7 sanity-restoring rules about trim color

I recently posted about a bedroom in progress that presented a trim challenge. In response, a Gentle Reader left this comment:

I have started to hate thinking about trim colour. If you paint the trim a creamier colour, will you need to paint the door? If so, will you need to paint BOTH sides of the door? Will you then need to paint the trim in the hallway (and thus presumably the rest of the house, and the rest of the doors) to match? Argh!

Basically I just don’t understand the rules for trim.

Ok, my friends. Let’s see if we can nail down some rules. It would be so delightful and easy if every single room in our home could have the same trim color. Alas, this is never the case.

Peach and cream living room

Jeffrey Bilhuber in Elle Decor

Rule #1: Trim color does not have to be exactly the same in every room

If your floor plan is REALLY open, then yes, using the same trim color makes sense – but in that case, you might be using the same wall color everywhere anyway.

White living room dining room

Marilyn McMackin in Elle Decor

Rule #2: But don’t be schizophrenic about it

Sticking with various off-whites in most of your rooms is a safe bet.

That way, when you’re standing in a particular room, the trim color you’ve chosen for that room looks perfect.

But when you’re standing in the front hall and can see several rooms at once, your eye won’t discern the subtle differences between the varying shades of white. Make sense?

White foyer staircase

Amy and Todd Hase in Elle Decor

Rule #3: Paint only the room side of doors

This is in response to, “…will you need to paint BOTH sides of the door?”

No. If your house has many, many doors that open into other rooms, then painting all of the trims off-white – not necessarily the same off-white, mind you – makes sense.

But if this is an occasional situation for you, stand in the room you’re painting, close the door, and paint everything that shows.

Green dining room

Mikael Anderson in Elle Decor

Rule #4: Think twice before using non-white trim in public rooms

It’s dramatic. And with great drama comes great responsibility. If you’re going to get fancy and paint the trim in a room black or light blue, then limit it to that room just to be safe. If you start getting fancy with trim in your LR and DR and family room, the effect can be crazy or hokey. Neither look is for you.

(Go crazy in your kids’ rooms if you like, though. Colorful trim there can be super cute.)

Light blue trim color

Steven Gambrel in Elle Decor

Rule #5: Lighter color wins

If you have an open doorway / door frame between rooms, and an off-white trim color in the first and a much creamier taupe in the second, paint the inside of the door frame the LIGHTER color.

Rule #6: Bathroom trim doesn’t have to be white

Benjamin Moore Whispering SpringShocker! But look. If you have a shiny new bathroom in which the sink, toilet and tub are all sparkly new and white, then match the trim color to that white and call it a day.

But what if you had to replace the toilet – so now it’s blinding white – but your sink and tub are, well, aged?

Benjamin Moore Pear GreenUse a non-white trim color and the conflicting whites in the room will settle down. For example, use one of my favorite blues, Benjamin Moore’s 2136-70 Whispering Spring, on the walls, but then do the trim 2 shades darker, 2136-50 Colorado Gray, or even a different color that’s not much darker, such as 2028-40 Pear Green. You and your guests will be so taken with how attractive the room is that you won’t notice the mismatched fixtures.

What do you do if your fixtures are a color other than white, you ask? Replace them immediately.

Gentleman's bath

John Dransfield and Geoffrey Ross in Elle Decor

Rule #7: Deepen the trim if the wall color is dark.

This isn’t a rule so much as a preference, but I think bright white trim with deep walls can look cheap.

This is where this post started, remember? Because I painted a bedroom deep blue and hoped we could get away with leaving some of the trim bright white.

We couldn’t.

Look at Benjamin Moore’s OC series for excellent, versatile off-whites for darker wall colors. Some of my favorites are OC-9 Ballet White, OC-12 Muslin, and OC-18 Dove Wing.

Black dining room

Jill VanTosh in Elle Decor

I hope this is helpful, Gentle Readers. It makes me so sad to think of you losing sleep over trim colors. There are many more important things to lose sleep over.

Like wall colors.

Dining room wallpaper

John Lyle in Metropolitan Home

Annie Elliott – aka bossy color – is an interior decorator and design blogger in Washington, D.C. She has been quoted in publications from The Washington Post to Real Simple and is considered an expert on color, residential space planning, and telling people what to do in the nicest way possible.


  1. Nicole says

    I was in love with having a dark espresso stained wood floor but after it was in, I realized that white trim looked ridiculous and that I had thrown myself in the deep end, when it came to picking paint colors. Its funny, but as I read this I was reassured that I had done ok- even though there is not a single room in this house with white/white-ish trim!

  2. Jenny says

    Oh, yay! My grousing inspired a bossy color blog post :) This is very helpful, thanks Annie. My house is entirely trimmed in flat WHITE-WHITE and I want to change it, but not in every room. These rules make a lot of sense.

  3. Jenny Mitchell says

    This is very helpful. What are your thoughts on wood doors with painted trim? My husband and I have been discussing this for about a year (since we started our house wide painting project).

  4. Beth says

    Thank you. I have gotten carried away before with wondering just where it all ends when “matching” colors like this. Hate to admit but I’ve paralyzed myself into not making any changes because I just couldn’t see the end! These rules seems like common sense, but it still feels good to read them in print. Now I’m all reassured. (whew) ;)

  5. flyingcarrot says

    This is super-helpful, Annie, and is a link I might send to clients who balk at any trim color other than white.

    Especially good is your recommendation about NOT being slavish to one trim color throughout a house. It will “read” the same but be far more pleasing when in the room.

    Maybe the convention to do all trim in white began in olden-olden days, but you are so right that white trim with colorful walls looks cheapo. Very college crash pad. It also lowers the ceiling visually which is usually not preferred…

    Can I also commend you AGAIN for taking some of the DRAMA out of this process? I can hear people saying how they feel paralyzed, and I hear that SOOOO much. You’re doing a service by just talking it out…. Thanks, Annie!

  6. says

    Gentle Readers, thank you so much for your thoughtful comments! I really appreciate them. I’ll try to address some of your questions indiviually. In the meantime, go forth and don’t fear trim! Thanks again.

  7. says

    fc, thank you so much! Your words mean a lot. I hope people find posts like this helpful – I’ll admit that writing them helps me clarify my own positions, too. Thank you thank you.

  8. says

    They can work! do you already HAVE white trim and are wondering whether to paint the doors? Or do you have all wood trim and would like to paint some white? I’m curious…

  9. Lynn Waller from Pixie Dust Painting says

    I am constantly asked about trim, and what to do, this article sums it all up nicely. I will share this with my clients, thanks. I do want to add that since I use a lot of paint, I love to use the Aura Satin for trim and doors, and now the new Advance Pearl, a waterborne alkyd, the finishes are beautiful.

  10. Mark - MAK Decorating says

    We love the Advance product as well but your comment mentioned a “pearl” finish in Advance we do not have that available to us in IL we have the satin and really like it. For Trim most of our work is BM White Dove

  11. says

    When we moved into our house three years ago, I tried to find a trim color that would match the fireplace mantel, thinking I wouldn’t need to paint that.
    Well, now I am committed to that color all over the house, even painting my kitchen cabinets that color, albeit with a glaze. I so wish I hadn’t started with that color! If I had to do it again, I would choose a lighter color trim (I went with one called Bleached Blonde).
    Currently, I am painting my mom’s kitchen cabinets and trim my dream color, Cashmere White. Oh, if I had to do my house over again, this is what I would choose!

  12. Gina Calia-Lotz says

    We have all medium-dark wood trim throughout the house — around windows, floor trim, doorway trim, ceiling molding, even chair rail and some half-wall paneling. I kind of liked the look when we moved in almost two years ago (the exterior is a mock-tudor style, so I thought it went with the “rustic” look) but now feel kind of locked into it. Is it okay, for instance, to paint paneling white, but keep window trim and ceiling beams brown? How about a dining room with crown molding, chair rail, floor molding, and entryway molding — could the chair rail be painted a different color with the rest left as natural wood? HELP!!!

  13. says

    Great article .. and blog.
    I have shared this entire blog on mine…. if you do not like sharing in this manner, just let me know and I will remove it! I did keep all your hyperlinks and full credit! :)

  14. says

    Hi Annie,

    Great rules! I love your blue and green paint colors together for the bath. I have not seen that picture from Steven Gambrel. OMG! My mouth is still hanging open. Love, love his work!

  15. says

    Just found your blog via YoungHouseLove and I had to comment once I saw this post…. when I bought my house 4 years ago, I inherited a house that had different colors of trim (and walls) in EVERY SINGLE ROOM! Talk about INSANE! Some of the rooms open to each other and the contrast is driving me crazy. Yes, present tense. :-) I plan on going white in every room (had tried to take it all to the pretty wood underneath but 80 year old wood is a pain to strip down to bare wood after that many years of paint!). I do agree with many of the rules, but I’m going to stick with one color throughout our entire house – at least for now. I’m too sick of the colors – green in the kitchen, white in the dining room, brown in the living room, puke green in one room (that’s been changed!), peach in the bathroom, and pink in the second bedroom. Oh the craziness!

  16. tricia monico says

    Painting an open concept (not big!) mid-century modern house in suburb of Chicago. NOT A LIGHT OF LIGHT. Painting trim BM Dove white. Walls? Stuck!! Chocolate brown couch, chartreuse leather chairs, red accents. Wall art leans towards grays. Have some tribal art pieces. My husband is all about white walls to accent art, but a FWT (friend with taste) advised to go darker. Did samples of medium beiges (BM Carrington Beige and Manchester Tan) but looked too muddy/dark in room. I tend to like crisp colors rather than muddy. What to do??? Off White? White with tint of green? Gray? (the new beige!) Gold tones (don’t think so). HELP!!! Painter coming next week!

  17. Amy says

    I am resisting painting my wood trim (baseboards, windows, door frames, room doors) because it’s all nice oak and the doors open into the bedrooms and the side that shows most are the hallways sides and the hallway/staircase/entry is all oak and a really beautiful feature of the house AND leads into the open concept downstairs. BUT my bedrooms will all be decorated in cool tones: black furniture, greys, silver, crystal with splashes of teal/turquoise. The oak looks really….well…BROWN! I’m wondering if I can successfully just ignore that the oak doesn’t match. There are two large closets with double bi-fold doors that are really huge and dominant. Maybe I could paint them out (either the wall colour or black to match the furniture?) but will that make the oak trim look even dumber? Ugh… The floor is currently ugly beige carpet and I would like to make it oak like the rest of the house – but I am not opposed to re-carpetting if that’s the only thing that’ll work. Decorating paralysis is right!!!

  18. Leanette says

    I realize this post is a little old but I am in need of some major help!

    We have a 1950’s ranch with NEW, pretty stained wood in the majority of the house… except the bedrooms which retain the old, 1950’s trim-painted white. My husband recently replaced the trim in one of the bedrooms with new, unpainted/unstained, trim. I have no idea what to do with it. I know it would be so easy to just stain it and make it match the rest of our small home but I kind of don’t want to. Should I paint it white? Or another color? And what color would look nice with dark stained trim?

    Also, we have the original windows in our home with the original old white painted trim around them… what can I do with those? We are planning on replacing the old wood with matching new trim (style wise) but what color should I paint the trim around the windows?? The wood windows are painted white too.


    Thank you for any help you can offer!

  19. says

    Annie, I know this is an older post and my reply is older, but I just discovered your blog and am dying for some Trim Intel. Our house is 1947 with light hardwood floors, and all the doors and trim have been stained a deep cherry wood color. The prior owners were lazy about taping off the trim when they painted the walls white, so there are occasional splashes of white paint on the edges.

    Here’s the thing — I don’t really care. I’m pretty OK with the deep cherry even though I wouldn’t have chosen it, and I’m astoundingly lazy with many higher home priorities on my list. But am I crazy? Should I saddle up and redo our trim because I’ll be amazed by the positive results? You make no mention at all of wood-colored trim, so I thought I’d see your thoughts. When I shared pics of my turquoise-walled office on Apartment Therapy, there was a chorus of “Ew, paint that trim white!” and it had seriously never occurred to me to change it before then.

  20. says

    Pictures. I would like some pictures, please. Sometimes the things you notice when you move into a house become invisible as time marches on and we become worn down by the rigors of everyday life. Happy to weigh in if I can see – there’s no blanket rule on this one! (Or send me the link to the Apt. Therapy post!) Thanks!

  21. says

    Ha! I’m too embarrassed to share the link — they edited half of my question and used only the most terrible pic I provided so I looked and sounded kinda foolish. I will get on my husband about taking some better pics and post soon — it’s a totally different room now anyway with more furniture.

    Any suggestions for what light to use when shooting a northeast facing room with a relatively dark-bright wall color? It came out looking like baby blue in all our photo attempts so far.

  22. says

    OK, pics for real! — I’m super embarrassed by the current “client view” but that will change soon, as will the chair since I’m expecting my black Geek Desk to arrive any day now. Which might allow me to justify a rug (!) — but that’s a whole other post. :) And you can see my company logo colors — cherry red and sort of hot pink plus white and black — but I gave up on decorating with those. :(

    Sorry for delays — so many shots I snapped looked like a completely different shade (you’ll see in one it looks olive green?! but it’s totally aqua-turquoise). Almost like a dark Tiffany box. Your thoughts are SO welcome!

  23. Nicole says

    Our home is an open floor plan. We just redid the kitchen with creamy cupboards antiqued with charcoal color. The counters are black as well as knobs. The crown above the kitchen cabinets matches them and is also antiqued. So here is the dilema; what color do we do the doors and baseboards in the rest of the living space? My husband says bright white but won’t that just make the cabinets look yellowish? We also have a beautiful mantel around the fireplace that is white…its sort of around the corner from the kitchen. So what to do????? and all the walls are sort of a sea foam greany color. Any thoughts would really be appreciated because we really don’t know.

  24. Sherry says

    I know this is on a older post but I can not find a place to ask this question.

    We are redoing out house painting, trim and new doors. I have to replace trim on the top of the wall and the bottom and aroundthe windows anad doors. My doors and windows are wood stained. I would like to make my trim a color that would go with the paint on the wall. Can I do that or do I have to put wood trim back on? I can’t picture having trim around the walls painted and trim around the windows and doors stained. Do you have any ideas?? One more thing I am Country style


  25. says

    Sherry, look at magazines and see if you can find examples of rooms withi different trim colors. I feel like I’ve seen painted crown and baseboard with stained doors and window trim, but there are no hard and fast rules. Look for pictures and copy what you can. Sorry not to be of more help! Good luck.

  26. CAROLE ELFARR says

    Does having the walls in each room in a house look too sterile. The house is fairly contempory, no crown molding, etc.

  27. Heather Davidson says

    IMPoRTanT quESTion. I’ve been thinking about this for a while..all my walls are a tope baige like color and all the inside doors and trims and the out side doors are white. I hate it the trim gets dirty from my husband working on his car and touching them. Suggestions? Can I color my front door a different color if so does the trim and color on the inside stay ye same?

  28. says

    YES. The front door can be a color – hopefully a bright, happy color! – and all the trim around it can be off-white, if you like. High-gloss finishes withstand dirt best, btw – the dirt wipes right off. Good luck!

  29. says

    These rooms are gorgeous! They look like dream rooms. I especially love the yellow color in the first room. Thank you for sharing these pictures!

  30. Patty says

    I have a question. My hall, kitchen and dining room are all open and they all have stained wood trim. The bedrooms have all been painted the same color as the walls. I was wondering about maybe painting the trim white in all those rooms. What would that look like since the doors in those rooms are an oak color too? Should I paint the doors white too. I don’t know if it would look funny if the trim was white in all the bedrooms and bathrooms and the rest of the house has oak trim. Thank you for your response.

  31. says

    Our house, built in 1939 was renovated just before we purchased it a year ago. It has these beautiful dark hardwood floors throughout the whole house and almost all the walls are old school plaster painted white (bathrooms are the exception) with these great coved ceilings.
    So far, so good. But ALL the trim in the house and all the interior doors are painted a dark chocolate brown. Its even darker than the floors, I don’t know whyt it is, but I hate it. Event the wood between the old school window panes is painted that same brown. We have yet to paint a single wall by the way.
    I think the floors would pop more if the base boards were white, but I’m afraid to take on repainting ALL the trim in the house. It would be a huge project. So I could go one room at a time, but then I’ll get that effect you mentioned about looking down a hallway and seeing a drastically different color trim. We aren’t talking subtlety different shades of white.
    Any thoughts?

  32. Bossy Color says

    Hello! Thanks so much for your question. In your case, I DO think you should go room by room. Rules are made to be broken, even mine :) . Choose a versatile white or off-white that looks good w/ your white walls – the rooms will be SO different that it won’t look like you tried to match and missed; it will be obvious that you’re righting a pretty awful-sounding wrong. Good luck!

  33. Alicia says

    Please help with trim color selection! Not sure whether to do white or ivory. I used roasted almond wall paint. The existing ivory looks good but will look horrible in my little girls room since her walls are pure white. I don’t know how to make the doors in that hall blend. If I paint her door white then the other 4 hall doors are ivory, it clashes. But having her door ivory and opening into her all white room also clashes.

  34. Wendy says

    I love the idea of closing the door and painting only the trim I see. I just painted a small bathroom, a little project, and I have to do the trim. Doing that would make this little project huge if I have to paint the trim in my entire downstairs. I have a cream colored paint that I can now use thanks to your advice.


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