Don't hesitate to paint wood to brighten rooms

Design Line

December 20, 2008|By Rita St. Clair | Rita St. Clair,rsca@ritastclair.com

We have always wanted a wooden cabin as a weekend getaway. But now that we have one, it feels way too woody. The floor is wood, the walls are wood-paneled and the kitchen cabinets and millwork are stained in the same dark shade. The effect was intended to be rustic, but the interior just looks dark and dreary. My thought had been to paint some of the surfaces - until everyone said that would be a horrible thing to do to a natural material.

Now what? Would some colorful furniture help?

Let everyone be horrified. I'm always amused by the view that wood should never be painted, regardless of its quality or condition. No one would want to paint a tree, but once it's been cut down and made into furniture or planking or cabinets, I fail to see what's so sacred about it.

Tell your critics to take a look at this photo from The House to Ourselves, a Taunton Press book by Todd Lawson and Tom Connor. It presents a fine example of the type of solution you - and your critics - might consider. Every surface in this house is also made of wood, even the ceiling. And as you can see, painting some of them, including the moldings, lends an appealing appearance to what would otherwise be a dark and dreary setting. Note that the stair stringer and balustrade have also been painted, as has the partial wall below the stairs.

My own approach - and the designer of this room seems to concur - would be to use only one color of paint, preferably something cool rather than a warm color such as orange or yellow. I would also add other colors with the furniture, rugs, window coverings and accessories. Colorful furniture itself, by the way, won't be sufficient to offset all the brownness that's making your weekend cabin look too somber.

Those who regard painted wood as something horrible should be further informed that many rustic or country-style interiors have traditionally featured moldings and doors painted in colorful decorative patterns.

Rita St. Clair is a Baltimore-based interior designer. Readers with general interior-design questions can e-mail her at the above address.

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