When to Paint Over Your Home’s Woodwork—and When to Leave It Alone | Kanebridge News
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When to Paint Over Your Home’s Woodwork—and When to Leave It Alone

Go ahead, take a can and brush to wood paneling and trim. Design pros say it’s (sometimes) OK.

Thu, Feb 2, 2023 9:12amGrey Clock 3 min

TWO YEARS AGO when Kate Arends and her family moved into their 1956 rambler-style house in St. Paul, Minn., they encountered a thoroughly outdated kitchen that included uninterrupted oak paneling on the ceilings and walls. Not loving the wood’s golden hue, Ms. Arends, founder of lifestyle brand Wit & Delight, considered painting over it or sanding it down to a more neutral complexion, but the costs seemed prohibitive and the payoff uncertain.After the family had lived with the wood for a year, they decided to honour its hue but surround it with more modern décor. They painted Shaker-style cabinets a daring, un-woodsy powdery rose tone—Sulking Room Pink by Farrow & Ball—and further punched them up by installing slabs of Calacatta Viola marble with its trademark whorls of black and deep purple. An ink-blue gas range adds another shot of the unexpected.

“If the wood is in great shape, the constraints of working within the shade or hue of the stain might seem limiting, but some really interesting solutions can come from those constraints,” said Ms. Arends.

Given the expense and difficulty in removing paint from architectural woodwork, the consensus among interior designers and even real-estate agents is that, if it is historically accurate and in good shape, put down the paint brush and leave it be. Said Jeff Walker, a broker and founder at Agents of Architecture in San Diego, a firm specialising in unique and historic properties, “Our buyers seek untouched homes or homes that have been tastefully restored.”

Lauren Caron, of Seattle’s Studio Laloc, bucked a local trend for drenching wood-filled, early 20th-century Craftsman bungalows in alabaster paint. The interior designer disliked how that approach thoroughly squelched the spirit of the rooms. “It felt like the walls became vacant or less lively,” she said. In the dining space of her own 1916 Craftsman,  she decorated to complement the espresso-hued old-growth fir that had been used to construct a built-in breakfront cabinet and frame the doorways. She introduced an onyx and gold modern chandelier to offset the vintage millwork, added Gucci’s Herbarium wallpaper and completely upholstered a posse of Parsons-style chairs, to avoid adding any more wood.

Some instances, however, call for the can and brush. In a bedroom of her 19th-century Greek Revival home, Susan Brinson, a design consultant in Orange County, N.Y., was stuck with a mishmash of wood species and odd door placements. She and her husband painted the walls, doors, window frames and picture-frame moulding a deep teal, then cloaked the ceiling in a lighter teal. This move turned chaos into coherence and delivered a bonus benefit: Some of the couple’s favourite wood furniture, including a Bunny Williams Bamboo bed and antique Italian burled-wood side tables, pop against the rich colour.

Painted wood has other advantages. In the entry of a London townhouse, shown above, local studio Retrouvius Reclamation and Design repainted the joinery a fern green. “Scratches and scuffs from bicycles are more easily repaired in the eggshell-finish paint than they would be in bare wood,” noted a studio spokesman. One of the homeowners co-founded Dashing Tweeds, a designer and purveyor of bright, modern textiles. “Painting is perfect for him because it brings colour and character and is changeable,” said the spokesman. “Paint lets homeowners express themselves.”

Laura Castergine of Melrose, Mass., an amateur decorator, posts photos of her family’s 1904 New England Colonial on social media. Four rooms in the home feature fireplaces with surrounding millwork, three of which were painted before she bought the home. She recast one of those rooms last fall in a subdued sapphire, Wild Blue Yonder from Benjamin Moore, a heritage hue that suits the old house’s personality. “Enveloping a room in a single color achieves a dramatic effect,” said Ms. Castergine. “It’s similar to a wood-panelled wall in that they both bring a cozy feel to a room.”

For her quaint A-frame cabin tucked in the woods of Spooner, Wisc., Ashley Mary of Minneapolis polled Instagram followers about painting the pine-planked triangular back wall to match the room’s other, white walls. As a multi-disciplinary artist, Ms. Mary typically likes walls to function as a blank canvas against which she can arrange funky furniture and mobiles. But because the cabin doubles as an Airbnb rental, she wanted the public’s input. The majority of respondents voted to keep the wall natural (with copious exclamation marks) with many pointing to the house’s forest location and cabin aesthetic as rationales. Ms. Mary complied. “With any coat of paint,” she said, “you’re going to lose that texture and natural warmth that no colour will ever recreate.”


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In signs that confidence is returning to the Australian property market, the combined capitals recorded their highest preliminary clearance rates since April last year, CoreLogic reports.

More than 2,290 homes went to market across capital cities last weekend with early data revealing a 71 percent clearance rate. This compares with a revised clearance rate of 64.2 percent last week. It marks the second busiest auction week to date this year.

Melbourne led the way, with 1,122 homes taken to auction. Of the 916 results collected so far, 73.5 percent were successful. It was a similar story in Sydney, with 791 homes to go under the hammer. Preliminary results indicate a clearance rate of 71.5 percent.

The smaller capitals including Brisbane, Adelaide and Canberra all experienced higher clearance rates week on week, with Adelaide out in front at 78.6 percent. It was a less spectacular result in Canberra, with a 59 percent clearance rate and in Brisbane at 56 percent.

In Perth, just three of the 13 auctions tallied so far were successful.


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