Painted Woodwork: Tragedy or Triumph?
jed8264
November 10, 2012 in Design Dilemma
My husband and I are in the process of buying a classic old house (built in 1894). The guy who originally built the house owned the local lumber company so he put tons of beautiful moulding and trim work throughout the house. Great, right? The issue is that I have always loved painted woodwork. I am not at all into period restoration and will be moving my mostly transitional goods in. We have owned other old houses and I have always painted the woodwork but this house has real history. People always say, "How could you paint that beautiful woodwork?" And my answer is always, "Because its my house and I love it!" Would I be doing this historic house a disservice or do I make it into the perfect house for us and paint the woodwork? Opinions please!
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olldcan
Is your home by chance on the National Registry of Historical Places, if not, should it be? if there's theres a possibility for either I'd learn to love the woodwork untouched.
November 10, 2012 at 8:56am     
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jed8264
It is not on the registry. Some of it we will definitely leave alone. There are hand-carved stair parts that even I wouldn't paint. :)
November 10, 2012 at 9:18am     
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feeny
I would not paint it, but I am obviously more of a historical preservationist than you.

And why on earth would an 1894 "house built by a guy who owned a lumber company" not be historical, Cara11? This seems like a bizarre definition of what counts as historical. Some of the most beautiful and architecturally important Victorian mansions in Northern California were built by lumber barons, and are on the National Historic Register. It isn't about who built it. It's about the house's architectural beauty and historical value.
November 10, 2012 at 9:37am     
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ruthmand
I just took a peak at your idea book and see mostly very modern interiors which makes me wonder why you would be attracted to a home built in 1894. But that aside, I do think that when you buy something that has been around for over 100 yrs. and has apparently been well taken care of during this time, you assume a certain responsibility to preserve and maintain it for future generations. How many homes in the USA are that old? In a land of tract houses and new subdivisions a house that old is truly a charm even if it is not on the Natl. Register. So I urge you look at this from a perspective of stewardship, rather than ownership.
November 10, 2012 at 9:51am     
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jed8264
Ruthmand, I am 36 years old, have been married for 13 years and this will be our 9th house! We love houses and my style varies depending on what house I am in. :) Right now we are living in an ultramodern cube-style house in Johannesburg, South Africa! We have had old houses before, built a brand new "transitional" style house, etc. I always joke that houses are my hobby. This new house we are hoping to be in for a long time. Also, I wouldn't have posed the question if I didn't feel a certain sense of responsibility to the history of this house! :)
November 10, 2012 at 10:25am   
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victorianbungalowranch
Eligibility is based on architectural integrity (original materials and design, no vinyl etc...), design, uniqueness for the region and/or contibution to local history of its builders, occupants and what happened at that location. Homes built by lumber barons where showpieces of their goods and definately should be preserved, and if it is not listed, it is probably eligible or could be in a historic district. Local regulations vary, and even listing alone does not prevent you from painting or whatever, but inappropiate changes can lose the building's eligiblilty, esp. window replacement and vinyl siding.

Anyway, I would urge you to live with it for a while, and if you paint, the most appropiate places are in the kitchen, service hallways, bathrooms and bedrooms. If you feel compelled to paint more, try to keep it to the simple stuff and not the ornate moldings, spindels and paneling so the next owner isn't cursing you out for doing so.

I also think it could reduce the value of the house, esp. in the long run. Those houses are built with old-growth timber--some of those trees were hundreds of years old, and we will never see that again, including the framing and the window frames. It is far more durable than anything you can buy today unless it is reclaimed or very pricey.

Keeping wood can look modern and contrast nicely with more contemporary or transitional furniture if everything is kept light and or colorful. People pay big money to add in character like that!

Also, it is a trend to paint some rooms very dark to get that cozy feeling, and yes, even paneling (the good stuff with real wood) is making a modest comeback. It may be good to consult with a sympathetic designer to figure out the right balance for you.

Tastes change, but houses aren't like clothes and easily changed and changed back.

If you bought a Queen Anne with a lot of ornate gingerbread and woodwork, you also bought the maintenance that goes with having a grand home, and unpainted woodwork is less of a maintenance hassle in the long run--you have enough to worry about outside in that department!:)

If you post pictures that might help with any paint decisions.
November 10, 2012 at 10:28am   
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Aggie Purvinska
Design, as you know from the experience is comprised of parts of a whole. Make it so that the painted woodwork works with the interior, and your guests say: This painted woodwork is truly making the room! Post pictures! :)

P.S. Work with what you have and make the best of it, some rooms may work with stained or clear fininshed and some will be better with painted.
November 10, 2012 at 10:29am   
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Linda
As someone who has spent many, many dollar and hours stripping old woodwork, I say leave it alone, at least in public areas.

That said, if you decide to paint the woodwork, I suggest not removing the current finish before painting. So, if some future owner chooses to remove the paint, the original finish will keep the paint from getting into the pores of wood and make it much easier to remove.
November 10, 2012 at 6:10pm     
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victorianbungalowranch
Oops, I did not see you were in Australia. I have no idea what the historic regs are there, but I hope it is easier to do than it is here! Still, I hope you can preserve the best of what you have.
November 12, 2012 at 10:45pm   
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jed8264
We are currently living in South Africa but the house is in the US. We'll be moving back to start our renovations in a year or so. I think all of this discussion makes me realize that I do have a plan. There is some woodwork in the house that has already been painted so I will give that a fresh new coat of paint. there is an office/library that may get a new look :) but other than that my plan is to leave it as is. The other issue is that the color it is currently stained isn't great. Its pretty gold and, in my opinion, doesn't do the craftsmanship justice. I'm so excited to start my Victorian/Ecclectic project! Thanks for all the good feedback!
November 13, 2012 at 12:22am     
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lepstein
My house is 100 years old and has white painted moldings. I added an addition and decided on continuity. Painted walls a strong colour and the whole home is beautiful. Still has its heritage...and I'm a heritage activist.
November 19, 2012 at 8:59am   
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jed8264
Lepstein, I LOVE your comment. THANK YOU! It is not a disregard for history to paint some of the woodwork. It is the love I have for the house to make "her" even more beautiful! :)
November 19, 2012 at 9:08am   
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jed8264
Lepstein, I LOVE your comment. THANK YOU! It is not a disregard for history to paint some of the woodwork. It is the love I have for the house to make "her" even more beautiful! :)
November 19, 2012 at 9:08am   
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feeny
My house is also very old (90 years), and it has white painted woodwork. But the use of white paint on the woodwork is original to the house. The type of wood used was of a quality meant for painted woodwork, not stained. The doors and railings, OTOH, are stained wood (mahogany) and create a lovely contrast, but it is all original. So yes, it can be entirely historically appropriate to have a century or older house with entirely painted woodwork, partially painted woodwork, or entirely stained woodwork. The key to historical preservation is to try whenever possible to keep the most unique details of the house in their original form. It sounds like this is what you are trying to do, jed8264, from your most recent description of your plans, and I don't think you'll regret it.
November 19, 2012 at 9:10am     
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