Work on the stairwell has reached a point where it’s possible to imagine the finished space. Gregg is almost done with major construction work, and I’ve started to think about finishing details. Should we hang a mirror by the front door? Do we need an umbrella stand? What kind of runner should we get? And especially, what color should we paint the walls? Of course, there’s still a ton of work left to do (not least skim coating all of the walls in the stairwell) and thinking about this kind of stuff is really just a form of procrastination. But with that said, let’s indulge in some procrastination, shall we?
As you may have noticed after looking at countless poorly-lit photos of the stairwell, the space doesn’t get much natural light, which makes choosing a paint color for the stairwell walls tricky. Ideally, the wall color would look good in artificial light and strong shadows. Since the space is so dark, my first impulse was to brighten it up by painting the walls white. But I’ve since noticed that white walls can look cold and dingy in low light. So my next choice was to paint the walls gray. A warm gray would probably look best, but the question is, how dark? Should we fully embrace the shadows and go with a medium or dark gray, or should we stick with something lighter? I can’t decide if a dark gray stairwell would feel warm and inviting or scary and imposing.
I was still undecided on this question when I went to an open house in the Eagle Hill section of East Boston a few weeks ago. We’re not actually in the market for a new house, but checking out other people’s houses is always fun. This particular house was a wood-frame, Second-Empire-style, detached, single family town house built in 1870. Here’s the house’s front stairwell, just inside the front door.
After you’ve taken a good look at that amazing hybrid newel/lamp-post, the alternating fir/pine pin-striped floorboards, and the giant crown molding decorated with intricate, plaster acanthus leaves, you might notice that the walls are green. Here’s a few more shots of the stairwell:
The stairwell wasn’t quite as dark as ours, but it wasn’t far off. The walls were a medium green, and although this particular shade of green might not have been my first choice, it looked good. The green set off the white trim and complemented the dark wood staircase. By the way, the rest of this house was as incredible as the stairwell – Mara had to talk me back from making an offer on the place (but don’t get too excited, it sold the day after the open house).
Since I saw this stairwell a few weeks ago, I’ve started thinking of our imaginary finished stairwell as green also, which is a little strange for me since I put so much work into removing every trace of pea-green paint from my bedroom and kitchen. But a more subdued shade of green in the stairwell would actually be in keeping with the building’s mid-19th-century roots – earth tones, like grays, greens, and browns, were in vogue at the time. I’d look for a grayish green for the stairwell. Maybe something like Benjamin Moore’s “Bassett Hall Green” from their Colonial Williamsburg collection, or even something a little darker.
I think green walls would look good against the white trim, dark pine floors, and walnut woodwork of the stairs. And green just seems like a welcoming color for an entryway. But even though I’ve been thinking a lot about green, I still haven’t ruled out gray. And of course before I make a final decision I’ll need to consult with the neighbors.
Even after thinking about this off and on for a few weeks, I’m still not sure what to do. Is green a crazy choice for a common area stairwell? Does gray make more sense? Or maybe some other color I haven’t even considered? Luckily, I have plenty of time to make a decision since it’s going to take me quite some time to finish the stairs and skim coat the walls.