Finishing Touch – House Proud, The Toronto Sun

To paint or not to paint? That is the question when one is faced with unfinished wood. While one homeowner loves the look of oak or pine for its warmth and natural beauty, another can’t wait to pry off a paint can lid and start covering it up. My former colleague Michelle and her husband Carl know the dilemma all too well. A few years ago, they took part in The Decorating Challenge TV show and their one stipulation was, “Please don’t paint the gumwood banister and wainscoting up the stairway.”

Naturally, when they returned home to see what their neighbours and a team of experts had done, the very wood they had asked to be left alone was buried under several coats of paint. Once they got over the fact that their wishes had been ignored, they actually came to like the look. The lighter shade on the dark wood brightened up the area and led them to a new perspective on decorating choices for that part of their house.

However, Michelle explains that the paint job itself was less than professional-looking. “We lived with it for a bit,” she says. “Then we had it repainted and a new stair runner put in, as well. It looks like a million bucks now, and I would urge anyone who is hanging onto their gumwood trim to paint it out. It’s one of the best decisions I’ve made in our home.”

It’s all a matter of personal preference. Many years ago, my ex-husband spent hours and hours stripping several layers of old paint off the gumwood trim in our south Hamilton home. He inhaled an awful lot of fumes from the chemical stripper, and it was a very messy and tedious job, but the result was some really lovely woodwork that added character and helped restore the house’s entrance to its turn-of-the-century glory.

Recently, I embarked on a wood-painting project of my own. The front half of our house features baseboards and trim bathed in a creamy white, but in the back half it was all completely bare. Despite modern decorative touches, furniture and area rugs, those rooms had the feel of a time warp from the 1970s. It wasn’t nice wood with detailed grain and interesting knots. It was just bare, bland and boring and had been totally neglected since it was installed.

The wood was bone-dry and absorbed three coats of medium-grade Benjamin Moore latex in the creamy off-white colour Popcorn. But it went on beautifully, which made a potentially frustrating job less daunting. Also, I discovered a round paintbrush that made quick work of even the tightest edges and corners. It’s available in several sizes with bristles that peak in the middle. It’s just the thing for painting against the floor or the ceiling. Of course, you still need to tape off the edges, but this brush is made especially for baseboards and moldings. It was a fairly big job and it took me the better part of a week to complete, keeping in mind that I work full-time and enjoy other activities like eating and sleeping.

The difference is truly dramatic and has prompted friends to ask if we’ve had the whole place painted, walls and all. Now the atmosphere of the rooms is keeping up with the decor and furnishings. It’s amazing how the white makes everything appear so much brighter and fresher.

There’s really no right or wrong when it comes to painting exposed wood or leaving it bare. It’s a matter of what it is and how it works with the way you decorate. In my home, a few simple licks of paint have created a cohesiveness and sophistication that wasn’t there before.