Another Piano, Another Color Decision

I spent most of my weekend working on taxes, which is never fun and always stressful for me. So the last thing I wanted to do after finishing that was to turn my attention back to my very frustrating hallway cabinet project (which I’m having to make adjustments to — more on that here if you missed it). Instead I wanted to work on an easier project for a while, like refinishing my spinet piano. Remember that piano?

my spinet piano - before refinishing - 1

It’s the one my mom learned to play on when she was a young girl. You can read more about it here, and see it inside their 8-foot-wide trailer where they lived. That piano is a few decades old and has spent the last several years in storage, so the finish needs a lot of work.

So I headed to Home Depot and got all of the supplies — stripper, chip brushes, gloves, after wash, etc. Then I took about an hour to take the piano apart before I was actually ready to strip a piece.

After stripping, cleaning, and sanding the very first piece, I realized that refinishing the piano might be a bit more challenging than I had hoped. The lid had a pretty veneer over the top, but the routed edges were clearly a different wood.

spinet piano lid with two different types of wood

I had that same issue with the other piano I refinished. Here’s how that one turned out…

upright piano refinished and painted - before and after

You can see more of that piano here.

The parts that I refinished turned out beautifully. But the reason I ended up painting some of the piano is because there were parts on that piano that were also different woods. The only way to get those different woods looking the same is to apply a thick finish that basically covers up all of the wood grain. And if I’m going to go to the trouble of refinishing, I’d like the grain to show.

My mom has been opposed to me painting the spinet, but after telling her about the issue with the different woods, she said I could go ahead and paint it as long as it’s not some crazy color like orange or yellow. She’d rather I keep it classy.

I have no problem with that. I’m kind of over my bold warm color phase. (That’s sooooo 2016! 😀 ).

I’m not really sure what I want to do. I’ve had my heart set on refinishing this little piano for so long now, and I’m afraid that if I don’t see it through, I’ll be really disappointed in myself. But on the other hand, I don’t want to spend days stripping this piano just to find that it’s not really worth refinishing and I should have just taken a day and painted it.

So I have a few options.

(1) I could press on with the stripping and just hope for the best. If there’s quite a bit of the light colored wood, I could find a stain to make it look as close to the veneer as possible.

(2) I could strip the whole thing, and then do another combo paint and stain like I did on the upright piano.

(3) I could save a lot of time and just go ahead and paint the whole thing.

If I go with option 3, the trick will be coming up with a classy color that complements the other colors in my house and is mom-approved. She tends towards neutrals, while of course, I love color.

She approves of gray, which I think looks very pretty on this piano…

painted gray pianovia Pinterest

But y’all know my track record with grays. In the light-to-medium gray category, I’ve really only ever found one gray that I like in my house, and I already have it on my breakfast room walls, my living room walls, and as one of the colors on my stenciled music room walls. I don’t want it on a piano as well. I also like the really dark gray (Benjamin Moore Kendall Charcoal) that I have on my fireplace, but I don’t think that color will do much for my piano.

Of course, my default is blues or teals. The piano will be right next to the kitchen with teal cabinets, right next to the entryway with teal grasscloth, and next to the hallway with dark-ish blue doors (although they’re really not so dark during the day). So if I do a really dark blue or teal, then it won’t all match. A blue that’s a few shades darker than my hallway doors might work.

dark blue dresservia Pinterest

And another mom-approved non-neutral color is a dark eggplant color. When I suggested it, I remembered that the 2017 Benjamin Moore color of the year is a dark eggplant called Shadow.

benjamin moore 2017 color of the year - shadow

I did actually try a couple of lighter purple/gray paint colors that I had on hand, but they looked awful with the stenciled walls.

stenciled trellis design on walls in music room - 6

Those walls may be neutral, but the pattern is quite bold. So putting a large light colored piano next to it would make the piano seem a bit overpowered and the wall look top heavy. I really need a darker color to ground the piano and give it some weight against the bold patterned wall.

And then, because I do still love it and don’t have any in my house yet, I tried a green that I had on hand. This is actually a very different green from what I had on my kitchen cabinets before the teal.

green paint tested on the piano

I’m not even sure if green is mom-approved, but if I did go with green, I’d use one that’s darker and richer than the one I tested above.

So those are the options I’m considering. Part of me really wants to just paint it. It’ll be much easier and faster, and then I can check this project off of my to-do list for 2017, and move on. And I’ve tried to convince myself that I could paint it now, and then come back later (after my house is much more finished and I don’t have so many projects pending) if I really want to and strip it and refinish it. Adding one more layer of paint isn’t going to make the stripping process any harder.

I think I’ve actually just convinced myself to paint it. And as of this minute, I’m leaning towards the eggplant color, but I’m still open to other ideas. I just need to keep it classy. 🙂 What do you think?



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  1. I love the idea of an eggplant coloured piano, esp. in that room! And you’re right about that not changing much that you cannot change again in the future. I would not go for the two-tone thing again as I seem to remember that you didn’t like that on the other piano?! Well, at least, I didn’t like it much 🙂 Anyway, as you want to do something that is easy and satisfying without being frustrating, I guess painting is the right choise right now (particularly in that gorgeous colour!!)

    1. Eggplant.

      The reason that many old items of furniture were stained so dark is precisely because they were often made of a combination of different hardwoods and veneers. Any old piece like that I have stripped always reveals a variety of woods and often the veneers are different too.

      1. I agree – black. Please don’t do the two tone; please stay away from teals and greens – there are too many in your house already. Black would be perfect and would be classy for your mom.

        1. Black was the color that came to my mind as well…maybe with some brushed gold to bring out the details. As my grandmother always said, “you need something black to help ground your room and give your eyes something to rest on”.

    1. I agree on painting it. I agree with Carmen on black. You like black and I don’t see much around. It would look classy and nice and stand out in that light room.

      I don’t know how you make your paint not show marks. I’ve tried your suggestions but I guess I’m doing something wrong. Even with polyurethane (floor and table top) I can’t get it perfectly smooth (bubbles, hair, fibers, mystery stuff). I gave up after many redos and it’s not all that noticeable. I lived in frustrated project construction zone for months. It loses some joy 😂

      1. I thought black too. Classic. Not sure if the eggplant would clash with the teals, and definite no to the green. If not black, a very deep charcoal, or off-black.

  2. I would leave it in a wood stain. There are so many painted surfaces except the floor that I think leaving it wood would make it stand out more and in a good way.

    I don’t think I would be bothered by the top being lighter or darker than the rest. It could be sort of a feature of a two toned wood if you don’t want to stain the other parts darker. It’s not like the grain is wildly different. Or you could also mix the stain slightly different for the light parts vs. the darker to make them work together and not have to add extra stain.

    1. That was my question. Where is it written that the stain all has to be the same color? This would be a great opportunity to see how a piece turns out with different stains – a mixture of light and dark.

    2. I agree with Lena and some of the others here. You have so many beautifully painted pieces/surfaces already – entry table; kitchen cabinets; chairs, credenza (also eggplant), benches in the breakfast room; bathroom cabinets; hallway doors (coming soon); fireplace – leaving the piano stained will help start to balance all those painted surfaces out. If ever there was a piece to take your time with, wouldn’t it be this family heirloom with so many happy memories? Or perhaps add this to your contract out list?

      1. I agree. Two tones of wood can be quite beautiful, and it’s an heirloom (I’m all for painted wood, but in this case, I’m with Kim, above). I also agree that it would contrast nicely with all the painted surfaces in your house. Painting would be quick and easy, but perhaps this piece deserves more than, that, given its history.

        1. I don’t understand why you can’t paint an heirloom. I’d say an heirloom, if you care about it at all, should be treated with respect, and that can totally mean a beautiful paint job. My vote is on black, as that is a very classy piano color.

    3. Exactly what I was thinking. I have seen many two toned stained pieces that are absolutely beautiful! I think you have enough other painted furniture pieces that a stained piece will stand out more. I’m sure you could do the darker toned wood in a medium stain and the lighter tone wood in a darker stain to get them closer to the same color. I truly think it would be beautiful! On top of that, I think your mother would be thrilled.

  3. I love the idea of black but it will show a lot of dust and cat hair 😉 – but also love the dark blue color you have pictured on the dresser in your post. Also, I love the idea of Eggplant but Benjamin Moore Shadow may be too light (I would prefer it 25% darker).

    Honestly though, it is a matter of preference…I’m sure you can make anything work!

    Can’t wait to see it all done!!

  4. For me, I think there is nothing classier than a deep navy blue, but I also think that practically any deep, dark, rich color in the blue family would work including a deep eggplant. Not so keen on green.

  5. I think I’d keep chugging, or maybe try to do the stain color matching on whatever you already have exposed (you can always paint over it).

    Normally, I’m one to say go ahead and paint it. But with this particular piano, since it’s an heirloom piece, I think it’s worth the extra effort to try to restore it to its original intended wood beauty. I think someday, you’ll be happy you did.

  6. Please stain it. There are so many wonderful stains out there to work with know, I’m sure you could find the right combination.

    If you do decide to paint it, I think a satin black would be best. Black is classic and will go beautifully with all the other colors you have going on.

    Any time I see a painted piano, other than black, I think cheap and tacky. And I know that’s not the vibe you’re going for 🙂

  7. I would prefer a woodtone piano in there; a darker stain would allow the different woods to blend, especially if you prep with a wood conditioner. But I could also see going for a high gloss black. You might need to go for a very high-end paint for that, such as Fine Paints for Europe. Pianos look good in black. A gloss paint will still take a fair amount of prep work or every imperfection will show.

    I loved the Gentleman’s Gray from Benjamin Moore you once tried on your cabinets. Would that work–for the piano and/or for your doors?

  8. I like the idea of purple. Would you consider a color similar to the buffet in the breakfast room? You could always temporarily move that piece into the music room to get a feel for how a purple color would go with the walls before committing.

    I do agree with a previous poster that you have a lot of painted wood now- the entry way table, the buffet, the doors, all the cabinets- a wood finish might provide some nice variety if the coloration would be tolerable for you, but as you said, you can always come back to it at a later date if you want to paint now and stain in the future.

  9. Please please please stain or (shiny) black to be classy. Or satin black if you can’t abide glossy black. Try building up several coats of gel stains to match lighter area of wood. Gel stains are awesome!

  10. This is an heirloom piece. Black, white or stain. You have lots of color throughout your house to make up for the neutral piano. Put a pretty vase of colorful flowers on top when your done and check it off the list. Just my two cents.

  11. Classic black might be too traditional, but I have also seen black paired with beautiful accent metals like gold or copper. Maybe you could go traditional black but add pops of metals, whether normal like along the front and where the lettering goes. Or…. you could maybe find something like a small greek key stencil and go around the piano? Like add accents to imply paneling? Im not sure if I am explaining it correctly, but in general I think if you went with classic black, your creativity could dress it up with classy metallic (paint) accents.

    1. I so agree on this idea…stain it and do the bench as she suggested. What a cool combo! I would not paint a piano like this…I think you would be sorry later if you did. This is a mom gift and needs to be treasured as such. Stain it! Go for it! Can’t wait to see it!

  12. I love the way you originally did your other piano. I have shown people pictures of it because I thought it was so pretty. I can’t tell if your current one has the pretty detail that the other had but please consider doing that again. If not, I think black or deep charcoal would look great.

  13. I see the piano in the same color as the lower wall area. Then sand some edges to revel the previous stain. It does not need to be a heavy dark color to stand out.

  14. I’m in the Stain camp! Dark Walnut if you need it really dark, But the dark eggplant would be my choice if you paint it.
    Satin black would be the only other choice, if it was mine.

    My mothers up right, was a really dark stained one and was very classy looking.

    My first thought was you will love the Egg Plant color, and I’m not a purple lover, but do love the teals!

  15. My first thought for classy was to paint it black. That would give it weight and a timeless look. Eggplant sounds beautiful, but the black says “I’m great forever!”.

  16. Eggplant or deep blue! I hate black furniture, but that’s just me 😉 I do think a deep eggplant would be outta this world. 😉 Can’t wait to see what you decide.

  17. Obtaining an even stain on different woods is not hard but you need different products than what box stores offer. Suggest you check out Bob Flexner’s Understanding Wood Finishing, 2nd ed, fr your library. You are talented to get a great result. You could do a black stain which would still show the grain of the wood.

  18. Personally, the gray/stained piano was one of my favorite projects ever and I was very sad when it turned yellow, which was much too jarring for my taste. But I’m not sure how a two-tone piano would look in the music room with the stencil. I think a satin black or a light neutral (not stark white) would be a classic, timeless look.

  19. Kristi, in the newest edition of HGTV magazine is a color called Web Gray that might be a nice shade for the piano. in the magazine, it is on a dining room wall and looks very pretty. You might check it out and see if it floats your boat.

  20. Take the hard route and stain it. Your Mom will love it and that’s what you really wanted. The hardest work is sometimes the most fulfilling. Restored will be the best look.

  21. Paint it, but NOT GREEEN. You’ll have the same effect as the yellow one. It will take over the room. I like your idea of a darker color to ground the room. The eggplant is interesting. I just got Behr’s new color card with the 2018 colors. Spruce Blue is also lovely. Using that on a wall. But probably not a piano…. Check out GrayLAC T18-03. I’m also using that on a wall. Depending on your light it might read right.

  22. Not green. Wood stain is best with so much other painted furniture. Black if it is painted out of necessity. It is classic and would look good with your beautiful doors. Both would be classy.

  23. I have a very similar piano and have wondered for years just what to do with it. It is stained and I’ve thought that a darker stain might be in order. I’ve also toyed with the idea of painting it but can not quite bring myself to decide on paint. I wish I could upload a photo. You would be amazed at the similarity!

    Looking forward to reading about your decision and your decision process. And, especially looking forward to seeing the final product! Go girl!

  24. Love to see it stained even tho it’ll be lots of work to achieve it. Stain as it’s brown in color goes w everything since it’s a mixture of all primaries. Sometimes u have a difficult time settling in on a color u love. Seems like stain would be a great classic choice.

  25. Maybe it’s just because some of your rooms aren’t yet finished, but I feel like you have a lot of painted pieces, colored pieces, etc. I think a stained piece in a satin finish would be a nice complement to the other items you have going on.

    Try not to focus on your to-do list. That seems to be driving your decision-making these past few weeks and maybe (it seems to me) hindering your ability to enjoy the DIY process. You undertook a really large project (the studio rebuild) in the middle of the year, which messed up your timing a great deal. Try to put your original time-table aside and refocus on the projects themselves.

  26. Just a thought, but what if you did a treatment similar to the one you did to your breakfast room table? That way you still get the nice element of some natural wood but perhaps the treatment could help disguise the difference in wood types? Plus, I think the darker the stain, the more it camouflages. If not, I love the eggplant!

  27. I’ve really been thinking about this and I’d like to suggest that you revisit Kendall Charcoal. It would look really great, imo. You could choose an area or two to gold leaf or faux gold leaf or gold metallic paint, etc. And I think I’d change out the 2 knobs on the cover to something really different and creative, or even just gold.

  28. I’m going to wander in a different direction. I love the aged rubbed look…and looking through your images, my preference would be to do a black paint or stain, with dark teal rubbing. Truthfully, I’m not a fan of painting wood very often, but this would look lovely in a rubbed black and blue tone. IMHO

  29. Paint!
    Eggplant! 🙂

  30. New commenter here.. but long time reader! I wanted to put my vote in on this because I agree that stain is definitely the way to go on this. I know painting is easier, and would check it off your list, but as such I think it also makes the piece less special. Just another painted piece. Something stained is something you know has been cherished and loved. We inherited my husband’s grandmother’s dining room table. I thought it would be beautiful painted, and certainly it would have, but it just wouldn’t have done that table justice. I spent months getting old layers of stain and gunk out of every crevice and stained it. It was a complete labor of love, but it is gorgeous, and all of the family members who come and see it love it. Under all those layers of stain was a heart in the wood grain. Clear as day. I love that I can see that character in the wood grain. If I had painted over it I never would have known it was there. Yes, it might have some variation in tone because of different types of wood, but I really don’t think it matters. And I agree on the gel stain comment. I used gel stain on the table and chairs, and even though the chairs are a different kind of wood, the tones are extraordinarily similar. It doesn’t soak into the wood as deeply, but it allows you to see the wood grain, so in a way it’s like a happy half way between paint and stain. It makes it uniform like paint but allows you to see the grain like stain. Good luck! Obviously this is up to you, and I’m sure it will be beautiful.

  31. Stain it. Painted furniture has been done to death and I hope it’s on its way out as fast as the 80’s blue goose.

  32. Please stain it, for all the reasons those if us who think you should stick with stain discussed in the previous comments. And, I think you really want to stain it; you even said that if you did not like the paint you would just restrip it and stain it. To me that says you really want to stain it. Don’t paint it just to get if off your to-do-list. Whenever you do that you are unhappy with the results and go back and redo it; which takes more time. Bite the bullet and do it right the first time 🙂

  33. Wow! I read all the comments. My question: are you putting those cool blue chairs in there?
    If u are going to do a fun chair color, then I would go black or wood…leaning toward a light unstained wood though.
    It is a hard one though Kristi…..I might wait on this until your living room is further along😉

  34. Well, from what I understand, this is not just a piano, this is THE piano, that is kinda like an old friend, or pet, or even relative. So I think the primary question is not what would look good in the room, but what would feel respectful to the piano, and not change its being familiar and comforting to be around. Which applies for both your mom’s AND your feelings. So what is that?

  35. I’m so glad that you kept the details on the first piano unpainted. My piano is from 1902-1903, and has the same type of decorative wood details from the Victorian era.

    And I vote to try the eggplant. Nothing wrong with a small spark of a different color.

  36. The other piano is actually older then the spinet. I see no reason not to paint it. People think that old finishes must be preserved, but that’s only the case with true antiques and the rare items most of us never encounter. I think black paint would suit it very well, and painting is reversible should you change your mind. Do it fast and furious, and move on. You have plenty to keep you busy without spending hours stripping and staining.

  37. If you paint I would go with Gloss Black. It would give a cohesive look to the room with the doors you spent so much time on. Use a print with eggplant, black and the wall color to upholster the bench. IMO any other color diminishes the presence of the piano which is the focal point of the room.

    I also think that any color other than black sends the message that the piano is an accessory and not the focal point.

    Otherwise stain in a way that results in the different wood types ending in the same color. But I really think gloss black is the way to go.

  38. Let your Mom decide on the color whether stain or paint. She has the memories of this special piano. You could make it a fun outing to the paint store gathering samples and pondering which one she prefers over lunch at one of her favorite restaurants. You’ll be glad you did and she may enjoy playing it when she visits. It is a musical instrument she must have spent countless hours learning to play.

  39. I just recently had my french provincial piano painted in coastal blue… and I couldn’t be happier. happy to share photos if you decide you want to consider a blue piano and want to see one that’s darker and not as easy to find when googling. 🙂

  40. This is a special piece for your family and I feel a rich dark woodtone stain would be wonderful. Alternately black stain could look terrific. We have black stained wood trim in our home and it is quite nice! My third choice would be glossy black. Looking forward to seeing it done. How nice that you have this piano and all the memories that go with it.

    1. Wow! I don’t have nor ever will have a piano but this site was fantastic! It was really a delight to see these instruments restored. As we had a black high gloss enamel finish on our piano when I was a child, that was my go-to thought. But seeing the satin black pianos has made me change my mind. Those are beautiful.

      There was one piano they showed that they said wasn’t stain-grade wood so they first dyed it and then stained it. That was a new technique to me. But the end result was fabulous.

      So, wood stain is my first choice and black satin my second.

  41. I hate to see you spend all that time and energy and not like the finished result if you stain it. Since the room is so neutral, why not paint the piano and bench blank. You can make a bright or printed cushion on the bench for a pop of color.

  42. Kristi, your home is lovely. You have perfected the art of painting furniture and cabinets and your painted pieces come out beautiful. One thing your home is lacking to my eye, is natural [unpainted] wood furniture. Not knowing what else furniture-wise might be going in the music room my vote is to definitely stain the piano. I mourned the loss of the natural wood top on your credenza. I thought it gave just the right amount of warmth to that area. I’m secretly hoping that you’ll revisit the credenza and decide to replace the wood top. I’d love to see more natural wood furniture and accessories in your home.

    Again, without knowing the grand plan of what other furniture pieces are going in your house, it’s hard to say definitively…but if you’re feeling the need for more warmth, you might consider staining the piano. Would be a perfect tribute to that special family piece as well, bringing it back to its former glory.

    YHWH Bless You : )

  43. Take the time to strip it down and actually see what you have to work with. Work on it 20-30 min. a day if it seems too overwhelming to do it all at once.

    Do you really want to start painting another piano over and over again?

  44. This doesn’t look to me to be a piece that needs to be stripped. A furniture refinisher may work. It is easier, I think, than stripping. But if you paint it first, and then you change your mind, then it will need to be stripped. You can test a finish with acetone, or nail polish remover, to see if it can be refinished instead of stripped. I’ve redone a lot of furniture, and some woods look different unfinished but then come together nicely when stained or finished. You can get a good idea what bare wood will look like with a clear finish on it by wiping it with mineral spirits. The different surfaces may look more similar than you think.

  45. I would suggest either black or a dark-colored stain. I love painted pieces but I agree with others who have said that you already have SO many (beautiful, though) painted pieces. But you need some natural looking pieces in there, too. Especially something as important as this piano is to your family. Is there such a thing as eggplant-colored stain?? 🙂 Good luck!

  46. Stain it. If it looks completely awful, then a nice black. But you already have a house filled with colour–if you give this too much colour, it’s not going to get the attention it deserves.