Will I be a terrible person if...

worldmomApril 4, 2009

...I paint my dining room woodwork?

I am in such turmoil over this! Our house is 99 years old, and we have a mix of painted and stained woodwork throughout the house. Our living room, formal center hall and dining room all have unpainted oak, as does the second floor hallway and the stairwell (oak railing, spindles and wainscotting). The rest of the woodwork was painted white when we bought the house, and when we finished our previously unfinished 3rd floor, we went with white woodwork there, too.

Sometime in the 70s, the woodwork in our dining room was stripped and restained a darker color than the rest of the wood in the house. It's kind of an espresso color. So problem #1 is that it doesn't match the rest of the house. Problem #2 is that the dining room is north-facing and gets very little sunlight, so it's rather dreary in there all the time with all the dark wood (there are french doors, deep baseboards, picture moulding, and a long window seat, all in the dark color). And a third issue is that we are remodeling our kitchen, which will have white cabinetry and woodwork, and the kitchen and dining room are open to each other.

I just can't seem to make a decision. On the one hand, it seems almost criminal to paint wood that's made it a century without being painted, but on the other hand, I *really* don't like that room and am certain I would love it with white trim. I need it to work for my family, and right now, no one wants to be in there.

Honestly, I'd love to paint all the wood in our house, except the doors, ornate archway in our foyer, and the banister in the main stairs, but I'd REALLY like to paint the dining room. If I lived in an arts and crafts bungalow or something, I wouldn't even consider paint, but my house is a rather eclectic colonial/greek revival foursquare, and I think it can handle the mix of finishes quite well.

What say you? :o)

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As much as I am usually a "if it ain't broke, don't touch it" person, in your situation, I would paint it.

This is what leapt to my eyes in your post: am certain I would love it with white trim. I think that whatever will make you truly *love* it, what will make your heart sing, is worth doing in this world.

The only thing I would suggest you do is paint it so that it would cause the next owner cries of angst if they decide to strip it and get it back to the original wood. :-) I just finished chemically stripping what seemed like 8 layers of paint off a small piece of trim so that I could repaint it white to match the rest of the trim (long story). If you prime one coat and two coats of paint, that seems reasonable to get a win-win situation: you *loving* the room and good karma for making it easier for the future owner.

Hope that helps!

    Bookmark   April 4, 2009 at 9:35PM
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Thank you, la_koala. I know there will probably be dissenters, but it's nice to have someone tell me it won't be the end of the world if I go ahead with this. :o)

I'm in total agreement with you about doing it in a way that will make it easier for future homeowners to undo, if that's their preference.

Thanks for the reply.

    Bookmark   April 4, 2009 at 10:57PM
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Somewhere, a long time ago, I read that to prevent the primer/paint from going deeply into the pores of the wood, first put on a coat of shellac to act as a sealer. Shellac is much easier to remove than other coverings. If you put primer on bare oak, no one will ever be able to get it out of the open pores - at least not without a major undertaking.

    Bookmark   April 4, 2009 at 11:06PM
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Thanks, antiquesilver. All the wood is stained and sealed with *something*, but I don't think it's shellac like the rest of the woodwork. It may be polyurethane. I'll have to do a little detective work! :o)

    Bookmark   April 4, 2009 at 11:40PM
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If it's already sealed, it won't serve any purpose to add more. Future owners will have to deal with removing the poly underneath the paint, but hopefully it will keep the paint from penetrating the oak.

    Bookmark   April 5, 2009 at 12:33AM
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Are you sure it was stained dark in the 70's? Dark wood was very popular and wood was often stained and painted to look like a darker, more expensive wood. Our bannister and third floor stairs is almost black and is clearly original. Based on that, and because I like darker woods, I wouldn't paint it. You can't get back the original look of the wood, it would be a lot lighter and a little more of the house's history would be scraped away.

However, it's not my house, and I don't need to live in it or make a home for my 12 children (not my 12, I have 9 less than that!). I think that painting it to make yourselves happy is fine- part of living in a house is loving it and if you don't love it, you should change it, keeping the original in place. Take pictures and save what your DR looks like and put it away for whomever owns the house after you. It's not as if you are considering ripping the woodwork out which wouldn't be okay.

Another idea, because you seem not sold on painting the wood, is painting the walls a very light color. Although I'm not a white walls person, painting the walls white instead would lighten it a bunch. Or painting them a really nice light yellow (lighter than the white raisin that I remember from an earlier post- we painted lots of our old house SW Glad Yellow and it was warm and bright). It may not change your mind about painting the wood work, but it might be something you love even more than painting it.

Good luck!

    Bookmark   April 5, 2009 at 7:52AM
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As one who has stripped yards and yards of woodwork in 2 different homes, I would not paint it. You are right - the trim has made it 99 years without having been painted and to me, painting it is criminal. If it was my house, I would experiment with different wall paint colors to create a lighter effect. Believe it or not, white and really light colors will make the dark trim look darker. Earthy and darker colors soften the effect of the dark color, windows or no windows.

    Bookmark   April 5, 2009 at 9:20AM
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The best answer is more lighting, less white paint to overcome a dark room. Dining rooms often would be finished with dark woodwork since they are mainly used as evening rooms, where a rich, impressive decor was the desideratum. White woodwork will make it very much a day or morning room.

    Bookmark   April 5, 2009 at 12:26PM
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kec01 has got some good colour sense. Give it a try before going with refrigerator white. Heck, colour fridges are coming back.

Trendy designers love to paint over woodwork in their endless efforts at "modernizing" and homogenizing homes.

Personally, I still miss those glass bottles with the cream in a little bulge on top.

    Bookmark   April 5, 2009 at 2:04PM
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Several years ago, I posted a "should I strip my dining room woodwork" or go ahead and repaint it in a neutral off-white (it was a 'splatter-look lavender'). The adjacent living room woodwork had been already been stripped so that stopped me from just repainting over the dining room molding without more thought.

I really wanted my dining room changed and done...thinking deep red walls with white trim/wainscoting that was popular at the time. Jonmari strongly encouraged me to try to strip it in keeping with the house. Well, between restoring the woodwork and removing the terrible textured ceiling and wallpaper, it took 9 months of part-time hard work. It didn't take long to realize that it was right for the house. In the meantime, my cousin bought a beautiful old bungalow with original woodwork and had it all painted white never giving it a 2nd thought.

Do what is right for you, but the fact that you are questioning it means that you do know the unpainted original woood work throughout is really something very special. I agree, try changing the lighting first, as Casey suggested.

    Bookmark   April 5, 2009 at 2:13PM
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I don't think you will be a terrible person, but I would look at other solutions to the lighting issue first--its hard to go back from paint.

    Bookmark   April 5, 2009 at 7:53PM
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How long are you planning on staying in the house, and second question is will there be cohesion with adjoining rooms?

I have dark cherry wood in my kitchen, cabinets and trim alike, and mahogany wood in my adjoining dining room. While the wood is different tones, it's still cohesive in that it's all stained wood. On my first floor, the only room that has painted woodwork is the powder room - we have the original black and white 1920's tile floors.

Without seeing your house, having one floor painted and a second floor unpainted is cohesive, but I'd be concerned with the cohesion of paint in one room and no paint in another on the same floor, with the exception of the bathroom.

If lighting is an issue, you could work around that with different paint colors on your walls, and with your decor. Maybe it's more a matter of redecorating?

But, I agree with you in that if this were an arts & crafts home, I wouldn't touch the woodwork. If it is the eclectic colonial/greek revival, you could probably get away with it but keep cohesion in mind. Maybe if you posted pics prior to painting you could get a better idea from others, and it actually sounds like leaving the doors and various archictural features unpainted, while painting the risers on the stairs, leaving the treads unpainted, painting the spindles but leave the handrail unpainted would give a nice cohesion throughout the house.

The next question to ask is what will this do to the resale value of your home? If people were to walk in your home would they expect painted vs. unpainted woodwork or a combination of both based on your homes style? What was typical for the era of your home?

    Bookmark   April 5, 2009 at 8:20PM
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I don't know how anyone could be sure of their advice without seeing photographs of the house. Be very careful painting over unknown finishes.

To lighten the room you should first look at the window treatment in order to improve the natural light and then look at the artificial lighting. To make a room feel larger and brighter you should light the walls rather than the floor. Light on the walls will be bounced back into the room without putting light directly on the heads of the occupants. Recessed low voltage halogen pin spots can light the dining table very effectively.

Then consider the wall treatment and add reasonably bright artwork on the illuminated walls. Buy a nice table cloth. In the end the trim should be a minor issue but you can always paint it later. Be careful to not get halfway into painting all the trim in the house and realizing you have made a mistake.

    Bookmark   April 6, 2009 at 7:43AM
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Worldmom has previously posted pictures of the woodwork in her foyer and one of her (beautiful) bathroom door.

By the way, the question should not be 'will I be a terrible person'. Its more about, 'will you regret it'. You did a great job on the powder room in keeping with the historic period of the house...the decision is whether painting the woodwork in the dining room will enhance or detract.

I like advice here to lighten/brighten everything else before deciding to paint the molding. The house down the street from us has dark molding throughout but the house is light and airy because of how she decorated.

    Bookmark   April 6, 2009 at 8:52AM
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There are probably arguements both ways, and you've received some good advice above. kec01 is correct that white wall paint will make the dark woodwork look darker. But, here's my 2 cents. I have 96 year old dark stained woodwork and white painted walls in the living room and dining room, which connect via a wide archway. There is ample light from windows in the day time and light fixtures at night. What I like about it is the white walls and ceiling make the light reflect in the day time and hightlight the furnishings more. At night the dining room light has a dimmer and we have a lamp on the sideboard, so we can create a warm candlelight glow even with white walls. On the other hand, I convinced DH that the small room we are using as an office on the north side of the house (and only one smaller window) should be painted a color (it previously had white wall). I picked a very vintage bottle green color we both love. The dark woodwork still stands out, but without a doubt that room just seems darker than ever. I'd vote for painting the walls white in your dining room and leaving the woodwork dark. See what you can do with lighting, both direct and indirect and dimmers. Play with the walls, lights and furnishings before you paint the woodwork. Good luck with it!

    Bookmark   April 6, 2009 at 12:04PM
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Personally I love the formality of the dining room in an old home. Those folks new how to decorate. The space is supposed to be at it's best for evening entertaining, which includes rich dark woods, deep tones in the decor and candle light. I have decorated my dining room with this same theory in mind, and while the very deep gold walls are dark, they're beyond fabulous at night...rich :)

I wouldn't paint obviously. If the finish is original (post a pic and we could help there maybe?) I'd never paint it, but if it's not, I'd take the stripper to it first and try to restore the beauty of the woods.

Then skip white as your paint color for the walls. It actually does not brighten a room. Learn to embrace what the room was and go with a wonderful green or gold in a mid tone. You'd be amazed what it does for woodwork and the entire feel of the room. And as Casey wisely points out...lighting is a key element of focus. I'd work there before I'd paint the woodwork.

    Bookmark   April 6, 2009 at 1:20PM
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autumngal asked if I was sure the woodwork was refinished, and yes, I'm certain of it. We are still in contact with two of the previous homeowners and they've given us a wealth of information about the house and its changes over the years. The S family had some cabinets built in the dining room to cover the radiators and provide shelving for books, and I'm fairly sure that this is when they changed the woodwork. As I said, only the dining room has wood this color. The original stuff is a beautiful reddish gold, and if the dining room looked like that, I wouldn't even consider painting it. I just hate it so dark.

Because I'd like to get more input on the overall project if I'm not going to paint the woodwork, I'm going to stop here and start a new thread. If you don't mind giving some more feedback, please come to the new thread. I'll call it, "How to unite dining room and kitchen."

    Bookmark   April 6, 2009 at 4:44PM
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I wouldn't paint, but that's because we're still working at stripping all our gorgeous trims that have too many layers of gooey paint....

Our dining room is in the center of the house and therefore has no natural direct light (however all the adjacent rooms have lots of windows, and the center is part of an entry/exit way so light also enters that way. We have a one story, and though we have an enormous attic, we installed a sun tube. Excellent. It gets light even at night!

    Bookmark   April 12, 2009 at 9:54PM
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