Woodwork question

ingeorgiaMay 21, 2012

Our house has high baseboards, picture rails, four fireplaces two with overmantles. Sliding wood doors into dining room and into living room, transoms over the doors thick molding.

At one time it was all painted and the previous owner stripped and varnished, but did a poor job. Little bits of paint left and lots of drips and some missed spots.

The mantles are oak, I don't find any of them or the wood very attractive ... I'm thinking about painting the wood (not that this would happen anytime soon, maybe not even in my lifetime. :) my question is do you think the wood was painted originally?

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You don't say how old the house is, but it sounds as if it might be from the late 19th century or early 20th--and the woodwork would not have been painted at that time, except perhaps in the attic or servant's rooms.

Antique oak is not something which can be replaced without HUGE expense of money...and the fact that it has been stripped shows that it is worth keeping. The fact that you don't like it doesn't matter--it is a huge asset toward the resale value of the house--and a hell of a lot of work to redo it if you make the mistake of painting it again!

The problem is easy to solve--go over the spots where the paint remains and remove it--much easier since it is mostly gone--and then restain it in a different color such as antique oak, cherry or something else period. I'd wager the biggest reason you hate it is that it was a poor job--touch it up and you will love the natural wood. I've been on a number of historic house tours where the wood was stripped, and it now has a buttery look to it--not appealing to me at all--but the stain can be changed to your taste without destroying the wood.

The biggest mistake you could possibly make is to repaint, destroying resale value and inflicting your own tastes onto the next owners. Having stained wood is a huge draw for many house buyers--if you paint, you will drive away a large number of potential buyers.

    Bookmark   May 21, 2012 at 5:49PM
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well I could have sworn I said the house was built in 1910 !
thank you for your reply..however we live in the middle of nowhere and house values are not much as it is.
House was built for a bank president, so thinking it might have been painted... two houses down is an almost identical house and all the woodwork is painted..and it looks so nice and clean and light.

    Bookmark   May 21, 2012 at 6:50PM
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What style is the house and what part of the country do you live in? (in GA?) That could also give some clues as to whether it may, or part of it may have been painted.

    Bookmark   May 21, 2012 at 7:41PM
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We live in SE Georgia .. closer to Jacksonville FL than anywhere else. To me the house seems a bit Craftsman wanting to be Victorian ... but no Gingerbread. It's a 2 story, had wide brick columns that were plastered over, brick steps and a wrap around porch.

    Bookmark   May 21, 2012 at 7:45PM
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Ingeorgia, this comes from a LOT of reading on period decor sources and being on and part of many house tours--it doesn't matter what the house down the street has, woodwork was almost never painted except in a kitchen or servant's area! And since you said it was built for a bank president, that just confirms it--he had money and wanted to show it--and painted woodwork does NOT do that.

Wherever you are located, to paint woodwork WILL decrease value--as would removing any original features...yes, it is popular at the moment to paint everything because it minimizes details--but details are just what potential buyers want in an old house.

If you really aren't fond of old houses, before you do something drastic like painting woodwork, might I suggest moving? Let someone who really loves old houses have a chance to preserve your house. I don't intend to sound mean, but why did you buy the place to begin with if you want to do something that major? My own house has survived 104 years with it's original stain and shellac, and having looked at a LOT of houses before I bought--that is a rare thing to be treasured.

I have an older sister who lives just outside Atlanta--let her move into your house, and you can live on her six acres!

    Bookmark   May 21, 2012 at 8:35PM
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Oh, c'mon... Let's see some pics, from the great State of Georgia!

Seriously, pics of the exterior - as well as the interior & woodwork, would help a lot! "Old House People" are an odd bunch, in several ways.

A: Seeing pictures of a house with age & original features, somehow grabs (many of) us & causes an emotional connection - you'll get far better responses than a verbal/typed description. (Didn't say it made sense, or that it's rational, it just "Is" what it is, lol).

B: We are generally, by nature, NOSY, curious, snoopy, cool people. We want to see what you've got, to compare to what we've got, get ideas to fix what we've got, etc. This makes "us" different. People who buy new construction don't do this, or feel this way. Just sayin'.

Post some pics, & I'm thinking you'll get more responses - likely many of them from people who have experience, telling you that what you have is beautiful - & advice on how to make it right for you. So, let's see your house!

    Bookmark   May 21, 2012 at 9:11PM
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LOL ... it isn't a grand house. No servant quarters. A 3 possibly 4 bedroom ... we think the house was made into 2 apartments at one time and the smaller upstairs room (no closet) was made into a kitchen. I made it the laundry room. I do love old houses, one reason we bought this one, the other being it was sooo darn cheap and we had just relocated. The house is not in a "good" neighborhood.
Never considered painting as major, I have always thought "it's just paint" so I do appreciate the different perspective. You will probably be appalled to know I knocked out a window and put in French doors and a deck. Thank you for taking the time to reply I do appreciate it and I do wish I could trade with your sister !

    Bookmark   May 21, 2012 at 9:13PM
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If it was to have been painted, it would have been made in pine. If you do paint it now, it can never be successfully refinished because the paint will really be in the grain (even if you think it's bad now...)
Maybe consult a wood finisher, old-time painter or preservationist.

    Bookmark   May 21, 2012 at 9:15PM
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KS toolgirl ... you must have posted as I was typing. I love pictures as well and I will try to find some. there really isn't any detail in the wood work and really nothing much to see. Doing this on the laptop while watching Frank and Mike do some picking, will see if I can post some photos tomorrow.

    Bookmark   May 21, 2012 at 9:19PM
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sombreuil_mongrel ... honestly if this house were anywhere else (almost) but here . Putting on a new roof will be 1/3 of what the house cost. No way does it make any sense (or cents) to put any serious money into this house. A preservationist or wood finisher, they probably exist in Atlanta (a good six hours from here), here an old time painter is some local who has been slapping on paint for 20 years. The people here who consider themselves "professionals" would make you cringe. The last person we hired who was HIGHLY recommended as being one of the best installed light switches upside down, messed up the electrical, oh heck let's just say I have TWO FULL PAGES of things he did incorrectly or messed up. The most highly recommended electrician put a hole in the wall molding and said "ooops, stuff happens". The highly recommended pest control company (BEST in the city) we hired for termite control on their first yearly check said "ooops we didn't do it right" and now I have a damaged dining room floor.
Could go on and on but you get the idea.

    Bookmark   May 21, 2012 at 9:29PM
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If you love your old house, and it's age, location is only relevant if you're talking about paying a lot of $$ for a specialist to restore/fix something, like the roof. If you're thinking whether to paint woodwork (ouch) & not wanting to make it right - If working to bring its history back is contingent on property value, you lost me. These forum members can tell you how to do this yourself, & reasonably. I'm surrounded by smaller old houses, in crappy condition, mostly rentals. Makes me sad for those homes, but doesn't make me care less for the history of mine. (& mine is not in great shape... Big bad work, coming!).
My point, I guess? If surrounding homes & property values made the difference, we'd have patched-up, painted, & hit the road to a new subdivision long ago. (& I designed several subdivisions in our area - lots, streets, drainage & utilities/easements, etc). Not for me, though.
Love your house for what it is, not what it's surrounded by. Treat it accordingly, as you're able, not by sinking a lot of money into it - but by working to make it better. Slopping paint on is not that much easier than removing what remains & bringing oak back to the glory it still has. (No oak here, I wish - all pine).

    Bookmark   May 22, 2012 at 12:07AM
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Ingeorgia, can't wait for pics--mine are here in two threads...some reading around this forum will show that stripping paint is a horrific job, and most of us would sooner shoot someone who approaches our woodwork with a paintbrush simply because we know how hard it is to remove--so even if yours isn't done professionally, most of the very hard part is done! :) Try getting some refinisher and doing a small out of the way spot to see what it looks like. A little bit more work may surprise you with the great results!

My own place is near a college campus, and I got very lucky in that the first owners lived here for just over fifty years, and afteer that, no one stayed more than five-seven years so doing major alterations was pointless. The extremely lucky bit was that no one bought it and turned it into apartments! I front on a historic district which has had some success in getting more families into the area, but a lot of places are still rented by students via absentee landlords.

I haven't seen where my sister lives now, but it's at the end of a road and is almost entirely pine forest. She used to live in a house about 130 years old in Eufaula before that (eastern AL on the lake).

Another sister lived in a house built in 1830s with two multi-storey bays, but alas, it was covered with many layers of white paint except for the walnut carved newel and balusters (that house had half-tree trunks as joists in the basement).

Almost always the best advice is this: live with a house for at least a year before doing major changes, unless they are dangerously needed like a roof or foundation or plumbing/electrical which doesn't work--many things you will find actually work better than you think a more modern method will!

One last thing--from what it sounds like, you may be better off learning to do some basic repairs yourself--I knew next to nothing before buying my house--plumbing is actually pretty easy, and most small electrical things are also not too bad if you read up on it first.

    Bookmark   May 22, 2012 at 1:11AM
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Let's remember here that there already is paint in the woodgrain because it was previously painted and has been stripped/badly refinished.

And moving instead of painting won't necessarily "save" the woodwork or put it into "better" hands - if there are no historic constraints in place, it may well result in it being torn down!

Finally, woodwork can be mighty dismally dark, let's face it.

But my question, Ingeorgia, would be whether it is dark due to the finish the previous owner put on, or if it is inherently dark. Since you need to give it a once-over anyway to deal with the drips before you'd do any painting, see if removing the finish would lighten it up much.

But barring that, if you do decide to paint, it is best to do it over a clear coat. Then what gets stuck in the woodgrain is clear, and the wood can, in the event that ColumbusGuy is the next owner of your house :-) be stripped again with good results.

I think the best answer is, if you can learn to love it or find a way to lighten it, do so, but if not, paint over a clear base coat (but not polyurethane, which I think does not strip well).

Karin L
PS Not that I answered your question! Even if the house up the road has painted woodwork, I also doubt it would have been painted to start with. That dark woodwork, coupled with dark window coverings, was simply what it seems to have been all about in Victorian and Arts and Crafts. And then there were the doors. I have one door in a dark hallway where I am going to test out a pickling stain; the darkness is simply not working for me. So I totally understand the dilemma you are in.

    Bookmark   May 22, 2012 at 12:08PM
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Some photos of the woodwork..the heavy kitchen swinging door is why I thought the woodwork might have been painted before. You can see the paint color where they moved the doorplate up and left the paint. Previous owner left this to show what had been before he stripped paint. Again, the only really good features are the fireplaces..using the living room as the dining room, the fireplace has grey tiles, the top right and left have an egret as do some on the hearth. The dining room using as living room, because I put in French doors and a deck and I like to see outside. The mantle tiles are terracotta, plain but there are 4 grey tiles in the hearth with a flower design. and ummm , yes my living room walls are purple.

    Bookmark   May 22, 2012 at 2:53PM
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Columbus Guy .. have seen and loooved your photos. Your fireplace mantle has elements of mine. We have lived in this house for ten years. I am still working on it. After the "master craftsmen" of this town got through I decided I could do just as well as they did, probably better. I am just verrrry sloooooooooow. Thank you all for all your comments and suggestions.

    Bookmark   May 22, 2012 at 3:00PM
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Oh, I KNEW it! There you go, posting pics, here I go - gushing! That fireplace is gorgeous! As are the stairs, doors (though I'll bet the leftover paint was less about "showing his hard work" & more about "oops, didn't get to that after moving doorplate", lol. I recognize my trademark when I see it...). ;-). I figure, perhaps, the baseboards were done last - when the poor fella was "over it"? Maybe try denatured alchohol & cloth or nylon brush, in a small inconspicuous area - behind a door? Don't go by my suggestions, until someone - more experienced & wise than I - verifies. I'm, by far, the most ignorant person here. (Which is why I am here, because of the experts).
Really do like that wood, though... Those spindles (?) on the mantle, such a cool pattern in the grain.
I will add that, personally, woodwork doesn't have to be intricate to be lovely. Your baseboards may be simple & without detail, but they are worthy nonetheless. Those, & the stairs, remind me of a style that I cannot put a name to - & should remember.

    Bookmark   May 22, 2012 at 5:29PM
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Thanks, ingeorgia--and your woodwork is great looking! The door trim is the same as my neighbor's-her house is a colonial foursquare built in 1906--she bought from the son of the original owner, and the family had trashed it (the mom wanted more modern, so every scrap of wood was painted in different colors, the stair railing was replaced with a metal porch one, and the floors downstairs were replaced with maple parquet squares to hold the father's printing press!)

Your stairs look like they could be anywhere from about 1890-1915 I'd say. The fireplace looks similar to a craftsman or Aesthetic style, as do the tiles. It's all well worth keeping, and you would probably have a lot of success doing a quick wash with paint remover, then doing a coat of colored shellac--don't go with clear--try something darker like garnet or amber.

Could we have an outside pic--pretty please?!

    Bookmark   May 22, 2012 at 7:30PM
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thank you both for the nice comments and information. I will try and get a photo of the outside but it's dilapidated and also plain. There seemed to have been a bit of a remuddle in the 70's I'm guessing. The downstairs bath had an avocado green tub.I have a clawfoot tub, still laying on its side that I hope to get up and running some day. The kitchen had pressed board cabinets. Needed to replace the kitchen sink but when I took it out the pressboard cabinets crumbled so I had to go get replacements. While not fancy I do love this house.

    Bookmark   May 22, 2012 at 10:38PM
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I remembered later the name I was reminded of - Gustav Stickley. (A favorite of mine, if only I could afford one of his pieces - I'll take a bookcase, please! Or two...). So I guess your mantle reminded me of amazing furniture?

Don't be shy about your "plain" house. There's beauty in simplicity. I believe that, perhaps this is why - lol.

That's plain! :-)

    Bookmark   May 23, 2012 at 7:01PM
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Hard to tell if it's your photos or real life, but the finish on the doors and baseboard has a yellowish tone that makes the wood hard to like. There are many finishes that will give you a better clear tone that will let the wood look good.

Karin L

    Bookmark   May 23, 2012 at 10:54PM
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Karin, I thought the same thing! The last 3 pics have a deep, warm, red tone? The door & trim have yellow, sickly tint. Tell her how to fix it, you know how. :-)

    Bookmark   May 23, 2012 at 11:21PM
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yes that is one reason it is so ugly,yellow, orange blech and it's shiny which I'm not a big fan of either .. that and honestly I don't think the wood is that pretty either.
Will try and get an outside photo up soon.

    Bookmark   May 24, 2012 at 9:20PM
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Other than the mantle, by the way, it's fir. The mantle is oak.

Ah yes, stripping! Do a search of this forum - lots of discussion already.

The other thing that has been discussed is whether you can mix stained and painted woods in the same house/same floor, same room. Me, I'm not a purist so don't mind mixing.

Karin L

    Bookmark   May 24, 2012 at 9:54PM
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