Why Men Fear Painting Wood

It’s an age-old question:  why do men fear painting wood?  I can’t tell you how many times the following has occurred:  I have a color consultation with the lady of the house.  There are some horrible 1970s-1980s pieces of wood furniture, dreaded fake paneling in the den, or  dated wood cabinets in the kitchen.

 After discussing budget and options, the lady and I come up with a frugal but dramatic plan that includes painting said bad furniture or paneling.  I show her relevant photos to build her confidence in our choices.  Lady is thrilled, I leave, she calls me the next day and says her husband vetoed painting the wood.  Vetoed?  What is he, the President of the United States?

I’ve learned my lesson.  Now when I know there might be wood paneling involved, I insist on the husband being present for the consult.   Surely, I can make him see the error of his ways!  Well, sometimes I can.  Other times, not so much.  What’s interesting to me is that men have difficulty articulating WHY they don’t want to paint the wood!  Is this primal?  Genetic?  Hormonal?

 

So I’ve been asking men all over the same question:  why are you so resistant to painting wood?  Here are some of the responses I have gotten:

1.  “You should never paint good wood.”   Uhhh, do you call thin 1970’s fake paneling “good” wood?  It’s not even real wood, is it?  Just wood-like.  Woodish.  I can understand not wanting to defile the real tongue and groove heavy-duty stuff (I’m not completely heartless), even though I might try to talk you into painting that, too, if it’s holding back the overall design.
2.  “It’s just not right.  It compromises the integrity of the wood.”  Well, if you put it that way . . .  OK, do you really believe that painting wood is immoral?  A crime against nature and all that is natural?  Can knotty pine feel pain?  I guarantee you that this kitchen was in a lot more pain before I got my hands on it:1.  “You should never paint good wood.”   Uhhh, do you call thin 1970’s fake paneling “good” wood?  It’s not even real wood, is it?  Just wood-like.  Woodish.  I can understand not wanting to defile the real tongue and groove heavy-duty stuff (I’m not completely heartless), even though I might try to talk you into painting that, too, if it’s holding back the overall design.

 

 

And my favorite:  3.  “You can never go back once you paint wood.”  Why would you want to go back?  To 1972????  I have never known anyone to strip the paint off of painted wood paneling once it’s been done.  And I’ve NEVER heard of anyone in the last 35 years running out to Home Depot as soon as they close on their brand new home to purchase some fake dark wood paneling to install in their den.

 

That’s about it.  Those are the best arguments I’ve heard.  So I guess I have to delve into their psyches and take my best guess as to the real reasons underneath it all (my husband HATES it when I do that).   I have no doubt it is in large part due to testosterone and DNA.   Hunters don’t paint their hunting lodges, do they?  And I suppose some men have fantasies of living off the land or in the woods, for at least a week or two.  No mountain men ever painted a tree stump they used to sit on while they skinned their meat.

 

Guys, you can still have your man cave!   But with a little style and personality, like the transformation I did for my hubby:

 

 

Most men don’t like the idea of not being able to see the grain of the wood, which is covered up once painted.  Is there some coorelation to preferring women naked rather than clothed, even though clearly most of us look better clothed?

 

It’s still somewhat of a mystery to me.   But rest assured that I will continue to try to understand why men fear painting wood.  And I will continue to stamp out those fears and seek to beautify the earth.  With a fresh coat of paint.

 

Photo Credits:  CoHoMdUS, The Decorologist (2,3,6,7,11,12),  HowStuffWorks, GraphicsSoft, YoungHouseLove (8,9), Country Living, FlickrMyHomeIdeas.

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79 thoughts on “Why Men Fear Painting Wood

  1. Mitzi Leigh HInton says:

    Oh Kristie, you are SO on target! When I was a designer with Ethan Allen in Lubbock, Texas – home of wood paneling, pine kitchen cabinets and wood trimmed upholstery!!! this was a weekly challenge. Not so much since I have returned to the Nashville design arena. But it seems men will be men will be men wherever they live . . . great job! Mitzi Leigh

  2. Andrea says:

    The photos say it all, KB. You know I agree 100 percent! I really would like to understand it — then I could rule the world.

  3. Debbie Hostetler says:

    Loved your article! My parents were visiting this weekend and I was just telling my mom how you wanted to paint all our wood furniture and the wood walls and how Robert was having a cow!! ha ha! He actually likes the off white trim in the addition now! Thanks for the suggestion. When can you come back? I need to pick out bedroom curtains!!

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  8. All Normal Men says:

    Men do not like wood paneling, at all! The man did say good wood right? We appreciate the hard work invoved in the creation (solid wood prefered). The hours of dedication are shown in each and every cut. Now lets talk about quality in a comparison:
    1. Wood ply paneling = Yugo, Geo Metro, fake gold, tacky jersey wife, flip flops
    2. Oak, Pine, Poplar = Ford Taurus, Mercedes C class, Gold band & diamond ring, PTA mom, Nikes;
    3. Mahogany, Rosewood, Walnut = 1958 Ferrari 250 GT, F-35 jet, Moon rock ring, Sarah Mclochlan, Stilettos…

    Paint is fine If you know where and why you should paint. If you cover up $300,000 worth of Walnut with $60 worth of paint people (not just men) will question your ability to make real decisions. So whom do you sacrifice for? I know you like to color but keep in mind someone has to make the coloring books;-)

    • Kristie Barnett says:

      Very interesting! Keep making those coloring books for us :) But seriously, I have never proposed painting over $300,000 worth of Walnut. Ever. I’m mostly dealing with people with ranch homes built in the 1960-1970s, so we are not talking about high-end paneling. Usually, it’s not even real wood! Thank you for your well-thought-out comments – I love the quality comparisons you drew!

      • Connie@Connie Nikiforoff Designs says:

        I too would rather paint cheap paneling. (But yes, even some of the ‘cheap’ 60’s and 70’s paneling was real wood.) You have to realize that even cheap laminate that’s put on furniture is real wood…it’s just very,very thin.

        However, that being said, I too have seen so many homes stuck in yesteryear because of highly dated wood. Not that I’m necessarily an expert on men’s thoughts, but I think a lot of men don’t want to paint paneling not because they fear losing the look of wood, but rather because they’re afraid of change. (And I’m not talking about beautiful walnut or cherry.)

        I usually counter the “don’t paint wood” with “Even if its painted it’ll still be wood.” Yeah…it works sometimes 😉 Where I live, homes are SO overdone with oak, oak, oak and ONLY a honey oak stain at that, I just cringe every time I see it! I say if you’re going to use oak because it’s inexpensive compared to other hardwoods, at least get a different stain…or consider painting it. Yikes 😉

        I loved All Normal Men’s comparisons too.

  9. Sue Higgins says:

    My husband has an aversion to painting wood because he believes once it’s painted, he’ll always have to paint. Plain wood, to him is maintenance free. Of course I disagree, it still needs to be cleaned from time to time.

  10. Jocelyn Fraemons says:

    Oh, no! How can you be so right!!! I want to paint the 1971-vintage mahogany veneer (real mahog, just very thin) in my kitchen. I’ve loved it for 20 years but I’m out, out, OUT of love with it now! and you guessed it, my fella says “it’s going to be very hard to do, a lot of work, what about all the prep, I don’t think you’ll be able to cover it up….” That wood is keeping my kitchen 40 years behind the times! It’s going! Anything you can tell me about preparation before painting would be greatly appreciated!

  11. Jayelle says:

    The makeovers are so gorgeous!!! I wish I could defile all the wood in my rented home now. The most painting I could do was on some ikea ivar shelves. :/

  12. jennifer says:

    Hi kristie. Just wanted to say I love all your ideas. I don’t think there is anything wrong with painting a piece of wood furniture or panelling(especially to update the look of a room). To all the men out there, I have a one-two punch for you:pretty soon I plan on painting a wooden armoire to update it ,&, not only am I painting it,but,the color I have chosen:PINK,BEAUTIFUL,SEXY,LOVELY PINK! I think it’ll make the room look a lot brighter & uplifting. Kristie, you are a breath of fresh air- I absolutely adore you. When we decorate,we should do what appeals to us,&, not worry what designers & others say is inappropriate. If painting some wood improves the overall look of a room,I say:go for it! After all I’m the one who’ll be living in the space(not the designer). Once again kristie,thank you for all the wonderful photos & ideas, & remember: if wood was meant to be plain- I wouldn’t have my wonderful can of pink paint!

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  14. missy says:

    I love all the painted “wood” paneling. But did you really have to do that to those lovely knotty pine cabinets? I would cry if I bought that house and had to scrape off all that paint that I just paid extra for.

    • Kristie Barnett says:

      Missy,
      In my area of the country, houses with knotty pine cabinetry are NOT selling. In order to sell the house, it’s necessary to paint it because sellers will walk right out when they see it! Of course, there are some that do like knotty pine, but they are in the tiny minority – sorry!

      • Angela Keel says:

        An an interior designer also…I agree wholeheartedly with painting the ugly and outdated knotty pine. It just doesn’t marry well with anything contemporary (think granite countertops and stainless appliances) nor does it look right in anything that isn’t country, or rustic. If antlers look better above the fireplace than a big screen, then maybe you might be among the few that like men’s taste(or lack thereof….sorry!) To me, it is just too unrefined as I tend towards polished elegance and like the look of luxury. However, this all reminds me a lot of my older brother who has way too many opinions for his own good. My sister-in-law capitulated too much to his taste and now his millior dollar home is decorated with lots of arrowheads and giant indian statues. If you have a log cabin on the outside and you are in the mountains, then OK….but if not, know you are choosing something that, like Kristie said: A) FEW women like.. and B) is very outdated….as in circa 1972!

    • mark says:

      Missy,

      I hear yeah. If you live around the New England area (especially Maine) you would find a mob of angry people if you started painting their lovely, beautiful knotty pine cabinets.

      -Mark

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  16. SJ says:

    Wow, nice example of confirmation bias! There are also plenty of women who don’t like the idea of painting wood, but you only notice the dudes, because you already have it in your head that it’s a “guy thing.” Furthermore if it’s *not* real wood and it’s garbage, why the f would you leave it in place and paint over it? Tear it out! I don’t think the real question here is why “men” fear painting wood; it’s why you fear taking out the trash.

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  18. Bonnie says:

    Ha! I love this! My father in law said to me one time, what do you think they make stain for??? Like there is a wood police out there making sure all the crappy wood is protected from paint! I have peices of furniture I would never paint, but I would never restain them either!! He wouldn’t know great wood if it hit him!

  19. Karen says:

    Nice job Kristie of slipping in an extra-bold step! LOL. In case no one caught it: painted red brick!! I live in a small cabin with a huge red brick chimney around the woodstove. Men and women tell me, “No, no, no, don’t paint over your beautiful red brick, you can’t go back.” Mostly men were against painting our real wood paneling. Finally last month, after 3 decades of dark wood, we painted a back kitchen wall and 2 windows (cabinets were already painted). Hallelujah, what an improvement.

  20. Robin says:

    This was just run (re-run?) in the Tennessean and I was glad to see it. I had no idea this was a widespread phenomenon, I thought I was suffering alone. This is going into the file for the impending kitchen upgrade. Why my husband thinks eighties -era builder grade kitchen cabinets were fine carpentry, I have no idea!

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  22. Jeanne says:

    When I saw this title I had to click on it. Last summer I helped a friend clear out a house and in it was an old carved buffet cabinet. The person was a smoker and it reeked to high heaven. I thought of our daughter in her sparsely furnished starter apartment and decided to bring it home and paint it a nice color. I figured that by painting it I could get rid of the horrible smell and make it look funky and fun. Maybe add some new hardware. My husband threw an absolute tantrum. He was so mad at me for even suggesting that I was going to paint this wonderful treasure with REAL CARVING on it. Oh my…it wasn’t like I asked HIM to paint it or anything. He was just sickened and appalled at what I was going to do. It caused a huge fight that kept going on and on…as the piece sat in “his” garage. (Yes, he considers the garage “his”) I relented and told him “fine, but that thing is never coming into my house. It is horrible smelling and I hate the dark wood and I have no place to put it…so…do whatever you want with it.” Within a month he had moved it into our dining room! The entire house smelled like smoke and this was in the summer with windows open. It was making me feel sick. I finally had someone help me move it back outside and once again told my husband that it can’t come in. It is still sitting out there taking up so much space in the garage that I will never be able to get my car in there and it’s almost getting to snow season. He probably has calculated that after having to dig my car out a few times I will let him bring it into the house, but he has another thing coming. I will walk or call a cab if I have to, but no possible way is that thing coming into the house. We will never come to an agreement on it. I’m so sorry I ever brought it home. I knew he would object to painting it, but I didn’t know that I couldn’t win. It is better to have a garage that smells like smoke than a divorce, however If he ever brings it inside again I will take an axe to it.

  23. Nancy says:

    Great article Kristie…and so funny! Boy is there truth in humor. You are so talented at staging and writing and I’m so glad you do both. I really enjoy your blog because I learn a lot and I laugh a lot!

  24. megan says:

    I ADORE this article! SOOO right on the money. I have a client right now where I am in the same situation! There were some instances I felt he was right, and she was wrong and vice versa. In these before and after pics
    http://dichotomyinteriors.blogspot.com/p/before-afters.html

    from the last two major reno’s- the first set of before and afters is a home that NEEDED more warmth and wood. It was all tile, white/cream and gray and closed in. I added a TON of wood here, because of the volume of the ceilings and windows to keep it from feeling too much like a gallery. I also opened up the kitchen and within, I refrained from using ANY wood except the feature wall and wine rack.

    On the 2nd set of photos (Mountain Retreat) I did the opposite. The whole place was soooo dark and dreary. I painted over the paneling etc. to lighten the whole place up. You couldn’t even see some of the details this home had before painting the wood. Instead of removing and replacing with drywall, I chose to paint over to maintain some of the rustic texture in the grain of the wood.

  25. Just Stumbled Here says:

    I’m a man – a student, and I think your comments are a bit ridiculous. I just stumbled here because all I can afford is crappy wooden furniture and I’m hoping to make my home look a little better than that. There are many reasons to be nervous of painting wood:

    – a childhood of sanding wood for chores. Horrible horrible stuff. Paint is only worth it if you NEVER EVER go back to bare wood.
    – I think that naked wood is beautiful. Something about something more connected to nature and less to man.
    – IF it is beautiful wood, once you paint it it might as well be as cheap a wood as you can find. No one would know.

    That being said wooden panelling looks god awful.
    Random rant…

  26. Rick McGinniss says:

    You had me at "I guarantee you that this kitchen was in a lot more pain before I got my hands on it."

    Great article and very helpful as my wife and I contemplate what to do with our vintage 1979 split level full of wood paneling and trim!

  27. Maya @ House Nerd says:

    Oh my goodness! Thank you! I feel like you wrote this article for me. My fiance and I have had numerous arguments about painting wood! As I love painting dated furniture and timber trim when it makes a room look dark. He is against, I for… however, just the other night, he took me by complete surprise by SUGGESTING, "Maybe we should paint the kitchen cupboards that duck egg blue colour you like." I nearly spat out my coffee in shock. "Okaaay," I said measuredly, in that quiet gentle tone way one uses with a frightened puppy. "We can do that." So, after years of dark kitchen cabinets, they might just now be light and fresh. Stoked.

  28. Valerie Petschulat says:

    My mom had to fight my dad for years before he agreed to “let” her paint their 1970’s paneling, which was in every room of their 2-story house! His arguement was that once you paint paneling, you have to keep painting it. Translation: way easier to have walls that never, ever need anything. Even if they look gross. Which I think is the real reason a lot of men veto their wives decorating ideas – because doing nothing is almost always easier!

  29. mark says:

    Painting wood can be done very beautifully, but not all wood is created equal. Some wood should not be painted, but not for all the reasons I have heard thus far in this post, but for one simple reason – it’s beautiful. I am a man and I say a nice cherry wood finish should never be touched -it is simply beautiful. The wood grain is important because it is beautiful and unique. Just like each unique person, each piece of wood, with the grain visible, is unique and sets itself apart from the rest. You lose this unique aspect often when you paint. So, am I against painting wood, no, but I am against painting beautiful, unique wood with all its flaws and unique characteristics. By the way, you can’t question one thing – painting could be in today and out tomorrow – but a beautiful cherry stain or alike can be timeless.

    -Mark

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  32. Judy Sutherland says:

    This is so true! My family room looked like the brick and paneling photo. However, I not only convinced my guy (\after much discussion) to paint the paneling and fill in the cracks, but to paint the brick white. The effects were so dramatic that everyone at our open house loved this room most. Everyone thought walls were drywall and now he brags about the process!

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  40. Lisa says:

    THANK YOU SO MUCH FOR THIS POST!

    I am going to show it to my boyfriend in hopes that he will understand how stupid it is to leave outdated wood on the walls when we could brighten up the space. My boyfriend and I are talking about moving in together soon. He has a small one bedroom house that he owns (while I rent an apartment) and he refuses to move elsewhere. I told him I didn’t want to live in his house because it’s small and looks even smaller than it is because there are dark wood walls in the kitchen and living room. I told him I would move in if we could paint those walls so I could have a fresher space and room to work with when it comes to decorating. His response? “Over my dead body!”

  41. Forest says:

    Your article is excellent and captures exactly to issue. I am a man who resists painting. But I can articulate why historically painting is bad. My reason is not relevant today as much, but given what we do not know, it may still be valid today.

    Paint is toxic. Unpainted wood, has never been a source of toxic dust. Historically, paint is one of the single most harmful sources for children. It is caused by the lead that was once used in paint. What is in paint today, something better than lead?

    In a few years your beautiful painted creations, even if well cared for, will either begin chipping or will need sanding and repainting. If it is done the expensive HAZMAT way then all is good. If not, the dust is a source of concern for all the residents, particularly children. And, all we can do is hope the titanium white is less harmful than lead white.

    I think with your talents and skill, you can find a way to include natural wood into your design and make it work. For each image you showed of some dated wood work and your reworked design with paint, I think you could have found a solution that did not include paint. Plus, there is nothing that looks worse than painted cabinet and the worn paint where they close. Wood looks better with wear marks – paint just shows how many times it has been painted with the ‘rainbow’ wear along the cabinet edges.

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  43. Bonnie says:

    3AM and I am awake staring at the partially primed knotty pine in our cave… I mean living room. My husband has been angry and stomping around the house like a toddler for 3 days and hasn’t lifted a finger to help me paint the wood. In all my anxiety about going to ‘the point of no return’ I can’t help but to wonder if there is something he knows that I am missing. Am I making a HUGE mistake?

    Well Kristie, I have to thank you for this article. I think you are right on target and my husband is just being primal! This not only gave me the reassurance I needed, but lifted me with a good laugh.

    Thanks!

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