Taking A Traditional Approach
Most of us, when we think of painted woodwork* — the door casings, window casings, and baseboards of our homes, as well as crown molding, a more traditional and formal feature adorning some homes — think of white. White, we realize, has been traditional.
- White Walls: If the walls are painted white, keeping the trim and other molded features white creates a harmonious, unified look.
- Walls with Color: If the walls are a color — bright, pale, deep, or perhaps a rich neutral — white trim provides contrast and interest. White works to emphasizes interesting trim features.
In the room below fireplace surround, panel molding, and chair rail are painted a soft, creamy off-white, matching the wall color for an elegant look. Designer: Thad Hayes.
The wall and trim of a room can work nicely painted different whites, as in this room from Southern Living at MyHomeIdeas. All of the moldings, as well as the bookshelves, are a lighter off-white than the deeper off-white of the walls.
Both the walls and trim of this bedroom are a very pure and bright white. The designer is homeowner Christopher Knight, director Maison Gerard gallery in New York. (Image from Elle Decor.)
The style of the window trim and crown molding in the living room of Christopher Knight fit the classic formality of the space. The molded features are highlighted against the wall color of Farrow & Ball Pigeon. (Image source: Elle Decor.)
It makes complete sense to highlight beautiful, detailed crown molding and pilaster molding, as in the living room below. The trim is subtly highlighted against the wall color of soft gray. Designer: Thad Hayes.
Likewise, the dentil crown molding in this living room, designed by Jean-Louis Deniot, is worthy of attracting its degree of attention. (Image source: Elle Decor.)
The high-profile crown molding and baseboards, in traditional white, fit with the classical elements in this living room by interior designer Todd Romano. The white crown molding visually separates the soft lavender walls from the pale blue-violet ceiling. (Image from Elle Decor.)
But, Which White for the Trim?
The particular white to use for white trim requires consideration. A a trim painted bright white will have a very different result and effect than trim painted an off-white. Take a look at these examples:
In a living room, by designer Martyn Lawrence-Bullard, the trim is a very bright, crisp white against cocoa colored walls, creating sharp contrast.
Similarly, this studio, by Christopher Knight, has bright white trim in sharp focus against saturated limish-green wall color.
By comparison, off-white trim is subdued in effect in this room by designer Randall Koll. (From Sunset magazine at MyHomeIdeas.)
Tying Things Together
The white of trim can be tied to the wall color by using a white that contains a dash of the wall color. In other words, a very light tint of the color. If the color is a bright and/or saturated color, the resulting tint will still be a bright white.
Playing It Down
If you have door trim, window trim, and baseboards that you want to play down, for instance if they’re not all that interesting, then two workable options are:
1) Paint them the same color as the wall.
2) Paint them a lighter but muted version of the wall color.
Reversing the Trim
A very different approach to trim color is to paint it a darker color than the walls. A neutral gray is used in the following two rooms:
White walls with gray trim play a part in the contemporary feel of this fairly formal interior. The designer: Jay Jeffers.
The inviting living space below is by designer Scott Currie. The gray trim adds to the chic look; white trim would simply not have the same effect. (Image from Elle Decor.)
In the bedroom below, by designer Eric Cohler, the door trim style is flush; the color: black. Both the style and the color are important components of the contemporary look that uses a muted color palette. (Image from Traditional Home.)
Interior designer Celerie Kemble has skillfully mixed black trim on the wall with a white painted banister in the foyer below. We can see that the black trim, and the black door, pick up the black in the wallpaper and add a punch that white simply would not.
The pale blue crown molding in this bedroom by Miles Redd marries with the soft tones in the room.
When adjoining rooms are painted a different color, keeping the trim the same throughout will tie the spaces together.
We get a glimpse of that in this interior by Eric Prokesh:
And, on that note …
I think the final lovely image, above, is a perfect place to end this journey into the ins and outs of painted trims and moldings in interior spaces. I think you may agree …
* On the use of the terminology “woodwork”, it must be noted that, of course, trim and moldings are not all made of wood, but can be composed of a number of different materials. Visit This Old House magazine for a guide to crown molding materials (can apply to other moldings as well).