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Wood you paint? Or wood you ain't?

CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Daniel Fassio wanted his first home to have lots of character. And he plans to keep the home he found in its natural condition.

The young associate with Steptoe & Johnson law firm looked at dozens and dozens of houses before purchasing his East End property. Built between 1904 and 1905, the stately Tudor-style exterior has dark wood, brick, stone and stucco. But when visitors pass through the vestibule into the main living room and dining room, they are struck by the beauty of the woodwork, which abounds.

The floors, staircase and rail, built-in bookcases, pocket doors, mantel, coffered ceiling and wainscoting are all a rich, deep oak carefully polished for decades.

"This was once a convent," Fassio said. "The nuns polished these stairs every day." One of the daughters of the original owners became a nun, and the house was the sisters' sanctuary for years. Upstairs, there are five bedrooms, and Fassio said the woodwork up there was painted by a past owner.

Fassio loves the wood and plans to keep it in its original state, although he laughs when he admits he's probably not polishing it as much as the nuns did years ago. He points to the plate rail that's eyeball-height around the dining room as one of his favorite features, and he slides a pocket door out of its heavy trim to show off the oak.

While the woodwork stays original, Fassio is thankful that a former owner was a contractor and upgraded the heating, electrical, plumbing and security systems in the house.

Around the corner from Fassio's home, friends live in another stately home. The woodwork in this one, however, was painted a glossy white before the family moved in -- eliminating the debate about whether to paint or not to paint.

Real-estate agent David Bailey, of Selling WV, helped Fassio find his house, and he has a very strong opinion about painting woodwork.

"These homes have survived 100 years -- they are living pieces of art," Bailey said. "You shouldn't repaint a master's work. You can't replicate the charm."

While he said he gives a "disclaimer" to the family who moved into the already painted house, he vigorously opposes those who want to change the look of the natural wood. With his tongue firmly planted in his cheek, he described those who paint.

"If you are the person to take a brush to wood, you're the bad guy. But if you have the misfortune to move into the home after it's painted, well, that's just sad."

Bailey believes the value of a house with nonoriginal woodwork could be impacted because the East End is a niche market where buyers are looking for the old wood features. But he's realistic.

"Could it depreciate your marketability? Maybe, maybe not. If the house looks good, it looks good. But a lot of the buyers are looking for that wood."

Then there's the furniture

Doug Groves, of Mountaineer Auctions, in Clendenin, said he's seeing a lot of "antiqued" (that is, painted) furniture coming through his estate auctions.

"Back in the late '60s and early '70s, it was a fad -- what they called 'antiquing,' with the gold accents," Groves said. Tactfully he said many of the people who had this style in their homes during that period are now passing away, and he's seeing a lot of those pieces in his estate lots.

"There's a resurgence for the painted look, because Grandma had it," Groves added. But he warns do-it-yourselfers to use caution.

"In the short run, painting furniture is increasing the value because it's a trend. But in the long run, the antique value of it is being destroyed. It's detrimental."

How do you determine if something might be valuable in the future?

"In the construction -- if it's solid wood, or veneered, just look at how well the piece is made and that determines worth," Groves said. He added that if it's an iconic piece, by a mid-century furniture maker/designer such as Herman Miller or Eames, painting is a no-no.

The final word from Groves -- investigate first.

"If it's a cheap dresser, paint it. It's not going to be worth anything anyway. But if it's a Victorian walnut solid wood piece, you're really doing a disservice to paint it. Before you start slapping the paint, with the Internet today, look for a label, do the research. It's easy to check things out before you ruin a potentially valuable piece."

Interior decorator Pam Brown said painted furniture is never going out of style, whether it's done in bright colors or with a weathered look.

"When you go to the furniture markets, they sell it weathered," she said. "I think it's a great way to dress up a room. Not a whole house full of it, but a few pieces done in bright colors.

"Maybe in its original form it isn't too appealing, but put on some glossy paint and it looks great."

Brown has painted furniture pieces in her own home, and finds the easy care a benefit.

"I just take a damp cloth to it. ... I don't have to use furniture polish on it," Brown said.

"It's a hard decision to paint wood, so many people think, 'Oh no! Don't paint that beautiful wood!' But it depends on the look you're going for, and it's amazing how it just lightens up a room."

Reach Sara Busse at sara.busse@wvgazette.com or 304-348-1249.


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