealous that you guys are so handy. I try, but don't have a lot of follow-through on these projects and my husband is pretty much worthless when it comes to this stuff. I usually have to beg my dad to come over and help!


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