Molding or trim helps define a room's style, adding architectural character and dimension to the walls. Window and door molding and baseboards also serve the practical purpose of concealing the gaps that exist in most houses.
As a rule, paint all the trim throughout the house the same color to create a unified effect from room to room.
Within a room, paint all of the trim the same unless you wish to emphasize elements -- a salvaged antique mantel might be left stripped and unstained, for example, while the baseboard, crown molding, door frames, and window frames are all painted creamy white.
Or to play up a marble or stone mantel, you may choose to paint the baseboards a similar color but paint all window and door frames white.
Before investing in enough paint for the job, buy a quart and test it on a piece of poster board. Place this board beside a test board of the wall color to see how they look together.
For doors, window frames, and door frames, choose a gloss or semigloss enamel rather than flat-finish paint; the glossier paint is more durable, and its reflective quality plays up light and shadows.
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 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.
Remember that white trim does not mean stark white -- most paint manufacturers offer a range of whites that go from warm to cool. Also, the lightest shade on a paint card may function as a white when juxtaposed with your wall color.
To pick the right white, 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. Warm creamy tones pair well with warm or intense colors and warm neutrals, while clear or cool whites make good partners for cool colors, both saturated and muted.
Painting the woodwork darker than the walls 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 fabric, favorite dinnerware, and majolica are good sources for colors. Choose the lightest or brightest hue for the major 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.
Around windows, the darker trim frames the view to the outdoors the way a mat frames a picture. Off-white or cream walls with contrasting trim -- gray-blue, muted green, mustard yellow, or barn red, for example -- recall colonial-style interiors.
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, featured 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 featured 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 first.
Stain contains dyes or pigments that will color the wood without hiding the grain. A full range of colors is available, from pickled or bleached to golden yellow, reddish brown, dark brown, and ebony.
Choose your stain color according to the look you want: Medium to dark brown stain creates 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) takes advantage of the grain of the wood and brings natural texture to the room.
Test the stain on the edges of a door or the back of molding to see if you like the color; the way it reacts to your wood may not match the store sample.
Wood that has already been stained and varnished may only need to be cleaned with a liquid furniture cleaner in order to look fresher.