...Just make sure you do (mostly) the opposite of whatever this woman tells you to:
From Rita St. Clair's house/come column in today's Chicago Daily Herald:
Bargains are always alluring, and never more so than now. But while good deals can indeed be had in today's housing market, the "buyer beware" rule remains very much in force in regard to fixer-uppers. An old, or even not so old, home that "needs some work" can prove to be a great buy or a financial sinkhole, depending in part on the dimensions of the buyer's dreams.
In deciding whether to invest in an old house, my advice is to resist the cute-puppy syndrome and to make an unsentimental assessment of how much a rehab will really cost. Then weigh your willingness to bend the project to fit your budget.
Q. We need advice regarding the semicircular front hall staircase in an old Dutch Colonial style home we recently bought. A previous owner stained the oak steps and the entire balustrade, including the stringer. It's a medium stain but still looks pretty heavy in an average size entranceway with a wooden floor and with lots of wood paneling and moldings. We had intended to cover the stairs with a patterned carpet, but that turns out to be difficult and expensive because of the circular turn in the staircase. Can you suggest a different treatment?
A. The simplest of several options is to paint most of the woodwork - not just the staircase itself but the adjacent moldings as well. In a relatively small space, I'd go with a light color for all the painted surfaces, including the stringer, the spindles on the railing and the risers but not the tread of the stairs. Then, to produce an attractive contrast, I would use a dark stain on the floor, the treads of the steps and the staircase's handrail.
Paint over the wood?! This woman should not be writing a column on restoration, conservation or style in general! That's just ridiculous, and is an absolutely last-ditch option when all else fails. Why ruin future generations' enjoyment of the space just to save a few bucks? It's not worth it - we have a duty to conserve our homes, not ruin them ... I assume this person would also advocate covering coved plaster ceilings with acoustic texture, putting plastic slipcovers on furniture instead of, you know, actually sitting on it, carpeting over hardwood floors...
She starts with good advice and then veers into the ridiculous, stupid, and cruel. And to top it off, after this excerpted portion, she goes on to advocate carpeting stair treads in Arts & Crafts homes, a practice that Gustav Stickley himself once (purportedly) called "an abomination." Yes, accent and show off your beautiful wood by covering it up. Pave the backyard, too, while you're at it.