The Dark Wood Trim – Ack! Husband Insists It Stays!

Dear Laurel,

I found you when I was looking up colors to go with stained wood trim. I found your post and love it. Here’s my deal.

My h and I just went to contract on our dream home in Philly. It was built in the late 19th century. You know… charm to burn with super high ceilings, fireplaces, and these amazingly gorgeous windows with really dark wood trim. However, about 60 years ago, the owners redid the kitchen and added a family room addition, that is too modern for this home. I hate it.

 

Sadly, nothing has been done to this addition since then. It has a horrid linoleum floor. And, yes, the same wood trim.

 

Here’s the problem. I’ve been trying to plan colors, and BTW, I got your paint collection. Those palettes with the boards are incredibly helpful!

Well… the other night, I was showing h some of my ideas. He let me do whatever I wanted in our past home, and I was happy. When I told him that I wanted to paint the dark, horrid trim, all of a sudden, he was very unhappy.

I mean, he was adamant that we are not to touch the stained wood trim.

 

WHAT???

 

It’s so dark; and, I want light and lovely– airy and not that much contrast between the trim and walls. In addition, there’s one room where the entire thing is brown. It’s definitely a library or office. That’s okay.

I don’t want to live in my dream home marred by the darkness of wood trim–everywhere.

Oh, and I’ve looked a bit at homes of our vintage, and I see plenty with painted wood trim, and it looks terrific!

I don’t need to have every room be white or light, but I don’t want to live in a cave, either.

If you could write a post about this, that would be great. I’m not expecting free advice.

Best,

Faye T.

PS: I have looked online for some ideas, and everything I came up with was pretty bad.

 

***

 

Hi Everyone,

 

Faye’s problem is one I’ve heard over and over.

If you missed the above post about colors that look great with stained wood trim, you can read that here.

An interesting question was raised in Faye’s note.

 

Can you, or should you paint stained wood trim, especially in a late 19th-century historical home?

 

In most cases, I think the answer is yes; why not? It’s wood. It was historically accurate in Victorian times to paint or stain the wood. Although, in Victorian times, stained wood was more popular.

The wood in my apartment was stained initially and is now white. I haven’t touched it– yet.

How do I know? I know because it’s the same trim right outside my 1970s front door.

wood trim Boston brownstone

In fact, I didn’t know this, but I have seen architect’s plans in the fantastic blog, Backbay Houses. These are the original architectural plans for some of the homes. And, the architect specked a painted finish for the floors. And not the bedroom floors; the parlor-level floors!

306 Dartmouth St. Boston - Peabody & Stearns architects

 

Above are the original plans for 306 Dartmouth St. Boston, designed by Peabody & Stearns architects. As you can see, these plans from the 1970s are exceedingly fragile. They are at the public library. You can look at them, but you cannot touch them. And, you need to make an appointment to do so. I read that somewhere.

 

Laurel, that’s too small to read anything.

 

Oh, sorry, you’re right!  Hang on.

 

That’s better. Okay, now, I’m assuming the architect is referring to the floor, but no matter. We see in the front parlor he has specified Black Walnut. Lovely. In the next parlor, it says, “Pine to Paint.”

He said PAINT.

The point is, in Victorian times, they sometimes painted their wood.

In addition, in the periods before Victorian, Greek Revival, and Federal, painted wood was prevalent. And, it was common again in the Beaux-Arts period in the early 20th century. While some people do have stained wood trim in Boston, it’s more popular to paint it.

 

Beaux Arts Back Bay houses -Commonwealth Ave

Remember “The Sisters” down the street from “my office?” They are 128 and 130 Commonwealth Ave. Well, these homes were originally built around the same time mine was and designed by the same architect, Samuel Dudley Kelley. (Yes, Dudley) However, I believe I’ve mentioned this before; they were renovated in the early 20th century by not one but two different architects!

It appears to be a fact of genetics (sweeping generalizations aside). Men LOVE stained wood.

 

It’s not that they don’t like painted wood. It’s my experience that once it’s painted, they generally DO like it. But, wood that’s already stained must stay that way for most men. And, many women too. I’m trying so hard not to be a sexist pig. Alas, it’s tough sometimes. ;]

 

Okay, I found the perfect example from a forum on houzz. You can read along here.

By the way, some may remember my HOUZZ post from 4.5 years ago. I have no idea what’s going on with that company these days. That’s a good thing.

The woman in the houzz forum sent in some images.

 

It’s similar to the image below. Because I’m trying to be nice it drives me nuts when images are crooked; I took her photo and straightened it.

 

perfectly good wood trim?

 

She asks if it would be a crime to paint the wood trim.

 

One man answered, “Not a crime, but a sin.”

A sin, he said.

 

Okay, Laurel, let ‘er rip!

 

Thank you for giving me permission. You guys already know what I’m going to say.

The entire home is a sin. Well, everything but that yummy pink bathroom with a beige linoleum floor.

Just kidding.

Okay, here’s the good news. The woman researched and realized that the trim was hideous and needed to be replaced. It’s cheaper to replace with more appropriate trim than to sand, prime, and paint what’s there and wrong.

 

This home looks to be built in the 50s or 60s.

 

This was the time in our great nation’s history when people were cranking out babies at an alarming rate. (I’m one of them.)Her home is the standard put-it-up-as-quickly-as-possible-builder’s grade of the time. It is not a Frank Lloyd Wright or Philip Johnson masterpiece. It is a piece of drek.

So who cares about anything they put in this place? It is not a crime or sin to change it. Of course, I don’t get on forums and argue with people. I understand where they’re coming from, but their field of vision is limited.

 

Still, don’t get me wrong. Wood trim can be super fantastic.

 

The problem is not whether the trim or paneling is painted white, stained, or painted some other color. It’s how the wood trim works in the place as a whole.

 

Let’s look at another bad example of wood trim not working in the space.

 

unappealing wood trim
Above, the three orange-y-brown horizontal lines stand out. True, there’s no furniture in our line of vision or items on the walls. However, even empty, a room should look fantastic. In this case, the dark trim makes the low ceiling look lower. The wainscoting chops up the wall. And the stain looks horrible with the floor color and the wall color, for that matter.

 

Years ago, our fantastic Nancy Keyes shared many photos with me.

 

At the time, I had no idea who she was. Well, her home blew me away, and Nancy gave me her blessing to share it.

Well, in the last six years, I’ve shared her living room and kitchen too many times to count. Although, I don’t believe I’ve ever shared this image of her keeping room before her renovation. This image is from 2010.

 

Nancy keeping room - before dark wood trim - kitchen behind

Nancy did a real number on this place. If that floor looks familiar, it’s because it’s the legendary Armstrong 5352 linoleum, first designed in 1932! I didn’t know that until today. And yes, the backing on it was laced with deadly asbestos.

 

Armstrong linoleum pattern 5352

For those interested, you can read more about the history of this floor here.

 

Now, for the after of Nancy’s keeping room, looking into the kitchen.

 

Nancy-Keyes-library-keeping room - coordinate lighting

Yes, this is the same wall, only the opening is considerably wider, and Nancy added flanking bookcases. On the kitchen side are her pantries for food on one side and dishes on the other.

 

Nancy Keyes Keeping room towards kitchen

Above is a recent photo of the keeping room with Nancy’s new vintage Chinese rug. She collects ’em!

Remember the Chinese rug I used in this post?

 

Nancy Keyes keeping room view from kitchen

 

This is the view standing between the two bookshelves.

 

Here we can see that she kept the beautiful wood trim but had it painted. In this way, she’s allowing the architecture to shine, but the furnishings are the star of the show. It is fresh and clean, as well.

Nancy Keye's kitchen before renovation

Above is Nancy’s kitchen before.

Nancy Keyes fabulous timeless kitchen with white chandelier they created themselves
And, after. For more photos of this beautiful home, please click here.

Actually, there have been numerous posts featuring Nancy’s beautiful work. If you’re a fan like I am, please click this link.

Before this home, Nancy had another one that went from this. (The previous owner’s decorating, to be precise.)

 

and this

 

to this

And this.

Sorry, these aren’t the best-quality images, but the difference is astonishing. BTW, this was decorated in the 90s, hence a touch of shabby chic. But, that’s what Nancy said. To me, they look like they could’ve been decorated last week.

But, yes, Nancy painted the trim, paneling, and brick. In the living room, she painted the stone, too!

 

She painted it ALL!

 

It is not a sin to paint wood, even if it’s already been stained.

Thank you, Nancy, as always, for giving me access to your beautiful work. Did y’all see Melissa’s sunroom? Oh my, it is stunning!

Please follow Nancy’s lovely Instagram here for a lot more of her gorgeous home and gardens!

Okay, that’s pretty much it for the painted trim. Let’s move on to rooms that look fantastic with their stained wood trim.

 

cupofjo_llm_homestpaul

Via Cup Of Joe

But this first one is more of a craftsman-style home. I think the white looks very fresh here. Some say the problem with wood trim is the white walls. While it can be, the problem isn’t the wall color. The problem is the BALANCE.  If you have white walls and wood trim, you need a lot of other white in the room.

 

And, what better example of that is another oft-mentioned brilliant designer, Steve Cordony.

 

Best neutral color scheme - white walls - Steve Cordony - Rosedale Farm Living room - blooming branches-gateleg table

Please follow Steve’s gorgeous Instagram account here.

 

carolyn-veith-krienke-lonny-wood-trim-pale-walls-simple-furnishings

Via Lonny

The home of Carolyn Veithe Kreinke

photo: Genevieve Garruppo

I love the simple furnishings and black chairs which look very stylish here. Mixing in a modern pendant is just the right touch for this style.

 

dining-area-white-walls-with-stained-wood-trim

Source unknown

Sometimes, the mouldings and doors are a combination of painted and stained.

 

Towles Residence

Above and below, the outstanding work of Sheila Bridges. I love the combo of the painted mouldings with the stained doors and light gray walls.

 

sheila-bridges-historic-brownstone-decor-dark-wood-stain-doors-and-white-trim-1

barbara-westbrook-living-room-atlanta-symphony-showhouse-2014-photo-emily-jenkins-followill

One of my favorite rooms by the immensely talented Barbara Westbrook for the Atlanta Symphony Showhouse 2014. I hope that mural is removable and that she got to keep it!

 

john-oetgen-atlanta-symphony-showhouse-2014-photo-emily-jenkins-followill-beautiful-dark-stained-wood-trim

From the same showhouse by John Oetgen. Fabulous windows!

 

homeplace-tennessee-family-estate-via-garden-and-gun-photo-credit-caroline-allison

Garden and Gun

I love this blue and white toile wallpaper with the stained wood trim.

 

via-my-domaine-and-milk-decoration-photo-andrea-chu-entry-with-stained-wood-wainscoting

 My Domaine

This reminds me a lot of the center hall in my building.
This photo and the next three are from a fantastic home in Brooklyn, NY.

 

via-my-domaine-and-milk-decoration-photo-andrea-chu-cool-wood-stain-kitchen-cabinets-with-wood-trim

How fabulous is this kitchen? It reminds me of an old-fashioned apothecary.

 

via-my-domaine-and-milk-decoration-photo-andrea-chu-stained-wood-trim-bathroom

Love how the wood trim cuts through all of the cool elements in this wonderful bathroom.

 

via-my-domaine-and-milk-decoration-photo-andrea-chu-dark-walls-with-wood-trim

I like how they chose a deep gray shade which is excellent for a change. Very handsome!

 

photo-patricia-lyons-dark-brown-wood-trim-via-garden-and-gun

Above and below via Garden and Gun.

While this is a gorgeous home, I must admit that I would prefer it if just the front door was stained and the rest painted. Another option is to paint the walls a color so that the wood trim isn’t so prominent.

 

via-garden-and-gun

sean-fennessy-brownstone-brown-and-white-via-my-domaine

Photo: Sean Fennessy

In this beautiful home, the wood trim is distinctly part of a dark chocolate-brown and white color scheme.

sean-fennessy-photo-australian-brownstone

James Farmer Blue Hurricane Lamps or Candle Holders

For wood trim with loads of color, please check out James T Farmer’s beautiful interiors, like the one above.

 

To sum up.

 

Wood trim can be beautiful in a room with stunning architectural features. And, with other colors and furnishings that balance out and complement the wood trim. The wood trim should not be a distraction.

xo,

Please check out the newly updated HOT SALES and
Also the HOLIDAY SHOP. There is so much that’s like a sale on steroids. Up to 70% off!

Also, this is a gentle reminder that all my rocking interior design guides and the blogging/website guide are on sale

through the 28th of December. In January, the prices are going up higher than before the sale.

Someone asked me where to purchase the guides. The link is below

***THE PURCHASE PAGE IS HERE.***

Usually,*** I link to the page that introduces the guides*** From there, you’ll find other links for more information and buttons on all pages that will take you to the purchase page, as well.

***

PPS: December 20th. GUYS! Some of you need to cool it with the negative comments. Please read the entire post. And look very carefully at the images. After Nancy Keyes’ home every one has stained strim. So what the hey? This post is to show how beautiful rooms CAN look with stained trim. However, in the case of Nancy Keyes’, her home is stunning with painted trim. But, it matters not. I like both painted and stained. It depends on the home, the wood, the condition of the wood, and the rest of the decorating scheme.

 

There are seldom any absolutes in the realm of decorating.

If you feel otherwise, please start your own blog and you can say whatever you like. But, here, we are kind and respectful to other readers. If they want to paint their wood trim bright purple, that is fine; it is not your place to shame anyone for their choices. Thank you.

35 Responses

  1. Great job laying out options and the way they work best. I’m rarely a fan of painting older, quality woodwork because the grain and skilled work are so often superior to today’s, but it’s great to see the examples you laid out for fully, partially, and unpainted in your explanation of what each option brings.

    The James T. Farmer pic really made me stop and appreciate the way he used the brick, wood, color, and lines. That’s why I read your blog. Thanks.

  2. Well, it is your house, do what you want. But personally, I find it a shame to paint quality wood stain. I love the ambiance and feel of wood stain. Stain provides visual texture, which painting in most cases will remove.

  3. I have lived with painted and stained woodwork. I just bought a house that previously had beautiful, chestnut stained, intricate moulding and baseboards that the previous owner painted white. So now instead of beautiful trim, I’m dealing with chips, dings and difficult to clean crevices which never happened with stained trim. I vote with the husband!

  4. “Pine to paint” pretty much sums up the stain or paint debate. It’s as much a sin and foolhardy to stain pine and other utilitarian and inferior species of wood as it would be to paint exotic ones.

  5. Dear Laurel:

    Another wonderful article. I have been taking your class for a while . I have learned a lot. Your class improved my vision, inspired my life. Thank you professor Bern : )

  6. Hi Laurel and Margaret,
    I was trying to reply to Margaret’s question about the refrigerator. Ours is a Miele. Never did I think I would get anything other than Subzero but we fell in love with the “runway lights”‘ and there was no going back.

  7. Hi, Laurel,

    Great Post! I was so taken by the image you shared of the Barbara Westbrook Symphony Show House that I did a little digging. It seems the mural is hand-painted on linen and original to the house. Stunning!

  8. Hello Laurel,
    Sorry if this came twice. Trying to insert pictures.
    The picture of the Armstrong 5352 linoleum caught my attention and like you I had no idea it had been around since 1932. My introduction to this flooring was in the mid 1970s in my first job as a designer. I recently uncovered what I recognized and believe to be the Armstrong 5352 flooring in my 1870’s home my husband and I are renovating. Carpet had been glued onto it so it is a little difficult to see and the linoleum was glued onto the original wood floors. We salvaged a section since one of the previous owners placed an image of a direction dial on the floor. (Images included).
    We are somewhat recent transplants from Oklahoma to New York and we purchased this house which is uninhabitable to renovate for our home since I couldn’t find anything I liked. We have owned it for a little over two years and have had all the plans in place for over a year but it’s just now really starting to move forward. If you like to see what is happening I am documenting it on my Instagram page
    bigmonsterhouse. I throughly enjoy following you and glad I discovered your blog.

  9. I’m a fan of mainly white interiors mixed with fantastic fine wallpaper, and mostly white substantial trim, so I was not likely to have my mind changed by anyone’s husband. However, Laurel, I do pay attention to details, and I noted in one photo above that featured dark-stained woodwork and light gray walls, the owners left their dog, who was standing in the hall, white. I also believe in mainly white dogs. Especially against fine old dark oriental rugs. (Yes, the silly season has reached Louisiana)

  10. Hi Laurel! And happy holidays to you! I love the interplay of the dark wood trim and bright walls in many of the above photos. They give the interiors character and an authentic and timeless look and feel. The trim and wainscoting is dark in our building too. I always hated it and find the hallway dark because of that, but the real problem is not the dark wood really, but the color of the walls, ceiling and ugly light fixtures! An elegant wall paper or beautiful paint, some pretty sconces and a nice runner is the answer. Thank you for a great topic!

  11. Hi Laurel, this isn’t on the subject, but I noticed the refrigerator in the “unkitchen” of Nancy Keyes. It looks like she has a refrigerator that has solved the problem that you have with your soon to be kitchen, where because the refrigerator is up against a wall, the door doesn’t open. I know that there are refrigerators that have the kind of hinge that will work. I wonder if Nancy has one and could share the name.
    Best wishes for solving that problem!

    1. Hi Margaret. Nancy’s refrigerator is built into a cabinet, but there is no wall when the door is open, so it’s free to swing. At least, I believe it’s free to swing. Maybe it’s a sub-zero. They require less clearance.

  12. IMHO, High quality woodwork should be left as is out of respect for the period architecture. I agree golden oak and most pine would be improved with paint. A couple of points: Minwax Wood Finish stain markers are available in colors that match most finishes and should be used to touch up paneling or furniture before applying polish or cleaners which will seal the pores. (Your entry needs scratches covered.) Many old finishes are shellac, which darkens with age. Denatured alcohol is a solvent which can help tired old finishes. But apply a test in an inconspicuous area before any project. Also, the inquiry refers to a tired floor. Refinishing or replacing the floor and wall treatments can add color and brighten the space. Try that first.

  13. I happen to love them both, stained & painted. One type of wood trim I don’t care for is the type you showed in the 50’s-60’s home. And the other type is the golden oak builders were installing in the 80’s & 90’s. Just rip it all out!

  14. Lauren, you say it beautifully: painting original wood trim and doors is disrespectful to the original character of these beautiful old homes, and that someone who wants painted wood should consider a different home. I too, feel sad when I see wood painted over in a turn of the century home, wondering what kind beautiful wood might be hidden under there. We have an 1898 colonial revival built by a prominent architect. Thankfully, the original beautiful strait-grain fir trim and panel doors in the downstairs public areas were not painted, but all the wood trim and panel doors in the upper part of the home were painted over starting in the 1940s. My husband has been stripping it for three years. Everyone who sees the results marvels at the improvement (and the work), realizing what beautiful old original wood has to offer compared to nondescript painted trim and doors, which could be made out of anything, including MDF.

  15. Alison, the bathroom has a regular wood door. Are you referring to the glass shower door? Laurel, I tried to reply directly to Alison using the “Reply” button, but it doesn’t seem to work?

  16. Connie,
    Would the DH agree to painting the brick fireplace wall? Probably not, the same guys who like their wood often like the brick, but it’s a thought!

  17. I was prepared not to like the dark trim but after seeing these images, I am smitten! The Armstrong linoleum brought back fond memories of my 1950s childhood kitchen. What is the common denominator in many of these posts? Husbands! My dear one has let me do anything decor-wise for 50 years, but now his “line in the sand” is a pair of gorgeous matching chairs we inherited from his mother. I want them flanking the fireplace, they are perfect there. But nooooo, he only wants one. No good explanation! We have battled over this for a year since my dear MIL passed. I move them, he moves them back. One morning I got up to find them piled on my newly upholstered sofa! That was a statement. Sheesh!!

  18. Well when I wake up with a bunch of new followers I know it is the “Laurel Factor”. Thanks for all the photos and mentions. As I was scrolling and the before picture of our lake house showed up I thought it looked familiar, Marc said the same thing, and then we realized that is was our lake house. We had really forgotten what it looked like.
    We were very happy that almost all of our moulding was painted when we bought our present 1910 home. The previous owners of 30+ years had stripped all of the gunky paint from the windows, etc. and had them repainted. Also, the kitchen had been redone in the 80s so nothing original.
    Wait until you see the new addition to Melissa’s sunroom! Plus all new custom wood storm windows. She bought that daybed and had no place for it, hence building a whole new room.

  19. I agree with you Laurel it’s all about balance. My wood trim and doors where “Dark Wood Overload”. Wood trim has great character with the right paint color, furniture and flooring. I finally decided to paint out the windows, door trim and red brick fireplace. To do it properly is a lot of work but well worth it. It immediately made the rooms look bigger. I have oak pocket doors with glass and glass door that close off the living room area, a beautiful oak front door along with the oak staircase and railing. I sanded the wood doors taking off the glossy varnish. It gives them gives it a matted finish look with nicer hue that works well with the BM Classic Grey wall colour I chose.
    Painting out the windows and door frames allow the doors and staircase to “pop”.

    Watch any old period movie or series and you will notice that most of the door trim and base boards are painted white.
    Dave

  20. Love the post and all the photographs except the bathroom with the glass door. The tile and wood combination is beautiful, but the glass door is another matter!

  21. Laurel, I love your suggestion and photos where some of the trim is painted and some (windows?) left stained. What I really noticed in this post is the room with WALLPAPER! I’ve been waiting for an article about wallpaper other than murals – which I love – but was wondering why Laurel, you haven’t written more wallpaper. With the advances in printing (digital?) there are also many online mural sources which are much less expensive than what’s traditionally been available.

    Connie, maybe painting the brick wall an off white (BM Swiss Coffee?) and bar wall will “soften” the remaining wood paneling and be a good compromise with H?

  22. Why oh why did you choose to post such an interesting subject a week before Christmas! I need those minutes back that I just used to pore over your ideas! I would never paint great century old wood work but easily take a brush to newer trim. As to the Derek you called it…those houses were put up fast and might have no charm, but I think of the young men who had come back from the war, had started families, saved their money and this was the first house they could afford. Put in that context, I have to be much kinder to those little houses. They could’ve been filled with love and the excitement of new beginnings. Never mind about the bad wood.

  23. Louise, you took the words out of my mouth! Pine was meant to be painted (but not lovely old pumpkin pine) but black walnut or chestnut or old-growth oak? Never! Natural woodwork from before World War I always looks beautiful to me, and when it’s painted, I find it depressing because I know that what’s underneath is beautiful and appropriate, and it will be incredibly difficult for the next, more respectful owner to restore. If you can’t prize and preserve an old house’s best features, find a newer one that comes closer to what you love.

  24. I am so glad you posted this Laurel! After the holidays, I am going on an all out search of wood rooms and plan to look at your previous posts. This is a reminder that I need to get on that! We bought a house that was built in 1962 but designed to look older. There are touches of the 60’s like the front doors and I have a –GASP–sunken tub AND sunken family room. My main focus is that the family room is not only sunken but it is also 100% wood. There is one wall that is 100% brick fireplace–no kidding–side to side and floor to ceiling. Speaking of floor, that is wood too. Interesting that you mentioned men because you are spot on. As soon as my husband figured out that it was tongue and groove solid cherry all bets were off. In a weak moment I promised him that I would not touch his wood, HA HA! I do have light furniture and there are moments when I say it feels cozy but for the most part I feel like I am in a SUNKEN GIGAR BAR. Actually the room does have that. Double doors open to reveal a little bar. That is all wood too with a brick back wall. I don’t know if there would even be a compromise solution because where do you start or end with all of that wood? I am afraid I am going to just have to lessen the blow with decor and choosing the right window treatments. There is plenty of painted trim in other rooms and I even inherited a great mural that covers all walls in the dining room. Do I just let this one room go? If you are ever inclined to offer a post on window treatments for difficult applications (like wood rooms for one example) that might be helpful to the masses, I would be most grateful!

  25. Old growth softwood or hardwood trim in homes built around the turn of the 20th century and older should not be painted. The wood is beautiful and no longer available. MDF is paint grade. Don’t turn your beautiful wood trim into the look of MDF. If the plans said PINE to paint, that’s because the wood was pine, which was meant to be painted. Straight grain clear fir, oak, tamarack, etc., was supposed to be stained, or just slellacked in the natural wood color and grain. Painting this wood removes the charm and the interest, making the trim flat and boring.

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Hi, I’m Laurel, and Laurel Home is the website and blog for Laurel Bern Interiors.
I’ve been creating new-traditional interiors since 1988. The blog is where I share all.

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