Jun 13, 2023
Items You Should Never Paint, According To Designers
Step away from the paint brush! When my husband and I bought our 1950s ranch-style house, our first act as new homeowners was a trip to the hardware store, where we stocked up on rollers, brushes, and
Step away from the paint brush!
When my husband and I bought our 1950s ranch-style house, our first act as new homeowners was a trip to the hardware store, where we stocked up on rollers, brushes, and buckets on buckets of paint. There’s a reason we were paint-happy: Fresh paint can work wonders. A swath of white with pink undertones warmed up our living room; a coat of blue-green energized our kitchen cabinets; and a spray of black reinvigorated tired porch railings. Even so, paint has its limits—a lesson we learned the hard way upon realizing the previous homeowners had painted the floor tile in our hall bathroom. Yikes. In the spirit of saving ourselves future paint-related heartache, I asked four Southern designers about the household items you should never, ever paint. Here’s what they said.
HECTOR MANUEL SANCHEZ STYLING BY: HOLLY SMITH
“I tend to be a purist when it comes to preserving historical integrity,” says Hannah Maple, the Lexington, Kentucky, designer behind hospitality-focused studio House of Maple. “If you happen to live in a home with original wood-stained millwork, it may be tempting to lighten it up with paint, but don’t! Instead, lean into the character it provides and embrace its unique beauty.”
Brian Woodcock; Styling: Page Mullins
“My other ‘absolutely do not paint’ item is a valuable antique,” says Maple. “Let it shine in all of its authentic glory…those original, rare details and incredible craftsmanship should never be disguised by paint.” Atlanta designer Allison Allen agrees. “I don’t think I would paint an antique dining table. An English mahogany pedestal is very classic and grounds a room,” she says, in reference to a project she completed for a friend (pictured above), where she updated the dining chairs with paint to look like plaster but left the antique table and sideboard as is. She adds, “I think the only other things I wouldn't paint would be a mahogany chest or secretary.”
“Painting tile just gets so messy so fast,” warns Richmond, Virginia, designer Elly Poston Cooper. "It’s low-hanging fruit and a quick fix, but it does not last.” There are affordable options if you’re desperate for a change, from Mirth Studio’s peel-and-stick decals to porcelain options that are an alternative to those wary of stone. “Being a purist, however, I’d rather wait for the right thing,” she says.
Painting cabinet hardware and knobs is another no-go, says Cooper. If you don’t love the existing pieces, swap them out entirely, she advises: “I love a bitty unlacquered brass or polished nickel knob for doors and contracts.” While unlacquered brass (a living finish that changes with time) generally lands on the pricier end of the spectrum, Etsy is a good source for affordable polished brass options that your local specialty hardware store can strip to unlacquered, notes Cooper.
“I truly cannot think of anything I'd never paint,” says Dallas designer Noel Pittman. “I don't believe in rules when it comes to design, honestly. If it's pretty, I'm all for it.” Case in point? In friend and client Cristina Lynch’s home (pictured above), she worked with a decorative painter to reimagine a carved brown sideboard for the dining room. “I know Cristina loves these green ceramics from Mexico, so it made sense to use that as an accent color here,” she says of the verdant hue, which doesn’t get much play throughout the rest of the house. “Very rarely am I against painting furniture.”