To Paint or Not to Paint Original Trim?

painting original wood trim

#thisoldtudor the day of closing. Lots of gorgeous dark wood, but I’m determined to brighten it up and make it my own.

This isn’t a before and after story quite yet.  You see, we haven’t moved into #thisoldtudor (built in 1926) house yet but I thought I’d do a quick post on it.  I did extensive research on painting original wood trim and moldings–and I often hit a dead end.  People seem to be very passionate about this topic; just about every Houzz post on the subject turned into a heated debate and it was overwhelmingly, “DO NOT PAINT ORIGINAL TRIM.  WHY WOULD YOU BUY A HOUSE LIKE THAT AND RUIN IT.”  Ugh.  After reading response after response like that, I started to feel guilty.  THEN, I brought my mom up to the house with a contractor and she was like, “how could you paint this gorgeous wood?!”  As you can see, the odds were stacked against me.

Why would I paint original trim–and white, at that?  Look, it wasn’t a decision I took lightly.  Simply put: I wanted to brighten up the house and make it my own.  I know that sometimes painting wood white can cheapen the look, so I continued to do research.  I needed a white paint that would be soft and not too white, so I went with Benjamin Moore ‘White Dove’ for the whole house.  Matte on the walls (we also skim-coated the original plaster walls to smooth out the bumpiness because I didn’t want to put up dry wall), semi-gloss on the trim and woodwork and flat on the ceiling.  That’s right, White Dove everywhere.  I kept the windowpanes (they’re original) brown and am going to live with them for a bit–I might paint them black (that made my mom gasp).  I’m not looking to do a gut renovation here where the house suddenly looks like new construction–I’m just trying to update it a little at a time while keeping it’s charming elements–and white paint does just that for me.  If this is something you’re thinking of doing, hopefully this helps!

Next up: the floors.  The original floors are a gorgeous oak–and I’m re-staining them.   I don’t feel bad…not even a little bit.

Follow me on instagram for more updates (IG stories).

After the trim/built-ins first coat.

After: the dining room. Note the untouched windowpanes and freshly sanded floors.

#thisoldtudor from Anna Wisniewski on Vimeo.

  • It’s your house. Do whatever you feel will work for you. A future owner can sand back to the wood if they want. I like the painted trims! Looks modern and cohesive but still retains character. Bravo!

  • I love this. I own a house built in 1909 that is filled with beautiful wood trim, but it feels so dark and heavy. I’ve also been considering painting just the trim and leaving the windows untouched. I’ve also had plenty of people weigh in on my decision.:) I think your compromise looks gorgeous; modern and fresh, yet keeping the original character of the home. Thanks for sharing!

  • I have painted many a dark wood trim and never looked back – in dark Chicago houses it’s a MUST! The thing is, everyone who said not to paint always comes back and LOVES the result. So, the question is, what did your mom say?

    • She said, “it looks good and brighter in here!” And she also said, “you love white….you’ve always loved white.” Ha – that’s true!

  • Agreed, your house – your decision! It doesn’t take away from the charm of the house, it just makes it more ‘you’ which is always how your home should feel! I can’t wait to see how you finalize other decisions and make it all come together – I LOVE old homes and this 1950s ranch that we bought just doesn’t give me my fix so I’m living vicariously through you!

  • I own a 1929 home with its original wood trim still intact. The previous homeowners painted all the trim upstairs white and left the downstairs trim in its original condition. While I love how bright the bedrooms upstairs look with white trim, I felt like they covered up some very beautiful wood. Almost every person that comes into my home comments on how beautiful the dark wood trim is. I also love how it’s looked the same since the home was built. It’s like a little piece of history that I get to live in (sappy, I know). I guess I’m in minority of the commenters here in that I’m a fan of original wood trim when it’s in fantastic condition. It just looks so warm and homey. But your home is lovely and you’re making it suit your family. The white definitely lightens it up! Congratulations on owning this beautiful home! I look forward to seeing more posts about it!

    • I totally get it–that’s why I took the decision so seriously and did so much research…but ultimately, I knew I wanted white (but I still feel some pangs of guilt for covering up beautiful wood work.) I will say it made me sleep a littel better at night knowing that all the wood was stained pretty dark in some way or another, so it wasn’t *truly* original, but I completely respect your decision to keep it dark! It looks rich and gorgeous when it’s dark and I’m sure your home is beautiful! There’s an Ivy League east coast vibe that comes with dark wood that I love, too 🙂

    • I agree with you! When we were house hunting it was so disheartening to find so much beautiful original woodwork painted over in whatever the trendy color of the time was. It’s hard to go back once it’s painted and it rarely ages as well as wood does. However, I also believe that people should make the decisions for their house that suit them even if it hurts my heart a little haha!

  • Love what you’ve done – and I bet you will eventually paint the window’s black too 🙂 I also have an old (dt Naper) colonial and we painted all the wood work. My mom said she was afraid it would look like a hospital when I told her we are doing white, and every time I said “paint it white” to the contractor, my husband threatened to have Nicole Curtis pop in. But still, we went with it, and we love it!

    • Haha – I love that story! I’m so glad you did it, too (and love it!). It’s such a tough decision because you know it would cost a ton of money to un-do it.

  • Anna, I really enjoy your blog on fashion, but this is the icing on the cake!! I am so glad you decided to paint, it looks amazing.
    Looking forward to more! oh, just in case your taking votes,, mine is for black windows. And Park and Oak Design…their work is beautiful.. haha way to much advice !:)

    • We painted our Colonial house (1926) woodwork White Dove and never regretted it for a second. Looks much brighter, still retains the sense of old. We also replaced all the windows with nearly identical Pella Windows. These old Chicago houses are not well insulated! Looks beautiful, love the built-ins.

  • I love it! Tudors can look/be so dark and this instantly brightens the space. I get it..real wood trim is not abundant these days. But white looks sooooo good. I say paint the windows black too! It will look fab. I can’t wait to see more updates!

  • I painted original wood white in my vintage home, and I love it a decade later. I don’t get the advice not to do it. The place still looks old but bright and clean. I think you made the right call.

  • I have a 1920’s craftsman and my husband and family refused to let me paint trim white but he finally gave in after my front porch renovation ideas turned so good he finally trusts my style!! My trim has a shiny lacquer finish, how did you remove this and prepare the wood for painting to get the best results?

  • Can I ask you about your floors? They look amazing. How are you liking the Provincial stain? That is a color we are looking at in our older home. Do you recall what brand stain they used? Did you go with water based or oil based poly too coat? Is it a matte finish?

    We have oak wood through out our house. The wood upstairs has always been covered by carpet and is a horrible yellow/orange color. Can’t wait to have it redone, but I have debated wither we re-finish or completely replace as our floors creak something horrible. Do your floors creak? That and we have to deal with other issues, like a 2” height difference to the newly refinished bathroom and a section where it appears the floors are not level and therefore the white molding doesn’t lay flat. I guess that’s part of the joys of owning older homes LOL.

    • Our floors are the creakiest! I honestly don’t even notice it anymore but noticed it when my sister came to visit and mentioned it (she lives in a new build down south, ha). Also, in our living room, the floors have settled big time and are uneven in the corners (they dip down) but the molding actually seems even–not sure how!

      And yes, still loving provincial–it goes well with the time period of the house and i like how neutral it is (no yellow or red undertones). I feel like it goes with all decor, too. And when we go to sell eventually, no one will be offended by the floor color – ha.

      I’m pretty sure the contractor used Minwax and made sure the finish was more matte than glossy (I didn’t want glossy floors–our new condo in the city had dark, shiny wood floors and they showed every speck of dust or crumb–drove me crazy). No idea about the top coat, though, unfortunately!

  • Thank you for sharing these! I’ve been hunting for blue glassware since a trip to Paris years ago, and Estelle Colored Glass makes some that are perfect!!

  • Normally i would be aghast at someone painting a lovely original looking tudor room like that but the way you’ve executed this with the soft white monochrome and the contrasting matte floor and windows is phenomenal. (i do think a matte black would look nice on the windows if you arent a fan of the wood [and still haven’t painted them yet] as it would indeed fit nicely into your current color scheme and style). It looks very fresh without cheapening the look or taking away too much character and charm. Very lovely!

  • Hello! Wondering if the doors to the interior were also the darker wood color to match the trim and whether or not you painted them white or replaced them all together. We are about to start a remodel and I want to brighten the space by painting the trim (and likely the built ins – yours look fantastic!). Thinking it might look strange to have wood floors, white trim, and wood doors…?

    • Hi! The house had a LOT of dark wood–doors, trim, floors, window panes, etc. I decided to keep the first floor doors wood (second floor doors, trim, molding, was already painted white) and I also kept the window panes wood too. I have no idea why I did it, but I like it. Maybe to keep the ‘old feeling’ of the home? Check out my interiors blog posts and instagram and you’ll see the finished product–all white molding and walls with wood doors and window panes–and then you can decide (I can see why people would paint it white,though!)

  • La verdad es que la casa es preciosa, me encantan las casas antiguas y es importante conservar parte del aspecto antiguo pero también la luz es importante y a veces hay que sacrificar algo de la identidad de la casa para darle algo de luminosidad, y de cualquier manera las casas tienen que ser como más les gusta a sus dueños que son los que van a vivir en ella.

  • Hi! Had a few questions about your floors. How did you decide to go with Provincial? Were there other stain colors that you considered and decided against? If you were to redo your floors today, would you do anything differently? Any resources that you used that you found particularly useful?

    We are under contract on a house nearby that has hardwood floors throughout but I don’t love the color – very yellow/organge-y undertones. We are planning to have them refinished before we move in and I’d like to also stain them but not sure what to go with. Love what you’ve done with your house and appreciate your perspectives – thanks!

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  • Honestly looks quite boring now. The way this article reads make me wonder if this paint job was more about improving the appearance and value of the house or getting reactions from your mother?

  • Great response, Anna!

    While I love the idea of preserving original woodwork, I also defend a homeowner’s right to do what she pleases. YOU are the one who purchased the home and YOU are the one who needs to love it. For as many who will hate the new look, there are others who’ll love it. Lastly, last time I checked, it’s still a (mostly) free country. You do you!

  • Thanks for posting this! It’s really helpful for an upcoming job with the exact dark trim. My gut immediately said ‘lighten it up!’ and if they ask my opinion, that’s what i’ll say. Would love to see pics of your furnished home in a future post.

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