Is Woodwork and Wood Trim Disappearing In Montclair?

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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.

Often, stunning wood work, like the interior of this Montclair home, is getting painted white because buyers want light and bright.

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.”


An example of woodwork in a kitchen that was painted over to brighten a room. A trend in recent years has been to paint over dark-colored woodwork in favor of lighter shades.

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.”

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3 COMMENTS

  1. Anyone who would paint over quarter-sawn oak really should not be allowed to move into this town. Talk about an aesthetic crime. We have standards and history to maintain. They want trendy, let them move to Clifton.

  2. When I was growing up I watched/helped my father strip, sand, or outright replace woodwoork in our home that had been painted so we could have stained woodwork and have the wood be visible. The amount of work involved was incredible. I feel bad inside whenever I see someone paint woodwork… the time it takes to paint it is such a small fraction of what it takes to put it back, and I would certainly include that time when I was bidding on a house.

  3. Of course, white woodwork and faded colors are appealing…bleached floors…the shore house look…etc…. but there is something to say about respecting the nobility of nature and craftsmanship. Perhaps today we don’t understand how valuable it is. Our local houses from 100yrs ago were achieved by fine craftsmen. Today, that would be practically impossible …Its irreplaceable. Today, you can still make rooms with dark woodwork pop with the right aesthetic eye. The Gates Mansion was sold to a decorator in the ’70s who painted over all of the Louis Comfort Tiffany carved mahogany interiors on the ground floor… completely! The present owners took the responsibility to restore them back and they are magnificent…unbelievable. Years back, the Strahans did the same at Daybreak. All the brass fittings too. Its all too good to be painted.

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