Paint it Whitewash

'Tis the season for white wash! Ever since the infamous "what shade of white" debate with my dashing and charming husband during the filming of Sarah's Cottage (and the amazing transformation of the cottage pine interior that followed when I got my way…), I've received hundreds of emails asking for advice on how to get the same results at home. If you're looking to transform the interior of your cottage, lodge, cabin, or home with a bit of white, I'm sharing my experiences and Benjamin Moore paint picks to help you get the best results. Happy painting!

by Sarah Richardson,

Whitewash is an ideal finish to apply over new, untreated pine. It allows you to appreciate the wood grain without the yellow tint that you get from natural wood. 

The key is to use a semi-transparent stain (as an opaque stain will look like paint).  

If you're applying whitewash stain to the ceiling, you may wish to use a roller and extension handle for best and quickest coverage, and then follow with a wide brush to ensure that the stain gets into all the nooks and crannies, and the roller marks get smoothed out. Since the stain will soak in quickly and then dry, don't try to work on too large an area at once, and try to enlist the help of a partner or friend. Try to apply the stain consistently and evenly to avoid overlaps and buildups of the stain. 

When staining the walls at the cottage, I wanted to avoid having the walls look pink once the whitewash was applied, so I actually applied a grey-toned stain. I selected a paint colour from the normal fan deck, and the paint store "pushed" the formula into a semi-transparent stain. 

When working with stain, the easiest results are achieved by applying the same finish everywhere. Stain is much thinner than paint (in fact it's like water), and creating clearly defined cut lines and transitions of colours can be challenging, so once you get started, it's easier to just keep on rolling. The application instructions will tell you to roll it on, let it soak, and then wipe it back with a rag. I have always preferred to apply it, even it out with a brush, and not wipe it back at all. But experiment with a few scrap boards first before you start and make sure you've got the look you want before you get started.

One of the most popular questions I get is whether you can whitewash over existing panelling that has been finished, lacquered, urethaned or stained. The answer is no, you cannot whitewash over a pre-existing finish as the original stain or finish will create a barrier, and the whitewash will not be able to penetrate to the wood. You can, however, use solid stain over old panelling and it looks terrific. When renovating the cottage, we discovered that the salvaged panelling was unevenly discoloured in areas where art had hung on the walls or furniture had blocked the light from affecting it. 

If you are opting for solid colour stain on wood, you have the flexibility of using accent colours for doors and trim, and changing colours from room to room in the same way you would change paint colours. Cream doors and trim look crisp and fresh against powdery blue tinted walls. 

If you are installing new panelling, you can create additional interest by changing up the size of the boards used, and the direction they run. In the Master Bedroom, I opted to run wider (8" instead of 6")  tongue-in-groove boards horizontally.

The easiest "ready to go" product I've found in Benjamin Moore's Wood Finish "Pickling White" semitransparent stain. If you happen to be applying it over rough boards (as I did on the ceiling), just roll it on and don't try to brush it or wipe any off (the rough wood will make a mess of your rag or brush).

sarah richardson sarah house 3 living room

You may find it easier to select your colours from a chart of stain colours intended specifically for wood - just check that the can you are buying has a white-based formula and not a clear base. My "live and learn" moment at the farm happened when the painters opened the gallon of the light beige stain I bought and had embarked on applying toffee coloured stain provided by the paint store before I noticed it was wrong. Word to the wise - test your stain on a scrap of wood before you start as you can't get back to bare wood once you've started. 

Benjamin Moore AF-690 Metropolitan

Benjamin Moore, AF-690 Metropolitan

Benjamin Moore OC-52 GRAY OWL

Benjamin Moore, OC-52 Gray Owl

Benjamin Moore AF-665 Angelica

Benjamin Moore, AF-665 Angelica

Benjamin Moore, AF-685 Thunder

Benjamin Moore, AF-685 Thunder