Q: I have pine paneling in my bedroom, on the walls as well as the ceiling. The paneling is dry and looks worn out. I was thinking of giving it some kind of “whitewash.” In other words, put a very light coat of white paint on it that still allows the pine to be seen. I am not a handy person but was wondering if this is something I could do myself.
Our house is a 1905 Craftsman. But not every room is in the Craftsman style, including the bedrooms. The two other bedrooms have coved ceilings, which are about 9 feet 6 inches high. My bedroom, with the pine paneling, has a ceiling height of only 7 feet 10 inches, so I have to assume the ceiling was dropped to put in the paneling.
Any advice you can give me would be much appreciated.
A: These houses are some of the grande dames of the San Francisco Bay Area. We know them well. Brown-shingle siding and a spacious front porch invite visitors into large parlors and living areas. Coved ceilings are common.
Unfortunately, at least in our view, over the years well-meaning homeowners often tried to update them.
Your instinct is probably right. Your pine-paneled ceiling was once probably a full 9 feet with coved corners. The mystery is why did someone lower the ceiling? Either they wanted a rustic look (popular in the ’70s), or the ceiling had some major problems.
We always recommend restoration when possible, but to determine whether that’s feasible, you’d have to remove the pine. That’s a risk you might want to consider taking. If you’re lucky, the ceiling will be coved and intact. If not, new wallboard and the added ceiling height should return your investment at least dollar for dollar.
If you reject that suggestion, a light stain isn’t a bad alternative.
In Kevin’s painting days he did such a ceiling on a new home in the hills of Hayward, Calif. It was messy work, but the result was attractive.
The painting and decorating process you describe is called “paint wiping.” The goal is to allow the wood grain to show while coloring the underlying wood. In this case, you’re trying to color the yellow pine white while maintaining its wood grain.
Paint wiping is relatively easy to master, but it’s messy. The first thing you absolutely have to do is cover up. Put drop cloths or plastic over every part of the room that is not going to be painted. This means floor, doors and windows.
Next, prepare the surface. For unfinished wood, vacuum or sweep the wood to remove any excess dirt or cobwebs. For finished wood, it’s necessary to do a light sanding to ensure that the paint adheres. We suggest you invest in a small palm or orbital sander for about $50. Sand the entire surface with 150-grit sandpaper. This will give it the “tooth” the paint needs to stick.
After the prepping, it’s time to paint. Use a good-quality, oil-based, semigloss enamel. It does not need to be top of the line, but it does need to contain enough solids to withstand substantial thinning and still retain some coverage. Do not use water-based paint — it dries too quickly.
Thin the paint with mineral spirits. Start with about a pint of thinner to a gallon of paint. Add enough thinner so that when you apply the paint to the ceiling or wall, it seems to cover — but when you gently wipe it off with a rag, the color remains but the grain shows through. Getting the paint thin enough is especially important if you’re working with raw wood. Too thick and the grain won’t show; too thin and you’ll have a splotchy job and a runny mess.
Apply the paint to the wall or ceiling with a short-nap (1/8-inch) roller. Work with a relatively dry roller to minimize drips. Dab paint into corners with a brush. Allow the paint to set on the wall for a couple of minutes and then gently wipe it off with a rag.
This is the critical part of the process. Finished wood requires a light touch, raw wood requires harder wiping. You’ll develop the feel for the time the paint needs to set and the amount of wiping required to get the effect you want.
If you are doing the entire room, start with the ceiling first because it’s inevitable that you’ll get drips and runs. Clean the drips from the walls as you go along. We also suggest that you wear a long-sleeved shirt, a hat and long pants. Have plenty of rags around and open the windows when you’re working.
Have fun and try to keep as much paint off of you as you can.