To paint or not to paint?

Posted on Fri, 6 Feb 2009 by KiM

Lee-Anne from Toronto wrote us looking for help: “I love your website and thought you might be able to help me with my design dilemma. We recently bought a home that was built in the 40’s that’s a bit of a fixer upper. It has wooden baseboards throughout and lots of wood trim. I am still hanging onto my old furniture but I am sooooo ready to redo this room!! I want to modernise it and add colour and texture!! My dilemma is that in almost all of the design pictures that I see, the baseboards are painted white. My sister has told me in no uncertain terms that I am NOT to paint the wood trim in the house. I am looking for inspiration where people have kept the baseboards a natural colour.” Below are some photos Lee-Anne included of her home.

At first I immediately thought “PAINT!!” but if I had such beautiful baseboards and trim, I would be terrified to paint it. So after looking at the photos, I would listen to your sister. But I would get out the paint can for a few things. I would paint out the fireplace (and lose that huge mirror above), the risers on the stairs and maybe the balusters (a photo below shows this). That’s it. But keep your walls light and if you were going to get rugs, I’d keep those light too. Or you could go with a warm bright wall colour (see the yellow wall below). So the following are photos of spaces with unpainted trim (except the last one but imagine it’s a dark wood).

Better Homes and Gardens Better Homes and Gardens
Caroline Beaupère Alexandra Rowley
Todd Oldham Fox-Nahem
Canadian House & Home The Selby

And to make your decision even harder Lee-Anne, here are some photos of spaces with painted trim, you know, to keep your options open. 🙂

Peggy says:

Great selection of pictures. I always say to people, do you love the wood trim? If not, then the answer is to paint it!

That’s a beautiful room, but I would definitely soften it up. Kim is right about the mirror, very overpowering.

Bridget says:

I spent months sanding and helping my father varnish our baseboards when I was younger (it was my job to do all of the creases). Whatever you do, it’s a labor of love.

That said, I was immediately drawn to the bright yellow wall with the wood—a friend’s home had somewhat brighter colors (not rainbow crayon, as I believe would be the danger here), and I loved it. LOVED it. If you can, get some old paint samples and paint swatches on your wall to see how you like it when it dries against the wood. And try not to tell yourself pre-emtively “Oh I’d hate this color.” Be bold. You can (and will) paint over your swatches. From there you can find rugs, pillow, etc…that set both the wood and color off to good advantage.

Let us know what you choose 🙂

Jeanette says:

There are so many reasons not to paint your natural finish trim.

1. Think green, you will have to use more resources, paint, for your house. Over and over, every time you paint you’ll have to paint that trim.

2. Time and money. When you paint a room, you only paint the walls now. If you paint the trim it will double or triple the time it takes to paint. If you are a DYI painter its time, if you hire a painter, its money. Painting trim is time consuming and tedious.

3. Natural finish wood makes a room seem very warm and inviting. I have had a home with it and my guests always noticed and remarked on it. NO ONE notices anything like that in my current house, with painted trim.

4. Natural finish wood has more visual interest, the grain and tone of shading. Paint is just paint.

5. Choose your wall paint to complement your trim, the natural light and size of the room to get the “softness” you desire.

6. Is it the trim you are focusing on or your furnishings and current paint color????

7. If your trim finish is in tough shape and is a traditional shellac, you can clean it with ammonia water and recoat with shellac.

8. If the house made it this long with the natural finish, many other people must have enjoyed it. Think of yourself as a steward of an historic property for future dwellers to enjoy.

9. Please just don’t paint it!!

As the daughter of a custom molding maker please, please do not paint that beautiful wood! It looks one of a kind and brings a lot of character to your house. Once you paint it it is very difficult for you or future owners to get it back to a stain-quality wood.

Check out She has kept her trim unpainted and still created a beautiful home that shows who she is.

I’m lightly opposed to painting the wood. Its one of those things thats hard to undo. Besides, woodgrain has a lot of natural texture and variation, while paint lacks that.

Cyb says:

I love how blogger Pink Loves Brown find ways to make it all modern looking without hiding the bones of the house.

idontdobeige says:

I think it’s a matter of your own personal taste – that is your own personal taste. Does your sister live in the house with you? Does she own the house? Does she own shares in some wood-enhancing product company? How is she able to tell you how to decorate your own home? If you want to live in a house with painted trim then you should be able to do it, it’s your house and your life in that house. I’m sure your sister will still come over to visit.

Anonymous says:

I agree with idontdobiege.

And plus, it’s so fun to prove your sister wrong.

If you decide to do a light gray like any of the last 5 photos, I suggest Benjamin Moore’s “Smoke Embers.” It doesn’t have any overtones of other colors and yet is still dark enough to tell that there is color on your walls! Good luck xx

cucicoo says:

this is so interesting. I am faced with the same dilemma. 140 year old home. Great woodwork, but I love the clean look of painted woodwork. After much deliberation, I have come to the thought that it is the simplicity and the crisp appearance of the painted wood that I like. This has put me on a mission to clean up and un clutter every room, one room at a time. Old houses lend themselves to eccentric collecting, which makes noise for the eyes. Once I did that, I was less inclined to paint. It is a huge job, painting woodwork, one that does not come undone easily. Try scanning your photos into Photoshop and changing the color..maybe that will help!

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