How to Paint a French Door

French doors have star quality. They stand out in the transitional spaces between rooms, and their multiple lights -- the glass panes -- flood your home with changing light throughout the day. You don't want bumpy paint on the muntins or smudges of color on the glass when the doors are attention-grabbers. So paint new bare wood or installed painted doors the way pros do for show-off doors that earn their accolades.

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Choose a Color

Painted French doors might be shabby chic-style distressed white; cream, taupe or gray to match trim; patent-leather-black in contrast to white trim; a soft pastel that picks up a color in the adjacent room; a brilliant unexpected color that enlivens a sedate space. A door that opens to Asian decor might be glossy Chinese red or a more subdued low-gloss jade green. A door in Art Deco decor could be black lacquer with gold hardware. French doors leading to Mid-Century Modern furnishings might copy the tangerine-orange of an Eames chair. Because the doors have so many lights, you can see the frame and muntin colors clearly from both sides, so it makes sense to paint both sides the same color. If you choose not to do that, paint the door edges the same color as the side that opens inward.

Paint in Place

No need to remove the doors as long as you can isolate the area until the paint dries. Gather your supplies, open a few windows to increase ventilation, and give yourself up to the complete focus of taping, loosening, sanding, priming and painting with the grain.

Things You'll Need

  • Dropcloth
  • Screwdriver
  • Sandpaper or deglosser
  • Clean rag
  • Painter's tape
  • Sharp-edged putty knife (optional)
  • Foam roller
  • Angled paintbrush
  • Primer (optional)
  • Paint  
  • Box cutter
  • Razorblade scraper

Step 1: Loosen hardware

Tape around doorknobs, hardware and hinges. If you want to tape the glass, strip off a piece of painter's tape a bit longer than each side of the glass inside each muntin; lay it against the seam where glass meets wood; cut the ends neatly with the putty knife edge and tamp in the tape right up against the frame. Tape the glass edges in each light. Or you can skip taping the glass and just peel away paint spillover later.

Step 2: Prime or degloss

Prime oil-based paint so the new paint won't bubble and peel away. Rub deglosser over latex paint with an old rag to create some purchase for the new paint. Alternatively, you could lightly sand the painted frame, but this is the most time-consuming choice.

Step 3: Paint the frame

Roll paint on the frame in the direction of the grain. Follow with a good brush that doesn't shed to paint the edges and muntins. Don't worry about paint that gets on the glass or painter's tape; you'll remove that later. Work paint into the areas around the loosened hardware and brush lightly around the hinges. Hinges that accumulate too many paint layers won't close properly so avoid paint buildup there. Paint one entire side of each door first, starting at the top; then paint opposite sides. Stay alert for drips and deal with them immediately. Let the door dry between coats.

Step 4: Clear the glass

Give the door a day to dry. If you carefully taped the edges of the panes, run the box cutter cleanly around the frame of each pane where it meets the muntin to break any paint seal joining wood to tape. Peel up an edge of the tape and slowly pull it down and off the glass.

If you didn't tape, run the box cutter point around the glass where it meets the muntin to separate the paint on the glass from the paint on the wood. Scrape the edges of the paint up from the center of the glass toward the frame with a razor blade scraper. Once the paint is scored and scraped, peel it off the glass -- each strip should come away in a long ribbon.

Step 5: Tighten the hardware

Then step back and admire a professional-looking job.

When It's Not Wood

Aluminum French doors that lead to a patio must be removed if you are spraying them. Paint them in place, with a brush and roller, by hand. Your only real departure from French Door Painting 101 is a bit of prep and the paint. An aluminum door exposed to weather should be lightly sanded and wiped down with alcohol to remove paint dust. Use a bonding water-based acrylic paint -- outdoor paint if the door is not protected. Eggshell or satin finishes are easy to clean.

When It's New Wood

Brand-new, raw wood French doors are moderately intimidating, but they're really simple to conquer. Paint them before hanging by laying each door flat on two sawhorses and removing the hardware. Mark each hinge and knob so you can put it back properly. Leave the plastic from the manufacturer on the glass to save time. Lightly sand the wood and wipe off any sanding dust before priming and painting the doors. Do one complete side at a time and let them dry hard before flipping the doors to paint the other sides. Pull off the plastic when the paint is dry -- remember to score the edge of the painted frames first. Replace the hardware and hang the doors.


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