Better Farm's Stairway Goes from Hellish to Heaven

Better Farm's main staircase before, at left; and at right with new oak treads, fresh paint job, spindles, and custom newel post.
I've kicked around a bunch of different ideas for Better Farm's main staircase in the last two years; from utilizing a dead tree trunk as a hand railing to putting in new carpet to prevent slipperiness (bad idea, nixed that one almost immediately). Needless to say, we needed a new staircase design. Bad:

I did a bunch of online searching to see traditional farmhouse staircases, railings, and newel posts. Here are a few of my favorites:

Key here is the utter simplicity of old farmhouse stairs. They serve their function, they're beautiful in their directness, and they're free of over-the-top gaudiness or fanciness.

To start, I knew we needed spindles that were up-to-code in their distance from each other (check with your local building inspector to find out the rules in your town or state). We'd also need a new newel post. When I consulted with our carpenter, Gary Stevenson, we realized we could utilize some of the aged oak across the street my uncle had stored in the wood shed more than a decade ago. Gary ended up using the oak to build a custom newel post for the bottom of the stairs. He stained and cut the store-bought oak, which we used for new treads, spindles, and the newel post at the top of the stairs.

In the process of taking things off and moving them around, Gary found this gem; ancient-looking little girls' shoes hidden underneath one of the steps:

Gary labored away getting all the cuts right and painstakingly replacing each tread, spindle, newel post, and hand railing. And finally, he was done:

Many thanks to Gary Stevenson for his as-always amazing work; Garlock Building Supplies & Design Center for helping us pick out the upstairs newel post, hand rail, treads,and spindles; Joel Zimmer and Mark Huyser for volunteering their help in installing the handrail; and everyone at Better Farm for putting up with this work-in-progress during peak season.

Nicole Caldwell

Nicole Caldwell is a self-taught environmentalist, green-living savant and sustainability educator with more than a decade of professional writing experience. She is also the co-founder of Better Farm and president of betterArts. Nicole’s work has been featured in Mother Earth News, Reader’s Digest, Time Out New York, and many other publications. Her first book, Better: The Everyday Art of Sustainable Living, is due out this July through New Society Publishers.