How We Refinished our Wood Beams
It typically takes years to decorate a home, but I’m different and my job is to show you my house, so it’s like I’m going to the prom, every day, and I have to make sure that my date and I look “king and queen worthy” for my dad’s home video. Every. Single. Shoot. This post is all about the beams – those controversially painted beams. I obviously don’t want to show you pictures of just the ceiling, so instead we pulled together the living room to give you a full mini, ‘just moved in’ tour.
But first – we are so lucky to have a house with decorative beams. I LOVE THEM so much. After working with Wood, Naturally on our office bookshelf as well as our outdoor deck it seemed such a good fit for another collaboration as they have been such a great source of inspiration and ideas on how to use softwood throughout your home. Which is indeed what we wanted to highlight in this room, those beautiful Douglas fir beams. Here is what those ladies looked like when we bought the house:
If you can’t tell, they essentially had a greeny-brown faux finish on them – which you can see a bit better in the second close-up photo. It could have been original, who knows. But many houses from the 60’s have ‘original laminate’ and ‘original emerald green shag carpet in the bathroom, ‘ so not all things ‘original’ are a good thing. We loved the idea of the beams, but wanted to change them to suit us better and to bring out the beauty of the original natural wood.
But, this decision didn’t come without toiling for 439 hours. We narrowed it down to a few choices and asked you guys your opinions (thank you). Backup – we were originally told by our first contractor that they were too old to be refinished. They are Douglas fir which is a very lovely wood. Designers (myself included) often appreciate the visual quality of the Douglas fir texture and grain and so I wanted to see what we could do to bring out that original look.
But, since they are around 100 years old, our contractor was afraid that they couldn’t be stripped. So he told us we had to paint. With that in mind, these were our options (for the beams and windows):
Brian and I didn’t mind some of these options but we really, really wanted to keep the look of the Douglas fir. We ended up going with a different contractor (due to scheduling) and when we asked him about refinishing the beams he said, ‘Sure, lets try.’ (If anybody in LA needs a contractor I recommend Belin from Mega Builders).
First up – they had to strip that faux finish off.
The wood was already WILDLY prettier but the years of stain had really permeated its core and it was extremely hard to get to the original wood to make it vulnerable enough to stain. So they suggested bleaching it to remove the remaining oils and paints from the wood:
They essentially painted on this bleach that soaked into the wood and stripped it of its remaining color, giving us a more original softwood to stain. But there were these streaks of orange that wouldn’t go away:
So they had to bleach it again because if we put on the stain with this remaining old stain it would cover really unevenly. To say it was a process is a massive understatement. This is why people bill hourly instead of by the job because to just quote for ‘refinishing the beams’ is unfair. It could be a quick strip and stain or it could be ‘strip, sand, bleach, sand, dry, bleach, dry, sand, stain, dry, sand, stain, dry, sand, etc’.
They were finally ready to stain and I approved the color (the middle beam). It was a medium brown that was warm but not orange.
But then they started staining the beams and I walked in when it looked like this. It’s not bad, but it’s definitely darker than I anticipated and not what I had approved.
The contractor insisted that it was the exact same finish that I approved, but that it was just wet and fresh so it would dry lighter. I was very nervous but believed them.
Sure enough, after days of drying (and it did take days) these lovely Douglas fir ladies are so incredibly perfect. Had they been light, they would have not had the drama that I wanted, but too dark would have been too harsh. I love this medium warm wood tone that looks original while highlighting the beauty of the natural wood. It also brings your eye up without being too solid or intense on the ceiling.
We played a lot with the arrangement of furniture, though, with many options that were very tempting.
Remember that the wall of windows is actually two doors to the backyard, and with two kids, my dream is for the flow of the house to be as open as possible. Blurring the line between indoor and outdoor is a trend I’m really loving. I can’t wait to have both doors open, allowing the fresh air and sunlight to stream in!
I like it this way. I do. In the photo the chair looks pretty big, and it is (it’s AWESOME and one of my new “forever” pieces for our home). The chair is making everything else out of scale but the new sofa we are getting (a beautiful English Roll Arm) is big and it will be perfect scale-wise.
This arrangement, however, is very tempting.
It looks great in a photo and we had it this way for a few days and I liked it, but the first arrangement does make the room feel more open and airy.
Nope. The back of those two chairs are bumming me out.
Ahh. Editorially it’s so nice to not see the back of a piece of furniture, right? This one, below, certainly won’t work.
As of right now, this is how we are living:
It may change, who am I kidding, this living room will be rearranged for years but we really like how it feels in there right now. Meanwhile, here is what is happening on the other side of the room.
When in doubt, paint your front door red (we used Rectory Red from Farrow and Ball and it makes me smile so much, along with that little shoe organizer bench from Pottery Barn that is working perfectly to house our shoes). We put our Article credenza on the wall for now, but our hope is that my family’s 100-year old piano will go there. (Quick Sources: credenza, lamp (similar), cat painting, stools, sconces, living room wall color – Strong White by Farrow and Ball, blue wall color in background – Stiffkey Blue, shoe organizer).
Back to those beautiful beams. I can’t tell you how happy I am that they are refinished and not painted. At one point we were even going to clad them with new(ish) wood, because no color of paint felt right.
Softwoods like Douglas fir and pine are just as lovely as all the hardwoods we know and love, and I was so happy that I was able to salvage these beauties. Fun fact: incorporating natural elements into your home, such as natural wood grain, sunshine and plants, can actually improve overall health and reduce stress. That’s the premise behind biophilic design, something I’m learning more about, and have been told is an upcoming trend. But, trend or not, if I can use design to be functional, stylish and good for my health – I’m all for it!
For transparency sake, and since you guys seem to love that so much, these beams needed a little extra TLC, and refinishing them cost a lot more than we originally anticipated, but having these beams be real wood, with that real grain showing through brings so much warmth into the house and highlights the architecture and charm of this 1920’s home. If you’re loving the natural look as much as I am, be sure to check out Wood, Naturally for tons of inspiration on how to add warmth and elegance with softwoods.
Stay tuned for 1 million update posts, VERY, very soon. Meanwhile do you approve of a.) our decision to refinish and b.) the layout of the room? Let us know below.