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Every man should read this one

Happiness is. . . a Happy Wife

By 03/12/2009February 8th, 201750 Comments

A few years ago, I arrived at a colour consultation in an older character home with a lot of unpainted wood paneled walls. The dining room and entry were almost entirely paneled and most of the trim as well. And it was far from beautiful. It was dark and dull and I recommended that it be painted out a cream colour.

Knowing how most men react to painting wood, I presented this option in the diplomatic way I always do.
After all, I’m getting paid for my opinion and it’s my job to be honest and give the most updated and current point of view, based on the clients likes, dislikes, existing furniture, etc.
I pointed out that it wasn’t fabulous and with the contemporary furniture they had, painting it out would completely transform and update the home. I even had an image in a magazine that I showed them.
So here’s the thing that was really strange.
Usually (and I’ve seen this over and over) the wife’s face lights up and the husband gets a little cranky. However he usually comes around when I explain that it’s dated, and never coming back (see my post on kitchen cabinets here). In this case though, the wife kept saying “Whatever you want dear, it’s up to you”.

He seemed to be fine with the suggestion as well, and he even asked if I could provide two colour options. One if they kept all the wood ‘as is’ and second if they painted it.

The next day; however, he called Benjamin Moore; and ranted and raved, ‘How dare that designer suggest that we should paint out the wood!’

So you know what I think? I think that couple had a huge fight about painting it when they moved in. He won, she lost and he was not happy that I essentially validated her opinion, and invalidated his (without realizing this of course). Why else would he have been so upset? It’s just my opinion (which they were paying for) they could take it or leave it!

All images House and Home
I did a little research before I wrote this and found only one other post regarding this topic, but it still doesn’t really answer the question. Why do men love wood so much? That’s the question of the day!

And before you conclude that I’m the first to suggest painting out all wood; that is truly not the case.

The last oak kitchen I suggested updating by painting cream was connected to the great room/family room that was paneled in oak and it was beautiful. I recommended that they wait and see if it would look out of place with the kitchen painted. It didn’t. They kept the great room the way it was, and the kitchen received an updated look with paint, new flooring along with quartz countertops and the wife was happy.

After all, as one of my designer friends likes to say to her clients, “A happy wife is a happy life”.

If you would like your home to fill you with happiness every time you walk in, contact me for on-line or in-person consultations.
Related posts:

When to Buy Leather Furniture
Danger; The First 24 Hours after you take Possession of your New Home
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  • tc says:

    I don’t know why so many men seem to have such a primal negative reaction to painting wood. It’s mystifying to me. The only reason that comes to mind is that they equate paint with makeup. Is paint inherently feminine?

  • Anonymous says:

    Hey Maria-
    I think it totally depends on the house and the quality of the wood. Friends have a circa 1920’s Tudor with what would be gorgeous solid oak trim, window, casings, etc. But it has been painted oover main times, and just looks bland and plain. They also have an original brick fire place that was painted…um Forst Green. Not good. They are slowly restoring it.

    On the other hand our circa 1980 split level had very cheap wood paneling on the bottom half of the family room. Everyone thought we should paint it…but I thought that would loook cheap. Instead we covered it with 1/4 inch drywall and painted the room with Benjamin Moore’s Acorn Yellow with Yellow Squash for the trim. The room gets little natural light, so these colors gave it a warm and cozy feel. It will be greatt when we finish with new carpet, and furniture.

    A long way to say context is everything. What I want to know is shy everyone wants to paint brick. It has such nice texture and warmth, but in almost every home show, brick is painted or otherwise covered.
    Monica Kelly
    [email protected]

  • Colour Me Happy says:

    Context is absolutely everything! If it’s beautiful, it should be left alone!

    Regarding the brick – there is A LOT of really ugly brick that looks best and the most updated (for the least amount of $$) painted cream or white. I mostly don’t like it when people start putting COLOUR on them personally!

  • Maya@Completely-Coastal says:

    In our old Dutch Colonial we both agreed (my husband and I) to paint all the wood moldings around doors and windows white, I guess it really depends on the look you want and the condition of the wood too.

  • michelle says:

    Great post Maria!

    I think it’s about the quality of the wood- some woods are meant to be painted, and when I explain to clients that it is in fact “paint grade” wood, they are more apt to let it go.

    I actually really like good wood panelling; in libraries and entrances, if it is done in the right proportions and looked after well. Painted wood in a lighter colour can be more feminine feeling.

    Your right though, if that’s what she wants, his life will be allot easier by just giving in now. A Happy Wife indeed!

  • Meade Design Group says:

    Great entry! Maria. Actually I asked to Johnson and McLeod that same question. They are a very successful design firm in Vancouver as you probably know. I thought you may have a kick with their answers so I paste them here.

    Iván – I have noticed that in your interiors you paint the wood paneling with a crisp coat of white paint and this has become one of your signature styles. I definitely agree in painting wood paneling because the change leads to a cleaner, brighter, and more elegant room. However, designer to designer, I just have to ask this question– How do you convince your male clients to paint the wood paneling?

    Ian – That’s a hilarious question, because it comes up so often. Men love natural wood. Women prefer to paint it all out. The truth is that most of the woodwork we design for our projects is built from ‘paint grade’ materials, which removes the need for reverential treatment. We reserve high-quality woods for use in floors and furniture.

    Kerry – That is a great question. We’ve waged some pretty major campaigns to convince the husband that not all wood work is sanctified. Luckily, we do a lot of our work in contemporary structures that don’t have any of these elements, so that when they are added, we can do so with paint grade lumber and mill work. It’s a compliment to us that you think some of these wooden interior details are vintage, when in fact they are brand new.

  • Stephanie says:

    I totally agree with you. The way I solved it was: when we decided to paint our 1920’s Dutch Colonial and were ‘discussing’ paint or NOT to paint…I told my hubby that I didn’t ‘run’ his office and he shouldn’t try to ‘micro-manage’ mine! It worked! He defers to my design sense most of the time and IF he has qualms about some decision I’ve made then I am happy to listen and make a compromise. Then I do what I want!! And he likes it once he sees it.

  • says:

    SO FUNNY! Why do men love wood!?!?!?!? My parents have wood paneling at their lake cabin (it is very pretty and real, which is good for wood paneling) but my mom and I are always saying that it needs to be painted and my dad firmly disagrees. So far, he’s winning. My mom says that since its the lake house she should let him win 🙂 Great post!!!

  • Anonymous says:

    I grew up in a 1929 house in St. Louis and all the trim was wood, but it faux grained wood, which was beautiful and an economical alternative when the house was built. In the kitchen/breakfast room there was also a large built in wood china/storage cabinet. For 15 years the they kept the wood, then a designer friend convinced them to paint it all white when they were redecorating and they both never looked back!

  • Awesome Sara says:

    to be honest men are lazy and cheap. i bet they figure its more cost effective if wood stays. they should have no say in decorating. as long as their is a comfy chair and a tv their fine.

  • High-Heeled Foot in the door says:

    Great question and one that I wish I had the answer to. My husband cringes everytime I want to paint something in white and away from it’s natural state. Are last disagreement was on painting the brick fireplace. Lucky for me I blogged about it and everyone agreed with me so it finally got a nice coat of white!

  • Patricia Gray says:

    Or ‘a happy wife is a happy family’.

  • Patricia Gray says:

    A way I have gotten around this objection to painting out the wood (especially when it is a cedar ceiling) is to white wash it, so the wood is not completely covered and still shows through. I think it is a very good compromise and I have had good results and rave reviews when it is finished.

  • Bethany says:

    I am so glad that you raised this question. I have had to deal with this too. Most of my female clients want white kitchens and their husbands totally object. They say that it will show to much dirt – but that sounds like a cop-out to me. There has got to be more to it.

  • Melissa says:

    Great post (as always). Men like wood because men are like dogs. No, not in the way you think – in their love of cozy, den like spaces spaces. My grandfather had a beautiful mahogany lined library to which he would retreat with pipe, newspaper, and scotch. It was like my dog’s crate, but nicer. And, like my dog’s crate, I had to ask permission to enter. My husband has his Mancave (read furnished basement) and when asked what he would like to add to the existing big screen TV, foosball table, and mini-keg fridge (yes, he’s a lucky man), he says “wood paneling.”

    There is something timeless about wood paneling, and I think many men like to retreat to timeless, warm spaces at the end of a long day. So do women, but our spaces tend to be brighter – bathrooms with carerra marble, white kitchen cabinets complimented by gleaming chrome bridge faucets…ah, the mind reels!

    That said, poor quality wood begs for paint, plain and simple.

  • hello gorgeous says:

    This is such a great post. In our last house I wanted to paint the old cabinets. It took 2 years to convince my husband. I added moldings and painted it – it looked completely different.

    I love the color you chose for the stained glass. In fact, I posted today about an issue I am having with stained glass and how to work with the colors. I have two baths with stained glass and they are so hard to decorate around. I’d love your opinion if you have a minute.

    I should email you the befores and afters of the kitchen I painted. You’d laugh so hard at what he wanted to “save.”

  • tc says:

    Melissa, I think you are on to something when you say, “Men like wood because men are like dogs. No, not in the way you think – in their love of cozy, den like spaces.”

    I am fascinated by this topic because I truly would like to know why men are so often attached to unpainted wood while women are not.

    There was an old movie with Sandra Dee and Bobby Darin. They were newlyweds experiencing the difficulties of the first year of marriage. Sandra Dee’s mother (a wonderful French actress whose name I cannot remember) gave her the book that she said saved her marriage. It was a book on how to raise a good dog. It was all about when and how to praise, how to get a dog (man) to actually want to do what you want him to do, etc. Very funny in that 50’s romantic comedy sort of way. But I always remembered it and thought that there was some truth to it.

  • Imogen Lamport says:

    I think men like wood because it’s ‘natural’ and kind of manly, white paint is more feminine.

  • Angela in WA says:

    With all do respect, it is the same reason why they must have large scaled overstuffed leather couches and big screen TVs. I am sure it is a Freudian thing!

  • Rebecca Sherman says:

    Wow, I was just thinking about this very topic the other day. Mainly I was remembering all the times when either I wanted to paint a piece of wood furniture or friend wanted to, and the men in our lives wouldn’t allow it. Gay men don’t seem to agree either — a good friend of mine is gay, and he almost stopped speaking to me when I spray painted a pair of vintage wood Hickory Chairs black. They look chic now. But all he could say was “I can’t believe you covered up al that gorgeous wood!” They were brown. What more do I have to say?

  • Haven and Home says:

    Love this post! I always feel like a decorator/marriage counselor. This sounds the same! It hurts me a little to paint wood, but sometimes it is truly better!

  • living large says:

    I think it comes spring-loaded on the Y chromosome.

  • Hill Country House Girl says:

    Wow. What an interesting post and great comments. I agree with Patricia. I live in a house with tons of old long leaf pine cabinetry. If I painted it, I think I would be tarred and feathered and run out of town! However, when we moved in, the wood cabinetry, black granite, dark floors and dark beamed ceiling made my kitchen look like a cave! I had the ceiling whitewashed and it brightened up the kitchen. Everyone thought it was brilliant, AFTER it was finished! Like so many projects, people have trouble imagining what something will look like. Great, great post – good discussion!

  • Anita says:

    My basement will never be painted at this rate . . . Why DO men love wood so much. Dark and womb like maybe?

  • Michele Beatty says:

    Maria…i think you have struck a nerve here. Men just do not want to paint wood. Our home is not that old, seven years, and i have cherry cabinets that are pretty dark and hardwood floors. I would like to paint just the kitchen island to update and make it stand out but it will take an act of congress to convince my husband that it will look great and we’ll still have a house full of wood cabinets in the rest of the house!

  • LaurenFaythe says:

    I think men like wood because it represents masculinity, and maybe they fear that without it, the room will look too feminine.

  • Velvet and Linen says:

    I can’t tell you how many times I have had this conversation with clients.
    I even had this issue with my own house. No, Steve didn’t give me a fight about painting the wood, but our general contractor thought it was blasphemy. My house would have looked like a country cabin instead of the light and airy white beach house of my dreams.

    I am very fortunate that Steve is all for painting wood. Having a guy support your view is invaluable. I am very impressed that you didn’t take your clients rant personally. It is a lesson that I am still learning. I also can never understand why people hire us because they like our taste but then fight our suggestions!

    Another great post, Maria.


  • galerie henri says:

    We were in the process of redoing a farmhouse and one wall had been paneled with wood. This was my husband’s project, so I had to defer to him. The “men” decided to do wood paneling everywhere. They all just stand around and marvel at that wood paneling. It has to be a mindset. Now I have to slipcover and accent everything in white to counteract all that wood!

  • DesignTies says:

    I don’t have an explanation… it’s a mystery to me… but I’ve soooo enjoyed reading everyone else’s suggestions!
    Great post, Maria – and like your “sad art” post, it’s really generated some fantastic discussion! What will you post about next??!!
    Victoria from EdinDesign @ DesignTies

  • Renae says:

    It is a funny thing to think about…my husband is the same way. He loves oak and I really do not like it…we have an oak banister and I would paint it in a heartbeat, but he would totally flip out. Rarely does he say anything, so I oblige in the things he does say something about. He forgets that I am the decorator sometimes!

    oh, btw…I cannot get your blog to post current on my sidebar, it has an old date on it…Patricia Gray had the same thing and sent me a link to correct it…do you mind doing the same?

  • Renae says:

    Thanks Maria for the link….all fixed now!

  • Design Junkie says:

    I don’t understant it either. Most straight men start foaming at the mouth if I suggest painting any wood, any wood furniture, or any brick. They don’t seem able to understand that not all wood or brick is attractive or of good quality.

  • DesignTies says:

    When my friend and her husband had their house built about 8 years ago, they chose oak trim throughout the house — baseboards, door trim, window trim. I’m helping my friend decorate her guest bedroom right now. During our discussion about potential colours for the room, I asked her a question about the closet doors. She said she was OK with painting them another colour, but the wood trim has to stay!! So not ALL girls want to paint wood 🙂

    On the flip side…. on Home To Stay, Peter Fallico often convinces his clients to paint the wood in their older homes white. And the houses always turn out great 🙂

    I’ve lived in houses with both wood trim and painted trim, and I like them both for different reasons. I think whatever suits the house and the look you want to achieve is the way to go 🙂


  • Colour Me Happy says:

    Great feedback from all of you, thank you so much! The conclusion I draw from all of this is that men really like the grounded feeling of wood which ties right in to the dark and dramatic colours men generally choose when painting a bachelor pad, for example.

    Plus men don’t look at it from the aesthetic point of view like women do.

    Ladies, that’s the reason why you should hire a designer to come in and give the more objective point of view–this way you can happily start painting with white (or at least a whitewash!).

  • Kelee Katillac says:

    First off thank-you for hosting these wonderful conversations. You are very professorly
    –me likey.

    Next, I have been in the middle of dozens-yes dozens of these riffs over the years. Onced I exited by climbing through a window in a roughed-in house. They were throwing insults like plates…The Honeymooners could have done no better. The
    spark that got it rolling? Whether we would pickle the floors or stain them dark. Ouch. We soon
    were talking about the mother-in-laws china cabinet he hates. I needed a drinkey winkey before the day ended.

    Bottom-line: The argument is rarely about the actual subject. Interior design issues uncover and objectify couples’ marriage issues. It becomes the moment that repression leaves and they roll-out the truth. Wood or pickled? He got wood….and I got pickled.

  • Karena says:

    I think in some instances it my be a masculine, clubby feel like when you go to Morton’s Steakhouse, etc. Brings me to the memory of a house I rented long ago, The kitchen cabinets were awful, asked the landlord if I could paint them out white, and I got this horrfied look and of course a “NO”!

  • Cote de Texas says:

    love this – love this! yuck – I hate dark paneling, especially in older homes where it is soo depressing. paint it out people!

    there is a blogger who is struggling wiht this now and I wish they would paint it out but one refuses to!

    Myself, my husband knows better than to act like a decorator – hehe. Just keep quiet, dear. please. thank you very much! no really, he just doesn’t care about it all that much – I can’t imagine him caring about it. He likes sports too much to worry about the color of the wood. Manly man!

  • Erin says:

    Great post, and I love your blog. I'm struggling with this a lot right now, luckily my husband says I can do whatever I want 🙂
    We just bought a new home (20 years old) and it's completely trimmed out in "good" oak- a far cry from the old pine in our 100 year old farmhouse that I was willing and eager to paint white. With the oak now, I'm not so sure- I like white trim and want it to look updated, but there is SO much trim that would have to be painted. Plus, painting "experts" are warning me that the grain of oak is much harder to paint than I may be prepared for. I wish more design blogs covered the white vs. wood trim debate, so thanks for bringing it up!

  • Kevin says:

    What a great blog!

    While this may see like I'm skirting the question about painting vs natural wood in an interior environment, please consider the following. (I know, I know, this seems a little cryptic and may actually seem more that way before I'm through…) Three examples and only one is about wood.

    The first. A wood canoe or kayak or sloop built of wood offers the rich beauty of the material but also demonstrates a fineness in craft, melding a natural intuition that wood floats with a necessary functional requirement that it be watertight. And the really beautiful boats are reduced to only what is needed, not overbearing or clunky — elegant in both form and function.

    The second. Brownstones with their natural brick in all the various shades of earth creating that same richness that wood can exhibit just in a different medium — the variations of color coupled with variations in texture — can be never tiring to be in and around and part of an identity.

    And third. (Not meant to be chauvenistic at all — really!) A woman without too much makeup, or just the right minimalistic application, is so beautiful. Perhaps it's that freshness, that intimacy, that variation in skin tones that to me is so lovely.

    In all three I could (and sometimes did) use the same descriptive language; it's the richness, the earthiness, the honesty, the luminescence, all in the right light and exhibited in a beautiful form that makes wood so desirable — unpainted.

  • Donna says:

    I have to say that I've always been in love with wood. We only recently got a home with (half)paneling. It has very little wood and the cabinets in the kitchen are white paint over wood.

    But I see what you are saying..the wood look is dated. And I love the light airy look of paint. My memories of wood cabinets and painting are of dark old houses…including the one I'm trying to sell for our Dad's estate. It is NOT nice..for sure!

  • Donna says:

    I forgot to mention that A. I love the comment by Kevin…so poetic and so true.

    B. I thought I would die laughing because everyone's comments were just priceless! So funny! Marriage and decorating..definitely a challenge. :o)

  • Tristan says:

    Can you please tell me the name and maker of the yellow paint in the top picture? I’ve been looking for just that yellow. Thanks.

  • Maria Killam says:

    HI Tristan
    I would say it’s something like HC-35 Powell Buff by Benjamin moore.

  • EAS says:

    Maybe men are more often the ones who get stuck with the task of stripping the paint back off once the pendulum swings the other way and the “white on white on white” home starts to look dated. Maybe they’re more often familiar with the unfortunate side effects of harsh solvents like darkened wood and raised grain.

    I’m a woman with the classic “masculine” response: don’t you dare paint that wood! If it’s real wood, especially if it’s original to the home, you’re being breathtakingly selfish and shortsighted by permanently damaging one of the main sources of a home’s character.

    My 1895 Arts & Crafts home has 2 rooms where the gorgeous wood trim and paneling survives. It’s not amazing wood — soft pine, at a guess — but it has that soft warm patina of age that just can’t be bought. If I painted over it, there’d be no getting it back.

    In the rest, I’m laboriously chipping away at the caked-on white paint to bring the house back to its former glory. The room where I started will easily take the entire summer, and I have no guarantee that the end result will be remotely worth the effort. (Oh, and the harshest chemical strippers are usually not safe at all on lead paint, so I’m stuck with “greener” half-measures that take even longer.)

    But I have respect for the materials and craftsmanship underneath the century-plus of sloppy painting, and I have respect for the house as a place that existed before I got here and will exist long after I’m gone. And if anyone casually slops lazy white paint over my literal blood, sweat, and tears, I swear I will come back and haunt them to the end of their days.

    You CAN decorate a home to your own taste while considering the cost and effort involved in undoing the damage later, you know. There IS a middle ground between being a museum curator and being Paintmonster, Destroyer of Worlds.

    • Maria says:

      As someone who has done stripping and painting both wood cabinets and wood trim in a whole house, it is a huuuuge job if you do it yourself. Plus, when it comes to painting cabinets, it is very hard to get a professional looking finished result by doing it yourself. Plus, if you have wood trim, and it gets scratched or whatever, it is much easier to find a stain match and fix it vs. if the paint chips. And, while I like timeless and classic all the way, I think having real, good quality wood, can totally be part of the mix. I personally like some warmth in my finishes. Pairing warm wood with marble or cooler quartz colors can really look outstanding. I love the coziness wood brings to the house. Doing a full kitchen gut right now and chose custom birch cabinets. Put all new windows in the house, and chose wood interior with wood trim, stained medium. Almost heresy in the white times, but looks timeless to me. In the end, we are a regular family with kids, and do not live in a glam magazine. Wood just reflects who we are better than pristine white.

  • BinkytheBear says:

    My sister sent me to this site. I am a man, so I am specially qualified to respond to this ancient post.

    Wood is real. Wood was once alive and maintains that life even after it is made into something.

    Colors have life, but paint itself is dead. Paint is a lie. Paint is chemical and plastic and can be put on anything. “Paint hides a multitude of sins.” It really doesn’t matter whether it’s coated styrofoam, fiberglass, pvc, some other molded plastic, plaster, bondo, paint grade wood or MDF. The result will be the same, assuming basic skill is applied in assembly and finish.

    Wood has soul. Wood is truth. Wood goes below the surface to what something really is, not just what it looks like. Wood that is maintained through generations will eventually tell the stories of those generations. To paint it is to obliterate that soul, to erase those stories, and to cover truth with lies.

    That said, there’s lots of wood that’s not very good, and can be painted no problem. But all wood aspires to be good wood.

    • Maria Killam says:

      Love your comment! Thanks, Maria

    • Erika says:

      Poetry. Thank you Binkythebear. Convinced me to embrace the wood trim in our ’63 colonial and make it work. There’s something so creative about taking what’s given to us in the wood, accepting it, and building the rest around it. All wood aspires to be good wood.

  • Steph says:

    I am obsessed with finding a purple to paint my bathroom and I ran across your picture above and this article on Pinterest. Do you happen. To remember what color it is? I assume it’s by Benjamin Moore. I love their paint!!!

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