To Paint or Not to Paint?

Happy Thursday!

Today’s post is slightly different than usual as I have a tiny design dilemma to share with you. The other week we attended a couple of cocktail parties at two of our friends’ homes here in Urbana and I got the chance to see some beautiful properties. Both set in our neighborhood, Historic Urbana – affectionately called the ‘faculty ghetto’. The brick paved, tree-lined streets feature beautiful homes in a variety of architectural styles. Each one is prettier than the next and (since we are renting) often times I find myself fantasizing about decorating them, repainting their facades or reconfiguring their front yard gardens…

Anywho, our friends recently purchased their home – a 1890s Victorian style beauty and, while they did do some light decorating, the interiors are pretty much original to the house. Exquisite wall paneling, carved wood and fireplace mantels, intricate moldings and rosettes, colored glass windows and transoms, everything is still intact and, well… over a century old.

queen anne

They have not solicited my advice (yet 🙂 ) and their taste is fabulous so I don’t think they’ll need much help, but their home got me thinking. How do you bring such a historically rich property in line with a young, active, modern couple’s lifestyle? The interior architecture of our friend’s home is so beautiful and rich, yet the  dark mahogany finishes gave it a very austere feel. Knowing them and seeing their home, I couldn’t help but feel a slight disconnect.

The Victorian style is one of excess. Victorians are known for many things and simplicity of detail is not one of them. In fact, ”more is more!” was the Victorian decorating mantra.

victorian wood trim

A Victorian style dining room

On top of heavy detailing, Victorian style interiors were often dark and moody (same goes for Craftsman and Tudor style homes). Driven by a fascination for all things Gothic, red and green were the obvious color choices for wall coverings. For privacy and temperature control, window treatments were layered – sheers, heavy draperies and complex valances; doilies and lots of trinkets were the name of the game!

victorian millwork

Arts and Crafts style entry

As a decorator, there are two extreme types of projects to handle. One is to design a white box, that is, a home lacking any kind of architectural interest (no crown molding, no charming wainscoting, no fireplace, no beautiful window frames, you get the idea…) and the opposite – to redecorate a home chock-full of history and architectural details.

Now, if I were officially in charge of redoing the interiors, it would be heartbreaking for me to paint over / or remove any of that gorgeous millwork. So I had fun figuring out how best to lighten up such a special home, how to make it feel more youthful without diminishing its architectural value.

First of all, I’d do anything to make my clients happy. I’d find out what exactly is their vision for their home and do all that I can to bring it to life.

One thing is for sure – I would still keep most of the interior architectural details. To paint or not to paint? This is a painful decision to make but one that will depend entirely upon my client’s wishes. Maybe I’d reach a compromise and paint some of the wainscoting and trims, and leave the library paneling cozy and dark. Also, I’d bring in color and lots of rich textures – soft velvets and tufted seats (very Victorian).  If we keep the dark paneling, that would dictate a light and bright color scheme for everything  else.

victorian woodwork

Craftsman Style Millwork

I also thought about two homes that were recently published in House Beautiful that offered inspiration on this same topic. One was a Bostonian Arts and Crafts style home designed by Nina Framer, and the other one was a Tudor style cottage in the South, designed by Shon Parker. I loved both of these homes and I’d like to show you what they did in similar situations.


Nina Farmer


Nina Farmer

nina farmer

Nina Farmer


Shon Parker


Shon Parker


Shon Parker


Shon Parker

I apologize for the long post and, if you made it to the end, I’d really like to know your thoughts! Would you paint dark wood paneling, would you replace it with a lighter/ warmer wood or would you just move (just kidding!)? What would you do?



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