Here’s a foolproof, can’t-go-wrong formula: Flat or eggshell finish for walls and semi-gloss for baseboards, window and door casings, doors and moulding. The reasoning? Flat paint doesn’t reflect light and is best for hiding bumps and cracks on the wall, while semi-gloss paint stands up to traffic, is easy to clean and gives millwork dimension and sheen. Well gee, that was too easy.
Before I hit “send” on the shortest advice column of all time I should add that, of course, there’s a handful of other winning combinations. As the design rebels and rule-breakers out there know, the best finish for trim ultimately depends on whether you want to play it up or play it down.
If you live in an older house and the trim is special – we’re talking stiletto-high baseboards, or deep crown or cove moulding with an intricate silhouette – by all means, use high-gloss paint to achieve a luxe, lacquer-like effect. Now, the trim becomes a feature when the light hits it rather than just blending in.
High-gloss is also the finish of choice for old doors, especially front doors. Bear in mind that the higher the sheen level, the more you can see imperfections in the wood, but in this case, age and patina is exactly what we’re celebrating. I love the look of a front door painted in a rich, glossy black or dark green, or in a highly pigmented colour such as red or cobalt blue. A final word on high-gloss paint: Don’t be afraid to leave your roller in its wrapper. Seeing brushstrokes only adds to the old school, handcrafted look.
Many modern houses and were built with simple, batten moulding that’s purely linear and has no curves or steps. In that case, semi-gloss or satin paint will result in a lovely gleam without too much glamour for its Shaker style. One out-of-the-box idea is to consider painting the walls and trim in the same flat finish for a cool, contemporary look, but I don’t recommend it for busy, scuff-prone households with kids and pets.
And then there’s the matter of whether to paint your trim in a colour that matches or contrasts with your walls … but that’s another column for another day. In the meantime, be sure to sand and prime all trim to get the most flawless result, no matter what finish you choose.
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