Trim adds the finishing touch to a room. Use these tips to select a trim color that will showcase walls and complete a space.

By Jessica Bennett
Updated October 14, 2020
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Once you've selected the perfect wall color, your paint decisions aren't quite finished. You now need to choose a trim color for ceiling molding, doors, baseboards, and other details, which should coordinate with your wall color and the overall scheme of the space. Molding or trim helps define a room's style, adding architectural character and dimension to the walls, while window and door molding and baseboards also serve the practical purpose of concealing the gaps that exist in most houses. These important elements present an opportunity to inject fresh color into a room, emphasize certain features, or create a calming, cohesive look. Whether you prefer molding to blend in or stand out, these tips on choosing trim colors can help you create a look you'll love.

Dining room with house artwork on wall
Credit: Carson Downing

Tips for Choosing Trim Colors

As a general rule, plan to paint all the trim throughout the main areas of the house the same color to create a unified effect from room to room. In more personal spaces, such as bedrooms and bathrooms, you might want to play around with more unique wall and trim color combinations.

Within a room, paint all of the trim the same unless you wish to emphasize elements. For example, a salvaged antique mantel might be left stripped and unstained, while the baseboard, crown molding, door frames, and window frames are all painted creamy white. To play up wainscoting or another interesting wall treatment, you might choose to paint the baseboards a similar color but paint all window and door frames white.

Entryway with wooden shelf and striped rug
Credit: David A Land

Before investing in enough paint for the job, buy a quart and test it on a piece of poster board. Place the board against the wall (or a test board of the wall color) to see how they look together before you begin painting the trim.

For doors, window frames, and door frames, it's typically best to choose a gloss or semigloss enamel rather than flat-finish paint. Glossier paint is more durable, and its reflective quality plays up light and shadows.

white living room with natural and blue coastal accents
Credit: Joyelle West

How to Choose the Best White Trim Paint Color

If your walls wear a color, whether soft or bold, then white trim is practically guaranteed to set them off well. In rooms with dark or intensely colored walls, white trim lightens and brightens, accenting the strong hue and bringing visual relief. In rooms with light or pastel walls, white trim makes the color look cleaner and clearer while introducing a mere hint of contrast.

When selecting a white paint color for trim, remember that your choices include more than just stark white. Most paint manufacturers offer a range of whites that vary from warm to cool. And in some cases, the lightest shade on a paint card could function as a white when juxtaposed with your wall color.

To pick the right white trim color, start with the paint chip of your wall color and hold it up to a variety of white or pale neutral chips to see which ones you like. Creamy white tones pair well with warm or intense colors and earthy neutrals, while clear or crisp whites make good partners for cool colors, both saturated and muted.

pink bedroom black trim
Credit: Adam Albright

Wall and Trim Color Combinations

Your options for wall and trim color combinations go beyond white trim and a colored wall. Painting the trim and woodwork darker than the walls, for example, focuses attention on window and door frames. If you love color, consider painting the trim a contrasting hue that's equal in intensity to the wall color. Window treatments, fabrics, furniture, area rugs, and accessories are all good sources for color inspiration. Choose the lightest or brightest hue for the major wall surfaces, a darker color for the window and door frames, and a third, medium tone for window sashes and skirting boards (the board under the windowsill).

If your walls are a pale color, you can emphasize windows, doors, and other architectural features by painting them with a soft, contrasting hue. Alternatively, darker window trim frames the view to the outdoors the way a mat frames a picture. Off-white or cream walls with contrasting trim (such as gray-blue, muted green, mustard yellow, or barn red, for example) recall colonial-style interiors.

Liz Strong home with patterned wallpaper on staircase landing
Credit: David Tsay

Color Ideas for Wood Trim

Trim in natural wood tones can introduce a sense of warmth and history to rooms. Use caution when pairing richly stained wood trim with light-colored walls, however. Because darker trim against light walls calls so much attention to the woodwork, consider whether your woodwork is worth the notice.

Homes that were built in the late 1800s and early 1900s, particularly in the Victorian and Arts and Crafts styles, often feature a wealth of oak woodwork stained or varnished to produce a medium brown or honey gold. Ranch-style houses built in the 1950s and 1960s favored simpler, narrower moldings, but the unpainted look still prevailed. Leaving the trim and doors a natural color plays up the beautiful texture of wood and brings warmth to interiors.

The color impact on your rooms will depend on whether you only varnish the wood (which doesn't significantly alter the natural hue) or stain the surface first. Stain contains dyes or pigments that will color the wood without hiding the grain. A full range of colors is available, including bleached gray-white, golden yellow, reddish-brown, dark brown, and ebony.

breakfast nook with dark windows and hanging chalkboard signs
Credit: Edmund Barr

Choose your stain color according to the look you want to achieve. Medium- to dark-brown stains tend to create a visually heavier feeling, while lighter, golden, or honey-toned stains can appear nearly as sunny as a yellow wall. Using stain instead of paint on wood trim takes advantage of the grain and brings natural texture to the room.

To see if you like a wood trim color, test the stain on the edges of a door or the back of molding first. The way it reacts to your wood might not match the store sample. Bonus: Once your trim has been stained and varnished, you might only need to wipe it down with a liquid furniture cleaner to keep it looking fresh.

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