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How to Prep, Repair + Paint a Front Door

Valspar Pinkwash | Sherwin Williams Black Magic

We knew from the first time that we stepped into our Tree House that all the doors and windows would need new trim and a fresh coat of paint. Although that sentence is so easy to think, say and type, in reality, the task is incredibly daunting. So rather than overwhelm ourselves completely with trying to do it all at once, we’ve been approaching this big to-do on a room by room basis.

Throughout most of the home, trim was ripped out on demo day (with the exception of the bathroom and sleeping loft), and the main floor bedrooms were the first to receive all new moldings and paint. I absolutely loathe installing trim (and all the caulking it entails), although Scott has admitted that he loves the monotony of it. Even still, we can both agree that it is immensely satisfying in the end! Most recently, the kitchen and mudroom got the Trim Treatment, and soon afterward, the windows in both spaces were painted black. And now, we finally have a freshly painted front door!

We chose Valspar’s Pinkwash for the inside, because we thought, you can’t not smile when seeing a pink door! The outside was painted in Sherwin William’s Black Magic, the same color that we’ve been painting the windows. Although the exterior still has a long, long, long way to go – and as a result, the black looks a bit out of place – it’s one small step in the right direction. Today, we’d like to share with you how we properly prepped, repaired and painted this old wooden door. When done correctly, it’s easily a day long project, if not longer, but there’s a massive payout for the effort. Let’s dive in! Note: These steps are for a wooden door, which is similar to a steel door, but not exactly. Here’s a post on how we painted our steel front door (that still looks as good as new years later!).

Tools + Supplies Used

Exterior paint + primer
Wood putty
Lead test
Saw horses
Orbital sander
Painter’s tape
2″ Angled paintbrush (our favorite!)
4″ roller
Face mask

We feel so lucky that this old 1930s house has almost all of the original doors and windows (and most of the original hardware, too!). That said, they’ve all seen countless layers of paint and grime, nail holes and everyday wear and tear. Here’s the door and painted-over hardware before we started:

What We Did

We started by filling in all the bigger nail holes, chips and dents with wood putty. You can use a small putty knife, but in this case, we just used our fingers and roughed the putty into the cracks. Our goal is not to go overboard, rather, we focus on the deeper gouges and imperfections. We let the smaller scuffs slip through the cracks, because we honestly think that some of that old charm should always shine through!

Next, we removed all of the hardware – yes, all. The hinges, the handleset and the deadbolt, it all gets taken off. A tip on removing the hinges: We like to remove the hinges from the door first (make sure you have a second person to help you support it), and then we remove it from the door frame.

While the hardware was being removed, I got a fresh pot of water boiling so we could shed all the weight of the paint from those pretty hinges and backplates! Scott took apart the interior handle with the glass knob, so that we were only boiling the backplate. We feared that boiling the glass could make it cloudy, and we didn’t want to risk that. Note: Here’s a post on boiling our hardware, with more helpful links in the comment section!

Before going any further, we did a lead test. Every vintage door we’ve ever picked up from one of our local salvage shops (we love rescuing them for pocket doors around our Chicago home!) has always tested positive for lead, so we were sure the same would be true here. We chipped away a few layers of paint with a fingernail, and then Scott rubbed the swab on a part of the door where we could see several layers at once. Miraculously, the door tested lead-free! Note: Here’s a post on our adventures in dealing with lead paint. Warning, it’s a time commitment and a labor of love!

Lead paint or not, I still wore a safety mask before the next step, which is sanding! After bringing the door outside and laying it on sawhorses, I used an orbital sander with 220 grit paper, although a sanding block would also work (it would just tire those arm muscles!). I sanded over all the areas with wood putty, and I did a quick skim on the large, flat surfaces, simply to rough it up and prep the door for paint. The idea here is to knock down the current sheen and remove the raised putty, not to remove all the paint.

If your door has glass panes, this step is for you! It might also be the most tedious, but it’ll be well worth it in the end – promise. Using a razor blade, I painstakingly scraped off all the sloppy paint from jobs of yore …

… And then I protected my paint job with FrogTape!

We used exterior grade Valspar Reserve in a satin finish, which is a paint and primer in one. The light sanding allowed the paint to adhere nicely, and our door was already a slightly dulled satin finish. But! If your door has a high gloss finish to start with, I’d recommend using an additional primer before the first coat of paint. I always start by brushing around the panels using my favorite 2″ angled brush, and I follow behind with a 4″ roller on the large areas. Note: And if you’re painting a steel door, you’ll have the most success with a primer, no matter what. More on that here!

The interior of our door was painted in Valspar’s Pinkwash, and the exterior of the door received Sherwin Williams Black Magic, which we’ve found to be more of a really, really dark gray. Both sides received two coats of paint, and I allowed each side to dry for an hour before flipping and painting the opposite side. Once both sides were painted, we left the door outside for a few more hours before returning to re-install our cleaned up hardware!

Below, click on the right arrow to see the after, followed by the before! (If you’re reading this post in a blog reader, you may need to click over to view.)

While we had the paint out, we decided to paint the pocket door pink that separates the kitchen from the mudroom, too! Although we would have loved to swap out this door with a panel that was half glass (we thought a big glass pane would look nice frosted), instead, we opted to save in this area. Pretty pink paint and simple black hardware (from Lowe’s) completed the look. Oh, and the new trim helps!

You can see that big electric panel in many of the shots throughout this post, but soon enough, we’ll be hiding it behind a pretty mirror. We’ll also lay down the large outdoor rug, and I picked up a vintage horseshoe for above the pink door, for good luck! We’re inching closer to the mudroom finish line every day. (The exterior of our home on the other hand – oof. Turning a blind eye helps for now!)

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  • Jamie6.12.18 - 6:53 AM

    The door looks awesome! I’d love a little more insight into painting the pocket door – we’re about to have to do that a bunch for our next home! I’m assuming you had to do it while it was in place because you can’t really remove it?ReplyCancel

    • Kim6.12.18 - 9:19 AM

      Yup, we did it in place! We protected the trim around it with painters tape, and we used a brush to shove the paint in as far as we could, and a mini roller on the rest. You could always remove the trim and put it back on, but that might be more trouble than it’s worth.ReplyCancel

  • Southern gal6.12.18 - 7:25 AM

    Great post as always. Too bad the outside door was changed from red. It s such a nice red and pop of color and I th8nk would have looked great with the pink.ReplyCancel

  • Lori6.12.18 - 8:18 AM

    Looks great! Love how subtle the Valspar Pinkwash is :]ReplyCancel

  • Vanessa6.12.18 - 8:28 AM

    Fine work as always you two. I think Pinkwash is a beautiful color too, easy on the eyes and just a little something.ReplyCancel

    • Kim6.12.18 - 9:21 AM

      Juuuust a hint of pink. It’s a goodie!ReplyCancel

  • Ann6.12.18 - 10:14 AM

    We have a storm door that looks a lot like yours. It’s white, like yours, and we like the options it offers for ventilation and light. I had been hesitant to paint our front door anything other than white, to match the storm door. Do you plan to pain the storm door black like the front door? How to handle color/contrast between the two doors is a mystery to me. Any opinion you can share would be welcome.ReplyCancel

    • Kim6.12.18 - 10:24 AM

      Ugh, our storm door has seen a LOT of wear and tear. It’s all banged up, is spattered with paint, etc. We’re actually going to be replacing it – hopefully sometime soon? – with a door that has a screen. This one currently just has glass. And since we’ll be replacing it altogether, we’re thinking we’ll just buy one in black.

      That said, I don’t think that just because your storm door is white that means your door has to be white! Honestly, I’m not a huge fan of the look of storm doors, but they seem to be a necessary for the reasons you’ve already said. I would say to paint your front door whatever makes you happy! Don’t stress too much about the contrast.ReplyCancel

      • Kim6.12.18 - 10:26 AM

        I meant to add: Check into other screen options if the contrast bothers you. For example, I know there are several companies that have a hidden screen that attaches to one side of the door jamb, and when you want to leave the door open, you can pull the screen across. It might not protect the door like a storm door will, but it will still give you that light and ventilation if you ever leave the door open! It’s something we’ve been considering.ReplyCancel

      • Ann6.12.18 - 12:33 PM

        While I’d like an old-fashioned screen door, the storm door offers a ton of advantages over the screen door. The top of the storm door is screen and glass; the glass slides down so I can get ventilation as needed, and light comes through both panels without the cat being able to stretch her claws on a lower screen. We never got one of those side-mount screens b/c kids and running. And cat. Maybe it’s time to paint both doors in a matching color. Just grit my teeth and get it done. And add a brass plate across the bottom of the front door (and the one coming in from the garage) to avoid scuff marks.ReplyCancel

        • Kim6.12.18 - 3:01 PM

          Ahhh, yes. See, ours doesn’t even have a screen, even with the glass! And a brass plate will be such a nice touch. Front doors get so much abuse!ReplyCancel

  • Jessica6.12.18 - 11:35 AM

    This looks so great! Quick question: we have a door very similar to yours. Right now it has a key lock on the inside and outside (you have to use a key on both sides of the door to unlock it–even from the inside!). We want to replace the lock but have been hesitant to do so because we’ve heard that having a door with a window and a normal lock might make it easier for someone to break in. Do you have any concerns about that or solutions that you came up with? Thank you!ReplyCancel

    • Kim6.12.18 - 2:33 PM

      Ah, yesss… it’s the reason why Scott doesn’t want a similar door on our Chicago home! I’m honestly not sure what could be done about that, other than trying to put the paranoia aside. Someone could also break into your window, if they really wanted to as well (although we sure hope that would never happen!). Sorry I can’t be of more help. Does anyone else have advice with a similar style of door?ReplyCancel

    • Ryan6.12.18 - 3:03 PM

      Honestly, if someone wants to break a window to get into your house they will get in. Even if your deadbolt is keyed, they could break any other window and open the latch or just crawl through. In addition, keyed deadbolts are not recommended from a fire safety angle – if you need to evacuate your house during a fire, especially at night, you may not be able or remember to have the key with you.

      However, I feel the name of the game is to make it difficult for someone to break into the house by using lighting, reducing shrubs that could shield someone from the street, and laminated glass in your door panes also helps. I think new manufactured doors are required to use laminated glass for safety in case the glass breaks but for those of us with old houses it’s easy to replace one or more panes with laminated glass. Since it has a layer of plastic between two panes of glass it’s thicker, stronger, blocks noise better and is very hard to break. Even if the glass breaks, the plastic holds it together. I have this same door on the back of my house and have replaced the pane in the bottom corner closest to the lock with laminated glass. Granted I did it after I had to break the glass because I locked myself out of the house. I’ve also replaced my deadbolt with one that uses a code because I locked myself out again just a week or two later (obviously I have a problem).ReplyCancel

      • Kim6.13.18 - 8:30 AM

        Ryan, SUCH a good point about fire safety – or any reason you may need to exit quickly. Thank you SO much for all of these tips!ReplyCancel

  • Nicole Balch6.12.18 - 12:10 PM

    The pink and black combo is divine!ReplyCancel

    • Nicole6.12.18 - 12:11 PM

      Also, ha. The autofill populated my first and last name for that comment and when I saw it, it looked so strangely formal!ReplyCancel

  • Molly6.12.18 - 12:15 PM

    Stunning! The pink is so subtle and cute and definitely makes that door look new again! All your hard work definitely paid off- love it!ReplyCancel

  • Alicia6.12.18 - 4:52 PM

    That little Wooster brush is MY FAVORITE TOO! It’s so small and perfect and the angle helps all my cutting in. That’s so funny you called it your favorite too! I’m planning to repaint my front door as well, so this post helped a lot. I’m hoping to cheat a bit by not removing it from the hinges, but it might be more of a pain to manage the job upright. Especially with a power sander, since I have to get quite a few chips of old paint off. Our handle/lock is new and I have no glass lites, so I don’t need to go too crazy. And I have a strange fear about it not hanging properly when I go to put it back up. Any thoughts on cheating?ReplyCancel

    • Kim6.13.18 - 8:28 AM

      I think if you’re going to cheat, the hinges are the place to do it. :) Definitely remove your hardware though, otherwise you’ll have paint strokes that go around it, and that might always bug ya!ReplyCancel

    • Ryan6.14.18 - 3:40 PM

      If you have old hinges you might be able to just remove the pin instead of unscrewing the hinge plates from the doors. Use an old screwdriver and a hammer to tap the ball of the hinge pin up (it helps to have help from another person to hold the door in place). After you remove all the pins you can slide the door sideways to remove it. This also makes it easier to reinstall the door since when you line up the hinges they hold up the weight of the door for you while you put the pins back in (you still need another person to help stabilize the door though).

      If you do remove the hinges completely, make sure to put the plates back on the correct sides otherwise the pin would need to be put in from the bottom which doesn’t really work. it will fall out – believe me. I did this on my bathroom window and have been holding the pin in with dental floss.ReplyCancel

      • Kim6.14.18 - 3:48 PM

        Ooh, that’s a good point, Ryan! The doors in our Chicago home have pins, this one did not. Thank you so much for chiming in!ReplyCancel

  • Cindy6.12.18 - 8:46 PM

    Wow. I love, love that pink. That will need to be in our house somewhere.

    Talk to me about Valspar paint. I’ve been a faithful Sherwin Williams user for years, but they recently changed their formula and the wipeablility is really quite terrible. Do you like Valspar? Coverage? Durability? Wipeability? Help me.ReplyCancel

    • Kim6.13.18 - 8:38 AM

      We use Valspar Reserve and couldn’t love it more. Even when we chose Sherwin Williams Jasper for the super dark green in the guest room, we had it mixed to Valspar Reserve. Dark colors like that will take two coats to get high coverage, but we do two coats no matter what the color! On our walls, we go with eggshell, which has a super low sheen and it still very wipeable! On the trim, we’ve been using satin throughout Tree House, just one step up from eggshell. In our Chicago home, we’ve always done semi-gloss on trim, which is even easier to scrub scuffs off of, but we’ve had no problems with using satin in Michigan yet!ReplyCancel

  • Alison King6.13.18 - 1:40 AM

    How do you decide which colour goes on the edges of the door? Was it a practical decision that the dark colour would show less marks? Or is there a rule I should know? My current front door is natural timber and I’d like to paint it green but probably leave the inside natural. I’m worried about where to stop the colour.ReplyCancel

    • Kim6.13.18 - 8:34 AM

      We debated that for a while, but in the end, we decided to paint the inside edge along the lock set the same as the outside color (black), because if we keep the door open (which we might do once we get a screened storm door), it would look more uniform. You can see what I mean in the second to last photo of the post! Then again, I’d be nervous to paint the edges of a timber door! You could always paint JUST the front green, live with it for a while, and decide if it makes sense for your home to paint the inside edge. It’s much easier to add the paint later than to remove it. ;)ReplyCancel

  • Emily6.13.18 - 10:16 AM

    Wow! I can’t believe the black hardware for the pocket door is from Lowe’s! I bought a similar pull from Rejuvenation for a pretty penny and I’m kicking myself now for not looking at the big box stores first. Damn!ReplyCancel

    • Kim6.13.18 - 10:22 AM

      We love pulls from Rejuvenation, too! They each have their merits. :) This was an area where we decided to save, since we don’t plan on using the pocket too much, but yes, just by choosing the black option makes it look much higher end!ReplyCancel

  • Blake6.13.18 - 1:31 PM

    Quick question for clarity. In the beginning of the post you mentioned using the Black Magic color to paint the exterior of the door to match the windows, but later in the post it sounds like you used Black Beauty that is more of a dark, dark grey.

    As we are looking at painting our front door a dark color, could you help me clarify which color you landed on? As always, love yall’s posts and what you are doing with the Treehouse!ReplyCancel

    • Kim6.13.18 - 1:35 PM

      Ooh, good catch! So sorry about that – it’s Black MAGIC. Sherwin Williams. I believe Black Beauty is actually a Ben Moore color, and it’s much darker. Black Magic is a SW color, and it’s a SUPER dark gray. Definitely make sure to grab samples to see how it would look on your door. Good luck!ReplyCancel

  • Nicole6.14.18 - 9:25 AM

    I just bought the same pocket door hardware for our new home’s master bathroom door! Any tips on installing it? We assumed we’d probably hire out to have someone do it. Is it fairly simple? I’m mildly handy…Thanks!ReplyCancel

    • Kim6.18.18 - 7:14 AM

      It took Scott maybe 30 minutes? I believe he had to use a chisel on the door jamb side, and he used his oscillating tool on the door to get a perfect cut. It should be fairly simple!ReplyCancel

  • Jeanne6.18.18 - 2:03 PM

    Absolutely love this entry and love seeing the tree house evolve into such a beautiful space! Wondering if you have a link to the light fixture that is in the entry shown in the second to last photo. My husband and I just purchased our first home and think those would be perfect to replace what the previous owners had.

    Thank you :)ReplyCancel

  • Monica10.4.18 - 3:40 PM

    I have. Metal do and the paint keeps coming off at the edge near latch how do I stop this?ReplyCancel

    • Scott10.5.18 - 9:00 AM

      They key, especially on a metal door that expands and contracts with temperature changes, is to start with a great primer before your first coat of paint. Hope this helps!ReplyCancel

  • Megan Messer10.29.18 - 1:02 PM

    Do you have a link for the pocket door hardware? About to paint my pocket door and want a refresh on the hardware as well. Thanks!ReplyCancel

    • Kim10.29.18 - 1:24 PM

      We just found it at Lowe’s! I tried to find it online, but I’m having a hard time. It was less than $5 in the black finish. :)ReplyCancel

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