Sunday, March 18, 2012

Dark, Glossy Doors

I was tempted to just write another post in this vein, and leave it at that. Starting around my third full day of work on this, I started thinking, "This project just wasn't worth doing" (which Allen would have told me that at the beginning, if he'd thought it would make any difference).

Now that I have a few weeks of retrospect, that attitude is starting to change, but I think that's partly because I've blocked out memories of all those hours spent hunched over yet another door, sanding and patching and sanding again. Painting the doors in the hall opened a pain-in-the-ass Pandora's box - we had to paint the backs, too, which of course appear in the bathroom and both bedrooms - so the closet doors in those rooms would also have to be painted, front and back. How can such a small house have nine interior doors?

The doors did need painting, and repair. In all my years of obsessive-compulsively completing DIY projects, our weird little square corridor was the one space that had been ignored completely. The pretty glass doorknobs and the metal plates had been smudged with twelve different shades of white paint, and the trim had yellowed to something resembling Drab Almond.

Inspired by spaces like these and these, I realized that dark, glossy paint on its myriad doors could give this no-man's-land some kind of identity, even kind of a tailored sophistication. And with something other than Lowe's white on the nice old wood doors, it would seem considered, intentional - as if we'd actually given the space some thought and done something with it.

I was determined to use gloss oil paint on the doors, which was probably my downfall, as far as the project time and cost went. Oil paint is much more expensive than latex, and takes many more coats for decent coverage - but it's also more durable and has a nice, hard, enamel finish that I love on doors and trim. It seems permanent, and it looks better.

So I resolved to do it "the right way" - sanding, oil paint, the whole thing. I pulled the doors off their rusted, seven-decades-old hinges, took off the doorknobs, placed the first door on sawhorses, and made a huge mistake.

Whatever you do, don't use a belt sander on latex paint. The belt sander I tried out on the first door ripped up all eighteen-or-so layers of latex and lead paint, leaving a jagged, thick border around it. Unless you plan on spending three days on each door to sand off every single bit of old paint, use an orbital sander with 150-grit paper to just smooth out the imperfections. Don't worry - you'll still spend a few hours on every door.

While you sand, use a brush to sweep away all the balled-up clumps of paint every couple of minutes; otherwise they'll wind up under your sander and reattach themselves to the door.

Where it was necessary to fill in screw holes or areas where the paint had dimpled or chipped, I used gesso. I brushed the thick primer on, let it dry for a few hours while I worked on another door, and then came back to the gesso'd patch to sand it smooth and sometimes apply another coat.

I never got a perfectly smooth finish. The doors look like they've been here since the forties, and I'm fine with that. If perfect is what you're going for, hire somebody.

The guy at Sherwin Williams assured me I didn't need to prime the latex before applying the oil - though you would have to prime the other way around. We went with Sherwin Williams' Urbane Bronze in All-Surface Interior Oil Enamel, which has a good bit of brown and green in it. I used a cheap, foam mini-roller to paint on about four - sometimes five! - coats per side, letting the doors dry about six hours between coats. I thinned the gooey paint with a tiny bit of mineral spirits.

We really liked the color - except in the bathroom, where the blue morning light gave the brownish-gray a decidedly Army-green cast, especially next to the black and white tiles. UGH. So we bought a pint of Iron Ore, a true dark gray with almost no other tints, and I rolled on two coats to the inside of those two doors.

I also used stripper, a putty knife, and lots of steel wool to take off all the overpainting from the door knobs and plates. We replaced the two sets of rusted hinges from the bathroom doors, but reused all the others.

DONE, finally. I'm not sure that I'd ever recommend anyone doing this nine doors at a time - my single-minded devotion to finishing these all in one go kept us without a bathroom door for several days - and I am not that kind of person.

But I do love the end result.


  1. Gorgeous! I love black doors. Totally worth all your pain and suffering :)

  2. Wow! Yes, I do love the end result - but have been there many times before thinking ughh...why did I do this to myself!?! Great job.

  3. This looks fantastic! Totally worth it.

  4. Beautiful! Despite the hiccup with the sander, it was worth it! I've been contemplating the 4 doors (not including closets) in our rental, so perhaps now I'll take that project on.

  5. I think the colour is great and the doors now have real definition. Very stylish.

  6. Thanks, y'all! All the sweet comments really do take a little bit of sting out of all that work. I'll now grudgingly admit that I'm glad I did it.

    @Ashley - do it! And you're welcome to email me and complain when you start to wonder why you ever started it.

  7. This looks so very good. It really gives depth to those spaces and makes the whole space look so much more interesting!

    I wish painting the hollow-core monstrosities in our new house would make this much impact, but alas, there's so much more to do first!

  8. Thanks, Ginger! Blogger and decorator Rachel Halvorson actually makes the point here that dark, glossy paint can make cheap doors look more expensive than they are:

    It seems like that could be true! But believe me - we've been in this house a few years, and I only did this project after a million others got done first.

  9. Nice! Your doors look great!

    I swear every door in my house is a different color. I'd love to paint them all to match, but maybe it would be easier just to move. ;)

    1. Pretty good post. I just stumbled upon your blog and wanted to say that I have really enjoyed reading your blog posts. Any way I’ll be subscribing to your feed and I hope you post again soon

  10. This comment has been removed by the author.