Painted timbers imitate centuries-old look

DEAR DEBBIE: My partner and I are trying to re-create a medieval dining room look in our century-old home. We recently visited a castle in England and fell in love with the old English look. We enjoy painting, and thought some kind of wood effect might work as a chair rail on the plaster walls. The doors and trim are unpainted oak. Do you have instructions? Thanks for any advice. — Francie and Martin.

DEAR FRANCIE AND MARTIN: Centuries ago in England, interiors were constructed of a rough plaster and timber combination called wattle and daub. The wattles were a woven latticework of load-bearing and supporting wood boards. Daub was a mixture of sand, clay and straw that was spread from both sides over the wattles. When the daub had dried, a final lime-and-sand-plaster coat was smoothed over the walls, hiding most of the timber, but often the major boards were left visible.

If you live in a century-old home, your plaster walls are most likely a bit uneven and cracked. This will be an asset — you can imitate the look of this medieval style with paint and a few simple tools. This modern version of plaster and timber walls will suit your old English theme well. The fact that you have oak doors and trim that are unpainted is a big plus. What you want to do now is build on some supporting timbers using a faux-bois technique and then add some age to the existing plaster walls.

Start by measuring and marking off where you want the timbers to go. You can make a pattern of panels with a chair rail, and a strip at the top and bottom of the wall with timbers running diagonally below the rail. Vertical timbers can be 3 or 4 feet apart. Each timber should measure about 4 to 6 inches wide.

There are many recipes for replicating the look of wood, but one of the easiest methods utilizes a simple tool called a rocker, or wood-graining tool (found at paint and hardware stores). The rocker is made from thick rubber that has been engraved with a grained pattern. When you rock the tool back and forth as you pull it through paint or glaze, the knots and graining seen in a real piece of wood appear.

To create the painted oak timbers seen in the accompanying photo, you will need two shades of latex paint — golden honey and dark green-brown — water-based glazing liquid, a 2- or 3-inch paintbrush, a foam brush and a rocker.

Hand-paint two coats of the honey-brown paint onto the marked-off timbers and let it dry. Mix a glaze with 1 part green-brown paint to 2 parts glazing liquid. Working in single lengths, apply the colored glaze over the honey base with a foam brush. Pull the rocker through the wet glaze, rocking back and forth to create the design. Clean the rocker with a rag or paper towel between strokes.

Use the paintbrush to fill in the walls between the timbers with brick-red paint. You don’t want perfectly clean lines, as these are supposed to be old timbers. To give the walls a washed-out look, mix a glaze with 1 part medium-gray paint, 2 parts glazing liquid and 1 part water. Roll the glaze over the red base coat and then rub it back with a rag.

To give the timbers depth, as though they were standing out from the wall, paint in shadow lines — light-brown along the top and dark-brown along the bottom of each strip.

I think you’ll have fun with this project, and you’ll be amazed at how authentic your timbers look. Enjoy entertaining in your Elizabethan-style dining room.


Debbie Travis is a columnist for King Features Syndicate. E-mail questions to her at

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