It almost seems like a crime. Original wood trim and stained woodwork — those once coveted, sought after details in Craftsman and other historic homes — getting painted white or other light colors to appeal to some home buyers.
Dark wood may be becoming a thing of the past, even in older, more historic houses in Montclair. Buyers are moving away from the more traditional dark oak and mahogany wood in favor of the more contemporary lighter shades of wood in cabinets, trim and moldings. Sellers are often being told to cater to those buyers by painting over woodwork.
Gwen Van der Zyppe, a real estate agent with Halstead Property New Jersey, LLC, who has been with the agency for 18 years, says many buyers want a more modern feel.
“There’s a trend of painting over kitchen cabinets in bathrooms and vanities in bathrooms, with lighter tones,” she explains.
However, Van der Zyppe usually suggests to sellers that if they have woodwork with its original stain, to leave it as is and let the buyers decide whether or not they want to paint.
According to Van der Zyppe, for the past several years she has noticed a gradual shift towards woodwork and fixtures lightening up, particularly from buyers who hail from New York City.
“I’m not actually sure where the current trend was sparked,” she said. “But more neutral tones are sought out, both in quartz-topped counters and in home accents.”
She added that grey tones are among the preferred shades in recent years, but emphasizes that it really boils down to preference.
Van de Zyppe had a recent experience of buyers who purchased a more traditional home with original woodwork that they said they loved, only to change it up when they moved in. The woodwork was comprised of quarter sawn lumber, a special way to cut wood where the annular growth rings intersect the face of the board at a 60 to 90 degree angle and each log is sawn at a radial angle into four quarters.
“The first thing they did when they moved in was to paint this beautiful woodwork a bright, sunflower yellow. When I heard what they were doing I got upset,” she recalls. “But it turned out to be a pleasant color and it looked nice. I ended up not hating it.”
Van der Zyppe said every agent has a different comfort level when it comes to what home buyers and sellers ultimately do with properties and it all depends on taste. She said trends usually last 20 to 30 years before the prior trend comes back again. She also said it’s hard to know what a property looked like in its original state unless the seller discloses that information.
“You can’t really tell what something was before it was painted and it’s very tough to get paint out of a wood grain. It can be a nightmare to get something back to its original state,” she says. “I recently sold another house that had amazing woodwork, but when the buyers moved in they painted it white.”
Painting woodwork has definitely been in vogue lately, according Nancy Parlapiano, sales associate for Coldwell Banker Residential Brokerage, also located in Montclair.
“Painted woodwork compliments the modern design aesthetic that is very current,” she says. “White trim works well with pretty much every wall color. It also brightens up a room.”
Parlapiano adds that when her clients are getting ready to sell, she typically advises them to do updates in order to make their home appealing to more buyers. In terms of paint, that translates to certain light tones on the walls and a shade of white on the trim.
“That said, I don’t indiscriminately advise everyone to do the same thing,” she explains. “It depends on the house. An example would be if there was some spectacular unpainted woodwork. I might advise leaving it as a focal point.”
Another example, she adds, is if there is dark woodwork in rooms that do not get much daylight.
“I’d recommend painting it. It’s amazing how white trim can brighten a room!”
One tip she suggests is to leave unpainted trim if it really enhances the overall decor. She noted that some sellers strongly object to painting the woodwork, however, there may be some instances where it would benefit the room, and there may be a middle ground where they may agree to paint some of the trim while leaving other areas untouched.
“If you look at the houses that have been flipped or those that are newly constructed in the last few years, in Montclair and the surrounding towns, you’d see virtually every single one of them had painted woodwork,” she emphasizes. “Investors depend on the bottom line and this trend is their friend.”