How to Do Pretty Much Everything Wrong: Front Door Edition!

Warning: this post is full of disappointment and personal shame. I pretty much feel like a fraud of a home-improvement-y blogger, a terrible neighbor, an awful friend, a poor example, a cheap whore…all the bad things.

So here’s what happened.

Don’t you just love a front door? I love a front door. I mean, it’s the first thing you see walking into a house. It sets the stage and the tone. Front doors are important things. You’re welcome for these pieces of valuable information.

housebefore

More than front doors in a broad sense, I really, really love my front door. Doors, rather. Before I even SAW the newel post and the banister and the original interior doors and moldings and windows inside the house, I fell in love with our front door. It has a beautiful knob, great proportions, gracious windows, fancy molding work both on and around it, a transom window above…the whole set-up just makes my heart swell, even after walking through it nearly everyday for over a year now.

I wanted to show this before shot of the house just to show what we’re working with, here. The major problems I see are 1) the stupid exterior light mounted to the molding, right above the transom window, 2) the 50s mailbox attached to the front of the door, and 3)the overall lack of dimension and interest.

I have lots and lots of plans, big and small, for restoring the exterior of the house. It’s a HUGE job—a renovation unto itself, really—so almost all of it has to wait for a while. The good news is that the roof is done an the house looks good, so it’s not pressing. At least whoever decided to put the vinyl siding up had the good sense to keep it white.

paintonpaintonpaint

ANYWAY. Fixing up some doors is a pretty manageable project when compared to, like, tearing off a house-full of vinyl siding and repairing rotted clapboard and missing trim work and all that. That’s a Someday Project. So, at some point in early summer (yes, I’ve been holding out on you…), after I’d finished the laundry room and was itching to get outdoors, I decided I really wanted to give the front doors some attention. They’d been slathered in layers and layers of paint over the years, which left more of an impression of the intricate detail work lurking underneath than a real view. I always kind of knew that the best option for these doors would be to fully strip them down to the bare wood.

This is where things start to go south, FYI. I knew I didn’t want to take the doors down to strip them—either to have them sent off to be dipped (which is a service I can’t seem to find up here for the life of me anyway…anyone?) or to chemically strip and paint them from the ease and comfort of my living room. This would have involved closing off the whole entrance to our house temporarily with plywood, and carrying really heavy doors, and none of it sounded all that fun or practical. The outermost layer of paint was applied very recently (when the house went up for sale), but layer upon layer upon layer underneath? For sure lead-based. I knew this. It wasn’t even really worth testing because…duh.

Now, the responsible way to deal with lead paint is pretty much to not deal with it at all—paint over it and let it be. Since that wasn’t an option here (I mean, sure, it was, but a shitty option), the next most responsible way to deal with lead paint is to chemically strip it, carefully containing and disposing of stripped paint to keep it out of your home/environment. Lead paint actually can be scraped and sanded as long as it is kept wet to contain any particles, and then properly disposed of, but it isn’t really recommended. There is a supposedly fabulous product widely used for historic restorations called Peel Away which is a chemical stripper that’s made specifically to take off TONS of layers of paint and contain the lead, and that was always loosely my plan for the doors.

I didn’t do that. For some reason it got to a point where I was itching to strip the doors so badly that I was willing to make all kinds of bad decisions and own up to them on the Internet rather than order the paint stripper and wait for it to get mailed to me like a grown-up. Go me.

stripping

So, I pulled out my trusty heat gun. And got to stripping. Bow-chicka-wow-wow.

You shouldn’t use a heat gun for lead paint. You shouldn’t really use a heat gun for paint removal generally because of the risk of fire, but you really shouldn’t use it for lead paint. Not only does it release small pieces of toxic paint, but the lead can also vaporize and be released into the air you are breathing as you heat gun. So do as I say, not as I do.

Anyway. I wore a mask. So there’s that? And cleaned things up as I went along. So there’s that? And vacuumed up the pieces with a vacuum equipped with a HEPA filter…so there’s that? I handled my guilt by telling myself that I don’t have children, I’m not pregnant, and my dogs were safely tucked away in the kitchen throughout the whole ordeal. So…there’s that. I’m about to get lacerated by comments, aren’t I?

Anyway, heat gunning may be bad but it is relatively quick and relatively satisfying. It still took several hours, but it was exciting to see the detail on the doors really reveal itself as I went along. Also, the odor was delicious. 

The other exciting discovery was that, while the top layers of paint were all whites and off-whites, the bottom layer of paint? The original paint color? BLACK. AS NIGHT. I really don’t see any evidence that the doors were ever stained wood, but at this point they need so much repair work that it isn’t really an option anyhow.

This isn’t at all surprising. People think of black as this color invented by sad people in the 90s, but Greek Revival houses generally heavily employed either black or dark green paint in various places: on the exterior of window sashes, on shutters, and on doors. The idea is that the black helps these elements sort of recede, which in turn makes the house look more like a Greek temple—which would have just had voids for windows instead of moveable sashes to protect from the elements and whatnot. Cool, right? I’d pretty much planned to paint the doors black regardless, but knowing that it was the original color made the decision even more of a no-brainer.

post-sanding

After using the heat gun to remove nearly all of the paint, I used my mouse sander to wet-sand the doors, still wearing a mask. Again, not the best plan in the world…but it is what it is. It worked. It’s been a couple months and I’m alive.

hardener

Seeing as the wood on these doors is somewhere around the 150-year-old mark, and some of it was a little rotted and a little dry and brittle, I wanted to give them a little extra boost in the hopes that they’ll last another 150 years without some jokester deciding to rip them out to put something shitty in their place. Anna recommended this Minwax Wood Hardener (please, get your mind out of the gutter!) stuff, which she’s used on window sashes with great success, so I figured I’d give it a try.

You guys, I have no idea what’s in this stuff. Probably cancer. Probably explosions. Probably the brain cells that it kills on contact. I don’t even care, because it’s kind of amazing. You just brush it on (with a brush you’re OK with throwing away). It dries almost immediately. The wood looks amazing—kind of like it’s just been polyurethaned—and it feels…hard. Yes. My wood was so hard. I’d like to tell you more about that, but maybe there are kids out there reading this.

HARD. WOOD. INSTANTLY. I wanted to rub it all over everything.

afterminwax

I know some people will say that the doors looked really beautiful at this point and I should have sealed them and left them as-is. If I were running some hip Brooklyn restaurant, then yes, you would be correct. If I’m trying to restore an old house that already looks a little like it’s falling down? No. There’s also the issue of this being outside, which means Mother Nature, which means rain and snow, which means rot, all of which does not add up to doors that have already seen about 150 winters and some rot and large gaps having a whole lot of future longevity. Sorry, Charlie. Paint, caulk, and wood filler is the answer here.

siliconecaulkandbondo

I used paintable silicone caulk (which should hold up better than latex) to fill in all the voids where water might collect, and Bondo as a wood-filler to reconstruct the rotted corners. Bondo isn’t really recommended as a wood-filler, particularly for exterior wood since it doesn’t expand and contract like wood does, but I know lots of people who have used it on rotted wood with great success and swear by it. It’s also relatively inexpensive and easy to work with. I buy the type that’s marketed as an auto-body filler, which is pink instead of a more natural wood color: it’s cheaper and I’ve been told it’s the exact same thing, aside from the color, which you’d be painting anyway.

bondo

Bondo is really great to work with. It’s a two-part epoxy that smells like toxic death, but basically you just have to smear it on with disposable tools (I like a paint-stirrer), wait for it to dry, and then sand it into the correct shape/finish. When I need to achieve a certain shape (like reconstructing the rabbet in the inside edge of the door), I like to use a piece of wood temporary to fill the negative space and wrap it in cellophane, which the Bondo won’t adhere to. Once it’s dry, it’s easy to just remove the piece of wood and the cellophane and sand down from there. It’s pretty much impossible to get a smooth finish during the application, but it sands very easily. I like Bondo.

primerpaintsample

ANYWAY. After the doors were Bondo’d and caulked, I primed them. Since I’ve used it so much in the past with great results, I went with Zinsser’s B-I-N shellac-based primer. This stuff is super thin and dries almost immediately, and can go over both latex and oil-based paints as well as seal in unpainted wood so that the knots don’t “bleed” through the paint over time. In my experience it’s always provided a great base for fresh paint to adhere to. I plant to use it on our interior moldings before painting them, just as an added precaution against future chipping/peeling. It’s great stuff…for interior. It even says on the can that it’s only for “spot” exterior work. Maybe I should have read the can. Maybe I should be less dumb.

molding-outlines

One of the things I noticed when I stripped the doors down was that it looked like, at some point, there was some additional molding work on the doors that kind of framed the windows. See the outline? Kind of? It was more apparent in real life. It looks like it had been removed long ago, but all of a sudden the doors looked kind of incomplete without them. And since I clearly like to torture myself and replicate original molding work and it wasn’t so hard to deduce what the molding probably looked like by looking at the moldings on the panels below…why not?

Unsurprisingly, the dimensions of wood I needed were not easy to come by. I figured the molding around the windows probably matched the outer two pieces of trim on the lower half of the doors—sort of an oblong half-oval shape and a very thin piece of molding surrounding that. I found something resembling the thin outer piece (close enough!), but the half-oval stumped me. I thought maybe I’d use my router to make something, but then it occurred to me: base shoe! Base shoe molding is different than quater-round because one side is longer than the other. Maybe if I took one piece of base shoe, and glued it to another piece of base shoe…I’d get the right shape?

half-oval

People, it totally worked. All I had to do was glue the long sides together (I used Gorilla brand wood glue), use painter’s tape to tape it together tightly while it dried, and sand the whole thing one it was dry and the tape was removed.

addedmolding

This was my singular stroke of genius throughout the whole project. I used 3/4″ 18 gauge brad nails along the length of the new glued-together trim piece for some added support, and then I was able to cut them to the right lengths, just like a regular solid piece of trim. I placed a thin line of construction adhesive along the back before using my nail gun to affix them to the doors, and then used the same paintable silicone caulk to fill the voids and nail holes.

I don’t want to self-congratulate too soon since I’m a little concerned that the half-oval piece will separate over time, but so far, it’s holding up great and looks completely legit. I don’t think anyone would ever look at my doors and pick out that the molding around the windows isn’t original. I’m pretty proud of it.

lightpatching

During this, I also filled in the hole where the old exterior light fixture had been installed. This fixture was removed when we had the new exterior lights installed (which are much better placed now, I think! they really illuminate the house beautifully at night), leaving a large hole in the top of the molding surrounding the door. I used my jigsaw to square-off the opening and then screwed a small scrap piece of lumber to the inside of the molding. Then all I had to do was cut a 5/4″ thick scrap piece of lumber to the right size, screw that into place (attaching it to the scrap I’d screwed on inside the molding first…for some reason I don’t have a picture of it—ARGH!), and cover the whole thing in Bondo. Realtalk: I still haven’t gotten to sanding down the Bondo, priming, and repainting this area. Call it dysfunction. Call it distraction. Call it sucking at life. Call it whatever you want but it’s the truth! Excuse me while I go burst into tears.

oldbell

While I was at all of this nonsense, I decided to also replace the doorbell. The old doorbell was actually really cute and understated: the problem was, there were two! Since we’ve pretty much done everything else to take this two-family home back to a single-family, taking the second doorbell out of the second floor was kind of the last thing on the hit list. I’ll admit that I felt a little sappy and emotional with this one…the house has come such a long way in the past year, and having just one single doorbell at the front door as the final nail in the coffin for this house being an on-again-off-again rental for the past almost 80 years felt really exciting.

Changing out a hardwired doorbell is SUPER  easy. The voltage on the cables is so low that you don’t even really need to turn the power off. It’s all pretty self-explanatory.

doorbell

I ordered the new doorbell from House of Antique Hardware (I got the “antique brass” finish). The price is good and I think it looks really cute, but I have to say that the quality is just OK… one of the screws did snap during installation and the button doesn’t work flawlessly. It’s fine, though, and it works well enough that I’m definitely not rushing to replace it unless it breaks. I had to patch in some of the molding with Bondo, which now needs to be primed and painted…I’LL GET TO IT, OK?

transombefore

I also removed this weird situation in front of the original transom window! At some point, somebody added a stationary storm window of sorts in front of the transom (just a piece of glass with some small molding holding it in and a “decorative” center brace…). Not only did it look bad, but it blocked all access to paint or maintain the transom window itself and the surrounding trim. I know this was put in to help with heating, but honestly…the doors are so drafty that I’m pretty much positive it wasn’t making any real difference. What really needs to happen is for the doors to be properly weather-stripped, and maybe a heavy velvet curtain hung on the inside of the house right inside the doorway in winter to keep the drafts out. Since we don’t have a vestibule, I think that’s going to be the best answer to the whole heat-loss problem. Sure, a brand new airtight door would also do the trick, but…no.

mailslot

I also installed a mail slot!! No, it’s not original, but it certainly feels more authentic to the house than the 1950s metal one, and it’s also nice that our mail gets delivered directly inside the house now! Taking a jigsaw to these old doors might have been the most panic-inducing thing I’ve ever done, but I’m so happy with how it turned out. The quality of the mail slot is great—super heavy, super substantial—and the only thing I had to do was swap out the screws it came with for longer ones, since our doors are 2″ thick and nothing is really made for that anymore. No big deal.

afterpaint1

EEP, painted doors! I do want the mail slot to look a little less…new. The brass bits are pretty shiny and I’m kind of just waiting for it to develop a little patina to blend in a little more.

I painted the doors with Benjamin Moore’s Onyx, which is a color I’ve loved for years since I used it on the doors in my apartment! It’s such a perfect black—it’s a little less intense than a true off-the-shelf black paint, but doesn’t have any trace of a blue undertone, which always seems to be my problem with paints that look off-black or charcoal grey on the swatch. I love it. Anyway, I bought a quart of the Aura exterior paint in pearl finish, which is something between a semi-gloss and an eggshell. I was SO EXCITED.

doorsafter

So, the doors look pretty good. Until you got up close a few days later.

bubbling

HOLY BUBBLING AND PEELING. Ugh. Ugh Ugh Ugh. More Ughs.

After all that fucking work…this. THIS SHIT. I’m so unhappy. Hold me.

Admittedly, I did not really research the best primers to use on exterior woodwork…and apparently used one that doesn’t even claim to be good for exteriors. Its also just doesn’t seem like the primer and the wood hardener interacted very well, for some reason, since the paint and the primer both started bubbling almost immediately—not just the paint. Major bummers.

I also think painting exterior stuff black with latex paint when the weather is really hot WITH the sun also beating down on it is maybe just a bad plan, generally. The bubbling is definitely way worse where the sun really hits it…I’m sure it’s getting HOT, which is no good for paint adhesion. Anyway, it’s just all a horrible mystery that ended in terrible sadness. Beautiful doors. Beautiful ruin. All the sadness.

I hate that I have to redo this now. Yes, the hard part is done…all the layers of paint are peeled off, the molding is restored, the mail slot is in, the doorbell is exchanged…but do I have to strip the doors AGAIN? I know the answer is probably yes. This sucks.

One weird discovery I made during this whole ordeal was when peeling off the cheap pine stops that were providing some weatherstripping. The weatherstripping was totally dried out and useless and wayyy past its prime, but what was interesting was the paint underneath—not on the doors, but on the surrounding moldings.

understopblack

BLACK. The bottom layer of paint on the doors AND the enormous molding surrounding it was BLACK.

So…was the ENTIRE door surround black? Not just the doors? Well…

moldingblack

I took my investigation a little bit further by chipping away the old wood filler and caulk between the base of the molding and the tongue and groove flooring that extends about a foot and a half out in front of the doors. I had delusions that I might strip and stain that bit of flooring, but I think I’m more inclined to just repaint it a better grey. This grey it too blue and I’m not a fan.

Anyway, yep…the bottom-most layer is black, even on the outer parts of the molding! Wasn’t really expecting that one…

Before, I was thinking I’d just paint the transom window frame black and the rest of the moldings white and call it a day. Like this poorly done photoshop mock-up:

frontdoorrendering1

Sure, yeah, it’s nice and all. I like it.

frontdoorrendering2

But knowing (or, at least think I’m knowing…) that the whole thing was originally black…do I just go for it? It would be pretty dramatic. Obviously I like DRAMA…I mean, I live for it. This photoshop mock-up is so poorly executed and flat-looking and therefore not very convincing, but maybe it could be amazing if I actually did it? The 50s metal banisters definitely need to go, and the exterior light clearly needs to be swapped out, so try to ignore those. Hmmm. Hmmmmmmmmm. Decisions.

I guess I’ll finish the doors when the weather cools down a little and hope the paint really sticks this time. Basically this whole thing was a semi-unsafe bummer and failure of a DIY project, but I guess I feel like the heavy lifting is done and all I really have to do is figure out how to make some paint stick. Still, going back and re-doing a job I already tried to do…lame. I guess that’s just how it goes sometimes.

Has this kind of thing ever happened to you? Words of wisdom? Good advice? Prayers for my soul?

Also, to all the lead-fearing folk out there: rest assured I have since procured Peel Away and will be more responsible in my lead abatement efforts from here on out.


196 Comments

  1. I don’t know if I can express in words how much I loved this post. I love the character of old homes, even if it’s not my style, and you are doing an amazing job with this gem of a house. I love the black doors, and I say go all the way and paint the whole trim black too. It’s so dramatic and really pulls your attention to the door. I love, love, love it!

    • DITTO. love love LOVE what you’re doing with your house, Daniel. Sorry about the paint, but you’ll figure it out!

  2. Hahaha, I totally get not wanting to wait for some product and just wanting to get something DONE. Such a bummer that the paint didn’t stick because the doors really looked awesome. I think I’m a fan of the everything black option, looks very chique!

  3. Your doors look gorgeous, and I am heartbroken for you because of the bubbling. I’m also pinning this post because we have a very old front door in desperate need of renovation. It must have ten layers of paint in it. I have used peel away, and it’s a decent product, although not as miraculous as the ads proclaim. You have to use their special paper, and it seemed my paper to product ratio was never even, so I was always either running out of paper or running out of product, but never both at the same time. It’s definitely the best chemical stripper I’ve worked with.

  4. Oh hell yes. Do it all black.

  5. Whew. I was terrified you were going to say you burned the house down or something. Well done.

  6. Ugh, having to do it again seriously sucks. The black does look great though.

    As for the lead paint? No chastisement from me, you’re a grown adult, do what you want!

  7. I vote for all the black. Even scrolling up to your first photo from street view. So dramatic. Like a gaping maw surrounded by all those staring windows. Okay, that sounds scary a little. But, it would look amazing. Do it. Do it for Jim Morrison.

  8. PAINT IT BLACK.
    PAINT IT ALL BLACK.
    it’s odd how excited I am about this.

  9. I literally just felt like I was reading a dramatic novel.. There was DANGER, EXCITMENT, LOVE but then CRASHING DISSAPPOINTMENT. I am so sorry the paint bubbled. I would have cried then put the house up for sale and moved. (I clearly handle project failures well)

    Anyways, I have been reading this blog since day one but this is my first comment.. you needed some moral support – I felt it in my soul. Whenever you feel sad about the front door you should go sit in your beautiful laundry room and meditate “what would Martha do”.

  10. Yes. All black. Amazing!

    We removed the taped on plexi double pane on our doors and the sad news is that it made a huge difference. Maybe you could add a double pane of glass to the door under that new molding you added. That’s a lot of glass and is probably where you are losing a lot of heat. I know that would not be 100% authentic but it would be tucked under the molding and you would still see all the pretty detail and stay warmer. I do like the curtain idea also.

  11. I just about shed a tear when I got to the bubbling bit. So sad!! Certainly the extra work will be worth it in the end though. I also vote all black. Go big or go home!

  12. Oh man, the black door looks great! And the extra black looks SUPER great. I’d say go for it!

  13. I love watching you work on your old house! It inspires me to do more for my 85-year-old-house. I’m very sorry for your paint troubles; it’s so discouraging when you work on something and it fails… We haven’t really made it outside yet so I don’t have any primer suggestions, but I must tell you about WoodEpox. It will be similar to the wood hardener and Bondo combination you’ve been using, but it’s all formulated to go together and it takes paint really well.

    • Thanks, Erin! I was actually just reading about that product the other day—I’m definitely going to give it a try next time!

  14. Yes, yes all black!!

  15. No worries on the lead paint, you did everything fine (respirator, vacuum, all’s well). The chastisement comes in for wet sanding and using the bondo – wood filler or abatron epoxy depending on size/issue next time ok? It’s really a shame about the pealing though, I would doubt it’s heat – my trim and doors are becoming black and even painting in bright sun I haven’t had an issue (brush marks yes, peeling no). My guess is moisture in the wood, or the layers of hardener etc… not having been fully cured when you painted? Hope you figure it out – I’d sand down that worst corner and re-prime and paint and see if that fixes the problem before tackling the rest of the doors again.

  16. In the words of Jay-Z: “all black errthang” (well not the whole house, but definitely for the front door/molding). Man, that’s good. Werq!

  17. Definitely all black. I was skeptical at first, but even the photoshop mock-up is impressive. And as long as you cleaned up the lead and didn’t eat any of it, you’re probably fine.

  18. I vote to paint it black – love it!

    • I second this motion. The all black is amazing in the mock up it is going to be a show stopper in person.

      I can just see the possibilities for adding a bit of seasonal decor (like a ever green wreath or a fourth of July wreath/ bunting) against all of that black!!!! It is like you said in the bathroom make over you posted. That taking the risk in going dark can produce an amazingly huge dramatic effect. I feel it really turns your front door into an ENTRANCE!

  19. First I was REALLY worried that you totally broke your front door, then I was like, what is this, he’s doing FINE, and then – bubbling! WHAT…. ugh. It would be enough for me to just throw in the towel and give up (for a whole weekend, probably). But I SO get the desire, nay, need to get to the point of checking something off the list, that I don’t even blame you for using the heat gun on that paint (though honestly, please please don’t do it anymore! We would all love to still be reading your blog in, like 50 years, and how will you be able to still blog at that point if you’re all lead-paint-poisoned!)

    Separately, you know how it’s a bad idea to read YouTube comments? In stark contrast, I absolutely LOVE reading comments on your blog – so much support and SUCH great tips and advice!

    Good luck on repainting the door, and on getting that Bondo situation finished. You’re doing so well!

  20. Oh, that bubbling picture was hard to see.

    No lead judgement here. We stripped all of our original windows with a heat gun – it was really the only way to do it – the strippers and the papers just don’t work so well around moulding details. We wore masks and were responsible in our disposal methods and had plenty of ventilation. (And no children or pets around.) We also added lead checks to our annual blood work and we were always fine. We made sure we were eating well because there are several types of foods and vitamins that bind to the lead and help it exit the body.

    I like the black a lot. We found very dark green (almost black) paint on our windows and went back with a really nice black. I love the way the windows recede with the dark paint and it really highlights the more decorative areas like the cornice and brackets on our house. So I’m on team black as well.

    We’ve had good luck with bondo, but I wasn’t familiar with the wood hardener… good lord, I can only imagine the jokes and puns that would fly in my house if we ever used that stuff.

  21. All black. Yes. Major drama.

  22. Oh man. I was holding my breath the whole way through. I was like “oh jesus is the paint going to peel? Oh god no” and then it did and I was like OH JESUS GOD NO and yanno, it’s weird but in my heart I am totally holding you.

  23. Gah! That really does suck…after all that hard work! Yes to the all black – looks fantastic, even in the photoshop mock-up.

  24. You went thru a lot. And I know it didn’t turn out like you wanted. But this is an amazing project

  25. That really sucks that the primer and paint didn’t work out, but you did a beautiful job restoring those old doors! Our old house has shellac on all the woodwork, and in some places it has beaded up and looks nasty. I guess shellac is finicky stuff.

    I’m kind of digging the all black look — it makes the entrance more of a focal point.

  26. Ugh. I groaned and felt sickened when I saw those photos of the bubbling paint. No fun. :(

    Re: the lead, you can always get a blood test done in case you’re curious (which I did after stripping so.much.paint for months in my upper floor. I was the first person *ever* to ask my doctor for that particular test, but it was quick and gave me a sense of calm. hehe).

    I’ve been very happy with Sherwin-Williams Exterior Oil-Based Primer and Sherwin-Williams Exterior Duration paint. Those products were used on my porch and front door surround and there’s been no bubbling, peeling, or fading even with harsh winters. Previously, I used Benjamin Moore’s Fresh Start primer and wasn’t as pleased.

    • I agree with Sarah. First, however, I’m a LONG time reader, first time commenter. Love your Blog and if you ever write a book, I will buy it (and read it) as I totally enjoy your writing style. Now — I live in Florida and was so frustrated over having to constantly refinish our 25 year old wood front door that I painted it! Scraped and sanded it down thoroughly, used Sherwin Williams Adhesion Primer and SW Duration Exterior Acrylic Latex paint. It’s been about 3 years and it still looks great — even after being constantly tortured by direct morning sun and off-the-charts Florida humidity and heat. I painted it and the side lights Raisin. It’s a super dark color and I love it. So I concur with others on you going all black for your front door area. It will be beautiful!

  27. Amazing work and dramatic ending … for the best ? You should go for the all-black look, because it’s even more dramatic !! It looks really well and i’m sure it’ll look fantastic when it’s all done.

  28. Absolutely. Black. Black. ALL the way black. And NEVER go back.

  29. If I could take this house/toy away from you for a punishment for like a week I would. Heat gun, really? SAFETY. OMG. You need a serious time out! But, so proud of you and all your hard work and in the end you really needed a great big Mom hug. I’m sorry when everything doesn’t meet all your dreams and aspirations. You are learning by doing and what better experience than through some of that being by making mistakes. It will be great in the end. But, HEALTH AND SAFETY FIRST—–ALWAYS!!! Promise me.

    • Forgot, yes, all black entryway. Making me wonder if the casings around the windows might have also been black at some point. Not that I’d recommend that–just curious.

      • I highly doubt that, but the sashes themselves and the shutters probably were! That’s sort of the classic Greek Revival look.

    • I was all “geez, lay off with the chastisement already” when I first read this and then I saw who the author was and my expression turned into more of a “that’s right, mom, you give it to him, he deserves a time out”. So yeah, I won’t chastise ’cause I do stupid shit all the time in our reno, but your mom? She gets a free pass.

      • I look forward to reading your mom’s reactions almost as much as a new post.

        So sorry the paint didn’t work out the first time around, but it’s going to look great when you redo it. t’ll be amazing!

  30. I enjoy reading your writings. Charming and witty and real, yo. I love it! I also love your apartment. I am lovin’ this house. Your dogs are adorable. You are a genius. Thank you and you’re welcome.
    P.S. All black. No doubts.

  31. Hi Daniel…I’m your faithful reader, but never had commented any of your posts. Guess, I’m too lazy :)
    But, today after seeing this article, I have immediately thought of you.
    When it is hard, and it seems neverending, think of this couple and their renovating story! http://www.vocativ.com/culture/society/cave-houses/

    And sorry for my grammar/style and vocabulary mistakes :D
    Marta

  32. I’m in the (long) process of stripping all of the paint off of my 1885 house’s original interior woodwork.

    I started off just using a regular chemical paint stripper = S L O W. Then I found it… the magical that is the infrared heat stripper. Basically 2 long infrared heating elements slowly melt the paint (kinda melt, more loosen the paint from the wood) and you can get all of the layers of paint in one go with a paint scraper. The device is pretty new and costs maybe $350 ish. But it’s cut my work time in less than half! It’s a miracle worker.

    I’d NEVER use a heat gun on old wood. The heat gun can actually causes your wood trim to burn from the inside and you’d never know until you started a fire on your house. The infrared heats up the trim just enough without any burning and it doesn’t give off any lead fumes to boot.

    No… I am not paid to endorse this product. heh Just found it saves so much time and is safe for lead based paint.

    Good luck on round 2 of your doors. Sorry about your primer situation. And Minwax is not the best for stain or varnish but maybe the wood hardener is different; seems like an intriguing idea.

  33. Oh my, you poor S.O.B!! <3 But at least, now the hardest part is done… Btw, I LOVE the version where the black paint is around the door as well as on the door. More black!!

  34. I see a red door and I want it painted black
    No colors anymore I want them to turn black…

    Looks really elegant (at least when you look from a distance) and I think the doorbell is very cute.

  35. Now I am singing the Rolling Stones song in my head “I see a red door and I want it painted black” though yours was not red so I am singing “I see a white door and I want it painted black.” Black black black. It looks great and I can’t believe so many layers of white paint were hiding the black glory underneath! It royally stinks that you have to redo all your hard work but the end result is going to be so incredibly worth it. Also, I love the mail slot.

  36. In the all black camp because who doesn’t love DRAMA … especially when it isn’t your drama. Also, your Mom is right. As always. :)

  37. Definitely do the entire door surround black. I think you should also consider painting the grey flooring (part of the exterior) black as well? That’s more of a judgement call on site but then the entire unit would recede as it should.

    • Yeah, I think aesthetically you’re probably right! I guess I’m a little concerned that I’ll be forever cleaning and washing the black flooring, but I bet it would look good. I might go for it!

  38. Well, I’ve done my share of unsafe home reno so I’ll save my condemnation. But for the door surround, I think YES to the all black! I think it would look great, especially if you did all the window sashes in black, too. Dramatic in the good way.

  39. I’ve been reading your blog a time ago and never commented, but today i have so many things to do that i’ve thrown everything out and care about nothing (caring is for the last minute) so to do somehing else, i photoshoped your door hahaha that makes me sound like a crazy fan, but here you go, now looks more real, paint that babe black!
    https://scontent-a-mia.xx.fbcdn.net/hphotos-xap1/t1.0-9/1497803_10152292735798435_4715799564140664489_n.jpg

  40. Yes to the black–all the way.

    Also I stripped all the woodwork in my house with a heat gun and didn’t even wear a mask. I am awful and will probably die soon.

    • Meh, whatever. If you’re still alive, you’re fine. That’s my terrible rule of thumb for renovating.

  41. go for the all black, it’s beautiful.
    the love you put into the doors is wonderful. don’t sweat/bubble the small stuff. it makes me happy just to think about what you’re doing for this beautiful house. and your neighbors. xoxo

  42. I freaking love that you show us your missteps–it helps the rest of us mortals understand that one botched project doesn’t equal failure. I also freaking love me some bondo. Your front doors are going to be deliciously beautiful.

    And also? I like the whole thing painted black, too.

  43. Have you uncovered any evidence the doors and the surround could be a later addition? I’m not an expert on mid-19th century Greek Revival/Italianate architecture, but those doors and particularly that transom look late 19th century to me. Most of the examples I can find online and in my books show solid wood doors (often just a single door) with transom lights on the sides as well as the top.

    • You know, it never even occurred to me that the doors might not be original! I know all things are possible, so perhaps, but I don’t see any clear evidence of it, no. That said, the majority of the renovations on this house were pretty well-done, from what I can tell, up until the 1970s or so, so somebody might have just done a really nice job with the replacement and patching in the molding on the inside and all that.

      I will say, though, that doors of this style seem really common up here for houses of this era, so maybe it’s more of a regional thing. Or maybe there was a VERY convincing door-to-door door salesman sometime around 1890…:)

  44. I’ve never had thus immediate and strong reaction to someone else’s home decor decisions, but YES, totally all black. While I was reading I was thinking. Oh no, this is gonna be too much, and then your mock up. So right.

  45. Even your DIY failure posts are aspirational, so chin up. The peeling paint is a bummer, but the door molding was essential to how much better everything looks and took some ingenuity and skill. After scrolling back and forth, I’m in the all black camp too – especially given what you said about using dark paint to mimic the look of a Greek temple (I love that information!).

  46. Interesting! Now I will be obsessively examining doors next time I visit the Hudson Valley.

  47. Just an idea…have you thought about just stripping back down the areas where you used the bondo and primer together? It might have been the combo of those two products that caused the peeling/bubbling (I can’t really tell from your pictures if that is the main spots from the bondo?) If you did that, you might be able to get away from having to strip the entire door down and in that case, it won’t be such a pain of a project.

    Love your blog…I can definately sympathize with you on the restoration projects and just wanting some D.O.N.E. Jeez.

    And btw, I LOVE the all black on the entire entrance. Looks wonderful! Good luck!

  48. Soul prayers on their way since I’ve never done this and have no advice to offer, sorry.
    However, it looks AMAZING!!!! Bubbles and all. I LOVE what you have done. Put me down for all black though, too. I love me some black – looks great!

  49. I’ve been following your blog since you and your girl-friend renovated your dorm rooms. ;) I have to say this is probably one of your longest and best posts! I just had to keep reading to see what finally happened to those doors! I felt every bit of your DIY pain. The bubbling, the indecision, the no turning back moment.
    Im not sure if your first thoughts were to paint the entire area black or if that was an after thought but I LOVE IT! Wow, such impact. It’s so grand looking now and if it was an after thought or not but I definitely vote all black! Can’t wait to see the final project!

  50. You made a girl in a depressing cubicle laugh… so there’s that?

  51. I don’t know why but I love doors. Loved this post. It SUCKS that it didn’t work out but I’m looking forward to another door post! My parents recently sealed their mail slot and got a stupid ugly mailbox. I hate it. Mail slots FTW.

  52. I’m against the all-black. The black doors look fabulous, but I think they really off-set well by the white around them. Looks classy!

    • Finally, a voice of dissent! I’m still pretty undecided–I definitely see what you mean. It is just paint after all, though…so it might be worth a shot. If it doesn’t look good, can always just paint it back!

    • Yes!! thank you Kristen, i agree, I’m against the all-black!! The white is airy and bright. I think the all black makes it too “moody”? Is that a weird adjective. I don’t know. We are the only two on here, though, so who knows, maybe we’re wrong.

    • I agree, don’t paint the surround black! It looks like a black hole! I mean that in the nicest way possible, hah. Love the black doors with the white surrounds though.

    • Agree! I think the black door with black surround looks like an Undertaker’s (and presumably Daniel you’re not taking the lead paint work so far that you’ll need your own in-home undertaker)

    • Team White Surround here, too! The beautiful door fades into the surrounding woodwork with the black trim. It looks classy and sophisticated surrounded by the white.

    • Yeah, I fear the doors with all of their pretty detail will get lost in a black void if you paint the surround black, too. That said, it is hard to tell just from pictures…

    • What Kristen said! Glad to see I’m not the only one feeling that way. There’s a crispness to the contrast between doors and trim.

  53. Lucky for us, the worst DIY experience makes THE BEST blog posts!!! Seriously, this was pure awesome.

    And I love the all black – I didn’t think I would but the photoshopped version is amazing.

  54. If I’d done all that work and the paint started peeling I think I would have just fallen slowly to the ground in front of my house and died. The neighbors wouldn’t even be concerned, because that kind of drama is how I live my life.
    And yeah, I’m getting on the all black bandwagon.

  55. Bah ha ha…”The odor was delicious.”
    Thank you for writing this blog. It makes me happy.

  56. Hey, rotting away in my cubicle too Ariana ;-)

    I’m going to do some backseat painting. I’ve used Bondo all over my house (interior and exterior) and have never experienced a reaction like that, so I don’t think it is the culprit. Bondo hint: use a flexible plastic applicator for a pretty smooth finish and less sanding. I also don’t think it was the heat. I’ve painted in blazing heat and direct sunlight (two no-no’s), and the worst thing that happened was a lot of brush marks. Sooooo, I think that maybe the hardener wasn’t fully dry/cured before you primed? I would have used a good exterior oil primer (not the thin stuff like Kilz) cuz it sort of soaks into the wood; shellac is good for knots and I like to hit old nail head with it so they don’t bleed. As for the lead, I’ve been burning (I heart my heat gun!) and stripping my lead based house for 15+ yrs………it’s all good!

  57. Do you think you should just take the doors down, and strip and finish them properly? I know they are heavy and it would be a pain in the butt, but the end result would be great. Front doors are so important, they make such a statement, don’t they? It’s hard to tell from the photos, but some of the details on the original trim look like they could use a little more sanding. Maybe I’m wrong? I think you should just bite the bullet and paint the repairs. As usual you are right about removing all the old railings :) Do you think the backplate for the doorknob and the locks would look better shiny and brassy if you go all black? Just some random thoughts……………. I’ve grown so accustomed to your usual attention to detail, I know that whenever you finish this area that it will be great :) By the way, love seeing your Moms posts!

    • I don’t think it’ll make a huge difference whether I take the doors down or not…it’s not such a big deal to just do it in place! I think I just need a better paint/primer combo next time. The original molding details are just sort of rough…I think sanding them would result in losing the original detail that’s left, unfortunately. Little moldings like this just tend to get brittle and rough over time, but it’s OK—I don’t need them to look brand new! :)

      The doorknob/backplate is actually copper! They need to be shined up a bit next time I take them down, but I don’t want to spray paint them or anything like that. The locks are new…they’re actually an oil-rubbed bronze finish. Originally I thought the brass would offset nicely, but it ends up looking kind of glaring…I’d rather just have them recede, you know?

      Anyway, thank you! I appreciate your attention to my attention to detail. I could talk about this stuff all day! And sometimes do, haha.

  58. Wow, love the story of the moldings and the patch for the light – very clever. The paint story is SO disappointing. I, too, wonder if it’s the bond between the hardner and the primer. Did the hardner specify any curing time or any particular type of paint for use after?

    Best of luck on the second round and for what it’s worth, I’m in camp black surround. Dramatic.

  59. I cringed when I saw the bubbled blistered paint. Arggh! After so much attention to detail. Before going to round 2 I think I’d consult with some experts. Your doors are such an important visual element. I also vote ALL black. Now that you have that black fence, I think it would be well balanced. Good luck, Daniel.

  60. I once spent hours stripping the cabinet doors for our hallway, priming them, painting two coats of white on each side…all this in a mad rush before company was headed our way for thanksgiving…just to leave them out to dry overnight and GET RAINED ON. IN CALIFORNIA. They are hung now, and they won’t close because the wood expanded, and the paint is peeling, and they mock me and my failure every time I walk past them.

  61. I guess I’m one of the few dissenters on the all black moldings. I feel like, instead of making your door sink back and feel more Greek (hidden), it makes the door pop out and shout at you. I like my doors a little on the quiet side.
    For your mail slot, you have to go see Jen at Epbot.com (specifically this post: http://www.epbot.com/2014/06/metal-effects-experiments-bronze.html). She has found this Metal Effects stuff that will add patina to your shiny metals so you don’t have to wait around. She’s been testing it on little trinkets and such, so I have no idea if it works on exterior things, but if it does, no waiting required!

  62. HOLY SH!T on the ALL BLACK!

    YES YES and more YES!

  63. Daniel,
    This reminds me of most of my DIY attempts. Again, ditto what your mom said about safety.
    Undecided about only doors black, or all trim, doors, etc. black, but, I’m liking the drama.

    Whenever those wrought iron railings are in view, it feels like nails on a chalkboard, so can’t wait to see them GONE!

    Hope you can just repair the area with the bubbles & carry on.

    Loved this blog, laughed a lot.

    • I know, the wrought iron is awful! It could be much worse, but it also could be soooooooo much better. I have a plan! Maybe next post…:)

  64. I vote for the all black! If it’s the original scheme you have an excuse if it looks like shit, right? Obviously the house has a little drama it wants to share and you really can’t argue with that :).

  65. Dan, I was very worried after the intro. I assumed a death. Was glad to see it was “just” poor knowledge of chemistry. My best friend’s a chemist (of the curing cancer-kind, not the selling band aid-kind), and he recently laughed at me, because I used heat to remove paint from a bicycle part. Turned out it was aluminium, so I actually melted the part. You still have your doors :-P

    Regarding painting black, I’m in favour, but as a Scandinavian I’m always considering the affect it might have on incoming natural light. If you’ve read some of the Velux literature, you know that the diffused reflection is important. That’s why my first thought was to leave the sides perpendicular to the façade white.

    When playing with the thought in my head, it does make some sense. Think of eye-liner. It’s good for bringing attention to the white in the eyes, because it’s a frame. What if you left a white border, with the dual purpose of catching sunlight and framing your beautiful entrance?

    I’ve done a modded version of your Photoshop mock-up; http://uhy.re/liza.jpg (yes, I’m still thinking eye-liner)

    • Ooooooooh! Me likey!!

    • I am really in love with this option!

    • I liked the all black, but I LOVE this option! DO IT DO IT DO IT!
      Also, I was so nervous reading this post, waiting for the bad news. You have such a gift for writing!

    • I vote for this option too!

    • Brilliant compromise! Keeps the contrast and the drama but eliminates the black hole aspect. Bravo.

    • I loved the all black but this one really has the drama AND punch. LOVE!

    • This is gorgeous.

      I recommend photoshopping the options into a photo of the entire front of the house. The black surround is certainly dramatic, but it’s unclear how it will harmonize with the larger façade.

      But yeah, it’s only paint!

    • I love this option too. Provides depth and drama! Also, I noticed the windows on your porch are black but the rest of the windows aren’t? It might be something to consider to balance it out.

      I love your blog, even your disasters are triumphs because you are doing something you love. :) huge huge hugs x

    • Ooh, very, very nice! Love this option!

  66. Once you go black, you never go back…. Wait…. Wrong blog….

    Really love the black doors! People shouldn’t be so afraid of black.
    So sorry to hear about the bubbling after all your hard work. Thank you for telling us the whole story, not just the point up to where you put away the paint brushes and pulled out the camera for the money shots.

    I am guessing there was residual moisture in the wood which caused the primer and paint to not bond correctly. I am getting ready to work on a 100+ year old apartment with moldings galore (and lots of lead paint). Your posts are quite inspirational.

  67. Paint it all black! That would be amazing! Sorry for the set-backs, but being honest about the process is great and helps others in the long run. As painful as it is and all.

  68. You are so courageous! I actually quite love how stunning the entirely black version looks. Bold!

  69. I think I’m actually in the don’t-paint-it-all-black camp. Love the song, love the drama, like the white surround better. But keep the doors black, they look fabulous!

  70. Jesus, Daniel. The way you were going on, I seriously thought you were going to show us a photo of the amputated stump of your right leg or something. Or else, you were going to tell us that the neighbours called the cops because you poisoned their children and that you were going to jail. You gave me a damn heart attack! Peeling paint is FIXABLE.

    Don’t do that to me again, you sadistic man.

    • That’s how I felt! Apart from the heart attack. Danielle, more fibers in your diet is good for your heart :-P

  71. Paint it black! It makes such a statement – the perfect amount of drama. I love it!

  72. Your readers are the best! The comments always add hilarity and information to your brilliant posts. And your mom? I can only aspire to a fraction of her mom coolness, and even then I fail.

    btw, big fan of black here, but all back can dilute the impact. The restraint of just a black door would be more inviting, don’t you think? Are you going for maximum welcome and impact through contrast, or high drama? The answer might influence your choice.

    Also: TWO posts in ONE week are a huge and rare treat.

  73. When I read you were using a heat gun and the alarmist title of this I figured you burnt the door down!!! A little bubbling is no catastrophe. Love the all black and love the white trim too. Good luck with your decision.

  74. Hi Daniel!
    I don’t know if this will mean anything to you but I am an architect with a masters degree on restoration and I have to say your work is amazing! You are in the right mindset regarding your decisions on restoring this house.
    Personally I would hold on for now on painting the entire area. I would probably check like a maniac to find if other places of the house where black -which I doubt, but you can never be sure-and then make a final decision.
    I love that you are so meticulous. Every post is a joy to read plus you have given me some very nice ideas for my home!

    • No, that means a great deal to me—thank you! As somebody with no real background in any of this except years of reading home blogs, a few architecture classes in college, and the past year of working on this house, I really appreciate that!

      I see what you mean about seeing if other places were black. I really don’t know! The vinyl siding sort of conceals everything except the cornice, so it’s hard to check. I definitely don’t want the house to look too busy, so I feel like even if things like trim were originally black, I don’t think I’d want to take it further than this door surround, you know? But we’ll see…it’s only paint!

      • Hi Daniel.
        I still like you.
        You know, I come from a tiny town that has some interesting history. Some years ago the local museum there put together a book featuring the town’s important historical homes. Lo, and behold, the house I grew up in was in the book! Maybe something like that exists for your community. Even if your house isn’t in it, I would think many others from the same time period might be and you can see how things were painted and so forth.
        Good luck!

  75. All black! Without a doubt!

  76. so sorry to read of the disappointing end to the DOOR renovation!
    I love the idea of the all black – but here’s a novel idea – how about the molding in a dark dark gray – dont have photoshop so cant draft it up . but it might be interesting.

    myself well i love a deep red door and probably would do red door with black molding.

    good luck with the redo!

  77. ON NOES!!!
    I gasped quite melodramatically when I read that you’d used BIN for exterior work.
    So sorry I wasn’t there to save my fellow Canadian
    But think about how much you learned (yeah, that’s all I’ve got).
    Keep up the great work, a new follower, really enjoying it.

  78. It’s Saturday morning here and when I read your introduction, I immediately went to get a coffee so I could really enjoy the ride. I love the way you write and I really get a good laugh from your misadventures and triumphs (I am cheering for you, don’t misunderstand). I then did my new routine regarding your posts, and immediately checked to see what your mum had to say. At this point I consider the two of you a double act and am never disappointed :)

    • Exactly, Daniel and Mom, like Desi and Lucy, Hope and Crosby, Martin and Lewis, Abbott and Costello, Tina and Amy–a blog duo, our blog pair.

      We want more mom … and you.

  79. The all black looks amazing!

  80. Whew , who but you gets 100 comments on the same day of his post.!!! Super star!

    I vote for not all black…it’s too much for me, but you do what you love and I’m sure it will be great, it’s only paint.

    Loving that mail slot….love your mom.

    We await your every post. Hav e a great Hudson valley weekend.

  81. I am wishing you lots of luck and a night filled with good tequila!

  82. May I suggest putting up all the different photoshop version with a poll. Would be a fun addition to your blog. I like the pic that has the white detail trim with the black surround that Rasmus sent in.

  83. Speaking as a professional cabinetmaker/refinisher/antiques lover, I think you would have needed to fully remove all the old finish from the doors. To me, it looks like you had old traces of gummy varnish (possibly shellac) over the bare wood, and then remnants and contaminants from previous layers. The fact that you also used a mix of other products ended up being a recipe for disaster.

    I think you could probably just redo the areas that are peeling and bubbling, but if the majority of the doors are showing signs of problems, it would be best to start over, since the topcoat is what’s protecting the doors from the elements.

    My 2 cents about the black trim: I prefer just the black doors and transom. I find that if you were to paint the entire casings in black it would off-balance all the windows, and then you’d almost need to paint the window surrounds to match.

  84. I have had paint bubble three different times: 1) painting a yard stick –the bubbling happened only where the lines and numbers were marked. 2) painting the top of 80s era varrnished table. 3) Painting over oil based paint. In each case I sanded, used my favorite Zinnser BIN primer, and then covered with latex paint. I could be wrong, but I concluded that the yard stick markings and varnish were all oil based and that the primer just couldn’t contain it. Could you conduct a little experiment whereby you paint some scrap wood with various combos of wood hardener, primer, and paint? I suspect it’s the wood hardener causing the problem, but who knows! Anyway, you might also experiment with oil based paint as your final coat — also on scrap wood — just to be sure that when you retackle your front doors, there will no problems? (And if you do end up using oil based, do it on a calm day — that sh** takes forever to dry!)

    • Just a thought on oil as the final coat (especially a dark color)–it’s very durable, but fades and gets chalky looking over time. Just my experience :-)

  85. of little consequence, but hope it helps to know i am totally inspired by you. removed door, completely treated it, pulled off all the hardware in the room, boiled them and repainted them black. tomorrow they go back up on white walls and doors, and I couldn’t be more excited.

    IS IT WRONG THAT I WANT TO PAINT THE DOGGIE DOOR BLACK?

    (i won’t)

    (but i might)

  86. didn’t want to read all 111 comments so i hope i am not repeating by saying paint it black

  87. Paint the surrounds black. Makes more of a statement.

  88. Another vote to paint it black.

  89. After so much effort, and the clever repairs and changes (I was hoping you’d put in a mail slot!) you made, how horrifying it must have been to see that bubbling paint! With all the various products involved, it’s hard to know exactly what caused the problem, but waiting longer (hard, I know) between applications might help. My paint store man once told me that ALL primers work better if allowed to cure for at least 24 hours before top-coating, no matter what the labels say. I’ve followed his advice since then and had much better results. Hope things go smoothly next time; it’s a very beautiful front door.

  90. Holy god *yes* paint the whole entry black – I got to that photoshop mock up and I *literally* gasped. My husband was all “are you ok?” I’m not ok. I’m not ok until you paint that black.

  91. I’m just weighing in on the black paint issue – do it!

  92. I’d opt for just black doors. It reinforces the idea of solid vs. void.
    Best of luck on the repair.

  93. Hi Daniel,
    I have a similar story but regarding a steel framed window circa 1960. Long story short: lots of rust, neglected for many years. Spent much tome and effort stripping it back to the primer and in places back to raw metal. All this took many weeks whenever I had the time and included some effort on the outside (which I am not supposed to touch – technically not my property as I am only one owner in a block of 8 – but what can you do? A window has an outside as well as an inside and parts of the outside can be seen from the inside) This involved me hanging out of the window 3 stories off the ground. Then after I had gone to all this trouble I had to apply 2 coats of primer and 3 coats of top coat. Part way through this process I discovered I had used the wrong kind of paint and had to strip it right back all over again as rust had started to leach through the paint. I didn’t touch it for 6 months I was so disappointed.
    As to my opinion on your door, it’s difficult for me to decide which looks best unless I see a picture of the whole house front so you can see the two options in context with the house as a whole. Maybe you could photoshop your before pic with the two options?
    Or may I suggest a third option. You could paint everything black up to the outer trim (the section which includes the doorbell) and paint that white.
    It also depends on what you are doing with the window trim. You say you don’t want it to look busy. Assuming you mean you want it to look balanced, then you should play around with photoshopping various options for the front including windows and other trim.
    It also depends on what you are going to do with the steps and that whole area below the columns.
    Lots to think about.
    Best of luck. I SO enjoy reading your posts. You are by far the most entertaining blogger I know.

    • Agree with above comment: “it’s difficult for me to decide which looks best unless I see a picture of the whole house front so you can see the two options in context with the house as a whole. Maybe you could photoshop your before pic with the two options?”

  94. Years ago I stripped 3 lead-painted windows in my living room with a heat gun. Sometimes you just do these stupid things knowing they are stupid things… Anyway, they did look good. And the two children I had subsequently didn’t have two heads. I figure that was my pass – I wouldn’t risk it again. Maybe you should keep some Peel Away in stock in case you get the stripping itch at 11 pm some night. You’ve still got a lot of trim to go!

  95. We used a heat gun on our 100 year old doors too. I tried a bunch of other strippers first and they were a nightmare of gooey paint layers. We’ve only finished one door but we just stained and polyed it for interior use, so no advice for your paint situation yet. I will say I also looked into getting the doors dipped and had no luck until I tried an architectural salvage/antique store (Souther Accents in Cullman AL) who dip and strip doors and furniture on site to sell. They quoted me about $225 per door I think, so if you decide to do it down the line you may want to check with local antique/salvage operations and see who may know. It was too expensive for me since we have about 13 more doors to do. But it may be cheaper for you!

  96. Daniel,
    Your thoughtfulness will take you to the right place about the color of the door surround.
    I am concerned that since there are no black shutters and no black trim around the windows to the left of the front door, that all that black will take away from the “lightness” that attracted you to the house in the first place.
    Perhaps standing back and/or waiting for the “big” picture to come to you would be the thing to do. It WILL come to you!!!!!
    All the best,
    Rob

  97. Hey, you can’t be perfect all the time! ;-) My advice (albeit too late) would have been to not paint the door. Wood needs to breathe. While weather and age might be partly to blame for the rot, a larger culprit is the fact that the door was smothered in layers of paint which trapped moisture inside. But since you are painting it, I prefer the dramatic look. It makes the entry look much more grand. But… maybe consider a weather protectant stain if it comes in black? Just trying to save you more heartache and headaches.

  98. Peel Away only works with one layer of varnish on interior wood. In addition to your heat gun, you might want to try StripEze or other caustic, toxic, hard-working chemicals.

  99. Thank you so much for doing this first and saving me from replicating the mistakes. You do us all a great service:).

  100. That sort of thing happens to ALL DIYers!! I love the all black surround..It looks beautiful! You know what they saw “Once you go black….” Do it do it do it!!

  101. Get yourself over to WavyGlass.org. It is a forum for DIY types with old houses with many knowledgeable and active members. You will fit right in – with the exception of your superior design sense and sharper wit.

    Worries about heat guns and lead paint ? A whole bunch of posters have already been there, done that. Fixing an old door ? Uh-huh. The scorn and confusion from family members about your “money pit” ? I found that forum to be super helpful with untangling some of the issues and technical stuff with an old house. Plus – you are not crazy !

    Thumbs up to the black door and surround, plus transom improvement.Everything you’ve done looks great…

  102. Though I’ve been a huge fan of your blog (and your cute face!) for years, I’ve never posted until now. I must admit that I greatly admire your determination and drive to make things better, and more beautiful, it’s a trait that more people in the world would greatly benefit from. Your ability to both acknowledge the past and design for the future is an enviable skill – it’s fascinating to watch you do it project by project, year after year. Continued success and I look forward to seeing how the story unfolds!

    Oh, and I vote for ALL black as well.

    PS. Yes this is me. Tell Max I said hi.

  103. I love the black doors almost as much as the sheer treat of having a second post to read this week. Sorry that my excitement over that is in equal measure to your frustration on the door makeover. I wrote a bad haiku to make you smile (or cringe?):

    Oh! Bubbling paint, that
    vexatious bête noire, always
    ends in mourning wood.

    Anyway, for your future wood repairs I will pass on a tip about working with Bondo that a carpenter friend of mine taught me when I was repairing old window sashes. After you fill out your dents and whatnot with it, wait about 10-15 minutes until it is slightly hardened but hasn’t quite fully set. Then take a wood rasp and shave off the excess then let it fully dry until you sand it. Using a rasp will cut down your sanding time, get a super smooth repair job, and allow you to fill large holes/gaps as needed with good control.

  104. As ever, a great read! It would be a good idea to see the three mock ups done on photo of the whole front to check for balance. I think the all black is too heavy and is my least favourite. The all-black with white detail looks amazing, the white really lifts it. If it looks balanced it could be the winner. Otherwise the white surround looks beautiful. I keep comparing to the before and after of the verandah… the black ikea chairs that looked cool but when you changed to the new ones it looked so much better. Visually lighter, more balanced, just right. Could be the case with this door conundrum too?

  105. My most favorite posts on Manhattan Nest are those such as these, with multiple shots of peeling paint and eloquent details of the process!!!! Love it!
    Paint the surround black – the door will look grand!!

  106. Lone voice crying in the wilderness here. I vote for the black doors with white frames/mouldings. I think the doors will be much more distinctive like that.

    Daniel, I’ve always had the idea, from observation, that to paint the exterior when the sun is full on it will lead to tears afterwards because the paint will bubble up. Whether it was the sun or the wrong primer, or a combination, you’re not alone in learning the hard way but it must have been so disappointing for you. You experience it, we learn. Think of how much effort you’re saving the rest of us, which may or may not be a comforting thought when faced with a disaster.

  107. The highs and lows that are DIY – they are real! I’ve done the same thing (albiet not with huge old doors). So beautiful – high!- and then wompwomp. ugh. Meh. but we learn. Hope it’s a relatively painless fix. I’d suspect the wood hardner too, but only since I haven’t used it before. But a good thick stinky oil exterior primer (with a sanding afterwards to smooth things out) should solve all your problems. You can get it tinted, so that you’re not constantly fighting the white coming through. Is there a Sherwin Williams close to you? Those guys are awesome. Take them some pictures. I bet they have that heat gun someone mentioned above. And I so LOVE the trim work – what an exciting addition to that door! Not that my 2cents matters, but I really like your first instinct…black door with transom trim. But as you say…it’s just paint! Thank heavens we can all change our minds!

  108. Oh man, THANK YOU. For the revelation that it is OK to post failures, and for the honesty and transparency that will actually help someone else not make the same mistakes. Knowing this suddenly opens up like, everything I’ve ever done to actually get blogged about. (Maybe that is dramatic, but so am I.) And for “probably explosions”, which caused a bit of snot to escape my face and hit my keyboard.

    Do you think the wood hardener would work for someone (ME) who is planning on trying your DIY pine countertops? I worry that 3/4″ of soft wood would end up warping. Is that Minwax shit food-safe? (probably not, but I was planning on sealing them with satin Waterlox which probably isn’t either, and who eats food off the countertop anyway? OH ALSO ME.)

  109. AH-mazing! I say paint the surrounding trim black again! I love that it’s original (we think) and I love high drama!!

  110. You know, there’s nothing more gratifying in a project than failure at a few things, it teaches us and enables us to be better at it the next time round. Really, given the shape the house is in, if worrying over black is the worst of your concerns at this point, I’d say that is a win. It’s amazing to see the transformation from uncared for, to pristine jewel. Looking forward to many more!

  111. I think there is an astounding support for the all black entry. No.Brainer. Cant. Wait.

    And while I am normally and totally an enthusiastic- “your body, your right to do what you want MAN” typagal in most parts of life.. I am professionally an Environmental, Health and Safety Specialist- and I am PRO-MOM all the way. Safety First Mister. Eye glasses, work gloves, face mask (SPECIFIC FOR THE TYPE OF WORK YOU ARE DOING), long sleeve shirts around chemicals, knowing your MSDS, and Poison Control, and proper disposal methods.. blah blah blah.. Just do it. Better safe than sorry. Trust.

    • I second your “Safety First Mister” comment. As voyeurs, couldn’t handle reader’s guilt if you were injured.

      TAKE CARE!

    • I know, I know, I know! I’ll be better. Promise.

  112. Someone may have already said this, but I’m lazy: what if you split the difference and leave the mega frame white and paint the inner frame & transom piece black? All black for the mega frame is a bit harsh and the frame will look like it’s too close to the porch ceiling when highlighted.
    I can photoshop what I mean if you are curious.

    • Thanks, Krista! There have actually been various suggestions of splitting the difference which have given me a lot to consider (Rasmus even did a mock-up in a comment lurking above!). I think the issue is that, unfortunately, it might look good in a rendering but given the age and condition of the woodwork, I don’t really think having clear paint lines on what’s at least supposed to look like a continuous piece of bulky woodwork will really execute well in real life. I don’t know if that makes sense…you might have to be looking at it in person. I kind of think it has to be all or nothing! Except the transom frame and the doors themselves.

      Like I said—it’s just a little paint! The hard part is stripping everything…the actual painting I could do in an afternoon and redo the next afternoon if it looks bad. No biggie! I do think the mock-up looks a little harsh, as you say, but I also think that might just be an effect of it being a bad mock-up that doesn’t really give a sense of the dimension that would exist if I actually did it.

      • True – clean lines could be tricky and also true that with the Onyx it will likely read much differently in reality . That shade of black is fairly forgiving.
        Can’t wait to see what you decide! It’s making me wish I would have tried to strip our interior doors before painting…

  113. Daniel, I did the exact same thing with the heat gun…except inside, on original molding in my office. Yeahhhhh, not the best idea, but nobody died and I learned my lesson. I think all old-house people have at least one Lead Adventure in the course of a restoration.

  114. The doors really look great, I think the Black is absolutely the way to go. I want to also say, it is SO MUCH APPRECIATED when you post your failures, because everytime I DIY something it’s a horrible mess that takes me two tries, so it’s comforting to know you struggle too…

    I know it’s anything but comforting for YOU, on the other hand. But those of us that legit can’t understand how in the world you make your own mouldings and replace window panes….it gives me a weird sense of…courage (?) to know that even the bloggers that can make all the things sometimes mess it up too.

    This is totally meant as a compliment, by the way. I swear.

    Can’t wait to see the finished doors and surround! I think black everywhere might be pretty cool….

  115. Lead paint chastisement? oh please. Almost 20 years ago, My Ex and his dad removed asbestos from our Victorian by themselves on the QT and put it in the our dumpster in plastic bags. Totally why he is my ex.

    I kept wondering when we were going to get to the awful part of your post, until that photo….cue the sad trombones. I would hope that sanding it all down will solve your problem. Fingers crossed.

    I have used many gallons of peel away, and I wish I could tell you that it is a miracle but it’s not. I have had it turn to liquid many times, making a complete mess ( a water soluble one, but a mess nonetheless). And you still have to sand and sand and sand. So, I think your method might have been the superior one after all.

  116. Confession: we removed asbestos floor tile from our home ourselves. And by ourselves, I mean my husband. He did the wetting and mask things. I was pregnant and didn’t go near the house during removal so we were somewhat responsible? See you in DIY lead / asbestos abatement H-E-L-L.

    • Uh, yeah, my old kitchen floor? Day 2 in the house. It was CRUMBLING. Super fancy respirator + lots of water! (Not recommended. I guess we’ll find out in 30 years if I’m dead!)

  117. Team black door, white everything else! I think having everything painted black is not welcoming at all, especially when you’re not home/the lights are not on, and can make the home easily turn into the creepy house the kids avoid on Halloween. The black door with the white moldings is welcoming any time of day.

    Just my opinion. Either way, I can’t wait to see your progress!

  118. Or you can really drive yourself crazy by attempting this:
    http://www.washingtonpost.com/lifestyle/home/the-secret-to-getting-a-shiny-painted-door/2014/08/06/d0b63948-1768-11e4-9e3b-7f2f110c6265_story.html

    Commiserations on the paint fail…and good luck with the DECISION.

  119. I have to tell you how much I love your writing. I too am a shoot first and ask questions much later–usually when you’re sweaty and covered in dust and paint chips and you realize you’re out of screws–home remodeler. Don’t you wish there was a 24-hour hardware store that delivered?

    Most of all, I love the effort and care you take in figuring out how your home used to be. Keep it up and avoid taking those doors off at all costs! You’d probably never get them back into place.

  120. Wait, I thought heat guns were the preferred method of lead paint removal? If you don’t go above 500 or 700 degrees, the lead does not become vapor, therefore making it one of the safest lead stripping methods because no chemicals + no dust. I feel like my whole life is a lie now.

    For what it’s worth, I just recently had a carpenter redo my staircase and he recommended bondo on a gap between some trim and the wall that was too big to caulk. I ran around my basement and got all these crazy Abatron Wood epoxy stuff for him to look at and he was just all “pink bondo”…

  121. Great post! As a DIY-renovator myself, it’s just as useful to hear what went wrong as what went right. But for your sanity, I hope next time around goes smoother. Those doors are beyond beautiful and will look stunning with the black or white surround, although I prefer the white.

  122. Hello! Just thought I would share a quick tip for Bondo I learned at design school …. It doesn’t stick to the “sticky” side of masking tape.

    Generally when I slather it on a large flat fill area, or something that has a unique shape… I would apply the body filler, then then take wide 2″ masking tape and lay it on the wet Bondo. You can then smooth it out with a putty knife. And when the Bondo hardens/ cures, peel the tape, it won’t stick and it’s a much more flat surface to begin with for sanding. Just helps reduce all the ridges and weirdness that comes from application.

    Note: I’ve only found this successful with masking or blue painters tape. And you can use the trick to “mold” the Bondo a bit while the tape is over it. Hope it helps.

  123. I started a project involving what I can safely assume is lead paint in some of the layers and casually mention this to my father. I then get a horrifying email after his nervous day of researching the dangers and longterm effects of lead paint It’s 3 months later and the project sits half-finished. I did have a window restorer recommend the Silent Paint Remover which is supposed to be lead safe.

  124. Oh yes, paint the moulding black! Even in your photoshopped version it looks lovely and dramatic.

  125. Our last hose had this sort of problem on the WALLS. Maybe some wallpaper glue was hiding in there, but even after sanding and priming a fresh coat of paint would develop all these tiny bubbles. LOL @ you the paint detective. I actually matched a paint chip to the mint greens our kitchen used to be. I’ll never use the color, but I like knowing what it was.

    When you redo the doors, use a tinted oil primer. I love my BIN, but there can be adhesion problems if it overcures. And if it’s tinted any chips are much less conspicuous.

    I just discovered how crap modern strippers are last week. Don’t forget to cover with plastic. And I must confess, my husband did some potentially unsafe asbestos abatement last weekend. We used the soapy spray, and it was a very small patch of lino, but still…

  126. Heck yes on the black doors and surround!

  127. Go all black! Wow…that will look amazing and give your home more depth! I have done my own exterior door mishaps. Let’s just say, never paint a door HIGH gloss. That stuff runs like a sieve! :)

  128. “So…there’s that. I’m about to get lacerated by comments, aren’t I?”

    Jesus Christ, Daniel. Just… bl**dy hell.

    “and my dogs were safely tucked away in the kitchen throughout the whole ordeal. ”

    I hate to be this person, I really do, but… you had limited control over where the lead went, especially as some of it will have been vaporized. So Linus and Mekko may well walk through lead residue, get it on their paws, then lick their paws….

    I’m sorry, I do hate to be this person, but… Jesus.

    • Fair. I hear you. I asked for it!

      If it’s any consolation, all of this took place a few months ago, and everyone is doing just fine. :)

  129. The All-Black. So Dramatic. Go for it!

  130. Um, I love you. I love this post. Just found you and can’t wait to read the rest of your stuff. Have fun! Love your writing, love your work, love your knowledge. Thanks for sharing!!

  131. ah, daniel do NOT worry about heat gun + lead paint = lead vapour death. because the boiling point of lead is 1750C (um, apparently the internet says that’s like 3000+F for you crazy americans) there’s no way you could have vapourized it with a heat gun. unless it was superman’s heat gun. on crack.

    actually you probably did better that way, instead of sanding or dry-scraping the door and causing teensy little specks of lead to float around everywhere. also as an adult you’d need quite a lot of lead exposure to do yourself much damage. the real issues are with kids and fetuses through chronic exposure like the kind us pre-90s kids got with all that leaded gasoline up in the air. (yeah, that was smart, petroleum industry)

    also, PAINT IT BLACK!!!!! *sings stones songs*

  132. Hate to be the bearer of bad news, but the wood hardener is not compatable with paint, and that is causing the bubbling. Call minwax and see if the have a chemist who can help.

    http://www.homedepot.com/p/Minwax-1-pt-High-Performance-Wood-Hardener-41700000/100376253

  133. Hate to be the bearer of bad news, but the wood hardener is not compatible with paint, and that is causing the bubbling. Call minwax and see if the have a chemist who can help.

    http://www.homedepot.com/p/Minwax-1-pt-High-Performance-Wood-Hardener-41700000/100376253

  134. Great post. Beautiful doors. I think you should strip and stain the little bit of wood floor in front of the door, please? It would look sooo nice. Or at least show is what it would look like in photoshop??

  135. I’m so glad to see someone else referenced the Rolling Stones!
    PAINT IT BLACK! ALL OF IT!! Love love love!
    As for redoing a project you just did I feel that pain and am currently in the process of redoing walls I just did! Double grr!!!
    I love your blog and your writing style. (I snorted out loud about the wood hardener)! Keep it coming! Good work!!

  136. We need a book. This whole process was fascinating, even though I’m never going to do this. You might be really mad about the paint peeling, but it Made your post. It is a good lesson to all of us not to rush right into something without some basic research. I would rather read your instructions and how you do something than any old Reader’s Digest or Time Life book on home repair. I just like to read about your process. I guess it’s like when I watched Martha Stewart plant a tree on her old TV show. Afterward I was positive that I knew how to plant a tree. And rip that side porch right off. You don’t need it and it will give you a nice strip of dirt to plant hostas.

  137. I just had a quick scan through the comments to see if anyone else suggested this but couldn’t find it, so, sorry if this is repeating! Have you considered just painting the inner frame of the door and transform black so that it looks like the door and transform are one big door? I did a quick, equally as bad photoshop: http://i62.tinypic.com/k36hb7.jpg

  138. I would prefer the doors black and the trim white more classys and chic. Courage Daniel!

  139. You’re pretty much the most magnificent and inspiring person ever. I love you and I don’t even know you. I vote for all black. It’s stunning. Good luck dude!

  140. A few years ago, I paid to have our front door chemically dipped to remove many, many years of sloppy paint work (we had done the heat gun on the windows and we were tired). On recommendation from the company, after the strip, I applied wood hardener to the door. As you described, that wood was hard – and it looked great! A nice sand-down to smooth and prep the surface for priming; Priming to prep the surface for painting; Painting with a light sand between coats. The door was gorgeous! And within a week or two, it was also bubbling…

    Now, our front door is western facing and I used a very dark blue – almost black color for paint. Even though it was Autumn, I thought maybe the storm door was trapping too much heat with the western exposure against that dark paint. Off came the storm door, scrape/sand/prime on a cloudy day/paint on a different cloudy day. Within a week or two, more bubbles. This continues to be a problem, though over time, with repeated sanding/priming/painting, the bubbles are fewer and smaller.

    I have long suspected the problem was the wood hardener. I tend to be nutsy about painting and using high quality products/brushes and following good painting techniques. Another commenter to this post, bbeth Jo, posted a link for the Minwax wood hardener you and I both used which confirmed that in fact paint will not adhere to the wood hardener. Which is really irritating. I’m fairly certain that this was not described on the yellow can that holds the product (I actually read these things and would not have used it if it had said ‘you will never be able to paint anything this product touches’).

    I’m thinking class action. In the meantime, if you find a way to overcome the evil wood hardener, be a dear and post your remedy?

    g

    • That is so frustrating, but good to know it’s the culprit!! Ugh. It doesn’t say it on the can. I really hope I can figure it out and this isn’t a problem forever. That would blow! Argh.

  141. Wow, it’s great to see your process like this even though it was a fail, I’m sure you’ll figure it out in the end. The door and the hardware are too beautiful for words.

  142. 1) Never use a heat gun to strip lead paint, when the lead paint is heated to a certain temperature, it emits toxic vapors. However….if you *must*, always wear one of those gas mask looking contraptions that you strap over your nose and mouth with the two air filters on the sides. It will make your skin breakout like a teenager fyi, but your lungs will thank you.

    2) Peel Away (I used Peel Away 1) is great at getting multi layers of paint off in a wet environment so you don’t expose yourself to the lead paint dust or vapors, but you have to neutralize it before you paint and test the ph level, otherwise your “paint may fail” (their words, not mine). Once it dries, it’s realllly hard to get off – you have to “re-activate” it with another application. This is particularly problematic if it gets into rotted wood divots, molding crevices, etc. You’ll find yourself agonizing over the purple ph tape with a toothbrush soaked in vinegar and a shish kabob skewer picking the dried particles out. (Which is also a health hazard, btw. Peel Away must stay wet….)

    3) Bondo sucks for wood repairs. I used it to repair wood trim and it doesn’t expand/contract at the same rate as the wood, so the interior patches became glaringly apparent after a few years and the exterior patches started to separate from the wood. USE ABATRON WOOD RESTORATION PRODUCTS INSTEAD. http://www.abatron.com They have both a wood epoxy and a wood filler that would have been perfect for the soft wood on your door. Our local Historic Preservation office recommends their products, and I can’t say enough good things about it. Try it…you’ll see.

  143. I enjoyed this post immensely! I totally feel your pain on not wanting to wait for the proper tools and solvents. I would have done the same thing :-)

    I have a blog devoted completely to pretty and unique front doors and I am going to link to this post and feature your front door. Find the link at http://www.frontdoorcolor.com/great-front-door-renovation/

    Thanks for a very funny and informative post on a topic near and dear to me!

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