Creating a Happy, Colorful, Handmade Home & life on the shores of lake superior

April 18, 2016

Should Wood Beams be Painted or Left Natural?

Because I painted out the wood beam in the lakehouse living room, I've had a few readers ask me if I recommend painting wood beams out as a rule.  That's a good question!  For anyone who is on the fence about painting a wood beam - or keeping it natural - I rounded up a little inspiration, and share my two cents, below.

via My Domaine
When we moved into the lakehouse, it was very woodsy: wood ceiling beam, oak trim, oak cabinets, more oak cabinets, pine panels flanking the fireplace, and, oh hey, okay, more oak cabinets...


I am not opposed to wood tones and although I've long loved teak and walnut, I find myself appreciating wood grain more and more, thanks to the influence of my woodworker Father-in-law and grain-loving Hubby.  I was slow to make peace with the wood kitchen cabinets in the townhouse, but here in the lakehouse I've even added wood, like the walnut bathroom cabinetry, pine-topped Ikea fauxdenza hack, and DIY solid maple wood kitchen counters.


So, if I had to pick, I'd pick "team wood," but I think that - in the eye of the beholder -  there can be good wood and bad wood.  I appreciate the hardwood floors the former owner installed because the stain is beautiful and works so well with the teak and walnut I love.  That, in my books, is "good wood".  However, the skinny, cheap oak trim purchased at Home Depot in the late 1990s is "bad wood," in my purely personal assessment.  Painting the skinny trim was no question because I didn't want the eye drawn to it.  The 1990s oak cabinetry was similarly easy to paint (no regrets!).  Painting the sauna wood flanking the fireplace helped modernize the whole wall and I like the quiet texture the painted wood panels now add to the room without screaming, "I used to be a cottage".

Why I Painted the Wood Beam in the Living Room:

The wood ceiling beam made me pause, though.  I kind of liked it, but ultimately decided that it clashed with the flooring and all of our teak furniture.  For a few days, I actually did consider leaving it unpainted (true story!) but, in the end, white paint won out.  I have no regrets because painting the wood beam makes the 13 foot tall ceiling feel even taller, but doesn't draw the eye up toward our popcorn ceilings.  When the beam was natural, the ceiling felt a lot lower and the eye definitely traveled up there - even more once the walls and trim were white.


It wasn't a solid beam - it was just wood strips, laminated together - so it truly wasn't anything super special, although I'm sure it cost a pretty penny when the house was built.  As my Mom pointed out, if I ever have a strong desire for a wood beam, I can clad it in walnut veneer (drool), which I think is a genius, incredibly tempting suggestion!

The Case for Keeping Wood Beams Natural...

Architectural Digest
If it's solid wood and complements a home's aesthetic, then I'd be tempted to keep a wood beam natural.  Ultimately it's a matter of personal preference, but I think that wood beams work especially well if the decor has a mix of wood tones and lots of textures, so the beams don't stand out and draw attention away from other design elements. 

via My Domaine
via West Elm
via My Domaine
Design Files
Even if the decor doesn't boast a generous mix of wood tones, wood beams can work if the same tone is picked up elsewhere, like in this mid-century influenced home.  The wood beam looks great with the wood kitchen cabinetry and looks like a thoughtful detail.  That was the problem with my beam: I was slowly and purposely eradicating anything in that orange wood tone.

via Apartment Therapy
I can't even imagine this home - which boasts one of my favorite kitchens of all time - without wood beams because it just suits the rustic feel so well!

Style at Home
The Case for Painting Wood Beams...

White painted wood beams - along with white ceilings - do wonders for making a space seem brighter and airier.  Once painted, beams no longer draw the eye, which is perfect if you have other, more beautiful, elements to highlight in a room.  Paint can also help modernize a rustic-looking space, especially if the wood beams are weathered or worn and that doesn't complement the decor style.  If an airy vibe is what you're after, painting out wood does wonders, while still offering more visual interest than a plain ceiling:

via Better Homes & Gardens
via Apartment Therapy
via Plastolux
via Plastolux
via My Domaine
via Apartment Therapy
Ultimately, you can't loose!  After years of DIYers painting every piece of furniture they could get their hands on, wood is newly appreciated and natural wood is definitely on-trend again, but I am a firm believer in turning a blind eye to trends and following your gut to create a home you love.  Beams look gorgeous either way - painted out or left au naturel - and any homeowner or renter is lucky to have them.  There are even tons of DIY tutorials and products for adding faux wood ceiling beams to naked ceilings! 

If you're faced with this decision, the best thing to consider is whether the wood complements your design plans and whether it's irreplaceable (like a 200 year old solid piece of lumber).  It's far easier to paint later than strip primer and paint from a tall ceiling, so if you're on the fence at all - live with the wood for a bit!  


What are your thoughts on painted wood beams?
SHARE:

15 comments

  1. I love all your design choices here ! And I think this is the first time I had a good look at your floors! They are gorgeous !! I love your mom's suggestion - walnut veneer on the wood beams oh my God yumm!
    On another note, you can always undo painted wood right, just curious?

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. You can definitely undo any paint job with a good chemical stripper and some sanding. It can be labor intensive and especially tricky up high - I wouldn't want to remove the paint from my beam! But a paint job - especially on solid wood - is definitely reversible.

      Delete
    2. Oh God you are right, can't even imagine undoing a paint job on a beam up high lol!

      Delete
  2. I love looking at the before and after photos of your beautiful home. I think wood beams work in some cases, especially if they are lighter wood. In your case, I think you did it just right.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thanks so much! I like looking back too, because it motivates me to keep going. Some days I feel like we never make progress, so I like to congratulate myself every once in awhile, lol.

      Delete
  3. I agreed with your reasoning. We had faux beams painted out in our last house. A cottage in its previous life, it had wainscotting and faux beams in the living room- my husband had painted both in a matching grey-green- bleeech! It didn't take me long to neutralize the palette once I moved in, painting the beams white to help them disappear into the ceiling. I don't like ceiling beams when they're added to a standard eight ft ceiling, and especially in a small house- it's looks contrived so it furthers the argument for paint to camouflage them.
    However, I do love natural wood but like you just the good wood. I don't see all wood as too precious to paint. That said, I understand other's reluctance- solid wood is so rare to find now that it's prudent to take pause before slapping on paint. Undoing it can be a tedious task.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I agree - when beams are added to standard height ceilings, they really can make too bold a statement, and make the ceiling feeling low too. I don't even need to see it to know that you made the right call painting yours white!
      I agree about wood. It is so rare now. It's funny that I pitched the solid oak doors for walnut veneer, but solid walnut was just never going to happen on our budget, lol. I wish the solid oak doors had a nicer profile, it was a shame to see the wood go, even if it wasn't "good" wood in my books. There's just such a shortage now of wood anything - everything is MDF and veneer, at best, fake foil finish at worst!

      Delete
  4. I totally agree that painting/not painting out wood depends on the situation and your personal preference. I am definitely a "paint it all white" kind of person, while my mom likes to leave wood au naturale. Although I would consider leaving wood beams as is if they were the right colour and on the right ceiling or if they were very old, as you had said.

    On another note - your photos always look so gorgeous! What kind of camera do you use? Do you have any advice to help other would-be interior decor photographers out? Any tips or tricks would be greatly appreciated!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Yay! Another paint it all white person! I definitely bought white paint by the 5 gallon pail when we moved in, lol: walls, trim, ceilings...all white!

      Thanks for your kind words about my photography! I'm really working to get better and better, but it's a struggle. I recently bought a DSLR and I try to experiment with it a few times a week. I've been watching YouTube tutorials and taking lots of photos for fun. And I'm trying to use my tripod more!

      I talk about my new camera and old camera in this post: http://www.danslelakehouse.com/2015/09/better-blog-photos-coming-soon.html

      I also wait for a nice bright day and then do a little editing in the free photo program picmonkey. Sometimes I sharpen a little, lighten a little - I try to get it to look as close to real life as possible, but it's difficult! Shooting in manual mode has helped me control my photos more.

      I have a Pinterest board where I save great photography tutorials and inspiring photos - that's where I share the tips I am slowly learning!
      https://www.pinterest.com/danslelakehouse/photography-tips-%2B-ideas/

      Delete
    2. Thanks so much Tanya! I will definitely be looking into some of those tutorials from your Pinterest board - they're exactly what I need to start feeling more confident with my camera's manual settings. (And by the way I have a Canon Rebel T4i so very similar to yours!)

      Delete
    3. We do have similar cameras! Tag me on Pinterest if you see any good tutorials that might help me too - I'm still learning...
      Good luck with learning your camera's manual settings! It will be fun, I promise :)

      Delete
  5. I think it really depends on the space and what else is going on in the room. I am however always sad when I see true MCM homes (Eichler, Cliff May, etc) have their wood ceilings, paneling and beams all painted out white. I find that it takes away from the character of the home and doesn't reflect the intention the architect had for the space.

    I have seen a really gorgeous house where the ceiling were left in the original grey pickle, the beams painted white , mahogany paneling left alone but the floor was the key in making all the remaining wood work. It was done up in a being/white tile and the space was spectacular. It's really about balancing the key features. http://www.zillow.com/homedetails/2-Mount-Darwin-Ct-San-Rafael-CA-94903/19294885_zpid/

    Otherwise I generally like a contrasting colour on beams but again it wouldn't work in every space.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Oh wow! That listing in the link is so stunning. I love the white beams against the wood - somehow it feels really fresh and airy, even with all of that wood. I'm drooling. I need 1.5 million dollars...

      Delete
  6. I always love the natural art of wood and I prepare not painting it, especially the beams.

    ReplyDelete

You've made my day - I love hearing from you! I approve comments only to keep out the spam, so don't worry if your comment doesn't pop up right away.

© Dans le Lakehouse | All rights reserved.
See What Inspires Me on Pinterest