How would you paint the interior of a 1895 shingle style home?

elsewhereApril 5, 2011

I have a shingle-style home with interior woodwork in generally good condition. The first floor has a great deal of quartersawn oak paneling in excellent condition. The moldings and woodwork on the upper three floors are perhaps gumwood, in need of some attention. I considered painting the moldings in the upper three floors, but am not sure if the mix of painted woodwork on the upper floors and natural wood on the first floor would work.

I have three somewhat related questions on interior painting:

1) What are good resources for wall colors that might work well the wooden trim -without being too slavishly historical?

2) What is the best way to clean/restore the woodwork?

3) Are there any examples you can point me too of painted doors with stained wooden doorframe/moldings? The doors are perhaps in the most need of attention. Or would you just paint the moldings as well on the upper floors?

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I have a few books on Shingle Style houses but it would help to see some photos of your house to see which ones would be most helpful.

    Bookmark   April 7, 2011 at 2:30PM
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I only paint mouldings if the wood is ugly, as in a few cases mine are flat grain fir or otherwise pretty beat up with lots of filler. Only in a very dark place would I consider painting, as I am actually doing for our north-facing hallway, which the dark wood door and dark moulding render somewhat cave-like. Or I'm thinking a pickled-type finish. But as a rule, I paint as little as possible.

But if I were painting, it would not bother me one whit to mix painted and unpainted moulding,even in the same room or on the same floor, or painted/unpainted moulding and doors. At this point in its life, each piece of wood has an individual identity :-) and different needs. The overall look tends to work, as the house is making no pretense of being new.

How to handle the wood depends on whether you are removing an old finish or not. Search around this forum and the woodworking forum for some discussions.

As for co-ordinating wall colour with the wood, wood is fairly forgiving (unless it is shellacked orange or something). I would pick the right colour for the room - based on the kind of light it gets, and the feeling you want to have in it - and then evaluate it with the wood. Honestly, I don't think you'll find too many colours that really don't work with wood - after all, you see wood furniture in every conceivable colour of room. I'm just painting one room a pale purple, and both the fir mouldings and the bird's-eye maple furniture work better with it than I expected.


    Bookmark   April 7, 2011 at 8:44PM
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Without seeing any pictures, I can't tell you how to clean your woodwork--it depends on the finish. Generally, a very mild soap and very dry cloth would be safest.
As for painting the upstairs woodwork--if you want to automatically devalue your house, by all means go for it. It has gone more than a century without painting, and I'm sure it added a great deal to the selling price--if you never plan on moving, and don't mind losing money in a market where housing values have dropped anyway...then go ahead.
As said above, almost any paint color works with wood--it depends on the light the room has, by night as well as day. Stronger colors were popular at the turn of the century because interior lighting was dim by today's standards, and they worked well with the trim. If you plan on 0verlighting as is popular today, then I'd suggest less intense colors.
I have to ask, if you want to paint the woodwork, why in gods name did you buy the place? You would have been happier in a more modern tract house.

    Bookmark   April 11, 2011 at 4:09AM
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"Generally, a very mild soap and very dry cloth would be safest."

Unless the finish is shellac, in that case the water may destroy it.

Paint thinner is the least harmful cleaner for clear wood finishes.

It will not remove cured varnish, shellac, or lacquer.

    Bookmark   April 11, 2011 at 10:50AM
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Painting the never-before-painted trim in an old or historic house is probably the #1 way to make serious enemies of a lot of normally amenable people.

Shingle-style houses are RARE, today. This style never really had a lot of followers, but those who love it, REALLY love it (I'm one of them, I have a shingle town home). The Shingle-style was at its height during the Arts and Crafts, Colonial Revival and Aesthetic era crossroads of 1885-1910. Colors that were popular for any of those styles would be perfect in a Shingle-style home. Check out photos of Naumkeag to see an amazing high-style Shingle home (the main staircase is astounding, with its wood trim and orange walls.)

If the wood is unpainted, and has never been stripped (really, I dont care how well you strip wood, it always looks different than unpainted wood) then leave it. As much as others may hate me, if it was originally painted, there is precedent to repaint it (please, just not brilliant white, something softer, more natural, turn-of-the-century white was not so bright)

What about grain painting the doors ? They are a pretty flat area and the graining tools are readily available, and thankfully, you dont have to perfectly match the tone of the wood trim. Check out Craig & Yvonnes Victorian for detailed photos on how to grain paint a door.

Finally, for wall colors -- wood trim ALWAYS looks best with color - not white. Choosing colors that are warm and inviting, as opposed to cool and modern, will work best. And those colors will look correct in Shingle-style (or arts and crafts, which are easy to find, now, that A&C colors are very popular).

and finally: love the wood, its amazing stuff.

    Bookmark   April 12, 2011 at 1:20PM
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I have all stained wood trim and have had good luck with Farrow and Ball colors. Green smoke and mouse's back look great. Light stone, a putty color they don't carry anymore, similar to Benjamin moore's light khaki, is a drab chameleon color that looks great against jewel tone accents in my dining room. Farrow's cream and dorset cream, which look strong on the card, are not strong enough against my wood and I wish I'd picked a darker yellow. Look at their color card and try to pick the greyed down colors, for example, dix blue, oval room blue, or stone blue; NOT cook's blue or blue ground, which beg for a white trim. Don't worry if they look dull on the card, they will sing on your walls with your wood.

While dark wood plays up deep colors beautifully, I think with the right decor you can do white walls too. My daughters room has benjamin moore magnolia on the walls. Her furniture is a mix of white wicker and antique walnut pieces that get along with the woodwork well. Her bedspread is jewel-toned. I think the contrast of the white paint enhances the grain and glow of the woodwork. It's a north room; no idea how it would work in a southern room.

Just rambling. Enjoy your house, and try to live in it for a while before you paint the woodwork. If you must paint the woodwork, lay down a good coat of shellac first so it's not impossible (just a huge nuisance) to reverse. I would never paint my wood, even though I wanted to when I first bought the house, because I enjoy it so much. But if you absolutely can't stand it...well that's a tough one. I just can't bring myself to say then it's your house so go ahead and paint it. I hope you come to enjoy your wood as much as I enjoy mine. It's part of what makes the house special to me, and I'm proud of having learned to take care of it. (Hint: just say no to polyurethane).

There are gazillions of houses with painted trim; nice stained woodwork is becoming increasingly rare except for mansions.

Here is a link that might be useful: farrow and ball colors

    Bookmark   April 12, 2011 at 2:42PM
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Thanks for the great suggestions. It's particularly vexing that a previous owner had ripped out a few of the built-ins in the upper story bedrooms to fit in a modern HVAC system, it forces some hard decisions in finish choices. I'll try to put up some photos to get more concrete feedback on some of these problem areas. I had no idea that there was such a vehement advocacy group for the care and protection of unpainted wood.

    Bookmark   May 9, 2011 at 6:29PM
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In some builder's specs from your time frame that I have come across, the bedroom woodwork is called out to be "painted in tints" i.e., light colors. In 1895 some woodwork would be stained dark, like "antique oak" while other woods like birdseye maple were popular and never stained. In 1895 walnut was not as much used as 20 years earlier, but mahogany was beginning to be seen in the most formal rooms. Darker generally always equals more formal.

    Bookmark   May 10, 2011 at 9:24AM
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Thanks Casey!

Below as promised is a link to some photos to give an idea of the house style, the 'good condition' woodwork (mostly the stairs, the dining room, the inglenook downstairs) and the problem areas (inherited from a previous owner's remodel).

I'd like to maintain the downstairs and central landing areas of each floor in natural wood, and possible paint the woodwork in at least some of the rooms where there has been renovation. I know this isn't oak, I'm told it could be gumwood or other lower quality woodwork. The doors are a bit rough, and I'm considering painting or upgrading doors as I go along.

Here is a link that might be useful: Photobucket album

    Bookmark   May 11, 2011 at 8:58PM
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have you researched the history of your house ?

    Bookmark   May 12, 2011 at 7:45PM
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To some degree - if you let me know what questions you think are relevant I'd be happy to share what I know. My goal is renovation more than recreating a historical look however.

    Bookmark   May 14, 2011 at 7:18PM
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Something about your house strikes me as being more important than just a box to live in. Maybe its my intense passion for a historically correct shingle house (that I can't afford), or maybe its the color similarity to Mark Twain's house. Maybe its the rarity of four story homes along with the perfect Queen Anne transitional colonial revival interior. It would break my heart to see the walls of that perfect setting painted white, or, god forbid, with painted woodwork.

Here's a thought, since your initial question was about woodwork and wall color. Call in a woodworker who can identify (without a doubt) the wood in your home. What we see as, maybe, insignificant today, was a severely high-end wood of the 19th century (because, for some reason, oak has soared to the top of the wooden trim heap - its not better - just trendy). Once you have your woods correctly ID'd, you may seek out furniture restoration techniques from a woodworker who works in old techniques, like shellac and varnish who can point out how to properly clean or repair the finish. Finish techniques varied baed on the wood type - for instance, mahogany nees its pores filled to gleam while walnut (my personal favorite) takes a finish like no other. Oily or tropical woods like rosewood or teak need very different care than oak or maple. And, please remember, the worst thing you can do - yeah, worse than painting the wood - is to polyurethane it. You cant ever strip that plastic stuff off of wood).

For the wall colors, choosing pleasing medium tone neutrals is probably always safe and will look both historical and modern, without being "slavishly" historical (though, if done properly, slavishly historical is ASTOUNDING. Think of colors like saddle tans, soft gold, nearly any shade of "dirty" green-like sage. With natural wood, avoid blues and purples, heavily saturated colors, brights and white (white or very pale colors will make your AMAZING wood look faded, dull and lifeless). If you have the Sherwin Williams color sample book, use the first section of colors after the grays. Those colors almost always look perfect with wood. I have done my whole house in them, so far (got more to do, yet). Check my blog for SW color in use:

Here is a link that might be useful: Joshua Shively House

    Bookmark   May 14, 2011 at 11:14PM
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Thanks Old House Jim, I took your advice and contacted a restoration specialist. He advised giving the attention to the woodwork in the lower floors (we have quartersawn oak paneling and quartersawn cherry and he was quite impressed with the condition). On the upper floors, we have stained poplar trim (!) - his advice was to restore the doors themselves and paint the trim, keeping the natural wood balustrade of course.

    Bookmark   May 24, 2011 at 5:14PM
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