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Why are your skirting boards white?

Why are your skirting boards white?

I thought this would be a good post to write early on in my blog since skirting boards is in the title. Here’s why! John and I have installed and painted A LOT of skirting boards, firstly in our previous fifties flat and currently in our Neo-Georgian home which we are still renovating. We've gone to the extra effort of replacing woodwork due to either having created new rooms, they’ve been in bad condition or just not the right style. Currently, we have a downstairs theme for our skirting boards and upstairs scheme and that's because we believe that there is a lot to be said about these details in a room. You don’t always notice them but they really do affect the overall impression of a space. Whenever I walk into a room believe it or not skirting boards and architraves are some of the first things I notice - What colour are they? What size and style has the designer gone for? How have these decisions enhanced the room? (I am well aware how crazy this makes me sound!) When I realised I had this strange habit, it was probably the first clue that I wanted to be involved in the interior design industry and it was driving home after a conversation with a friend that I decided I wanted skirting boards to be in the title of my blog!

Why do you need skirting boards?

 Photo courtesy of John Ford

Photo courtesy of John Ford

First of all, I think we need to address the question why do we need skirting boards anyway? Do they have a function or are they just there for decoration? I enlisted my wonderful Father-in-law, a retired Architect who has been building houses with his own hands for over 50 years to help me with this one. Here's what Mike Ford had to say - "Technically skirting boards solve the problem of plastering walls down to floor level. Normally a striking batten is fixed to the wall at or near floor level and the plasterer strikes off against it. The skirting board is then fixed to close off the end of the wall. Also new flooring tends to shrink away from the plaster line and skirting boards cover the crack, in the same way that cornice mouldings cover the crack at ceiling level." As well as a neat covering where the floor meets the wall, it also allows carpets to be fitted at ease underneath it.

On a more practical level they offer protection. Picture the moment when you are hoovering the breakfast crumbs up and the edge of your Dyson hits the wall - yes without skirting boards the plaster would crumble off the wall as plaster is much softer than wood. Now imagine a cute little blonde haired one year old who adores his bat-mobile ride-on and that now he can pick up speed crash bangs into the wall like there's no tomorrow. Again, the wooden skirting board acts as a barrier between bat-boy and the wall! Now consider you are in the set of Pride and Prejudice and Mr Darcey and his dashing friend Mr Bingley drop over for an unexpected visit and their riding spurs accidentally make contact with the wall. Yes here again we can see how wooden protection is needed and why it was probably invented in the first place. In those days the whole lower wall would have been clad in beautiful decorative wood with skirting and dado rail combined in one board. Did you know that dado rails prevent damage to walls by chair backs and furniture? And if you haven't discovered yet, picture rails are for hanging pictures on without putting holes in the wall. This has got to be the best thing I discovered after moving into a 1930s property. I can move pictures around all the time with ease! I bet you had no idea the purposes of these things that we have in all of our homes. Interesting, hey?

But why are they white?!

However the bigger question is why is white our default colour when it comes to painting woodwork? Historically skirting boards weren’t white. Although its not completely clear, it seems to be a mid-century invention. My guess is that in the fifties there were a lot of flats and council houses being built after the war and that mass production and demand for quick room decoration required a simple formula such as using one colour for convenience and keeping costs down. However, from the Georgian era walls, skirting and architrave would have been painted the same colour. I am a BIG fan of this resurfacing trend. You may have noticed this on the likes of Downton Abbey. I have to admit that I sometimes find the storyline a tad slow but I keep watching as the styling is so considered and grand and you see many examples of how skirting board colour can compliment wall shades. TV shows are such a fabulous place for interiors inspiration. My favourite are Mad Men, Boardwalk Empire and the Crown (obviously not the Buckingham palace bit!) Once you start looking you really will start to see that they really do have an important role to play in your room.

So for your next room transformation you basically have three options of how to paint your skirting boards and all three exist in my home:

1. Paint them white

Yes this is the default colour but if you like the look go for it. It creates a clean frame, a bit like an old polaroid picture and if the whole house follows suit you will have a clear theme. In Ethan's bedroom (which is about to be knocked to pieces!) I love that against the mid grey walls the white skirting boards blend in to the white painted floorboards. It's a really clean look (but as a side note I should say that white floorboards were not my brightest idea for a kids room). Maybe consider going for a slight off-white so that the contrast line with the wall colour isn’t so harsh. 

White skirting boards

2. Same Colour as walls

Go old school and paint them the same colour as walls. Oh how I LOVE this look. I can't wait to update my living room as I really regret the dark blue walls against the white skirting boards. Plus its definitely the room that sees the most traffic so there are so many marks on them. Why this works so well visually is that you have less dividing lines between contrasting colours which can actually make a small room seem larger, even if you go for a dark colour. Lighter shades work too and can really make a room feel calm. Note that this idea works for ceilings.

Kids bookshelf Purbeck stone F&B and Brighton Little Greene
dark grey walls and skirting

3. GO to the Dark Side

If you're feeling really brave, paint the wood a darker colour than walls. I feel that this gives quite a modern look but you could get really creative here! It takes a lot of guts but I've seen it work really well with dark grey skirting against white walls and I've tried a darker shade of grey on skirting, banister and picture rail in my hall and landing. What about neon green against light grey walls for a kids bedroom?! A great benefit of this combination is that marks and scuffs won’t show up so easily either. So when you really start thinking about it why would you paint your skirting boards white where every mark and score will show up!

Dark blue woodwork
dark grey skirting on mint green walls

I bet you had no idea how much fun you could have with skirting boards! If you’re feeling inspired then head over to my Pinterest page for more ideas. And please send me pictures or post on the Facebook page with your new rooms. I’d LOVE to see what you’re up to.

 Photo courtesy of John Ford 

Photo courtesy of John Ford 

DISCLAIMER: All photography is my own unless otherwise stated.

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