The wood can be made very lignt while preserving the grain by using a pickling stain or white wash. Your paint store can help find appropriate materials. Unfortuanately the technique requires bare wood to achieve the best result and avoid looking painted. That means stripping or sanding. Even though you need to remove surface finish, you don't have to extract or bleach the stain for this method.
You can use either a specially formulated stain labeled and sold as pickling stain or you can make your own by taking either oil based paint or latex (water based) paint and reducing it about 25 percent. If you use an oil based paint, reduce it with either a paint thinner or gum turpentine. If use a latex paint, use water. Oil based does not raise the grain and dries slower so you have more time to apply it and remove just as much as you want. If you are sensitive to chemicals or fumes use latex paint. The disadvantage to using latex paint is it raises the grain of the wood and it dries much quicker, therefore you do not have much control over how much you can wipe off once it sets up.
Use a white or off-white paint, depending on what color you prefer. You can also tint the paint or stain to make various shades of pastels. Simply wipe it over the wood and then wipe off as much of the excess as necessary until you achieve the look you want. Once you are satisfied with the color, apply at least two coats of finish to seal in the color and protect it. Water based topcoat finishes are best to use because they have no amber tint to them like oil based finishes,