Q. Almost two years ago I bought a two-storey house, approximately 80 years old, which a previous owner had renovated. All the woodwork had been returned to its original honey colour. I refinished all the hardwood floors, which appear to be birch. The general feel of the downstairs is too dark for my liking. I would like to paint some of the woodwork in a creamy white, but just cannot bear to cover up the wood that someone has so painstakingly refinished.
— N.A., North Bay, Ont.
A. Your dilemma is one that we hear over and over again. Based on experience alone, we feel that in a primary home, as opposed to a cottage or cabin, you will probably be happier with the results if you paint over the woodwork. Now, if you happen to live in a house with grand details such as oak raised-panel moulding, we don’t suggest painting it. In the case of simple pine moulding with little or no detailing, however, we no longer consider it a crime to cover the grain. We suggest that you paint everything, including the door frames, french doors, baseboard moulding, chair rail, wall panelling in the kitchen and staircase stringer. Removing the wallpaper by the staircase is certainly a good idea. From here, you could paint the woodwork and the walls creamy white. Benjamin Moore’s Alpaca (1074) or Palace White (956) are both attractive choices. You could also create a subtle contrast between the walls and the woodwork. Take a look at Benjamin Moore Cloud White (OC-130) as a possible trim colour.
If we have terrified you with all this talk of paint and you find yourself missing the wood already, there is a compromise that would allow you to lighten and brighten the space while maintaining some of the wood. You could paint out everything with a creamy paint, except for the window and door frames. We think you should paint over the baseboards, because they are too similar in colour to the wood flooring. Painting them will create an attractive contrast between the floor and the walls while restoring the true visual height to the walls. The space will still be unified, with an overall sense of lightness.