Major Dilemma, Should I Convert to White Trim or Keep Original?

meginthebayMarch 28, 2014

We (boyfriend and I) been in our "new" old house for a year now, and finally have gotten comfortable enough to start the major renovations we talked about when purchasing. He loves super modern, white, clean looking designs, and I'm more of a natural wood, dark colors fan.

The house we have is full of potential, but has been poorly looked after and suffers from cheesy color schemes. My largest dilemma right now is whether or not to paint all the trim white. The boyfriend is a huge fan of this, claiming it will bring the house to a more modern appeal. I do love some examples of houses I've seen with white trim and a complimenting wall color, but this old house is just loaded with beautiful old wood, albeit in drastically different finishes, styles and colors.

To make matters more interesting, the previous owner went wild with green paint on some of the beautiful moldings in the downstairs hallway, painted the entire master bedroom light purple (including the trim and old door) and painted a beautiful french door bright blue. This makes painting everything white seem easier than restoring the former wooden glory. Not to mention I would have to have all the trim in the entire house match stains color wise, and that will absolutely prove tedious and exhausting.

There are several rooms with wainscoting (some painted, some not), a beautiful (but dirty) exposed brick chimney in the living room, gorgeous old staircase (that I will NOT be painting), and miles and miles of trim and molding to consider.

I've added several pictures below, please tell me what you think. Should I take the plunge and go white? How can I keep white trim everywhere and still maintain a few wood features (Staircase, doors, etc.)

ps. Please ignore copious amounts of pet hair in pictures. Three beasts are in full blown spring shed right now!

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Wood Staircase.

    Bookmark   March 28, 2014 at 10:45AM
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Green Trim

    Bookmark   March 28, 2014 at 10:50AM
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Built-in wood bookcases in the den.

    Bookmark   March 28, 2014 at 10:54AM
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Doors upstairs.

    Bookmark   March 28, 2014 at 11:00AM
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Master Bedroom. Purple everywhere!

    Bookmark   March 28, 2014 at 11:08AM
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I uh...well I uh... hmmm... how to say it.... like the colors as is. The colors are neither garish nor subdued; just right. Don't change anything ---it's perfect.

Those stairs look steeper than the back of God's head.

    Bookmark   March 28, 2014 at 12:54PM
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mxyplx: you're joking, right? Purple & green trim?

Meg: what year was the house built? Is the trim painted only in the green and purple rooms?

    Bookmark   March 28, 2014 at 2:03PM
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I dunno - since the panelling and bookshelves aren't original and since a lot of the wood has already been painted (how much - most of it?) painting MIGHT make sense.

However BF should know that theres nothing "modern" or "clean" about stark white painted woodwork in an old house. It'll still look like an old house - just with stark white painted trim.

At least consider a softer cream, or more of a vintagey yellowy tan - or maybe something circa 1930s greigey-beigey. Whatever it is, choose trim colors and wall colors that work well together.

Ive been starting to look at houses and the stark white trim combined with random garish wall colors is starting to seriously annoy me. Even worse is the stark white combined with mud colors. Dont get me wrong, neutral earthy tones can be gorgeous but the whole color scheme has to work - you might want to take color selection over to the home dec forum.

One thing worth mentioning - to get a beautiful paint job, you need a smooth flawless surface which may or may not mean removing thick bumpy layers of paint. If you're going through all that bother, instead of paint why not use a gel stain or something that would leave the wood grain visible. Somewhere I saw a pic of trim stained a beautiful dark charcoal color - charcoal gave it somewhat of a modern edge, but still the fact that it was DARK WOOD fit in well with the original architecture and look of the house.

White painted trim looks kinda 1990s to my eye - in other words, hardly cutting edge.

    Bookmark   March 28, 2014 at 2:49PM
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I agree with Mxyplx
Those colors are not that garish. I actually love the master bedroom. Have you any experience using paint remover?

    Bookmark   March 28, 2014 at 3:36PM
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I wouldn't want so many different wood colors myself. And the upstairs wood is so dark. I wonder if it would lighten up if the old finish was cleaned off if it has darkened. Of course an advantage of wood is it doesn't look dirty from fingerprints as quickly as painted.
That said I think what you have shown us it would look very nice white.

However if you paint the stair treads you may regret it because you will be continuously repainting and cleaning. Just the risers are are painted on our stairs and the paint is constantly getting chipped off.

Good luck and post pics of what you end up doing!

    Bookmark   March 28, 2014 at 10:14PM
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"My largest dilemma right now is whether or not to paint all the trim white. The boyfriend is a huge fan of this, claiming it will bring the house to a more modern appeal."

Sorry -- this leapt out at me. Why is he in an old house if he wants more modern appeal? I've seen a lot of nice, old homes botched p almost beyond redemption by people who wanted to modernize them. And it always looks like it a compromise or as if the house has a split personality.

Let the house be true to itself. Strip all the paint (you don't have to do it all right away) and keep the natural wood trim. It is the glory of the home.

    Bookmark   March 29, 2014 at 8:41AM
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From the pictures you've posted, especially by the stairs, the wood would be beautiful if the paint was stripped. Peel-Away (or products like it) and/or a heat gun would make paint removal very easy. Yes, I've done it and know what I'm talking about.

If your boyfriend wants white, send him to a converted factory loft. don't further ruin that beautiful old house.

    Bookmark   March 29, 2014 at 9:27AM
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Though it will be a fair amount of work, I agree that the woodwork should be allowed to shine in its natural state as it really is beautiful. That purple brought back flashbacks - I lived in a bungalow years ago that had a bathroom with walls painted a shade like that and to make it even worse the trim was a Pepto-Bismol pink!

    Bookmark   March 29, 2014 at 9:49AM
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While I wouldn't pain that staircase for anything or the doors, I've spent a lot of time reading very, very old editions of things like Good Housekeeping magazine, and the whole wood v white debate raged back then, too. The wood contingent was primarily motivated not by a love of wood grain, but by a hatred of the current ethos which required the housekeeper to wash all white woodwork as part of daily housekeeping, while the pro-white folks said, "but it looks so much better" and there wasn't a peep of "doesn't either!", so I would say that could legitimately go either way.

    Bookmark   March 29, 2014 at 1:27PM
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Love, love the wood. Would NOT paint it. Would invest in a heat gun, makes stripping so much easier.

Only exception, the bookcase. Would probably paint that, which could be "compromise" with BF.

    Bookmark   March 29, 2014 at 1:37PM
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Painting good quality woodwork definitely violates the "Don't destroy good old work" ethos of lovers of old houses. It looks like you have some wood that falls into that category, and other that would be improved by either a coat of paint or a wrecking bar.

I almost always find bright white to be an ugly and inappropriate color for woodwork. White can be OK, but tone it down! The green you have is a great color for an old house, the purple is, well, interesting. We're using a green close to that in our house for painted trim that abuts the cherry woodwork. It complements quite nicely.

So keep what's good and choose a nice non-white color for the rest. Dare to not take the boring white path!

    Bookmark   March 31, 2014 at 2:13PM
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I myself love wood trim that is stained rather than painted. We bought a gigantic old house where the trim has ALL been painted white. I have just begun stripping the stairs. It is HORRIBLE. There is like 6 layers of paint. I have got 4 done, and I have like 15 to go. I have come to the conclusion that I should have left them alone. I got some stuff that is like zip strip but doesn't smell as bad. You paint it on, let it dry, and then scrape and sand. It comes up in a goopy paint and varnish covered sticky mess. I thought redoing my grandma's Hoosier cabinet was bad. It was a freaking picnic compared to this. The banister and rails thankfully were not painted....or so I thought! Upon further inspection, I discovered they were painted brown. For the love of God, why?!?!? And all the carving is sloppily painted white....well, half of it. The rest is brown. I am not sure if someone was high, or if maybe a kid did it. Thankfully, the walls are a beautiful caramel color, I think I am going to have the stair steps and rails back to mahogany, the risers white, the sloppy carving on the side white, and the paneling on the side of the stairs that is half sloppy white and half brown, that caramel color. I want to slap whoever started painting these stairs.

On the other hand, I KNOW most people LIKE white woodwork. It's fresh and clean looking. And I know after starting these stairs, I won't strip the rest of way. If you plan to be there a long time, do it how YOU like it. So when you see it every day, it makes you smile. If you guys decide you like it painted, then you should paint it. It is your house, and should reflect your taste. You can always change it later. Just know that it is WAY easier to paint then strip paint.

    Bookmark   March 31, 2014 at 2:55PM
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I always think of those casings with the bullseye rosettes as painted originally. That's probably because of houses I have known more than any wider knowledge, I admit.

I think that faction that opposes any painting of woodwork, always preferring clear finishes and believing it to be "original." It's not. Some wood was considered inferior and fit for painting. It was used to be painted. I always think of pine in that category but, again, that may be my own prejudice. Even so, knotty pine bead board I would always paint or at least whitewash. It's just too much.

Take a look at Mount Vernon, especially D in the link below where "the paneling was grained, or painted, to imitate more expensive mahogany." Much of the other wood is painted and this is, of course, the most expert restoration.

I may have missed it but I didn't see mention here of the age or style of this house. Even its location may tell something about whether the wood started out painted or clear. All that pine may have been painted in the beginning and gone natural in the 1970's. (When that bookcase and bead board were probably added.)

Either way - I think it's a great modern look to keep the structure of the house old and close to original and to modernize with furnishings and decoration. (Other than woodwork.)

Here is a link that might be useful: Mount Vernon

    Bookmark   March 31, 2014 at 4:10PM
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You could paint just the already-painted trim white or cream, or, really, any less offensive color FOR NOW, and it would be easier on the eyes while you decide and/or get geared up to strip it. You don't have to decide to paint it *all*, or, for that matter, have all of it wood tone.

I just moved into a house that has beautiful dark wood Craftsman trim throughout the downstairs bedrooms and public areas, painted trim in the kitchen and bathroom and painted trim upstairs. I find this a pleasing combination.

    Bookmark   March 31, 2014 at 7:15PM
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I'm biased - prefer stained wood instead of painted. I don't care for the cartoon colors nor the alternating - paint the door and not the trim/paint the trim and not the door. Can't understand why your boyfriend would want an old house if he prefers a modern/sleek look. Embrace the house for what it is and try to bring out its best.

    Bookmark   April 1, 2014 at 7:59AM
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You guys are all awesome! Thank you for your helpful and sincere replies!

Here are some answers to your questions:

Weedyacres: The house is made up of two sections. The main section dating around 200 years and an add on that happened approximately 100 years ago. The original piece's foundation appears to be Acadian made (big rocks on bottom, small on top). The original has mostly been replaced now by concrete. The add-on is more english style foundation (medium sized rocks throughout). I'm not great with dating old houses but this is all what a friend suggested. Our house inspector agreed with the age approximations.

The green trim appears on every baseboard, in every room, on the main level (except the kitchen, that received lighter green wainscoting). In the hallway and living room all the wood is painted green. The rest of the trim in the house is varying shades of wood.

emmarene: I have no experience with paint remover, this is my first (and hopefully only) house as well. The paint on the trim is very thick and tough. I'm worried about getting the paint off the delicate bumps and details of the trim without ruining it. I've shopped around and the amount of trim I would need to buy to simply replace the colored stuff is staggering.

Concretenprimroses: I absolutely love the worn look of the staircase, and would only consider painting the sides, stringer and skirt. I will ensure to post some before and after pictures!

Chibimimi - Why did we choose an old house? Well other than falling in love with the character of the house (we love the hidden room, quirky lay out, brick chimney, closet under stairs, rock basement, HUGE picture windows, stain glass, etc etc.). We love the history in the house, heritage of people who lived there. The property is large (roughly 8 acres), comes with a huge stable and field for my horses, overlooks the ocean and Bay of Fundy, we're not terribly far from town (30 mins in winter weather), the gardens are matured and professionally done, their are several provincial parks close by.
The house is incredible and has the bones of what we want decoration wise, but we would like to give it a modern, and consistent makeover. Some rooms are more dated than others, some styling from different periods. Plus we want to throw our own color palate into the mix.

Nwwoman: LOL! The purple is absolutely grotesque to me. Worst of all being in a master bedroom. The green is also quite strong to me, but if it was localized to one area or utilized appropriately I might enjoy that shade (but never, ever on trim).

mdln: Would you paint the bookcase white? I feel like that might contrast with the wood wainscoting. What color were you thinking?

Joker_Girl: Ahhh! I can only imagine the tedious and painful stripping process you're going through is what taking the green off the trim is going to be like. I'd love to see a photo of your stairs! Hopefully the wood underneath all that paint is beautiful and worth exposing! I really love the point that we can always paint it later, but once painted it's a long road back...

dirt_cred: The house has two ages, 200 years on the main side (living room, stairs, bedrooms), and 100 years on the add-on (kitchen, bathroom, front entryway, basement stairs). I did list some information above (see weedyacres), but the location is on the north mountain, of the Annapolis Valley in Nova Scotia Canada. Overlooking Scott's Bay and the Bay of Fundy. Definitely a heritage home and among several old farm houses in the community. I'll attach a few more pictures of the exterior of the house if you can provide an opinion of the style.

Thank you all again for your insightful opinions, I'm more motivated to strip all the painted trim and try to restore the beauty of this old house. At least try to make it work before resorting to white-washing everything.

    Bookmark   April 1, 2014 at 9:19AM
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Road view of house exterior.

    Bookmark   April 1, 2014 at 10:51AM
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Back of house.

    Bookmark   April 1, 2014 at 10:53AM
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Stable. Recent renovations in the stable found newspaper insulation from 1902-1915. Hand drawn advertisements on the newspaper and seaweed insulation!

    Bookmark   April 1, 2014 at 10:57AM
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What a charming place. Enjoy!

    Bookmark   April 1, 2014 at 8:17PM
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Lovely house and the age of it is amazing. From my experience painted white woodwork means constant cleaining to keep it nice. Old homes are dusty and it only takes months for that fresh white paint to get dirty crevices, while the natural woodwork still looks fresh. Oil the natural woodwork every year and it just shines.

    Bookmark   April 1, 2014 at 11:37PM
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My house, built in 1900, has identical trim in some rooms. (The big mystery in this house is why there are three different types of trim on the windows and doors.) Someone painted it all white a while ago. For what it's worth, I'm not all that far from you, on the coast of New Hampshire.

Let me assure your boyfriend that painting the trim white does *not* lend a more modern look to the house at all.

You could try to modernize this house, but it would take an awful lot of work, and you'd lose the charm of the interior. And I love what I see in your pictures.

I'm on the fence on this one. I like both nice wood trim and painted trim. What I might do in your place is to strip all the downstairs trim and stain it all to match. Then possibly paint all the upstairs trim, as it seems cozier in bedrooms.

Before moving in here, I looked at another house of the same vintage, with a dark stained beadboard kitchen. Seriously, the kitchen had very few updates since the house was built--the sink had been replaced, and the stove. There were no counters, no cabinets. The walls were floor to ceiling dark brown narrow varnished beadboard. There was a small, dark brown varnished beadboard pantry for storage. And dark brown linoleum flooring.

The first thing I would have done in that kitchen was paint it. It was a black hole of despair. While I like wood trim, an entire room of dark wood would have been way too much.

But I'd tear out those knotty pine bookcases, or paint the shelves and the walls behind them. The knotty pine doesn't suit your house at all.

    Bookmark   April 3, 2014 at 2:22PM
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Functional library bokcases "disappear" when you fill them. Decorator bookcases, with carefully arranged doodads and knicknacks, are another thing entirely.

When we moved into this house twenty years ago, we had pink, pastel green, goldenrod, tan rooms with even more trim colors. The doors seemed to be painted at random. We paint bombed the whole place a very light gray just to get the walls fixed and to keep from being bugged about the colors, and then changed one thing at a time over many many years. Getting to a sort-of neutral place makes decisions calmer and easier.

    Bookmark   April 3, 2014 at 2:39PM
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OK ... the den is nothing special. It's an add-on cheap wood beadboard with lumber year quality utiulity shelving.

The door casings appear to be the original ones, and might be rather pretty. However, for your sanity, paint them all white now and tackle the stripping room by room later.

    Bookmark   April 3, 2014 at 4:03PM
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Chibimimi ... ""Why is he in an old house if he wants more modern appeal?"

Because other factors - like commute distance, price, schools, etc. - often mean you get an old house in an old neighborhood.

    Bookmark   April 5, 2014 at 2:03PM
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It's a beautiful setting. Been there and done that with a 190 year old house we are living in now, so have some empathy. What I found out in farmhouses (mine is and looks like yours is as well) is that the wood trim is more function than form, often clunkier and less dressy than in townhouses. Often really good, solid wood like oak but with a lot of spotty replacements and modifications over two centuries. Mine is far less grand than in the Victorians in which I lived. I find all the different paints also grating on the senses, especially the purples. I suspect that I would choose the wall paints first and get some harmony going on there and deciding how to make the trim play well with them should be easier. My spouse had done some paint stripping on several rooms when we married and I moved in here, and gasped when I put paint back on them. The wood used simply was not superior enough to justify stripping the rest of the house trim so it would be a match. It's easier to justify this in very old homes (federal or georgian era) in rural situations because as said it wasn't unusual to find the wood painted then either and the effect can be quite authentic and stunning. I do not like white and if you must go there consider a warmer, perhaps eggshell version of it. It's a hard call, and like another poster said, you will still have to do some clean-up or stripping of the varnish and old paint to make the new paint adhere well and look good. I don't blame you if you cover at least all the already painted trim to one shade to calm that busy-ness down. You'll hit on the right solution I'll bet as soon as you get the first room done. Good luck. I also own a craftsman home in town and the amazing wood work is crucial to the style. It is all natural and I intend to keep it that way. If I painted it, it would devalue the house thousands.

    Bookmark   April 7, 2014 at 9:23PM
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Your decision might include the type of wood you have and the condition it is in. We bought, in 1973, a San Francisco Stick-Eastlake rowhouse that had been condemned and then rehabbed, not restored, by the City. Everything was painted. After our kids left for college, I started stripping. The handrails for the stairs are oak, and they are gorgeous just sanded and finished with gel poly. But, all the rest of the woodwork is redwood and most of it was horribly gouged and pocked with nail holes. It's a no-brainer that it had to be repainted.

There is a house of the same style, but much, much grander than ours. It's restored to the tiniest detail. The owner told me that the original 1880s owners had faux painted the redwood to look like hardwood.

Anyway, whatever you decide to do, you are very fortunate that you don't have to contend with layers of paint, most of it containing lead.

    Bookmark   April 19, 2014 at 11:34PM
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I believe that when something is made out of many different types of wood, it's an indicator that the people who put it in *expected* you to paint it.

I remember the craze, in the 1980s, to strip every old piece of furniture to "expose the beautiful wood grain." And you'd see pieces in the antiques shows/shops with these crazy grains, mismatched woods, etc. My mom always said, "the guy who made this would be beside himself to see his ingenious usage of scrap wood exposed like this. If he thought you were going to stain it, he'd have at least made sure to use the same species of wood, and he'd have hidden the crazy grain on the shelf or in the back."

In our 1921 home, we decided to strip the woodwork because there had been such bad paint jobs, and there were blobs and drips and such everywhere. It was a big job--and we had *flat* surfaces to strip, not the ridges you've got.

We used Peel-Away, which worked really well. But again, it wasn't that easy! We had to scrape, and clean out inside the curves, etc. (We also ran into a weird layer that completely stopped the stripper--so sections had to be redone twice.)

We gave up after 1/2 of a room (2 windows, and 30 ft. of baseboards).

I don't know how using a heat stripper would work for you--we opted not to try it bcs we had little kids and were worried about lead.

Painting is probably the least amount of work, and it'll get you a color you like right away.

    Bookmark   April 26, 2014 at 9:56AM
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I would strip all the green paint where the stairs are. It just doesn't look good, some wood, some with paint. Maybe it is just the color of green, but it doesn't appeal to me. Same with the white painted door next to the wood door. Strip that one too to match better. The door in the purple room you can paint(along with the walls to a better color)lol. The bookcase doesn't really matter if you paint of not. Once you have it stocked with your books, knickknacks etc. , it won't show that much. I love bulls eye molding. We have it throughout our 1880's house. The majority of it is unpainted. In all 3 bathrooms, the trim is painted with a semi-gloss. I think way back when someone told me it protects the wood from all the moisture. Don't know if it is true or not, but we have always had painted trim in bathrooms. Stripping is a lot of work. I remember my husband using dental picks on the fireplace dental molding in our former home to remove paint. It was tedious work. But my gosh it turned out beautifully when he was done. Best of luck to you with whatever you decide. Love your house, and 8 acres. Ohh, the amount of hot peppers I could grow there! NancyLouise

    Bookmark   April 29, 2014 at 10:15AM
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I remember the craze, in the 1980s, to strip every old piece of furniture to "expose the beautiful wood grain." And you'd see pieces in the antiques shows/shops with these crazy grains, mismatched woods, etc. My mom always said, "the guy who made this would be beside himself to see his ingenious usage of scrap wood exposed like this. If he thought you were going to stain it, he'd have at least made sure to use the same species of wood, and he'd have hidden the crazy grain on the shelf or in the back."

Oh yes! & I, personally, think the appearance of old wood rarely benefits from application of poly.

When I rebuilt a pantry window (1913 house) I found the casing was painted quarter-sawn oak. I'm sure it was always painted - and that much of the house was trimmed with scrap wood. That window remains uncased while I do other things. I haven't uncovered the other casing to confirm my scrap-wood theory. If it's not all nice 1/4-sawn I'll find somewhere else to use that and put something new (paintable) on the window.

My first experience stripping paint was in the 1950's, as a child. My mother had an impulse to strip all the oak woodwork in her 1911 house and, as always, enlisted the passel of kids to help. We used stryp-eze - the harshest stuff almost - and no masks or gloves. We did a staircase, 8-10 double hung windows, some doorways.

It's not something I would recommend, obviously, the use of the kids (or stryp-eze) but it's an indication that stripping paint is not rocket science.

In her next house mom stripped '30's era "blonding" from a whole lot more oak woodwork, without help from any kids but this time she wore gloves and used a LYE solution & a WIRE BRUSH. (Blonding involves grain filler, I believe.) It was, for some reason, her habit to stain wood without any further finish and that made for an easier job - at least one that required less finesse and skill.

So, besides self-indulgently remembering a couple of stories, my point is that it's tedious and annoying to strip paint but it doesn't require that much skill and it can easily be diy.

    Bookmark   April 30, 2014 at 3:47PM
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that green is actually a reasonably accurate historic color.

maybe the purple is too (i don't think so) but i think it is hideous.

we painted an entire room of natural woodwork white and continue to receive compliments. it was just pine and originally had a dark brown shellac that the previous owners stripped.

if it is hardwood and unpainted, you might want to leave it that way.

    Bookmark   May 2, 2014 at 10:11AM
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careful with stripping as the old paint may have lead.

I would use a chemical sander, prime with stain killing shellac based primer, then paint whatever you guys agree on white. Modern furnishings look wonderful in historic spaces and you can make it look beautiful.

don't worry too much about 'historic' colors, color choices changed periodically over the 200 years the house has been here, and she doesn't appear to mind the color changes, either.

there are plenty of examples of renovated old spaces, particularly in Europe, where modern furnishings and whitewash go a long way to making the space livable. The reason the building is still here 200 years later is because people have made it relevant to them in the years they lived.

Live in it TODAY.

    Bookmark   May 3, 2014 at 3:32PM
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I like natural, but that's kind of a tired mess, if you ask me.

Here's a compromise that you might both appreciate fully:

Prime and paint the trim (use a top-shelf trim paint, too). Refinish the floors and make them "pop". Then let your furniture (natural wood, farmhouse style, etc. ) complement the wood. Also put money into nice lighting, including accent lighting, mini-recessed, etc. Best of both worlds, if you do it right. Even when painted, the architectural elements of the casings, etc. will distinguish the home. I suspect this solution might make you both very happy.

Also, if you wanted to carve out a particular room (eg. designated reading room), go ahead. Make it stand out with a first-rate refinishing of the trim, etc. Don't be afraid to experiment with stains, too.

    Bookmark   May 5, 2014 at 8:53PM
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