To Paint or Not to Paint, That is The Question

With the cold weather and holidays this time of year, we often get to spend a bit more time indoors at home. While I used to dread the coming of winter every year, I now appreciate this time to sit down, relax, and refresh. As part of this, Adam and I often find ourselves spending time pouring over some of our favorite design books and sites and taking the time to make plans for home projects over the coming year. Our focus recently has been on the renovation and redesign of our upstairs guest bedroom and bathroom. However, over the past long weekend a potential project came up that neither of us had really been considering, but now, I can’t get it out of my head. Painting and refreshing our dining room.

Let’s take a step back to where we started with this space. When we bought the house, it was a drab garage turned bonus room. We’re eternally grateful to the previous owners for turning this space into additional living space, but with the vinyl floors and lack of light fixtures, it didn’t have much use other than a rec room. So we added some sheetrock, painted between the beams, carried in hardwood, and added light fixtures.

A big improvement. These changes made it possible for this room to serve the purpose of a dining room, which fit the biggest need for us in this house. However, designing this space was not without it’s challenges. First let’s begin with the side entry attached to and very much part of this space.

Great height, a nice landing zone for shoes and coats, and much needed storage through the builtin bookshelves, but this room is DARK. Between the red/brown brick, wood, and limited light flow, this room hardly ever feels bright and cheery. When we were originally playing with paint samples, we thought it might be fun to set it off with and accent color and tried out a nice traditional green.

It immediately began to look like a hunting lodge and even further highlighted the dark features of the space (hard to believe that’s the same green as this island). We quickly went with our beloved Cromarty by Farrow and Ball. Light and bright without being stark white. We changed out the light fixture and added a fun pattern through the benches from Liven Up Design. It helped, but this room still usually feels a bit like a hole.

For the dining room, we really wanted to make the beams pop and to make the space feel as light and airy as possible. So, we used the shade of white we used in the kitchen and living room, and it did brighten everything up. For most of our first year in the house, we lived without furniture in this room, which meant we didn’t have much competing with the beams and trim work. However, when it became time to choose dining furniture, we knew we wanted a wood table with great craftsmanship and went with the Tapered Shaker in maple from Vermont Farm Table. We love maple and also knew any darker wood would have made the room feel heavy. For storage pieces, we didn’t have much horizontal space to play with and went with this sturdy but minimal piece with great vertical storage from Rejuvenation.

Lovely pieces we knew we’d love for a long time but more wood. Now let’s take a second to talk about the wood in this space and in our home. One of the big selling points in our home was the original wood details throughout. I love our wood trim, and while it can be tricky to pull off the traditional but fresh aesthetic we love, it’s well worth the challenge. If we didn’t love and appreciate the wood in our home, we wouldn’t have spent the last year and a half refinishing the painted over wood upstairs. It’s what makes our house our house.

The dining room and side foyer are a different story. These spaces were a garage and throughway long before they were indoor living quarters, and when they were redone, an attempt was made to continue with the wood vibe throughout the house. However, when you look closely, almost none of it matches. The trim in the entryway is different from the trim in the dining room is different from the beams is different from the doors and so on. With the addition of the hardwood and dining furniture, that adds even more wood tones. On recent count, there are currently 10+ varieties and shades of wood in less than 200 square feet.

While there are windows throughout this space, they’re mostly east facing, and by the evening, which is when you would usually use this space, much of the light is lost and it can have a bit of a starkness to it. For Adam to capture, the light-filled photos like those above it has to be a very strategic time of day and the side door has to be wide open. Additionally, the room is even less inviting this time of year because it is pretty cold and drafty, which we plan on addressing through additional attic insulation and use of a space heater when needed. Nonetheless, for whatever reason, we don’t really spend as much time in this space as we’d anticipated, and we haven’t ever really been able to get excited about styling and designing it.

So, on my last weekend at home I again started to take a look at the space and how to make it feel more inviting and cheery, which led to Adam and me talking more openly about our thoughts on the space: we really don’t love all of the wood in the room. Something about the wood details in this room feels different from the rest of our house instead of being classic, it feels a bit bohemian and almost Japanese if that makes sense. Even when we bring in the lightest, brightest styling, it’s hard to get past the wood, and we usually have to crop photos in to help cut down on the wood. For example, if the below photo was taken even a foot or so back, it would have been framed by wooden columns that would have given a darker vibe than we were going for.

We’d played around with the idea of just painting the bookcase or painting the window or painting this and that in the past, but the execution and cohesion of that never really felt like it would really work. However, when we opened up the possibility of painting most all of the mismatched woodwork in this room, I immediately had so many ideas about wall pairings, styling, etc. and really had a vision of what I wanted this space to be. I’m a big believer in going with your gut and also living with things before making impulsive decisions, and after living with this room for a year and a half, my gut still tells me the wood/white combo in this space isn’t really right.

So, if we did take a leap and paint this space, what should that look like? The goal is really to brighten the space while making it more inviting and to better bridge the dining room with the side entry, which means the trim should probably be light neutral like Farrow and Ball Cornforth White, which has a warmth to it. While I think if we painted the trim, it would probably look most cohesive to also pain the beams, I’d be open to leaving just the beams as is. For the walls, we love molding/trim detail like this on walls, but this room is already so broken up by windows and doors and already has so much wood detail that bringing interest to the walls another way might be a better fit.

We brought in tons of samples we had around the house mostly of neutral, soft hues with hints of blue. For the first time inĀ  a while, I started getting excited about decorating our dining room. It just started to make more sense in my head about what the space is supposed to be.

I absolutely adore this textured wallpaper from Phillip Jeffries, and when we brought it into the space, I couldn’t stop staring at it. It has a slight iridescence to it, which helps to bounce the light around in this sometimes dim room. It also brings in subtle texture while being timeless and something that could grow with our design of the space. Another plus is that it has a similar tone to our cabinets in the next room, which could help tie in with the kitchen.


For the side entry, I really don’t feel like the height of the room really stands out, which is unfortunate. The faux plastered wall texture also really bothers me considering we have the real deal in our living room to which this does not come close. To accent the height and add architectural details, I could really get behind adding some vertical panels like those above. Simple and inexpensive but impactful. Lastly, I’m super excited about the possibility of adding some pattern and interest behind the shelves in the bookcase through a subtle wallpaper or fabric like those of Fermoie.

Photoshop is nice for visualizing, but it wasn’t until we had the samples in the room with their textures and subtleties that I really started to envision what the room could be. I’m not sure we’re ready to pull the trigger on these decisions just yet, and I totally understand the argument that wood brings character, goes with our house, etc. Ultimately, however, you want to love what you live with every day, and since the two of us love designing so much, you also want to experiment and take a few risks. What better place to try that out than a room you are already not sold on and on a room that doesn’t really have that many original features? I guess we’ll see.

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  • the last picture you photoshopped for visualization is so helpful to show what you really want to do with the room and 100% sold me. you NEED to do that, it makes the room look so much lighter and brighter and really inviting!

    • We haven’t considered that, but it could make the space look less heavy, which is also one reason we were thinking of painting them. Thanks for sharing!

  • Beautiful, special entry sequence- you are very lucky to have all the historic detail! My 2 cents: take out every other beam in the dining room and swap the light fixtures fore something metallic or glass (the baskets are adding yo the bulk up there). And… since the entry is small, paint the entire space – millwork, ceiling, walls, built-ins, beams, brick, in that beautiful grey green you have pictured above. Add large art on the faux plaster wall and it will just become part of the charm of the room. – gorgeous home!

    • Thanks, Amy! Good ideas! I like your idea of painting the entry in a uniform color to make it feel more cohesive. We’ve also talked about switching out the lights for something a little more streamlined down the road. Thanks for sharing!

  • My parents have similar dark wooden beams in their dining room, and they definitely do make an impact! I like Gigi and Amy’s suggestion to remove every other beam, if you can, and not paint the remaining ones. But that wallpaper is gorgeous… would it work if you don’t paint the beams, do you think? Also wondering if cushions on the bench and chairs in a bright fun pattern would lighten up the room!

  • The design idea looks so much more like a dining room i stead of an old farm kitchen. I agree that the light shades are foo much for this ceiling and look more kitch than dining. I also agree that fixtures that are casual but light reflecting will sparkle up the room.