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Reader Question: How to I make my dark Tudor feel modern?

Hi Emily,
We’re a bit stuck. My husband and I moved from a sun drenched apartment in Brooklyn to a dark Tudor in Queens the name of more space for our newborn. The house is charming but dated, and we don’t know how to freshen it up without making it feel like a boho home in a Tudor body.

Our main issue is with the living/dining room combo area (below). It’s dark and uninviting (that’s 1930’s wood paneling covering the dining room walls) and the corner fireplace has completely stumped us in terms of furniture placement.

I often wonder what you would do to the house if it were your own. 

Help! We want to love our new home but feel trapped by its darkness and awkward layout. It’s making us feel old and boring. Thanks so much for any help and design vibes you can send our way.

Best,
Susan, Bryce and Baby Jack

OK. So this  is a really good/bad predicament. They have an adorable house that doesn’t feel like them. It feels like a dark, sexy boarding school scene from Gossip Girl (the architecture, I mean). I do have issues with Tudors for their lack of light and their heavy feel, but then I love how charming they are. Its WONDERFUL during the winter, so cozy and warm, but in the spring and summer, it can be hard.

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So here is what I would do … but wait. Ahem. Dear architectural purists, reach for your kleenex now, grab and grip that stress ball, put your mouth guard quickly into your mouth because guess what? I think that this lovely family should paint their beautiful paneling. Not white, but a medium gray or a color. That wood is DARK as hell and stylistically very heavy. It’s perfect for a lodge, a Mason council meeting room, a ‘Eyes Wide Shut’ kinda vibe. Great, if you are into that. But based on your furniture, you enjoy a more modern, light aesthetic that is fighting the dark wood on the walls. Sure, in a photo shoot we could make it look cool, but in an everyday situation, it’s going to feel like a battle every time you walk through that door.

If you wanted to still work with the architecture (which is a good idea) I would grab one of the colors in the stained glass. Maybe a muted blue or green or gray. Don’t get rid of the paneling, just paint it a pretty matte color (or eggshell which is more practical with kids). If you want to be a bit safe think about a medium gray. I think going too light will feel disjointed with the house, but a pretty heather gray will feel warm, inviting, masculine, old world but totally more modern and fresh. If you milk paint it or just wash it then you can still see the grain in the wood = a good thing. I can’t tell from the pics but you could also keep it chair rail height and then add a moulding and get rid of the what is above that. So it’s around 5′ high and then just paint, so it’s no so wood-paneling heavy.

Also if you are in the same boat as this reader with your paneling, my answer is this – if your room is small-ish (like a 300 square foot room or less) then paint it to make it feel so much bigger. You’ll be so happy you did. I know its hard. I know it feels dishonest in a way. But dark and heavy is hard to pull off these days (and by these days I mean the last 30 years). This goes for Craftsmen houses as well (unless you love that dark and cozy feeling). So if you have a huge mansion, ski cabin or country cabin full of dark stained wood, moulding and paneling, then keep it because it’s actually awesome. It’s like a teeny tiny bikini on a woman – you either have that body type or you don’t, but not everyone needs to wear it just because you bought it, so don’t force it.

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As far as the beams go … if they are painted brown then you have my permission to paint them white or gray. If those beams are stained wood then I would paint the paneling in your living room and then see how you feel. about the darkness on the ceiling. Your flooring is wood so if you have wood beams it would still look cohesive.

Also I would quickly embrace some old world feeling pieces. Get some crystal or iron chandeliers. Think about some more traditional rugs. Maybe your sofa is modern but you have two leather Spanish sling chairs. Maybe your dining table is modern, but you have a crystal chandelier above it. The more you can mix modern with old world, the faster your architecture will embrace your modern pieces and they will stop fighting. Just bringing modern pieces into a beautiful historic house like this is tricky. But with some mixing of styles it will look like a super hip Tudor, full of young interesting people. Don’t reject the architecture, embrace it and create a style totally unique to the space. That sounded like an after school special for designers anonymous. You know what I mean 🙂

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  1. Sorry but I disagree. The dark wood and heaviness is part of the character of a Tudor. If that’s not what you want then find a new house. Once you paint the wood, that’s it. You will have a totally different house and future owners will scrutinize your work. I spent 3 years removing paint from my 1910 wood and curse the grave of the homeowners t`hat painted it just to follow a 1930’s trend. You have a classic house – please don’t desecrate it. That wood cannot be replaced – you have a gem. Just because it doesn’t fit into your preference does not mean you should destroy it because it’s not the current fashion. Best to move and let someone that appreciates it for what it is buy it. I am an architectural designer specializing in historic homes and see this problem all the time. Don’t try to make something into what it was not meant to be.

  2. I have a 1929 house that is filled with the things I love..traditional furniture, fabrics, paintings, etc. it looks dated and “old lady” . I’d love to put some modern energy into the interiors, but honestly don’t like anything that’s modern . What now?