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Stair Systems: Old school carpentry, modern design

One of the hottest remodeling projects right now is upgrading staircases, something a Ceres-based carpentry-woodworking firm has been doing for years.

Rob Jones, owner of Stair Systems, says one of his company's specialties is updating existing staircases with prefinished materials. The railings and balusters go from outdated to contemporary with the company's skilled touch.

"Ninety percent of the houses built from 1995 to 2008 in Stanislaus and San Joaquin counties are two stories," Jones says. "We get a call a week. We probably average four or five staircases a month. Golden oak was the standard 15 to 20 years ago. It's like the old disco ball."

But that's not all Stair Systems does. They also create fireplace mantles, closets, ornamental interior moldings, cabinets, interior trim including doors, shelves and baseboards, wainscoting, custom ceilings, paneling and roll-out shelves.

Tom Koop, Stair Systems' foreman, says there is nothing his company cannot do.

"We are old school finish carpenters," Koop says. "There are not very many around who can do all of this. We have 30 years' experience in the business. I don't know anybody else who does that many things."

Stair Systems pulls out the old wooden handrails and replaces them with more elegant ones. Wrought iron supports take the place of outdated wooden spindles. Dark colors and wrought iron are preferred these days, Jones says. Floor planking is not changed during the upgrade.

Stair Systems' service area extends from Galt to Merced, Dublin to Oakdale. The company has eight employees, including Jones' son, Josh. The 24-year-old says he is the new guy trying to learn the trade who will hopefully take over the business someday in the future.

Josh Jones said the company has been in the family for 40 years; the company prides itself on its professional work and 100 percent customer satisfaction and everybody is a perfectionist.
Gone from those old staircases is the age-old ball top post and the small wooden pickets, Rob Jones points out. Wrought iron balusters from simple to intricate shapes take their place and the change in aesthetics is significant.

Rob Jones said the average cost to redo stairs is between $3,000 and $5,000 and the projects typically take three to five days to complete.

Tract home builders are very cost-conscious, Rob Jones said, and closets just have one clothes pole and lots of open space. Remodeled closets become more functional, with adjustable shoe racks and a variety of shelving, perhaps a bench or built-in clothes hamper. These projects typically range from $800 to $1,800 for a big walk-in master closet.

Updating closets is a lot simpler than people think, Koop said.

Jones said basic, functional craftsman-style design is the look people are seeking these days. It's timeless and embodies more square shapes. Colonial-style decor is becoming blasé now, he said.

Carpentry-woodworking is a trade that will endure for all time, said Jones. Young people don't realize they can make an honest, good living as a carpenter. Late summers are particularly busy for Stair Systems but business goes on year-round.

"One of the reasons we stayed in business when the housing bubble burst is we're diverse and able to shift gears to do other things. We take pride in what we do and what people will think of it. A majority of our customers are repeat and people keep coming back to us," said Jones.

Stair Systems can be reached at (209) 595-2204 or by visiting,


— Doane Yawger of Merced is a semi-retired newspaper reporter and editor.