What is Under All That Paint?

This carved mahogany capital and panels inlaid with exquisite floral marquetry in satinwood, rosewood, and other exotic species woodwork is in the 1898 Pullman Palace car Gertrude Emma at the Conway Scenic Railroad in New Hampshire. As a teenager, I spent a summer stripping paint in this car, answering the question, “What is under all that paint?” Its original interior finishes were hidden behind eighteen layers of it.┬áIt took me and others several years to remove all that paint, and several years more for the woodwork to be refinished and other features restored. Since that formative experience, I have opposed the painting of any historically unpainted wood trim.

Work like this was done in the homes of the wealthy and upper middle class as skilled European immigrant artisans brought traditional skills to America. Much of it was later painted over as styles changed and people wanted less ornate finishes. Restoring such features is a ton of work, but the results are worth it.

Stripping and refinishing historic surfaces is covered in Chapter 18 of Restoring Your Historic House, The Comprehensive Guide for Homeowners. The 720 page award-winning and best-selling book is available now in bookstores and from online retailers.

Signed and personalized copies are available directly from the author in the shop on this page, click here: https://yourhistorichouse.com/shop/.

Your local bookstore can order copies from W.W. Norton.

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