Query: I have a dilemma that is threatening to cause mutiny if not divorce between my husband and myself as we try to cope with being stuck in the house together for hours on end! Our house is a timber-frame, two-bed semi, built in 2000. There's a lot of wood in the house - all the upstairs doors and furniture are wood too. For the last year, we've been planning to put panelling around our open-plan kitchen/living room, under the stars and up the staircase. But now, as it would entail workmen coming into the house, we've decided against it. Instead, I would like to paint the staircase and existing cupboard under the stairs white, leaving the wooden handrail of the banisters exposed as is the current fashion. My husband argues that the existing panelling under the stairs would look horrible painted as it would show up the grooves between the planks of wood. Can you help us and save my sanity please?
Answer: This is a challenging time for everyone for so many reasons. Being cooped up at home and trying to maintain some sort of normality while staying sane is an art that most of us are trying to master at the moment.
On top of that, our homes are coming under increasing pressure to perform as offices, classrooms, gyms and so much more. With this pressure comes increased scrutiny. Suddenly all of the things that you aren't happy with are blatantly evident. And where two members of the family disagree over the need to tackle some of these things, domestic unrest can begin to fester.
But I love this question - it's such a common argument among couples where the female (generally) wants to freshen things up but the male has a deep reluctance to painting over anything made of wood. Timber yellows over time and from an interiors' perspective, can really take over. Painting things like timber doors, architraves, skirting boards and staircases will give your house a whole new lease of life.
However, in this instance, my advice is first to pause and consider if your motivation for doing something now is simply because you're having to look so closely at the stairs at the moment. Under normal circumstances would you rather get the ''bigger'' job done?
If your answer is that ideally you would get workmen in to do the panelling, then I'd strongly advise holding off until normality returns.
Panelling is a lovely idea and something that can be done quite cost effectively.
You might also like to consider maximising the space under your stairs. This space is often poorly utilised and there are a number of companies who provide excellent bespoke solutions to allow you to maximise it. Sweeney Furniture and Design (sweeneyfurniture.ie) in Offally do wall panelling as well as designing space solutions, while Smart Storage (smartstorage.ie) specialise in understairs drawers and cupboards.
Storage can be created to stash away everything from shoes and sports equipment to umbrellas and bags. You might even like to consider carving out some space to create a small study area.
On the other hand, if you're keen to make changes now, my advice is to go ahead and paint the stairs and woodwork.
I'd suggest you treat the vertical panelling like you would the walls, and paint it in your chosen wall colour. I'd paint the stringer (the housing on either side of a flight of stairs into which the risers and treads are fixed), balustrades and stair treads in a contrasting shade. I'd also recommend painting the skirtings and architraves in the same shade as the stairs as this will tie everything together.
It's been the norm for a long time now to paint woodwork white and, in fact, bright timber can look fantastic next to flat matt walls. However, that doesn't mean white is the only shade to paint your woodwork. Painting it a dark shade is a great way to add drama to a space, and can make less expensive elements like balustrades or doors look much grander than they actually are. I often use dark greys or off-black for doors, skirtings and architraves, for example.
On your husband's concern about being able to see the grooves between the boards, this is perfectly ok. It is a similar look to painting floorboards - unless the boards are damaged in any way there is no need to try to fill the gaps.
If you are considering changes to your home, work with a registered architect. Find one on riai.ie, the registration body for architects in Ireland.