The Cross House

Kenny…Inches Along


Last year, Kenny volunteered to refinish the oak mantel in the Round Bedroom.


Several readers were not happy, thinking that the original finish would never have been so, ah, blond. So, I did a post about the myth that All Old Houses Had Dark Trim. It’s  good post; you might enjoy reading it.


Yesterday, Kenny returned to begin refinishing the trim in the Round Bedroom!


The Before and After is apparent! All the trim has a faux bois oak finish.


Amazing. Note the fabulous faux graining on the corner block.


Squee! NOTE: The rags and steel wool pads are scattered across the floor as a safety practice. If you bunch them all up, they will likely spontaneously combust.


The very dark old shellac does NOT complement the stained-glass.


But the newly revealed 1894 finish does.


Kenny and I discussed how strange faux bois (false wood) finishes are. Surely it was more expensive to paint wood to look like oak rather than just order actual oak?

I told Kenny that I had no idea why this was so common to the era. Was it simply fashionable? Did people enjoy bragging that their oak was a faux bois finish rather than lumber yard oak?

I’ve idea. So Kenny and I just stood in the room, appreciating the newly revealed fancy-pancy 1894 finish. And we smiled.



18 Responses to Kenny…Inches Along

  1. I may have forgotten or am misreading but is the wood trim actual oak and then painted to look more oak? Or what species is the wood trim?

  2. Hi Ross! When we went to Savannah last year and toured houses, they told us it was fashionable to paint wood to look like wood because it was expensive. It showed you had money and could afford highly skilled artisans instead of just nice wood. Not sure how true that is but that’s what they told us!

  3. Looks so great!! Lighter is soooo much better. And finally!, someone is helping you! I guess I’m just anxious for you to actually live there and really get to enjoy the house. Have you thought of doing a YouTube channel?

  4. Looks fresh and new. I live in the west and faux finished wood is very common in historic homes and furniture. Simply,because there weren’t many trees i.e. Nevada,Utah and what wood they did get was pine.

  5. I don’t know much about the situation in the US but in late-19th century Europe I’m 99% sure that faux graining was cheaper than real upscale timber because only mansions tend to have real oak or other fancy species while everything else was faux bois larch or pine. Maybe it also had something to do with how suitable the various species are for specific applications? European pine is somewhat soft, so it’s much easier to work with than oak. Some faux bois finishes actually looked like highly complex veneer or even gold inlays and I’m certain painting those was cheaper than actually doing them! I do know that faux finishes were a huge thing at that time, there were entire schools for painters advertising their courses!

    • That’s really interesting. No doubt, what started as a practical, cost cutting measure in Europe, migrated to the US because it was fashionable to do whatever the Europeans were doing. This despite the fact that apparently it would have been cheaper for Americans to just use real oak, etc.

      • I’m not sure it was always the case, but some of the complicated profiles in high Victorian millwork would have been easier to mill from tight-grain, softer woods like poplar, rather than hard American Red or White Oak. It may have been easier (and cheaper) to mill these profiles in other woods, then faux grain them to appear as Oak.

        My parent’s modest 1895 Folk Victorian farmhouse also has light-toned faux-grained Oak trim in the fancy parts of the house. The shade is very similar to what Ross and Kenny are revealing under the later coats of darkened shellac.

  6. The lighter woodwork has more depth and like you said, really shows off the faux graining. Looks beautiful framing the stained glass.

  7. I’m on the verge of becoming obsessed with documenting all the stained glass windows in the Cross house…

  8. I don’t know if this applies to faux bois but it could be a case of 19th century conspicuous consumption. In a local Italianate mansion built by the original Quaker Oats family, the mantels are painted to look like Italian marble because it was more expensive to do the faux painting rather than to have actual marble. It expressed the wealth of the owner.

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