The Pell Mansion, located on Bellevue Avenue in Newport, RI, had been purchased by the Preservation Society of Newport County for use as executive offices. Formerly a private home, the first floor consisted of intersecting corridors of elaborately carved oak panels, which had been purchased in Europe at the time of the building’s construction. At some point, these panels had been painted with numerous coats of white paint.
After first being asked to determine the feasibility of removing the white paint, we were later given the wood refinishing and conservation contract to remove the white paint and restore the paneling to its original appearance. Removal of paint from an open pored wood such as oak is exceedingly difficult to do without damage to the carved elements and molding profiles. Early on, we determined that numerous coats of linseed oil formed the original finish, enabling us to soften and separate the white paint film from the oil, using low temperature heat plates. While this still left a white shadow on the end grain of carved segments, it successfully removed the majority of the paint without damage to the wood surface.
We then cleaned the entire surface to remove small bits of paint and to create a consistent color to the oak. The choice of stain was most important, since shadows of the white paint still remained in the end grain of the carved panels. The stain we chose was a mixture of burnt umber /raw sienna Japan pigments cut with lacquer thinner. This combination, when wiped, provided a rich brown color, consistent throughout the panel system. Any traces of the white shadow on the end grain were then treated with pure pigment of the same stain, effectively removing all trace of the white paint film. The final finish was a hand brushed lacquer.