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Painting Your Hall Stairs & Landing

When youThe approach to tackling a hall, stairs and landing is the same as painting a room except for increased height and the angle and narrowness of the stairs. As with painting a room the 10 Steps to a Pro Finish and proper Surface Preparation are every bit as important when it comes to the hall, stairs & landing - especially as the hall area is the first that wil be seen by visitors and guests to your home.

I would also suggest that you take a look at Awkward Bits - Ceilings / Walls as you will find some useful tips on handling the inevitable fixtures and fittings that make life just a little more difficult! And of course, if you have problems that need sorting Problems & Repairs is there to help you.

One of the most important items of equipment when tackling a hall, stairs and landing is the extension pole - both long and short handled. These two items will deliver a smoother and more continuous, even finish than by using a roller on its own in the hand. Stand on the landing and roll as far up and down as practicable then stand on the stairs and use the technique outlined below to avoid the dreadful zig-zag, stepped finish you so often see.

Break the area into three separate sections – the hall section, the stairs section and the upstairs landing section and treat it like painting three separate rooms. Paint the ceiling first. As in painting a room adopt the same approach and overlap onto the wall surface to ensure a tightly painted edge between wall and ceiling. As I describe in the ceiling section, paint first in one direction and then in a second direction 90° to the first. This ensures that you have no missed patches due to uneven surfaces.

roll direction

The hall section and the landing area are just like painting a normal room in that they are usually of similar height to a room and don't need special equipment. The stairs section requires some additional equipment in order to tackle the angle presented by the stairs and the height of the drop from the top of the ceiling to the bottom of the stair treads.

The Hall Section

Depending on the layout the hall section is generally straightforward and consists of the elements you would find in a room. Paint the ceiling first as you would a normal room, then the walls - use your roller and extension pole to get a smooth finish using long, even strokes. Then finally cut-in to complete the walls section. Please check the ceilings and walls pages for detailed explanations of how to tackle each of these.

The Landing Section

Again depending on the layout the landing section is generally straightforward but does have two elements that require mention – the stairwell opening and the attic trapdoor.

1. The stairwell opening

This is the void where the stairs ascend to the landing area. It is difficult to reach as you must lean over the banisters to reach the walls. It is high, the stairs are uneven and you are going to have to cut-in the intersection of the walls and ceiling for instance if the ceiling colour is different to that of the walls. Of course, this does not have to be the case. There is no reason why the ceiling and wall colour should not be the same, particularly if the colour is light. However, one significant element which is going to be missing by doing this is that it eliminates the need to cut-in. If this is the case you can use a long-handled mini-roller attached to an extension pole to get right in to the edges of the ceiling and wall intersection. Then roll as normal.

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From my experience the best approach to tackling a stairs section is to use the Lewsan Stairmate™. This device allows an extending ladder to be positioned sideways on the stairwell which in turn allows you to operate facing the appropriate wall as opposed to facing sideways. It also ensures that you can reach right up to the highest and most difficult section of a stairs where the highest part of the landing ceiling meets the intersecting walls of the stairwell.


The Stairmate takes the difficulty out of reaching over a stairwell The attic trapdoor If the attic trapdoor is newly installed and made of wood it will have to be primed first. Brush on one or two coats as necessary. Apply Eggshell or gloss with a gloss roller for the best finish. It is generally a matter of taste as to how this is painted. The options are – a) White Ceiling Emulsion – good match for the ceiling but not so hard wearing or dirt resistant. Of course ceilings don’t always have to be white! They can be off-white, cream, gardenia – and the attic door can of course be painted the same colour if you wish b) White Eggshell or satin finish oil paint – good choice but will stand out from the ceiling due to slight sheen c) Gloss paint – hardest wearing but will definitely stand out from the ceiling due to high sheen d) Varnish – you may prefer not to paint your attic door but to varnish it instead. It’s all down to individual taste. For advice on varnishing please click here

attic trapdoor paint

The Stairs Section

This is the most awkward section. It is high, uneven and contains some awkward elements. In most cases a wooden staircase is either stained and varnished or painted. In many cases the handrail is stained and varnished but the balusters are painted.

The same can also be said for the “string” which is the term for the flat piece of timber to the side. The wall adjoining the staircase is probably the most awkward wall section you will tackle:-

1. It is high

2. It's angled at its base

3. The surface on which you have to rest a ladder is uneven

So how do we get around these problems?

1. It is high Yes, but manageably so, with the right equipment. You will need a lightweight extension ladder and the Stairmate or similar. Also a long and short handled extension pole and a long-handled mini-roller. I also find System Freehand invaluable when it

paint ladder roller extention

2. It is angled at its base. Yes it is, because the skirting board is angled. This means that you cannot run the roller from top to bottom at right angles as you would when painting a wall in a room. The problem that this brings is that a zig-zag pattern is the norm in many houses. The section on zig-zag patterns below tells you how to avoid this.

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The angled skirting board makes an even finish a little more difficult!

3. The surface on which you have to rest a ladder is uneven. Ok, so it's uneven. The Stairmate or a similar device solves this problem!


If possible, depending on the layout of the property, stand on the landing and use a long extension roller extended as much as is practicable within the confines of available space. Start from lower down on the wall and roll upwards to as close to the top of the wall as you can - without getting paint on the ceiling - then downwards and upwards until that section is covered. Of course, you won't be able to reach down to the bottom; this will have to be approached from the bottom up. In my opinion, you achieve a more even finish with less fatigue if the roller is attached to a short-handled extension roller. It of course allows you to extend your reach upwards. This can help in acheiving a seamless join where the two meet. Check the zig-zag section below to learn how to overcome the most common visual problem. It doesn't matter whether you paint up and down or in an angled "W" formation as long as the final coat is laid-off in an up and down direction. This is necessary to provide an even surface finish - particularly when the wall is viewed from the bottom upwards.


This view of the large wall on the right is the most unforgiving!

Zig-Zag Pattern

Many walls have an unsightly zig-zag pattern made by the roller as you look up the stairs from bottom to top. This is because the roller has been kept in an upright position and the closed string at the base is angled. Try keeping the roller parallel to the closed string and move it upwards in a curved direction until you hit vertical. This will eliminate the zig-zag effect and give a considerably smoother finish to the wall.

zig zag pattern

The ceiling and the walls are only part of the task though! There is also the usual doors, architraves and skirting to be done and in addition the stairs themselves. All are straightforward as long as they are done in sequence and the proper masking-off precautions are taken.

The Staircase itself


staircase 1

Staining /varnishing a wooden staircase is straightforward because everything is the same colour.

In the picture showing the stained handrail but painted balusters things get more tricky – particularly as the underside of the handrail must be either stained/varnished or painted upside down with little room to work. Splitting the job into two parts can help. Do the balusters first and allow them to dry thoroughly.

Then carefully apply masking tape around each intersection and stain/varnish the handrail. Any drips or splatters can be easily wiped off the gloss paint as necessary. Unfortunately, as most handrails and balusters reach towards the landing area the space to work becomes less and less – in some cases almost impossible!

painting the balusters


It is possible to use a mini gloss roller to paint balusters. You need to be careful because the roller is wide but the balusters are narrow so there is a chance of splattering if you roll too quickly. Stairs are tricky and require patience and care to achieve a professional finish – but it can be done!

When painting the stair treads remember to mask off any part which is not to be painted or varnished. Then use whatever finish you wish. If you are using varnish please check the Types of Paint section for advice and things to watch for!

maskin tape balusters