Should You Lighten Your Wood Trim with Paint?
Designers weigh in.
The choice to paint your wood trim is a particularly perplexing one for many of us. Though a popular choice, simply 'painting it white' comes with much deliberation, thought, and constant internal questioning. Will I regret it down the road? Is white a trend? Should we keep the trim as is to honor the history of the home? Often we ask ourselves these questions with samples in hand amid a dizzying internal dialogue, wishing we had another person to bounce ideas off of before making the final choice.
Dallas designer Jean Liu of Jean Liu Design understands. What seems like a simple choice is part of a broader discussion. "The decision to go light or dark with trim is part of a much larger conversation about the overall look and feel a homeowner wants to achieve in their home," she says. "In general, if they're leaning towards a more modern approach, then lighter trim may be the answer, but if they want to keep or heighten a home's sense of age and historical nature, then a darker color trim can be a more effective way to create that look."
Katie Davis of Katie Davis Design says it also depends on what style a client wants to achieve. "You can either own the wood tone as an accent or paint it white if you are going for a more classic look," she says. Either way, there is much to consider before finalizing your choice.
If you're currently weighing the pros and cons, you're in luck. We've asked some of the South's top designers to share their advice and experiences. Whether you're building a new home or embarking on a renovation, read on for sage design advice you can trust.
Take Comfort! Both Options Are Beautiful
Marie Flanigan of Marie Flanigan Interiors says that she's often discussing this topic with her clients. "We have had to make that decision and have both kept the wood trim and painted it," she says. "There truly isn't a right or wrong answer. In both instances, we made sure that the trim worked seamlessly with the overall design and that, ultimately, the homeowner loved their choice. Both options can be beautiful!"
Try A Neutral Rather Than White
Roger Higgins of Nashville's R. Higgins Interiors says he's often hesitant to paint trim bright white as it can feel too strong in combination with other wall colors. If you're stuck, Higgins has a go-to tip to try: "We often paint millwork the same color as the walls so that the room feels cohesive," he says. "If, however, you have beautiful millwork in a room, you may choose to highlight the millwork by painting it white against a slightly darker wall tone. Just try to avoid anything that's too highly contrasted as it can draw the eye and feel visually jarring."
Ask Yourself: What Do You Want To Accentuate?
Ashley Gilbreath of Ashley Gilbreath Interior Design says that deciding to paint trim is dependent on the look and feel of the space. Like any paint project, Gilbreath stresses that it all comes down to what you wish to draw attention to.
Would she recommend painting trim or leaving it as is? "Both stained wood trim and white trim are timeless and classic," she says. "If it's a historic home, the trim is stained, and your goal is to preserve the history, leave it as is! If you're doing a remodel or new construction, we love white trim for a traditional look."
You Have To Make Your Home Yours — Paint Away!
St. Louis-based designer Amy Studebaker of Amy Studebaker Design loves painting trim work white and says she'd paint wood trim "in a heartbeat" without thinking twice. "When I go for it, I go for it!" What is it about white that always seems to work? "Fresh white paint brings newness to a room that lightens and brightens almost any space. If you are looking to bring instant life to your home, painting the trim white will provide you with immediate gratification and is a cost-effective approach to creating change."
Mix Multiple Trim Colors For A Joyful Interior
Lindley Arthur of Lindley Arthur Interiors suggests combining painted and unpainted trim in a home. "But I like to paint the trim a pretty white in a satin finish for the majority of the house," she says. "It's also interesting to paint the trim white to add contrast in special rooms with wallpaper. Painting the trim white in a dining space complements the print on the wallcovering to achieve a bright and welcoming space." For historic homes lacking an open floorplan, Arthur suggests having fun with multiple trim colors from room to room.
Consider Natural Light First
Davis says she often prefers lightening up a space with painted trim rather than keeping a wood tone, but always keeps the natural light top of mind. "If the space is darker and doesn't get much sunlight, I like to paint," she says. "Too much wood can be the same as too much paint. For a larger kitchen, I like mixing it up with a contrasting trim (or another accent) to allow for the eye to move about the space, but in a cute cottage kitchen, allover color or a lighter, bright white trim is great."
Try Painting Built-In Cabinetry
Designer Christian Ladd of Christian Ladd Interiors recently faced this decision in her own home. "I decided to keep the original trim throughout the majority of the home but painted the trim white in several rooms that are wallpapered as well as a wet bar off of the kitchen," she says. "By doing so, I was able to lighten up the home while still maintaining its original character."
Use White To Accentuate Art and Furniture
When asked if a homeowner should paint their wood trim white, Dallas designer Kara Adam of Kara Adam Interiors responds with a resounding, "yes!" After pondering this decision for her own home, Adam says she prefers to lighten things up. "I did have this decision come up with my own home," she says. "And, well, I painted everything. My house had stained trim everywhere; it was built in 1986. I like to have a neutral background so the art and the furniture can speak. Painting a trim a neutral color like white gives you more flexibility with design decisions, like furniture and fabrics."
Take Note of the Wood's Undertones
"When we encounter a home with wood trim, the first thing I look for is the undertone of the wood," says Shawna Percival of Styleberry Creative. "If the undertone matches the client's goal for the space's revamp, then we figure out the best way to either incorporate the undertone in the project or go in a fresh new direction. Generally, orange undertones that scream 80s are never anyone's cup of tea, but a historic home's deep wood tones can add depth to a room in an elegant way."
White Works in Historic Homes, Too!
"I almost always recommend that clients paint the trim in their homes white," says designer Christina Garcia Lysaught of Dallas-based firm, Layered Dimensions. "Not only does it create a framework for the house, but it highlights major points resulting in that fresh and clean look that will never go out of style. I think it's great to paint white in a historic home. It adds to the classic nature of the house and its architecture."
Painting Trim Gives a Home New Life
"I am all for it," says Designer Roz Murphy of Roz Murphy Design when asked if she'd suggest painting wood trim. "In my opinion, you can never go wrong with a crisp white trim. It creates a feeling of freshness and makes the wall color pop," she says.
"White trim in a historic home can bring it back to life. From an architectural standpoint, you can reveal the beautiful lines and charming details of the home."
More Expert Advice
Enjoy 'Carte Blanche' In New Construction
"In a new home, I believe you have carte blanche to pick painted or stained trim based on your design preference," says Flanigan. "If you're renovating, consider whether it makes sense to keep the trim as is or simply paint. In some renovations the existing trim is unremarkable, so the renovation is a great time to replace and update."
Use Your Wallpaper as Inspiration
"Historic homes tend to have more character, and my design selections are more likely to include a wallpaper," says Nashville designer Tori Alexander of Alexander Interiors. "In this case, I recommend pulling a color out of the wallpaper palette to use on your trim and ceiling. If you are willing to be adventurous, I recommend taking the extra step of a contrasting ceiling color."
Go Lighter In Modern Homes
In a historic home, Liu loves to see a trim color that might have been consistent with the house's age. "Keeping this architectural consistency in mind highlights the historical qualities that make the space unique," she says. "In more modern homes, we tend to go lighter. Keeping trim and wall the same color helped to keep ceilings feeling taller and thereby allowing more of the room's focus to be either on artwork or furniture."