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Should we paint original woodwork in Victorian home?

9 years ago

We own and rent out my childhood home. It's a Victorian with beautiful, original woodwork. Our new tenants have asked us to paint some or all of the woodwork in the dining room because the house feels dark. I'm torn about doing this but I also understand the request. That room does feel dark and a little dated. Also, while the fireplace woodwork is original, it's flanked by book shelves and a small desk which were added in the 1950s. The tenant suggested we could try leaving the original woodwork as is and painting the 1950 additions. What do you think? One previous tenant also asked us to paint the wood to brighten the room. I very much appreciate your advice!

Comments (169)

  • Michele C
    9 years ago

    The fireplace could be painted or re bricked over original

    ziggi10 thanked Michele C
  • wskinn
    9 years ago

    I am a professional
    land planner, a trained landscape architect, and an amateur historical home
    preservationist who is asking myself the same questions you are. My wife and I
    bought a wreck of an old home, and are working though similar choices.

    I would like to suggest that the answer may
    lie in a different direction. Dark rooms are not always dark by default.
    Instead of removing dark trim to lighten a room consider that a dark room may
    be dark because the light cannot get in there in the first place. Are there large
    shrubs that cover part of the windows? Is there a huge shade tree in the yard that
    could be trimmed or limbed up so more light strikes the windows? Could the window
    treatments be changed from opaque curtains to sheers to let the light in? In
    your room, could a large light colored area rug on the medium tone floors
    brighten the space? I had one situation where the unanticipated solution for a
    client was to repaint the exterior of a garage located across a small yard a
    lighter color. Once that was completed the garage wall reflected twice as much
    light into the house. Problem solved for the cost of painting a garage that
    needed it anyway. (win/win)

    In my case, I have poorly stripped, but still
    original wood work in my own 1926 bungalow. The previous owners painted, then
    stripped, then re-painted, and re-stripped the original quarter sawn heartwood
    oak trim. I tell you from personal experience, once you paint the woodwork it
    is nearly impossible to go "back in time" to an unpainted appearance.
    Even if you can strip everything with the greatest of care there will be seams
    and crevasses that will have vestigial trace of paint in them unless you are
    willing to disassemble the work work and strip it piece by piece. In our case
    we are picking the "public" rooms such as the living room, dining
    room, and entry foyer and restoring or replacing wood to return it to an
    original look. When I say "we", I mean my wife and I are personally disassembling,
    reconditioning, and reinstalling the restored trim pieces ourselves. The bedroom trim will be painted
    again because those "private" rooms are too far gone to restore.

    You majestic
    original trim is a disappearing resource in the market place. My personal
    experience with my home has taught me that original trim is very difficult
    to restore, and replacement trim is difficult and expensive to have properly
    crafted. The mass media entertainment industry has convinced a self sustaining
    industry of amateur re-modelers and insensitive hack house flippers that anything
    old should be covered up, modified, or personalized to suit the whim of the
    moment, and the portion of housing stock that is historically accurate and
    original is dwindling rapidly. My own neighborhood is currently undergoing an onslaught
    of scrapers and flippers, and its original character is changing rapidly. Sure,
    a lot of off-site developers are making a lot of money in the short term, but
    my professional land planner experience tells me the neighborhood's values will
    suffer in the long run.

    A final point, and
    one that speaks to what is good for you in your role as the home owner. When
    I am in the market to rent or purchase a home, I am willing to pay a premium
    for original trim in good condition.

    ziggi10 thanked wskinn
  • victorianbungalowranch
    9 years ago

    Old House Journal had an article about carefully painting in all those little grooves of residual paint in a brownstone many years ago. Way easier than taking it all apart. 1912 Bungalow has extensive instructions on how to strip and refinish Craftsman woodwork, which involved bleaching and restaining to get it right. Not for the faint of heart, and it took them 10 years of hard labor to finish their wreck of a house with good bones.

    1912 Bungalow is easy to find via Google. I believe the article was reprinted in the Old House Journal Compendium, which is out of print but might be in your local library or professional office.

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  • greenfish1234
    9 years ago
    Absolutely NOT! Let them rent a cheap condo if they want white trim. The wood brings warmth, character, and authenticity. Brightness and fun come from wall coverings, rugs, furniture, accessories. Too often white is used to brighten the walls where trim is dark, but I think this is a mistake. It is too stark and just accentuates the darkness. Wallpaper is amazing, greens, blues, cream, all great.
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  • pagosapamie
    9 years ago

    I agree with everyone! Don't paint the trim. However, painting the walls a very creamy white and painting the BACKS ONLY on the cabinets in a accent color would be great and would liven up the room considerably.

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  • greenfish1234
    9 years ago
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  • PRO
    JudyG Designs
    9 years ago

    I wouldn't paint anything original; yes, paint the 50's bookcases; paint all the walls and ceilings BM super white. This white will brighten the rooms unbelievably.

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  • macdave
    9 years ago

    Fascinating! I think this thread has struck a chord with a lot of people.

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  • bungalowmo
    9 years ago

    First of all....I'm glad the OP has decided to keep wood as-is.

    Second...trends are fine, but in the right place. Wall paint...sure. Trim paint? Hold on a minute!

    I do love all the voices that have become louder in favor of saving our history. Not just on this thread, but on several here lately.

    A good, heated debate can be good now & then. For those on the fence when it comes to certain things, this gives them many sides & points of view to read, ponder & decide how they feel, not just by reading opinions, but by the real meat behind why people feel one way or another when it comes to original & historical structures & the elements within them.

    I am a firm believer that if it's beautiful, salvageable & (even with some work) fully functional...keep it.

    When someone buys a beautiful old place and then suddenly wants to remove original doors, windows, built-in pieces & say "it's my house, I can do what I want"...that is when I have to disagree...loudly.

    Long before they bought it, someone (probably original owner & close friends in town) spent many many hours building a thing of beauty. All that gorgeous trim wasn't mass produced on a machine!! It was planed & routed, in many cases, by hand..and most likely on site. Everything in that home was done by hand.

    There is a lot to be said for respecting the families who passed through and likely passed away in your old home.

    When Al mentioned: "I may say things stronger than others, probably because I don't believe in being politically correct. If you don't like my opinions or the way I state them, don't read my posts."

    I thought, yup....that's me. No "coddling" here. I tell it like I see it. Right or wrong, agree with me or not, I will never be looked upon as wishy washy with no opinion or backbone.

    ziggi10 thanked bungalowmo
  • PRO
    D.R. Long, Architect + Associates
    9 years ago

    This is a question??? Seriously? The original trimwork was stained. Unless the shellac has darkened to the point where the original colors and finish has gotten so dark as to be damaged -- keep it. A tenant that has this issue on their "do do" list is one that would raise a BIG red flag for me. It's not the trim that makes that house 'dark'. If they feel a 'bright' house is one that is sanitized of all stained trim then they will find other problems with the old house to be sure.

    If you paint over that shellac you will be dealing with an even bigger maintenance issue down the road.

    ziggi10 thanked D.R. Long, Architect + Associates
  • PRO
    Design Elements
    9 years ago
    No! Do not paint. Also, do not paint different rooms with different trim colors - pet peeve! Best of luck!
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  • dorisdayrockhudson
    9 years ago
    I vote no to paint. It is beautiful. I would lighten the room with different tile around fireplace.
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  • PRO
    9 years ago

    I'm happy to see so many "No way, Jose" comments. Original features are an important part of the look and feel of an older home and unpainted woodwork is part of that charm.

    When I replaced the countertops in my kitchen a few years ago, several people asked me if I was planning on putting in new cabinets. Nope - in a few years, they won't be new anymore and not original either. There is a dwindling supply of unremuddled homes available for the old house lovers. When I sell, I hope the new owner will cherish the fabulous tilework and beautiful woodwork in my classic house.

    ziggi10 thanked Linda
  • LORDON Lane
    9 years ago
    although I'm particular to white trim I wouldn't paint. don't know what ure budget is but if there is I would update w pot lighting n chandelier to brighten up.
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  • titothecat
    9 years ago
    Whoa! No way!! Love that space. It would ruin the wood look.
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  • Davis Haynes
    9 years ago

    Don't listen to mukokatana. If they can't even spell using the proper add, rather than ad, they are an idiot!

  • whynottryit
    9 years ago

    dmh1956... that's pretty harsh. Can't we disagree without getting personal?

  • bungalowmo
    9 years ago
    last modified: 9 years ago

    Even I am not that harsh! And I'll be the first to admit, I've had my moments.

    Oh, and you spelled muskokatana incorrectly. Touche'

  • sunnydrew
    9 years ago
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  • sarshouse14
    9 years ago
    Since you are renting your home out, I would politely decline your tenants request.
    ziggi10 thanked sarshouse14
  • PRO
    Gray & Walter, Ltd.
    9 years ago

    If you like it and plan to move back in then NO.

    ziggi10 thanked Gray & Walter, Ltd.
  • zemptron
    9 years ago
    last modified: 9 years ago

    Very happy that the OP decided not to paint!

    I wanted to address one re-occurring argument from the pro-paint camp; in particular the fashion analogy comments from @Maureen and @partim:

    I don't disagree with either of you regarding trend following. Following trends can be fun, and refreshing in so many ways! Change your pillows, your wall paint, your curtains, your sofa! Dare to be bold, and commit to that funky wallpaper that you love so dearly, and bring your kitchen into the next decade!! However, I feel very strongly that that if you do not like the period details of a late 1800's Victorian home, you should not seek to own one. These homes are wonderful works of art and (in my opinion) should be *respectfully* updated and maintained.

    To me, a much better analogy would be painting out the water lilies in an original Monet. You may like the end result better, but to the rest of the world, you have defaced a beautiful piece of history.

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  • Kathy M
    9 years ago

    Absolutely do not paint it!

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  • kristinanadreau
    9 years ago

    NO NEVER Will devalue the house by at least $10k. Many color schemes will work with this wood.

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  • cubby325
    9 years ago

    I would not paint for renters - more work for you. If the house is well kept and in a safe neighborhood, you will always be able to rent it. BUT, if I bought that house for myself, I would paint all the trim a soft white. I lived in a home with dark stained woodwork for 20 years, and I eventually painted it all, including 23 raised panel wood doors. (It was pine, not oak.) After that, I loved the home once again for another 14 years before we sold it.

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  • Brenda Price
    9 years ago
    I would never paint such beautiful would work. If renters want the cookie cutter look they are missing out on the beauty and history in this home.
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  • ornelas
    9 years ago

    You need new tenants. I would never cover up beautiful original woodwork.

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  • rahmana
    9 years ago

    no. get new tennants. you never cover up beautiful original woodwork

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  • PRO
    B.C.B. inc
    9 years ago
    Try coming up with a way to brighten up the fireplace area. That will bounce some light back into the room .
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  • melissacarolnielsen
    9 years ago
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  • melissacarolnielsen
    9 years ago
    If and when the roof needs doing sky lights would be nice .If your having trouble renting it because it is dark I think that pot lights could solve the darkness,rugs that are light.The paint on walls (yellowish or beige).I love this house the way it is and would love to live in it.
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  • nanad2457
    8 years ago

    Absolutely not. I had an older home where someone had painted all the wood. I didn't realize the wood itself was so beautiful, similar to this. So I striped all the paint and cleaned up the wood and then used a mushroom color paint on the walls with a slightly lighter shade on the ceiling and it turned out great.

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  • PRO
    Old House Guy LLC
    8 years ago I spent 3 years stripping the paint that a trashy homeowner applied to my woodwork. See the photos - the stripping came out beautiful but I curse the grave of the people who painted it in the 1930's.

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  • handymam
    8 years ago

    Old house Guy, just looked at your link! Gorgeous labor of love! I LOVE your stove and your fridge look is genius!

  • Stella Mengels
    8 years ago

    would you paint a pearls because they're out of fashion? No, so why paint this woodwork. You'll never get this patina back if you get tired of paint and strip it off again.

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  • ziggi10
    Original Author
    8 years ago

    I thought that many of folks who commented might like to know that we didn't paint ;o) Or more accurately we didn't paint any of the original woodwork. As you can see in the photos below, we cleaned up the fireplace and added recessed lights (which are hidden behind the upper wood trim). To further brighten the room, we did paint a book shelf that was installed in the late 1950s and made of stained plywood. Eventually, I'd like to remove all the 1950s additions, including the desk and cabinet which are next to the fireplace. From peeling away little bits of the 1950s wood, I can see that beautiful wainscotting once surrounded the fireplace. I'd love to bring this back to life but this architectural excavation will have to wait until we have the funds to hire the right person. Many thanks for your feedback!

  • onetwothre
    8 years ago

    Good job! Lots of hard work paid off! The fireplace looks wonderful!

    Yeah, don't ever make any drastic changes for tenants. I can't believe they even asked you such a thing. If they don't like it, they can move. It's not their house.

    ziggi10 thanked onetwothre
  • cry9257
    8 years ago

    I am sure I am chiming in way to late on this conversation ,but,I also live in an old Victorian over 100 years old with all original woodwork, trim, floors etc.We are in the process of selling and I have to say in no way shape or form would I ever consider painting, my reasoning is easier, you buy it you can paint all you want.The house you posted is Beautiful! My house does feel dark at times but I simply changed the paint color.Now I don't want to move, lol oh and much better lighting does work wonders!

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  • pdk920
    8 years ago

    I'm so glad that you preserved the woodwork in this gorgeous old room. So much of what was created in the past is not replicable now; the materials and the craftsmanship simply don't exist. I hope that before these wonderful places become even more rare, people will begin to think twice about destroying what's left.

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  • Chris Price
    8 years ago

    definitely do not paint. but you could lighten up the bookcases by cutting pieces of thin boards to fit the back of each shelf area and painting the boards white or the same color the wall is painted. that will make the whole wall look brighter.

    ziggi10 thanked Chris Price
  • Victoria Cipullo
    8 years ago
    I can't understand why people would touch the wood of an Victorian house. I just wish my apartment, had the beauty of that gone era. I know, Nicole of HGTV would always be against taking the beautiful fixtures away, and wishes we would not paint over or take it off.
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  • PRO
    8 years ago

    I think painting wood work is a wonderful idea when " you own your home and it's your to do so!" Case Closed!

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  • Diane V-town
    7 years ago
    I was renting a place with even more dark wood than this. I painted the part of the room above the paneled walls and plate rails a rich, saturated, apricot gold. The woodwork, which had looked dark and dead with stark white walls became rich and chocolatey looking with the new wall color. This room in the photo is similar to a lot of craftsman rooms with dark paneling and I picked up this color idea from American Bungalow Magazine.
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  • Diane V-town
    7 years ago
    The Philistines who bought this beautiful Edwardian house (which led to my having to move out) slapped white paint on all the woodwork, including a beautiful Birdseye maple veneer fireplace.
    I feel if you don't like the features old houses offer, you shouldn't buy them.
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  • Stella Mengels
    7 years ago
    last modified: 7 years ago

    it takes years to build up this beautiful patina. Why cover this natural beauty up with layers synthetic color. Colors are out of fashion faster than you can paint.

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  • Lauren Highfill
    3 years ago

    I realize this is old but for other readers you need to warm up the walls with paint that compliments the wood. Use a color wheel! The fireplace could use a face lift. Some affordable down/uplighting could really bring out that beautiful wood if you keep the bulbs in warm/natural light tones and stage with lighter colored rugs to brighten up the home and make it a little more appealing to a modern tenant. If you can stage this home the right way you can ask for more.

  • Jorge Clar
    8 months ago

    Painting the woodwork is a NO! No modern tenants for me!

  • PRO
    Old House Guy LLC
    8 months ago

    I am beyond shocked that anyone in their right mind would even consider destroying natural woodwork on a house. This question should never have been posted for one should know the answer. This is also a good clue that this type of tenant should not be allowed to live in an older home. They belong in a garden apartment or a trailer. Those who paint wood will be cursed by future generations of homeowners and deserve it.

  • partim
    8 months ago

    My sister has her 23 year old house on the market. The kitchen has expensive custom cherry cupboards in a wood finish. Every agent has told her that their prospective purchasers hate the wood finish. Hate it. 

    She is finally caving and having them painted white. Her husband loves those cupboards but what can you do when all the buyers only want what they see in the magazines and in the new builds?