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How to Open Up an Interior Staircase

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jThese steps for how to open up an interior staircase will give you a rough tutorial for how to open up walls. This open floor plan concept was much easier to DIY than we originally imagined.

Mudroom and foyer after renovation

When we first moved into our house, I had lots of possible projects swirling through my head. The one I absolutely knew I wanted to do was open up the main interior staircase.

The stairs are located as soon as you walk in the door. The first time we walked through the house, the owner opened the door for us and literally had to step up onto the 2nd step to let us in because it was such a tight space.

Staircase before renovating

It didn’t help that the walls on either side of the stairs went the whole way from the floor to the ceiling. It was extremely narrow and pretty suffocating. The picture above was me standing outside on the front porch trying to get a picture of these stairs! This was the best I could do because these walls just closed everything in!

Since I was so sure those walls were coming down no matter what, we didn’t worry too much about tearing down the drywall to get a peak behind it.

What to do if an Interior Wall Contains Electrical Wires

We knew that the one wall had a light switch that would need to be rerouted. That wall also had a doorway that went up to the ceiling as you entered into the front room. We took that doorway away completely as well which meant we had to rip the drywall down on the ceiling.

This allowed us to reroute that electrical wire across the ceiling and down beside the front door before we patched up the ceiling with new drywall.

The stairs are directly behind this blue wall.

How to open up an interior staircase

How to Open Up an Interior Staircase

We used a chalk line to mark a diagonal on the drywall that butted up against the stairs. The stairs were our guide for how far down we took that wall, so it made sense to start tearing down the dry wall on the inside of the staircase.

We used the ceiling line to go straight across that interior staircase wall.

how to remove drywall when opening interior stairs

We used an Oscillating Multi-tool to cut the drywall along the ceiling line and against the chalk line that we made. You can see here how we went right along the edge of the ceiling to remove this entire doorway and down along the stairs.

how to remove drywall when opening stairwell

Then we just ripped that drywall out. Make sure to use gloves when you rip out drywall, because it starts wearing on your hands after awhile. Or maybe that’s just us because we took down 7 walls in a little over a week!

how to remove drywall when opening stairs

Once that inside wall was out, it was easier to mark the outside drywall to know how far back we had to cut for our vertical line.

how to open up interior stairs

How to Remove Studs

Once we had the drywall out from both sides, we were left with studs. We had no issues with this being a load-bearing wall, so the studs were not necessary.

We just used a reciprocating saw to cut the studs away. We did a straight cut at the ceiling and a diagonal cut for the new staircase line.

In the picture below, you can see that we removed all the studs from the far side of the staircase and around the previous door frame. We still needed to cut the studs on the side of the stairs closest in the picture. But already, everything was beginning to look SO much more open!

how to open up interior staircase

If you’re anything like me, you’ll be saving those studs! We saved nearly all the studs we tore out from our renovation, and I made a desk, a console table, floating shelves, blanket ladders and so much more from these 30 year-old studs!

How to Add a Stair Banister and Railings

 

You can see in the picture below how we cut all the existing studs at an angle and then added a piece of wood to fit in between all the spaces. This was the base then for a solid piece of MDF that would be screwed to the top. The banisters then were placed on top of that solid piece.

how to open up interior staircase with railing

I’m not a fan of the classic spindle look for most stair balusters. I also had to paint them in our last house and despise painting them!

For this house, I wanted a clean design. Almost Craftsman-like. So we went with square balusters, and I just love them! Plus they are SO easy to paint, and I feel like they really match the trim we added to all our doors and windows too.

how to open up interior stairwell with railing

For the newel posts at the bottom of the stairs, I really wanted to carry that look through. We boxed out the newel posts using MDF. We mitered every corner for a nice clean look. Then we just kept adding small squares to the top cut out of MDF and some quarter round trim until we were happy with the look.

how to add banisters and newel posts to staircase

We also used MDF trim to add a white piece of trim under the balusters. We actually found large sheets of MDF at a building supply auction house by us. Then my husband took those MDF sheets to a local lumber hard and them rip it for us. It was SO affordable!

how to trim out a staircase

We did this for all the staircase trim, all the 1st floor baseboards, the trim for all the doors and windows and all the board and batten in our new mudroom room/entry way. The total for all the MDF plus the lumber yard ripping it to various lengths was about $85! Crazy, right?!

How to Paint Stair Railings and Spindles

The real answer is there’s no good way and it isn’t fun. In fact, stair balusters are probably one of my least favorite things to paint. It really was much easier painting the square ones than the round ones, but it still is just a paint.

The first step to making sure you have a nice, professional paint job when you’re finished is caulk. Again, no fun. Seriously. I despise caulking. I didn’t realize how much I despised it until this renovation. I had blisters on the pads of all my fingers by the time I was done… but I also had an entire 1st floor to do (and that board and batten! Ugh!).

Caulking really does make a HUGE difference, though. It’s cheap and worth it, so do it.

Since we were starting from scratch, I was able to take all the balusters outside to paint. I lined them up on sawhorses and used my favorite paint sprayer. It makes it go so much faster, but you always have to wait for each side to dry before you can flip them and get the other side. It’s a bit of a process.

If your balusters are already attached, you have the benefit of being able to paint all sides without having to wait for them to dry. You just also have the pain of having to paint all sides while twisting and contorting your body into various poses trying to see from every angle.

For the railings, we wanted a stained look instead of paint. We lined them up on sawhorses and did 3 coats of a rich mahogany stain. We lightly sanded between each coat. Then we did 6 coats of a polyurethane, again, lightly sanding between each coat.

how to stain a stair railing

I can’t think of an item in the house that gets touched more than the stair railing, so I wanted it to be nice and smooth. And protected. I wanted a thick coat of that poly so I didn’t have to worry about refinishing it again for a very long time.

How to Paint High Stairwells

Since we had to tear the drywall down the whole way up to the ceiling, that meant the new mudding overlapped onto the existing paint. The paint that was on the main floor ceiling and the paint that went up the high walls into the stairwell.

Guys. Hear me now… heights are not my thing. I don’t do them, I don’t like them, and I don’t even like seeing other people with their feet off the ground.

So painting these high walls, was not high on my list. We put it off for months. You can see the lovely paint “line” going up our stairwell walls here, long after all the other renovations were completed.

Before painting stairwell_

But eventually we tackled it and it really wasn’t as bad as we expected! I actually wrote it’s own post on how to paint high stairwell walls, because this post is getting long enough on it’s own!

How to Paint High Stairwells

You can also check out my other post for how to paint high walls. These walls weren’t a stairwell but rather for the cathedral ceilings in our last house. It still gives some good tips, though, for how to accomplish this will little effort and with no one passing out from fear.

How to Paint High Walls

Tools Needed to Remove Interior Stair Walls

These are obviously not all the tools you will need, but these are the ones we used the most and can’t imagine doing this job without!

Before After of Opening Up a Staircase

My favorite part is looking at these photos. It really is insane to me how much of a difference it made in the overall feel of our house!

This is what it used to look like when you looked across the front of our house.

dining-room-towards-front-door-720x480

This is what the same view looks like today!

Step 7 Stairwell after removing walls

Pretend I’m standing in the above picture, about where that large picture with the black frame is on the wall. This is what that view used to look like:

How to open up an interior staircase

And this is the same view today!

Before stairwell before it was painted

One thing we weren’t planning on during our renovation was having to replace the front door. Unfortunately, when we tore up the floors, we noticed there was water damage right inside of the door.

That led us to discovering a leak in the threshold, which led to discovering the support beams for the header over the door weren’t installed correctly… and well, one thing led to another and we had a new front door.

Remember earlier, I mentioned that the original owner had to step up onto the first stair tread in order to open the front door. I really have no idea why they went with a door that swung in that way.

When we ordered our new front door, we made sure to have it swing in the opposite direction. This, along with tearing down the stairwell walls, made such a difference in the first impression you get when entering the house!

After stairwell after it was painted

It just feels so much more open now and much less claustrophobic! I’m absolutely in love with the difference it made and how much easier it was than I was expecting.

It’s obvious from the pictures that we also made a lot of other changes to the house that helped lead to this open concept floorplan. You might have been able to tell that we also tore down the green wall that used to be part of the dining room. There used to be a very narrow hallway between that green wall and the original staircase.

how to open up interior stairs with railing

By removing that wall, we doubled the width of the “hallway” into the kitchen. The whole first floor was completely opened up with this staircase renovation!

stairway-after-renovation-

front living room before opening staircase

Can you even believe this is the exact same view now after opening up the stairs?!

(the added bump-out in the after picture that the dresser is pushed up against, is because we had to move some ductwork to that corner after taking out a totally separate wall)

Open staircase idea

You can read all about that process and see the after pictures in my post about the Dining Room Renovation. That also certainly helped it feel less claustrophobic when you first walk in the front door.

Those stairs, though! I’m telling you… my favorite part of the entire renovation!

how to open up an interior staircase

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tracy

Wednesday 31st of March 2021

I'm moving into a house with a similar problem and would need to open it up before the removals arrive as there is no way any furniture will fit. I just wonder how much this all cost you and did you need any professional help at all?

Jen

Thursday 24th of September 2020

I am going to do this with one wall to open up a staircase in a few weeks (not even in the new house yet). This is a perfect description. MY only question is- when I cut both the inside (stairwell side) and the outside (living room wall) drywall and am left with the space in between where the studs are - what do you cover that with to attach the shoe rail? Not sure if that makes sense. Maybe I'll figure it our once I tear things apart! Thanks!

Matt

Thursday 30th of July 2020

Hey! This looks awesome!

Do you have any projects that give a layout of your home? I just bought an old timberframe house with a centrally located staircase like yours and have no idea where the kitchen should go for a remodel, lol.

Natalie

Wednesday 2nd of September 2020

So sorry for the delay in getting back to you! If you go to this post: https://aturtleslifeforme.com/renovation-progress/ it shows a rough layout of our house before the remodel and after. We kept the kitchen in the same place but really moved some other things around. There are more posts on my site (search dining room to mudroom) that give you a feel for it too!

Greg

Saturday 27th of June 2020

Hi, I love the look of your stairway. I'm having the same wall knocked down in my cape this weekend. I like your square balusters. What width are they? 2 inch?

Join

Monday 15th of June 2020

Beautiful! What is the height of your post and balusters?

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