Eight years ago when we redid our kitchen, I mentioned to my husband that I thought white cabinetry was the way to go for our west-facing dark room. My husband completely disagreed, his position being that dark cabinetry had a feeling of warmth and hospitality, that he believes wouldn’t be achieved with white. His love affair – and mine – with dark wood goes back to our first home together in Pennsylvania, a 1920’s beauty that came with gorgeous natural chestnut woodwork, curved chestnut french doors and built-ins. It was a home in which our realtor advised, “Don’t ever have a fire in this home because you’ll never replace this wood.” Indeed a devastating disease of the American chestnut tree in the early 1900’s caused a widespread killing of the tree in the eastern United States. The airborne bark fungus spread at the rate of about 50 miles a year and and in a few decades killed up to three billion chestnut trees.
This was to be our “forever” home. But, alas, after six years in the house, my husband was offered an opportunity to move to Chicago by a friend who was buying up distressed manufacturing companies and offered him a positiion as a finance officer.
My husband has always had opinions about interior design and projects – good ones. He and I are usually in sync in terms of what projects we want to do and how we want to do it, how we want it to look. We have updated our home steadily over the years, with hardly a wrinkle. My goal, begun about five years prior to my retirement, was to complete any major projects around the house before I left my career and my pay checks behind.
When it came to the kitchen renovation, my husband was not in favor of doing it. It was clearly going to be an expensive undertaking. He is tempermentally a finance person who saw our dated oak cabinetry which were installed when we built the house in 1989 as still in good condition and very functional. Ultimately he relented on doing the full scope of the project, gutting it back to the walls and making small revisions in our footprint. Since I was getting the full kitchen reno that I wanted, moving some appliances to where they rightfully belonged in the scheme of things, and an enlarged island, I agreed to maple cabinets stained in a cherry finish. For these eight years, I have vascillated on the white cabinetry versus the stained cabinetry I have. Given that my husband has agreed to virtually every project that I’ve dreamed up – and there were many – I felt that the dark woodwork was a reasonable concession.
But still as the years have gone on, I repeatedly pointed out that the woodwork in this house is in no way in the same category of wood as the rare chestnut in our Pennsylvania house. I felt we were confusing the dark, builder grade pine with our beloved chestnut of thirty five years ago. And I was tired of the look of a house that to me had become too brown.
Over the years we have upgraded the relatively inexpensive millwork with wider, more substantial wood on the doorways, window trim and baseboards. But every time I saw a home with painted white woodwork in person or in a magazine, I longed for its classic look, one that made the rooms look larger, brighter, fresher and cleaner.
Another remaining drawback was that eight years ago, since I wasn’t making any headway changing my husband’s mind on the white wood, we replaced all of the windows in our home with new vinyl windows which of course were dark brown to match the rest of the woodwork in our home. I thought this committed us to dark wood evermore.
But gradually over these years, I started to visualize the look of dark mullions working in concert with white or off white casings. Why couldn’t that work? Some people told me that this mixture would look hodgepodge and indecisive. Not if done correctly and with some thought, I said. The idea was taking shape in my mind and then I began to see this combination in such places as Architectural Digest, HGTV, and Pinterest. Apparently it’s a thing called Wood and White. And thus my crusade for white trim has taken on new life. I finally had some documented evidence of how this might look. My husband remained undeterred and unconvinced. His latest tactic was that he wanted to see it, not in a magazine, not on TV, but in person. But, aha, just as we were going back and forth, two of my friends indeed had their dark window casings painted white while the remainder stayed dark brown. Looked great! So I had “in person” examples to show him!
Actually, some places in our own home had also set a precedent in this regard. A few years ago I had the risers and skirt of my stairs painted white, while the steps stayed dark.
Last year I had the oak cabinets in my basement painted white along with the book case in our front parlor. My husband liked these changes. But still he was reluctant to have other wood in the house painted.
Finally he agreed that what we needed was a “test room.” We chose the room that our granddaughter sleeps in when staying at our home. It has one window, two doors and, of course, baseboard. It would be a relatively simple paint job but would illustrate the wood and white look for him. So we called our trusty painter who two weeks ago painted the doors and trim in this room to showcase how other rooms would look.
My husband finally agreed that the look was one he could live with, but still wanted to retain stained wood in certain key areas: two of my husband’s bookcases, and the maple wainscoting in our entrance foyer. Our painter, who works in houses new and old every day, also believed that the foyer wainscoting at least should stay stained since he viewed
this as a statement feature.
And the foyer hallway leads into the kitchen. Our kitchen cabinets will remain stained but the other kitchen trim – crown molding other than that directly above the cabinets, door jambs and baseboards will be painted white.
We have now commissioned our painter to come back to finish the painting of our woodwork in the next several weeks. In a future posting I’ll show you how it turns out. After all of this negotiation, the white-woodwork elephant is finally giving birth! A project that even my husband will love. I hope!