Why I’m Painting the Wood Trim in My Home

Painting wood always draws up strong feelings on both sides. A lot of people are all for it. Some are hesitant in most cases, but willing to make exceptions. Then there is a school of people that thinks it is a sin to paint wood. Take this comment from Jess on my last post:

The natural wood trim is so fantastic and really adds to the value of the house. Painted wood trim, no matter how much you agonize over the color and paint it perfectly, is just never as special as the original wood. It’s really interesting to me that Nicole feels that the dining room set is too beautiful as natural wood to be painted, but doesn’t feel the same way about the delicious natural wood trim in the room.

Or Sara, who said “I would kill to have your hutch in that condition.” I know, Sara, but let me show you the truth. Is this the condition you thought it was in?

Wood Buffet in the Dining Room

I understand why people don’t like to paint wood. Let’s contrast the wood grain of the trim with that of my table, which I’ve said I’m not willing to paint or alter in any way. This is beautiful, quality wood.

Wood Dining Room Table

See the difference? The wood trim in my house is (in Clueless’ parlance) a total Monet.

Unpainted Wood Trim in the Dining Room

And that is why I’m OK with painting it. We painted all of the trim upstairs when we first moved in because the second floor trim was not special, and not original to the house. I thought that I didn’t want to be the one to paint the natural woodwork on the main floor because it has survived in that state since our home was built in 1910. But you know what? We’ve been here for three and a half years. This is where my family actually lives, not a historical time capsule. I’ve decorated around the wood and the more I look at it, the more I can’t get over the crazy grain and the stain that has seen better days. Painting the trim white will make me so much happier with the look of my home, and what good is preserving a home’s features if those features don’t actually make you happy?

269 Responses to “Why I’m Painting the Wood Trim in My Home”

  1. Erin October 8, 2010 at 10:41 am #

    I agree with you totally! There’s a huge difference between beautiful original wood and patchy, rotting dingy wood- which is what I had and painted white in our old farmhouse. What I really don’t get is the fact that wood is wood- painted or not- it can still be beautiful and the detail can still be appreciated, without seeing the grain. Very traditional styles (think George Washington’s house) would have painted all the trim different colors- it’s simply inaccurate to think that traditional or historic has to mean stained wood instead of painted. I also don’t get the sin of painting oak- I now have builder grade 1989 oak all over my house and everyone thinks I’m crazy to want to replace and paint everything- but there is nothing charming about 90s oak! HA!

  2. lauren wind October 31, 2010 at 9:47 pm #

    THIS, SO HARD. i am cheering. my home was built in 1897 and the wood trim is so ugly, and i am constantly fighting the urge to paint it due to some sense of historical obligation.

    i once posted pics on an lj design community and everyone was horrified that i would even consider it, and called the wood “beautiful,” which, if i were to post close ups, would be easily debunked!

    i totally support your endeavor, and thank you for added courage to paint my own!

  3. Kelly November 18, 2010 at 9:04 pm #

    A full-on Monet? ;) I heart Clueless!

    But moreover, I am a new and adoring fan of your blog, and you’ve put the idea in my head to make a 30-before-30. Thanks for the inspiration!

  4. casacaudill November 22, 2010 at 1:08 pm #

    I hear you! If I could get the husband on board with painting the wood, I would in a heartbeat. While people gasp when I tell them that, up close it’s painfully obvious what I mean. The wood in our hall, living and dining room is pine that has BEEN PAINTED to have a beautiful wood grain. Up close you can tell that it’s actually a faux treatment. Why not paint it again? Alas …

  5. Beatrice January 5, 2011 at 3:02 pm #

    Hi, I’ve been reading back over your blog and throughly enjoying it. I’ve never commented here before but felt compelled to do so over the whole ‘painting wood in older homes’ issue. It seems in the US that painting over wood in your home – any wood – brings forth strong feelings and is even regarded as a “sin”!

    I live in the UK and have a flat (apartment) in a Regency house (1830s). Here to NOT paint your wood is considered odd, even ‘historic’ wood like ours. It originally would have been painted as cheaper woods were used for most parts of the home not intended for display (skirting boards, door frames etc.); even plaster cornices and mouldings around the ceiling of a room would be painted. Paint was more expensive than a bare finish and implied a certain status and a ‘fashionable’ taste. A guide to Regency and Victorian decoration from the National Trust says:

    “Stripped wood is a modern innovation. Pine doors, windows, shutters and panelling would have been painted originally. The only exception might have been a door tucked well away from main rooms – even that would have been polished with layers of beeswax – and higher- status mahogany used for features such as banister rails. Not only is bare wood inauthentic, it is liable to crack and distort when exposed to central heating.”

    So basically exactly the opposite to what people think of as historically correct and authentic in US houses! It’s interesting to hear the other side of the argument for keeping wood bare. But I’ll admit that I am a painter of wood myself ;)

    Sorry for the long comment and good luck with the basement project and the new baby. Thanks again for the many hours of delightful reading :D

  6. kt January 7, 2011 at 8:03 am #

    I’m getting ready to paint the wood trim in our home and wondered if you could share more details about which primer and paint you used. Also, how many coats of paint were required? Thanks!

  7. susanne January 9, 2011 at 11:32 am #

    We moved into an arts and crafts bungalow this year. I looked at tons of them, and while i like the architecture, i always thought the houses were dark. Having said that, i still don’t think i could bring myself to paint wood work. I think maybe if you don’t like that woodwork, that isn’t the house for you. Of course, i can say that, because the house we ended up with HAS painted trim. If it didn’t, i would probably just have been unhappy for years instead of painting in. Sick, right?

  8. megan January 27, 2011 at 4:53 pm #

    Oh my goodness I was so pleased to see this post! We bought a 1945 colonial in August and all of the woodwork was painted white by the previous owners, save for that in the living room. The wood is sweetgum and when I first mentioned painting it everyone – our realtor, our home inspector, our parents – balked. So we decided not to touch it. Five months later I’ve had enough! Upon close inspection, it’s quite beat up, and it just makes our living room look so dark compared to the airiness in the rest of our house. So this spring… the woodwork is getting painted white! I can’t wait. Thanks for your encouragement!

  9. Eva May 1, 2011 at 8:06 pm #

    I loved reading this post! When we bought our house, it was full of dingy, original wood trim on the main floor. We debated painting it for three full years before finally taking the plunge. And we have never looked back! It opened up our house so much, made it look bigger and lighter. Even the people we knew who told us not to paint the trim admitted it looked good.

  10. cheapdiva June 30, 2011 at 3:17 pm #

    Paint, paint, paint! I agree 100%. We live in a 100 year old condo and after 7 years of living with (a ton of) natural trim, I am finally starting to paint it all clean, bright white! What a difference. It actually makes my pink living room pop – though I wish I had discovered that before I started painting it yellow because the pink seemed “dingy”.

    It is your home – do what makes you happy.

  11. carrie h August 4, 2011 at 9:43 am #

    im so glad you made this post.

    i live in a house from 1850 that we just bought. it ahs all reddish stained wood trim except in the bathrooms and kitchen.

    i should be happier about having just moved in, and it was the nicest house that we saw on the market for many reasons, but i am not in LOVE with the house. i think the only thing standing in my way is that i want all the trim to be white.

    i do feel bad that the house made it 150 years without having white trim and i am about to do change that…but i think it will seem much lighter and airy-er and i am hoping that will appeal to future buyers down the road…

    can you share your process of painting the trim? what paint and primer? did you use tsp? what grit sandpaper? etc?

  12. Elaine February 16, 2012 at 4:05 pm #

    Oops! Never mind on my prior post. I’ve lived in older homes both with painted and unpainted original trim. While the paint freshens things up initially, over time windows start sticking shut, etc. Also, the beauty of reall wood trim is that is CAN be lightened/freshened without actually painting. You can sand for a lighter color and then even add a pickling/lighter stain to really whiten but still allow the grain to show and reduce the problem of paint built-up and sticking. Just something to consider, though it seems you’re already done. I’m sure it looks fantastic, as you did such a careful (not careless job–which makes a huge difference for future issues) and congrats on the baby!

  13. Em February 22, 2012 at 12:25 am #

    Of course the wood doesn’t look great. It hasn’t been cleaned, touched up, and the finish freshened – possibly since it was built. It would take less time to make it gorgeous as it is than it will to prep and paint it.

    The problem with painting is that the new finish breaks down, bit by bit, and what would have been easy to keep looking good becomes a maintenance problem. A century from now, the painted wood will have been repainted multiple times, will be chipped and gloppy and a nightmare for a future owner to strip and get looking good again – while the original finish would just need another quick refresher.

  14. Joy March 9, 2012 at 12:27 am #

    So glad to see this. Slowly painting all my shoddy 1985 wood trim white. Makes things so much fresher, but people do have their opinions about it.

  15. Basia April 4, 2012 at 12:54 pm #

    From the tone of your post, I’m assuming you would prefer the natural wood, but did not like that it was very old and dirty. I’m surprised then that – being so crafty – you did not decide to refinish the natural wood. We refinished wood in our home and it made a world of difference. It was very dirty, even had water damage. Now it looks brand new. A two week – two person project.

    • Making it Lovely April 4, 2012 at 12:55 pm #

      No, the wood was never stain grade. Even refinished, the grain was not very nice and wouldn’t have looked good.

  16. sue B July 26, 2012 at 12:07 pm #

    I have natural woodwork in my kitchen thats a MESS. I was considering for a long time whether to paint it or not. I am totally convinced that I want to paint it. My husband doesnt agree but im over ruling him. Do I have to treat the wood with anything or just prime it then paint? Any help would be great. Thank you very much.

  17. Craig November 19, 2012 at 9:49 am #

    My wife and I are currently looking for homes in an area where the housing stock was mainly built in the 1920s. In far too many cases, there was an earlier decision to paint the trim. In some cases, this included darker hardwoods, detailing above a fireplaces, etc. Quite often there are multiple layers of overly thick paint, making it look really crummy. Basically, the 50s-70s wave of trying to modernize the character of older houses has wrecked the character of these houses. Continuing this trend, your newly painted built-in hutch lookes pale and bland compared with the original one. It would have been much better to restore/refinish your woodwork. As buyers, we wouldn’t consider your house. This trend of painting old woodwork, which you have contributed to, is absolutely ridiculous.

  18. Jennifer February 24, 2014 at 2:07 pm #

    I love people who DON’T live in old houses who thinks it’s a sin to paint wood. If that’s the look you like paint it – end of story the house was available for wood grain lovin people to purchase and they didn’t. The next lovely people who buy it are welcome to try and return the wood to it’s former glory.

    Woodwork is great – painted or not. The wood work remains special regardless of paint. After you scraped layers and layers of wallpaper and flooring and you stare at that trim over and over and realize it’s not in the best of conditions – paint fixes that. Thank you paint gods!!!

  19. Kenneth Lee Jones March 31, 2014 at 10:13 am #

    I’m a wood lover and carpenter hobbyist. Whether or not wood should be painted or stained depends upon the condition, type and grade of wood as well as the personal preferences and objectives of the owner. Generally, hardwoods with prominent grains that take stain well should NOT be painted. I would NEVER paint select oak, especially quarter sawn OAK as it is more expensive to mill and has a prominent, beautiful grain pattern. I would also not paint SELECT American Cherry. However, if it has a lot of yellow sap wood in it, it would be alright to paint it. Personally, I do not like pine and feel no guilt about covering it up with paint. It’s also important when staining wood, especially oak, to select a stain color that you like and think will flatter the wood. For instant, I do not like a dark walnut stain on oak, but instead prefer a cinnamon type color.

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