Stain color for the ceiling beams in Daniel’s pickwick pine living room

Another doing-things-The-Hard-Way Retro Renovator here: Daniel discovered, searched, found, drove to get, stained and installed this beautiful wall of pickwick pine in the living room of the 1956 house he has been working on. He has great tips to share — like, how he got that classic knotty pine color just right — but he also has a question for us: Should the faux beams he’s adding be darker in color than the pine, or the same color? 

From Daniel, edited a bit: 

Hi Pam,

Hi! I just want to first let you know I love your site! I’m on it almost daily using it for reference material. I own a 1956 brick ranch and I’m in the process of bringing it back to the former glory that is mid-century. I love all things retro and vintage.

I’m currently working on the living room. I’ve done one accent wall with pickwick paneling and made a bookshelf that is somewhat built in. (it isn’t recessed but it is attached to the wall). I’m adding faux beams to the ceiling and this brings me to my question. The pickwick was finished with 2 coats of amber stain by General finishes, 2 coats of clear shellac and 3-4 coats of amber shellac (what a process, but results were fantastic!).

I’m wondering what to do for the beams though; do I finish to match the paneling or do I go darker to contrast the paneling. I wouldn’t want it to be dark, dark brown but I’m thinking maybe a shade or two darker (just a hint of brown) would be nice. Then again, maybe the same color as the paneling would be acceptable. The beams will be pine boards similar to what you would find at Home Depot. I’m not sure if it’s exactly considered knotty pine, but it is pine.

The room is literally a construction zone right now, so there is no decor, flooring (aside from sub-floor) or much else to base opinions on. [In the photos you can see]  the wall with pickwick paneling and the frame work for the beams as well as the design I made illustrating the layout of the beams. Hopefully this will help and I sincerely appreciate any help and opinions from the readers!  Thanks!

Very cool! That knotty pine indeed looks amazing! Of course, I asked Dan for some more info about the house and how he got into The Retro. Oh, and you’ll see I also nudged him suggesting that he might want to consider wallpaper on the ceiling — like in Brian and Keri’s den, dreamy!

Dan wrote:

The house was built in 1956 and has (sort of) been in the family ever since. My Grandmother’s Godmother and her husband had the house built. Both my Grandmother and Grandfather acquired the house in 1997 and lived in it until they both passed. I’ll be purchasing the house in a couple of months but have done tons of work in it over the years. My Grandfather was a self taught carpenter (mostly finish carpentry) after he retired from the Fire Department in 1988. I took an interest in woodworking ever since I was old enough to work with him but unfortunately he gave it up by the time I was old enough to really delve into it. Pretty much everything I know I learned through trial and error and just doing. 

I’m not quite sure when all this mid-century/vintage/retro stuff sparked an interest for me but for as long as I can remember, I always loved the somewhat simplistic and (sometimes) chaotic (think clashing, bright colors on carpets, furniture, etc) look that is mid-century. Recently, I’ve really come to appreciate the craftsmanship that went into building these old homes: the natural woodwork, solid wood cabinetry, chrome trim around counter-tops, top notch building materials, the list goes on. It’s clear they took pride in their work, and while there’s certainly still builders around who do, I think a lot of that has fallen by the wayside for faster and cheaper building methods. 
As for this current project, I searched high and low for years as to what kind of paneling I’m putting up, and I finally stumbled upon your site and it cleared it up for me. I was so happy to figure out what it finally was. My parents have this paneling in the living room of their 1956 Cape Cod. Unfortunately, my Mom convinced my Dad to paint it years ago and that was before I had a real appreciation for this stuff. I now have a strict “no painting natural woodwork” policy. I do painting and wallpapering on the side and have turned down many jobs where people wanted to paint the natural woodwork in their homes. I just can’t bring myself to do it.
I drove from Buffalo, NY, to Middletown, PA, with a pickup truck to get all the paneling I needed. I was going to buy enough to do a small wall in the dining room too but unfortunately, a lot of the paneling at the yard was damaged when it got shipped to them so I was only able to get enough to do the living room wall and the back wall of the book case with a couple boards left over.
Staining and finishing was a huge undertaking, and I’ll likely never do a job again this large. I found a stain that nearly hits the nail on the head in matching the original woodwork in the house which is General Finishes Amber Dye. To cover that I did two coats of clear shellac and 3-4 coats of amber shellac. It was my first time working with shellac on such a large scale, and there is definitely a learning curve, but the results were phenomenal! 
I had to chuckle when you mentioned wallpapering the ceiling because that is exactly what I’m doing. I’ve already ordered the Anaglypta (style Turner Tile) and that goes up next, then painted, followed by the finished boards for the beams. I’ve been working steadily on this room since last October, and it’ll probably be two-three more months before it’s actually done. I’d like to do the dining room next, but I can’t think about that right now… too overwhelming! HAHA
When the project is all done, I can send pictures of everything from start to finish if you’d like to update the story. If you have any other questions, let me know. 
Thank YOU, Dan, I love it!

Okay readers, time to o-pine (sorry, I had to!):

Should the ceiling beams be stained the same as the wall, or should they be darker?


Categoriesknotty pine
  1. John Parsons says:

    Hope you went darker! I have the same paneling with dark walnut stained beams….the dark beams make the paneling glow!

  2. Rman says:

    I guess I should start framing to lower my 1959 vaulted, exposed beam ceiling that goes from 7-12 feet in my livingroom? Guess I’ll chuck my Sputnic light too, it will hang too low off my new flat 7 foot ceiling…. LOL

  3. Erica says:

    I say match the two as closely as possible! I agree with the previous comment that staining the beams a darker color would make it look less original to the house and like an afterthought. My parent’s house has wood paneling with matching beams on the ceiling and its still the most complimented feature of the house. You’ve done a beyond great job so far and I can’t wait to see the rest!

  4. The paneling looks gorgeous! What a beautiful job. I’d never be able to decide on the finish for that coffered ceiling without doing a few test pieces and looking at them from below, in different lights. Also, did you say how high your ceiling is? The lower it is, the more I’d be concerned with it looking too dark. If it’s really low, and your gut is telling you to keep the color about the same as the wall, that’s probably best.

    1. Dan Kensinger says:

      Hi Laura, and thank you! I’m having a tough time deciding on what color to stain but the more I read, I think it’d be best to keep the beams the same color or maybe just a shade darker. I have what I guess would be considered standard height ceilings at 7’6″ and I’m thinking that if they are much darker it would close the ceiling in too much. As it is, once the beams are installed, I’ll be able to touch the bottom of the beam and I am average height so lighter is maybe the way to go.

  5. Frank 1974 says:

    I have a house built at the end of ‘mid century modern’ period (1974). Its main room has a vaulted ceiling. The wall paneling is milled smooth tongue and groove knotty cedar with satin finish clear varnish. The tongue and groove ceiling/roof and support beams are rough cut stained slightly darker, but not varnished. So they have nice contrasting texture. Just a bit of a pain when it comes to dusting.

  6. Mary Elizabeth says:

    Just to weigh in on the congratulations and the desire to see the whole room when finished.

    I agree with people who say to do a test stain on a scrap of the pine you are using for the beams/coffered accents.

    You would be surprised at the formula DH and I came up with to match our knotty pine cabinets for new trim, drawer fronts and doors. We mix two stain colors (cherry and early American), then add one to two coats amber shellac until it looks the right color when dry. Then we add two or more coats of polyurethane on top. The trim and door fronts have held up very well for five years.

    One problem is that amber shellac darkens as it ages, so the particular formula you come up with for one kitchen won’t work on another.

    1. Dan Kensinger says:

      Hi Mary! I’m interested to know about the technique you mentioned for matching colors. Did you use a dewaxed shellac? I was under the impressions that polyurethane will not work over regular shellac but am always looking to try new things!

  7. Dan Kensinger says:

    I just wanted to thank everyone for all the great suggestions! I am likely going to go with the same color. It does make sense seeing as how all of the original woodwork in the house was the same color. I am so inept when it comes to interior design/picking and matching colors and with staining, it’s not like you can easily change the color if you don’t like it. This has definitely been a huge project and I’m not even close to being done but I look forward to updating you all when it is!

    1. Joe says:

      Dan, you are not inept at interior design! No one is born knowing this stuff. It’s basically a desire to do something and a strong will to find out how to do it. It’s like you and your talent for carpentry/construction. For me, the best thing about swimming against the trend tide is that your results always end up being fresh and original, not something that’s infashion for the next 15 minutes. So, about your choice of flooring…………when my mom knotty-pined the kitchen in ’55 she did a dark green and yellow checkerboard tile floor….hint-hint! Our neighbors did a rec room in their basement with knotty pine; they checkerboard tiled one half of the room, and on the other side they did a shuffleboard design.

      1. Dan Kensinger says:

        That’s a good way to look at it, Joe. I just get overwhelmed because, well, it’s not like I can buy a couch in one color just to try and be disappointed when the color doesn’t go with the surrounding.

        As for the flooring, it’s going to be carpet in the living room but I just did VCT in the basement kitchen (the rest has the old VAT tile) and I have considered doing the same in my kitchen but I must say, I’m not a huge fan of the 12″ tiles, I love the look of the old 9″ tiles.

      2. Joe Felice says:

        There are no set rules anymore. Whatever looks good to you is what you do. It becomes an expression of your soul and your persona.

  8. Carol says:

    Since one is aged knotty pine and the other “new, softer” pine, they won’t stain the same anyway. I think they should match as closely as possible. This will require testing on the new pine. The new will probably absorb more stain. It will just be hit or miss until the right combo is achieved. The new wood may require a wood conditioner before staining. Definitely try to match closely. Beautiful work and I can’t wait to see the finished room.

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