Pennsylvania Limestone Farmhouse Renovations to an 1863 farmhouse built of limestone

February 7, 2013

New Stairs in an Old House

Filed under: Dining Room,Stone house restoration — Duane Diefenbach @ 11:07 pm

For the past 8-10 days Lee Cowan Design+Build has been rebuilding the original stairs. Based on the pitch and amount of space, the only way we could design the stairs was to have angled steps at the bottom that made a left-hand turn up to the second story.  You’ll see what I mean in the series of photos.

This photo is a little confusing, but you just have to ignore the temporary support posts and header.  You can see one stringer installed and some of the framing for the wall.



Once the wall was constructed the temporary header could be removed. Now you can see 2 stringers installed along with the header installed (right side of photo) so that about half the staircase can be exposed



The next photos is taken from the stairs going to the basement, and they show how the stairs will make a 90° turn at the bottom. Again, keep reading and more photos will make some sense of this.



Below you can see some of the framing for the angled treads. After getting this installed we were afraid there was not enough headroom to clear the ceiling of the second floor, but decided to wait until the treads were installed to make any decisions about how to deal with it (with the header installed we could potentially shorten a joist and make more headroom).



With the stringers and framing installed some treads and risers could be installed. Starting from the top down. Lee did a great job of making the stairs match the slope of the second floor (seriously!).


Because the original house was finished in white pine I used some pine that I cut, dried, and milled from the property. I had 5/4 pine available so all the treads, skirts, and trim can be 1″ like the original house.

When the treads and risers for the angled steps were installed it really started to look like a set of stairs! And fortunately there is sufficient headroom for most people to climb the stairs without bumping their head.



Deciding how to trim the exposed stairs and the header, as well as the trim that joined the header to the stairs took some discussion with Lee.  Unfortunately, at this point I was beginning to run out of pine and had to use some red pine for some of the risers and other parts (note the darker colored risers in the photo above).

The final major task was to make a newel post and the handrail and balusters. I made the newel post from some red maple milled to a final dimension of 3-1/2″ square.  The handrail and balusters are pine. I made everything very simple to match the simple construction of the house.


Here is a final photo of the new staircase along. With the sheetrock installed it almost looks like it was original.



The door on the left was removed from the closet that is now the top of the stairs – I am going to use it for the door to the basement (and it may be original to that space? Who knows?).  But there is still a lot left to do.

1. Make the cove molding to go under each tread and to wrap around the expose portion of the staircase. I am planning to do this with an antique set of hollow and round wooden planes I recently purchased. More on that later.

2. Make a couple pieces of trim to finish covering the header.

3. Sand everything! Prime it. And at least one coat of paint (no color decisions have even been discussed at this point).

4. Frame in the doorway to the basement. Hang the door.

5. And that’s probably not half of it! Stay tuned.


  1. Looks great as always. Are you keeping the other stairway? If not, will you be able to get furnishings up and down the new stairs?

    Comment by Andy Balas — March 9, 2013 @ 9:20 pm

  2. The old stairs will go… eventually. And we are pretty sure that the furniture that is now upstairs can come down. And we also have the windows in the new part of the house that can easily be removed from the sashes as a backup exit!


    Comment by Duane — March 10, 2013 @ 11:40 am

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