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Design Crew

Got a problem? Need some help? Just standing there shaking your head? Don't know what to do? You're not alone. Send us a link to photos of your design quandary and let the Desire to Inspire design crew help you .... that's you lot ... the readers! This week's problem comes from Jackie.


My hubby & I (and 3 children & 1 yellow lab) live in Reading, Mass about 15-20 minutes north of Boston. We've lived in our 1901 4-square colonial for about 4 1/2 yrs now.  We love it and there is so much potential with our home - but we don't know where to start. 1st off - all original (dark) woodwork throughout the home. The front hall is huge for a "hall" - its more like a greeting room so we don't know how to decorate it. We have pocket doors, 2 sets of stairs and a fireplace immediatly greeting you as soon as you come in.

We never see a house/woodwork like ours on any design shows and I am at such a loss as how to decorate with it all. Its very warm & beautiful but it can be so dark. Yet everyone tells me not to paint it - none of it. (including my husband). I look in a million magazines and email sites ... Nobody shows anything like our home. It seems woodwork is painted white 99% of the time. We have 100+ yr old woodwork we really don't want to paint (at least not all of it).

The house is a diamond in the rough. I love the home & most of our belongings - its just that I feel right now the house shows more like an older person's house & not a young couples ... I would call our taste Traditional but with a modern twist. Right now between the dark wood & all our antiques/wood furniture - I feel it just looks like Grandma's house! ;0 I want to funk things up...and lighten things up!  I have had 2 different ladies in here to help us & ...well lets just say those are long stories .

We are on a budget.  We plan on:

  • Fireplace:  replacing the brick around the fireplace. Maybe go with a deep high shine/gloss green subway tile??? We recently removed the top of the mantle & replaced the small rectangular mirror  w/ a HUGE wood mirror. But should we do art instead? Maybe a sea side sunset w/ pinks & purples in it & a candle or electric sconce on each side?   And  what to do for furniture placement by fireplace? We use the F.P. a lot in the chilly/cold months - but we'd use more if we had furniture by it!
  • Front door/Entry way - Paint the outside of the front door a high gloss color so when door is open it will look nice in the little entryway. I was thinking black w/ brass or pewter kickplate & new hardware/letter slit, etc. And I'd love to do some cool colorful wall paper in the little front entryway w/ only a narrow & maybe a tall leaning mirror in there?
  • Kitchen - Getting ready to do a small addition & entire kitchen/3/4 bathroom remodel in rear of house.  I'm thinking white/cream cabinets, a dark wood island, white subway tiles & wood floors.  
  • Dining Room - We have some beautiful Thibaut Damask paper for the dining room. I can't wait to see that up.
  • Staircase - Runner?  
Other then that - I'm at a loss. I'm OK w/ painting rooms again if you think our colors are wrong.  Hubby will NOT paint any woodwork

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Reader Comments (41)

A shiny new floor, bright and happy. That is a brilliant idea! http://www.thingsthatinspire.net/2011/06/painted-wood-floors.html or maybe http://www.houseofturquoise.com/2009/08/beautiful-blue-painted-floors.html or even http://pinterest.com/search/?q=painted+floors. Yay for pinterest.

26 Feb 2012 | Unregistered CommenterOregonbird

I have to agree with what someone else said, you say you want to move away from the granny look into something more modern but the things you've said you might do seem to just be continuing in the granny vein. So maybe instead of forcing yourself into modern, just pick another "granny" to emulate! Reupholstering the pieces you already have will do loads to freshen the space, declutter and space out the older items so each little vignette only has one old piece mixed with something a little more now. New rugs in lighter tones, geometric instead of floral or oriental, crisp paint colors, nothing muted, in high gloss, paint that radiator silver or black as it will never just blend in, play up it's industrialness. I'd go with greys on the walls and fabrics, touches of black, new light fixtures and if you can't resist florals, go oversized to bring them up to date.

26 Feb 2012 | Unregistered CommenterDonald

your house is wonderful! If I were you I would change all the furniture in to something light and modern and add bright accents - no need to color the wood. Change "grandma's" furniture and the ceiling lamp (on the 6th picture - it's awful!) and enjoy the new home! Also I would get rid of old-fashioned frames and accesorizes (like candlesticks).

26 Feb 2012 | Unregistered CommenterVasilisa

I love your beautiful house and my first thought was a way for the kids to use it. The alcove could be a small library,4 bookcases,from ikea,billy I think,1 each around window,then 1 each on side walls. Since I don't have dimensions,you could even build them if you want,Then a platform that fits between all that. You could outfit it with a twin mattress and the kids could sit and read. I'd pick a larger carpet that I'd center in the space and put a round table floating right in the middle, 2 benches under it that can be moved around. For a more modern look, take out all your decorations and add them back slowly. I thought the flower pics could be grouped together on the wall next to the fireplace,would a small bench fit under them? I also thought painting the spindles would help. Change you light fixture to a lantern, they have a cheaper one from overstock, coordinate your rug(indoor/outdoor) with the cover and pillows in the alcove. jd

26 Feb 2012 | Unregistered Commenterjd

good posts since my last one - tried to add this yesterday but wouldn't let me :/

the martha home tour posted earlier was a perfect one and some of the related/recommended ones there too. I'm sure your family is fun and interesting, let some of your personality and quirks show through. I have a dark red dining room with a wall of formally dressed windows, a classic rug, big dark table and silver chandelier. Everyone loves it - but more so after I hung an old advertisement for apples (picks up the red from dining and the dark green of adjoining room) I bet you have some budding artists at home - framing large paper works by them would be great, personalise and differentiate your home. Plus your family would feel involved and invested in the home....

I'm sorry to read that you took the mantel apart, you could have put some of your more formal items (like those candle sticks) with it as well as something lighthearted to keep it fresh.

Don't paint your floors or spindles - it'll be a nightmare to strip in a few months when you tire of it. I'm so glad you aren't slathering boring white paint over your lovely trim (it never really comes off - my chestnut trim will never glow again)!

Thanks again for sharing your home, I hope you'll keep us updated!

26 Feb 2012 | Unregistered Commenterg

As a designer, my professional opinion would be to not paint every wall white. It will provide too much of a contrast with your beautiful woodwork. I would consider painting your entry hall and living rooms a deeper colour so that there isn't so much contrast. A nice warm teal blue or sage green would work, or a mushroom brown colour would reduce the amount of red in your woodwork too. And having deeper colours on the walls makes it all so much more cosy.
The furniture also needs a bit of a re-vamp, and if you are on a budget, perhaps re-cover your sofa in a plain bold colour rather than patterns and update your cushions. Leave patterns to cushions and artwork, as it will provide you with a much more modern feel.
Add a few pieces of modern furniture, such as tables and mirrors, and perhaps update your lighting to be more modern.

26 Feb 2012 | Unregistered CommenterSalli @ Tiipii

On a budget....put your money in paint, updating furniture and decor first. When you remodel....you spend mega bucks and still have the grandma look in the entry.

Paint all walls & radiator white...the wall beneath the staircase.....wide horizontal stripes in white and second color of choice...maybe paint behind fireplace and cimmediate entrance in contrasting color used beneath staircase. Add a nice chest and round mirror here.

Less is MORE.....nothing in immediate entry, nothing on radiator, remove all pics, knickknacks and all furniture....start fresh and clean....large seagrass rug....side table from dining room in large alcove with a pair of large modern ...reupholster chair in funky fabric and place beside fireplace. antique clock and candlesticks on radiator might look nice on mantel.

26 Feb 2012 | Unregistered CommenterMarths

I love these kinds of homes. I think you can brighten things up without painting the woodwork. I agree with many of the other comments about going with white. Colors can look nice, but if you feel the house is dark, I would go with white. I have found Benjamin Moore's Chantilly Lace to be a great neutral white. It is not too gray and cold nor is it too creamy. You also say you want to funk things up... I agree, the space does not seem to reflect the vibe of a young family. I see the traditional, but not the modern twist. I would add hits of color in your furniture and accessories on top of a neutral base, that way you can easily swap things out. For the fireplace, I would paint the brick black. There doesn't seem a lot of room there, but a couple of light weight chairs and a table might make it a place to enjoy the fire. I would also switch out all the ceiling lights. I think you can keep some traditional pieces mixed in with modern. Often a traditional piece or vintage find that is painted or upholstered well can come to life.

So, I got a little carried away thinking about your place. Ok, well, A LOT carried away. Before I knew it I mocked up your entryway, living room and dining room. Now I want to move in! I put the images on a page here if you care to see...

New England Foursquare

Good luck!!

27 Feb 2012 | Unregistered CommenterJD

I agree with keeping the woodwork and not painting the walls white - it's too harsh with the wood - I would probably try a pale warm grey/sage neutral type of color, but you might want something livelier. Just try it in one room to start. Get samples of colors you like and try them in different areas until you see what works best for you and the woodwork. I absolutely agree with new furnishings and rugs. Ikea is your friend here, if you have one near you. Also used furniture that can be painted to give pops of color, etc. DON'T put white subway tiles on the fireplace. Get something in the craftsman style or a style that is compatible with the era of the woodwork. The rest of your furnishings can be more contemporary and will make a nice contrast. Good luck. You have a fabulous house.

27 Feb 2012 | Unregistered CommenterLisa

P.S. I added some images of interiors with white walls and dark trim here for a better visualization.

27 Feb 2012 | Unregistered CommenterJD

First of all, sorry for my English, I'm Spanish!

I agree not painting the wood. It's so difficult to find something like that, it would be a pity if you paint it. The point is that wood makes your house look old, so you need to go for an eclectic decoration, where the only old thing is actually wood. I would paint the whole room and radiator in white color.

Here's my main tip: I'd rather use the space as hall + dinning room. Then you could use the current dinning room as an extra living room or studio. Having a dinning room in the hall will make it more modern, using the space a different way it was supposed to be used.

I'd go for industrial furniture. It would make a good mix! For example, a big steel table in the center of the space, with colour plastic chairs around (here's a reference: http://moderncastles.tumblr.com/#18417034611). I'd place a black industrial lamp -or two- above the table, and I wouldn't put any rug.

I'd take everything out of the fire place area (mirror, art, small things around...) the fire place itself is more than enough!

In the space where now is the sofa, I'd place a chaise longue, like this one from Ikea http://www.ikea.com/es/es/catalog/products/S19873988/, and then I'd put a bookcase full of books in the gap where you now have a side table. That could be a reading place. So you need a standing lamp, like this one: http://www.decoesfera.com/iluminacion/algo-original-para-el-rincon-de-lectura.

You could also take out the wall that separates that space, as well as the wall that separates both main entrances (so you could have just one entrance door). I'm not so sure about this. It could look more spacious and clear, but the current distribution also gives some character to the place, so it's up to you, it depends on what you are looking for!

Basically, you should keep it as simple as possible, and play with colors on a white surface :)

Good luck!

27 Feb 2012 | Unregistered CommenterMacarena

You have a wonderful home.
And especially for me, I'm Spanish and here are not that type of construction.

The wood is right, you see a dark room and outdated. I probably I would choose to paint it white, but not so bold to recommend you stop the natural color, somewhat lighter than it is now and waxing again.
As for the color of the walls am in favor of pure white or a very soft pearl gray, but could enhance the elegance of the room by adding a trim (the color of the paint) on the walls. Undoubtedly change the way that there arc on the couch and in another room, leaving it straight.
The radiator also paint it white and not put anything on it, since it is of a size slightly larger than the wall, which makes you notice more of the account and had to make it pass unnoticed as possible
In the fireplace, you could put some beautiful glass tiles in silver on the bricks, even if the budget is not allowing you too could paint like many people I have recommended before, white. The top of the fireplace and put on this would eliminate a large modern mirror with a little industrial air (with some iron for example).
The furniture you choose has to be very modern and contemporary, it could be in gray tones with a touch of steel. This is where you can put a touch of intense color (electric blue, bright red), but always in small pieces.
Place mats and light-colored curtains and if the ceiling height allows you to put a ceiling chandelier crystals, simple shapes that always gives a slightly bohemian touch.
Greetings and I hope that reform worthwhile.
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El mobiliario que elijas tiene que ser muy moderno y contemporáneo, podría ser en tonos grises y con toques de acero. Y es aquí donde puedes poner algún toque de color intenso (azul eléctrico, rojo chillón), aunque siempre en pequeñas piezas.
Pon alfombras y cortinas de color claro y si la altura del techo lo permite puedes poner alguna araña de techo de cristales, de formas sencillas que siempre da un toque un poco bohemio.
Saludos y espero que la reforma valga la pena.

28 Feb 2012 | Unregistered CommenterESTE


Get in a professional, rip out archways, corners, etc and open up all the space as much as you can whilst retaining the look of wood and character of age.

Centre fireplaces that right now are misplaced, and get rid of that ghastly radiator for goodness sake.

Then and only then turn your attnetion to the refurbishment of your favourite furnishings and throw away the bric a brac that you'be have had since college days and can't bare to part with, as there's a chaci-bachi of things that co-exist right now and it aint pretty but could be !

Otherwise you will only have lipstick-ed the pig and will sit around in the evenings wishing you'd been more brave !

28 Feb 2012 | Unregistered Commentersteve mawson

The biggest thing I can see that you need is LOT more lighting. To really get rid of that dark Craftsman house feel, you should have a mix of lights: the one central fixture in the room is fine, but you also need a lot more ambient light. I like uplights that light the ceiling, which really lifts the room up. Then a few downlights on particular spots, like a reading chair or couch, or over particular artwork. A lot of American homes seem to be underlit, I think because we just accept whatever lighting is there. It's worth checking out lighting designers near you -- often a high-end lighting store will have good recommendations. That may be all you need to do to make the house feel less dark.

Then you can have the walls be whatever colour you like (not a big fan of white walls, myself; I find them institutional and depressing; ymmv). Paint your ceilings a light colour: pink or peach is very flattering to skin tones and much more subtle than you would think. Works well with uplighting, too, in ways you might not expect.

Also, I agree that your furniture and little collections of things are too busy and are detracting from the beauty of the house. When you have a lot of small things you need to have an organizing principle that turns them into a sort of large thing. If lots of little things is a look you like, embrace it more wholeheartedly. If it just happened, reconsider it.

2 Mar 2012 | Unregistered CommenterAyse

You're house is incredible. I had similar problems with a Victorian I renovated, which was not nearly in as good condition as your. For the love of whomever, DON'T PAINT THAT MILLWORK! I agree, clean white walls throughout the home are best. Feel free to browse my website for some ideas. Landinghomesmaine.com/design. I am up in Portland, Maine and would be happy to help you guys out!

2 Mar 2012 | Unregistered CommenterTyler

Hi everyone that ever posted tips for my home - thank you all so much!!!!! I have some pics I would like to share. Gotta figure out how to do it! :0

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