I'm a big advocate of embracing the elements you have a tough time changing. In this case, the brown cabinetry in the kitchen was staying along with the banister - there's no way my husband would have allowed me to paint the cabinets to completely change them. So...there was no choice but to embrace these elements.
|Dark stained kitchen cabinets|
In order to balance out the great room with the giant brown bank of kitchen cabinets in one corner - we went with the woven wood dark brown blinds on the windows. I think this helped integrate the dark brown color with the overall style of the space (rather than having the kitchen just stick out). In addition, we added some furniture pieces with a similar dark finish (the cedar chest at end of the dining room holding all our beach towels, and the media table in the family room purchased as a base for the flat screen TV (see photo below).
|Dark Brown Woven Wood Blinds|
|Dark Stained Cedar Chest in Dining Room|
|Dark stained media table...|
|....I added these weathered aqua blue knobs for a more "beachy" look.|
I initially thought the dark brown banister was going to help carry the color through the space and create good flow with the "not-my-first-choice" color. However, I just never liked the starkness of it, especially when walking in the front door. Nonetheless, it went with the cabinetry so I didn't feel I had a choice, and it didn't initially dawn on me to change it in any way.
Then I came across some photos of banisters with dark brown railings but the spindles were painted white. These clearly had a more "cottage-feel" to me. Here is one of the examples...
|Example of banister with painted white spindles.|
Next step, convincing my husband to let me do some painting. I knew this would be tough since he's not a fan of painting any stained wood. I must have caught him in a moment of weakness because he eventually conceded to let me try it. I'm so glad I got the chance.
This is a great example of the amazing power of paint. To me, I think this simple change was very high impact. I say simple because it was so low cost. We already had the paint for touch up of trim in the house, and we had primer left over from other projects. The only other supplies necessary were some sandpaper and some painters tape. In the end, the change cost us virtually nothing.
The not-so-simple part was the labor involved - taping off each spindle, sanding (twice - first with 80 grit, then with 120 grit), wiping them down, 2 coats of primer, and 2 coats of paint. (I probably should have done some light sanding between coats of paint, but I was running out of time and wanted to get the project finished). The painting was done with a large soft artist's brush - the only way to go in my opinion unless you have the opportunity to spray them. The whole process took a full day of my time.
Overall, I love the banister now. In addition to fitting in more with the cottage style, it combines the colors of dark brown and white into a single element, thus making this combination work even better elsewhere in the room. For example: the dark brown woven blinds in the white trimmed windows; the dark brown cabinets and the white subway tile backsplash (coming soon!). Also, we notice the amount of detail in the spindles that wasn't as apparent to us when they were stained dark. This seems to add even more to the cottage character of the room.
My only regret - why did it take me so long to figure this out?
Update 10/2014 - Check out the latest piece of art I created for the stairway wall. I was inspired to do something with that wall after the spindles were painted. (Perhaps I had been avoiding it because I really disliked that brown banister and didn't want to draw any more attention to it by placing something on the wall behind it). The piece was created from an old painted pallet and a photograph printed on metal (from Shutterfly). See post here for more on that project.