Making Wood Work

All-white rooms have been a design mainstay for years now.  Floors, walls and woodwork are all painted white and, though it’s a look we like just fine, it is sometimes a visual relief (and a huge inspiration) to see spaces that break the mold.

We’ve seen how the mere mention of painting over original woodwork can lead to the verbal equivalent of a fistfight on many blogs, but it isn’t easy to find good, modern examples of spaces where wood was kept natural.  We put in some time to track down places where the (unpainted) woodwork is working.

We love the way the original woodwork of this craftsman house in Portland was incorporated into the design.  The beautiful (hand painted) magnolia blossom walls complement the heavy wood, rather than fighting it.  The result is one of our favorite rooms we’ve seen in a while.

When we started to really look at rooms with unpainted woodwork, we were surprised by how well the natural wood pairs with dark walls.  We love the drama of this room:

And the velvety black walls in Nicole of Making it Lovely‘s Victorian home strike just the right note:

Dark walls aren’t the only way to go.  She painted an adjacent room – also filled with lots of oak woodwork – a blush pink, and that works beautifully too.
Red House West || Making Wood Work

Red House West || Making Wood WorkWe love this minimalist and modern San Francisco Victorian!  It’s very serene, and the unpainted woodwork adds a perfect amount of texture – making the space much more interesting and unique than it would be if everything were painted white.

Natural wood also looks beautiful in more rustic spaces, like this stone house in Massachusetts:

It’s nice to see modern spaces that include unpainted woodwork too.  The wood window casings keep this all-white space from looking too sterile.

What do you think?  Do you like this look or are you itching to grab a paintbrush and paint it white?

13 responses on “Making Wood Work

  1. trotula

    Oh guys, I almost cried with joy when I saw the title of this post. My old farmhouse is almost entirely wood-paneled downstairs, and it is so hard to work with. The wood is absolutely gorgeous and I would never in a million years paint over it, but the only way I could see to make it work with my style is to go very Scandinavian cabin and that’s out of my reach with it being a rental.

    Also, it would make me less crazy if the kitchen wasn’t wood paneled (fine), with bad ’80s oak cabinets (ugh), and a really bad faux bois laminate counter (kill me now). Like just TOO MUCH WOOD.

    The thing that feels hardest is trying to furnish it. All our furniture has to be Craigslist stuff for $$ reasons. Wood or wood-look furniture is usually the easiest thing to find second-hand, but a room full of wood furniture in a wood-paneled room makes me die inside a little. Like, I don’t actually want to cross my eyes and see only a solid blur of brown.

    Whoo, sorry, this is going to be a long comment. I feel like no one else on the internet has really addressed this. It’s always “paint it white!” or “don’t paint the wood!” but no one talks about how to make a lot of wood work for you when it’s not really your style.

    That said, the last handful of pictures, I do love. My bedroom is white but the windows have natural wood trim and panes, and I think that’s just heaven. It’s when the wood is everywhere that makes me freak out.

    Here’s what’s worked for me in the struggle against wood-paneled walls:

    1. Okay, this is really embarrassing, but I once came across a copy of a (very Westernized) Feng Shui book, which advised that the balance to the element of wood is the element of metal. I have no idea if this is true, but I tried it out by introducing more hard, reflective, shiny surfaces, like mirrors, metallic planters instead of terracotta pots, bare-bulb fixtures instead of lamps with shades, metallic garlands, etc. Honestly, I think it’s helped a lot.

    2. I used to try to decorate it with bright colors, but it wasn’t really working. It seemed like the wood just soaked up all their brightness. Lately, I’ve tried to bring in a lot of black accessories instead. Wood is often the same “value” as so many colors, and black helps provide more visual contrast. The same goes for white. Basically, I try to introduce enough items/furnishings that are on the extremes of either end of the value spectrum that if I took a black and white picture of the room everything wouldn’t just blur into the “grey” of the wood.

    3. I have made it my mission to eradicate all burgundy from the house. It just looks way too close to our medium-dark wood and makes it feel like there’s even more of it. I would say the same for blonde oak and yellow, etc., but of course YMMV.

    Okay, I gotta wrap myself up before I talk about this all night. THANK YOU always for being such an incredible design blog. Your posts are always so put together and fresh and you approach things in such a simple yet effective way.

    1. Katie

      I loved reading your comment! So many good thoughts. It made we think a little more (and look a little more closely) to see how both black and metal play against wood. I think that westernized Feng Shui book is on to something 🙂

  2. Laura

    I really love the warmth and texture of wood. I’m pleased to now live in a house with hardwood floors, for example. I note, however, that all these glorious rooms have plenty of light. I think that is the key to making lots of wood work in a room otherwise it can feel oppressive like a musty old archive room.

    I’m sorry, therefore, to confess that when we moved into our 1970s home, we painted over the woodwork in the family living room. It’s a dark room with not much natural light and the dark wood paneling made it very gloomy. I wanted to keep the textures of the wood so we didn’t remove the panelling but it’s still not properly “wood” now.

    Here’s the link to the relevant blog post if you are interested:

    1. Katie

      Mera and I are big proponents of folks doing whatever the heck they want with their own homes–so no sorry necessary! Good point about the natural light and thanks for the link to your post (so fun to see all the work you’re doing!).

  3. pippin

    I would love to paint the inside of out front door, but my husband is not a fan at all. I guess one has to pick their battles. Although the front door would be easy to paint, and I doubt he would even notice.

    1. Katie

      Ah Pippin. Are you familiar with the Deborah Needleman book ‘A Perfectly Imperfect Home’? There’s a real appropriate chapter on mollifiers in there 😉 But if he wouldn’t notice? Well then.

  4. Jenny Depa-Karl

    I love the natural wood(work). You rarely find a ‘new’ house with such beautiful wood work that isn’t over-the-top expensive!! Much of the ‘wood work’ today is a faux composite material that’s painted anyway. I also agree that lots of natural light is a bonus!

    1. Katie

      So true! Which I think is why people are so vehement (militant?) about not painting natural woodwork – it’s rare to find that kind of quality in newer homes.

  5. Brittany @ white dog vintage

    Great examples here! The woodwork in historic homes is so beautiful–I definitely wouldn’t paint it myself. I have noticed a similar trend with brick, too. I was looking for some inspiration for my brick fireplace, but Pinterest’s main suggestion was to paint it white. Not happening! I’m sure it would look great white, but it’s original to my 1921 house, and I just don’t feel comfortable making a change like that that can’t be undone. I pretty much feel the same about good, old wood.

    1. Katie

      Ha! That’s such a Pinterest suggestion! It’s surprising how hard it is to find good photos of rooms that still have their original elements – most of the photos are the poorly-lit ‘befores’ in a post about painting it white. Hope you’ll flood the internet with pretty pics of your brick fireplace!

  6. Dee

    Great roundup! I’ll admit I’m a fan of the “all white everything” but I agree it’s getting a little (okay, a lot) ubiquitous, and isn’t right for every situation. I do also love the look of raw wood so these are great! Also, more interior shutters in the Making It Lovely house! Maybe that needs to be the next roundup! 😉

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