During our latest renovation, I became somewhat disillusioned with white trim. Sure, it goes with almost any paint color, but the “safe” option may also be the lazy way out. Using color could be a much better choice.

This is the room that challenged my thinking on trim.

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White trim washed out the pattern in the decorative floor tile and made the space feel too sterile, so after some careful consideration I opted to paint the trim black.

This was a risky choice, as the space is already small and I did not want to make it feel smaller. (Yes, my painter triple checked before he put on the first coat.) But the more time I spent thinking through options, the more I kept coming back to black. The black trim brightens the white fixtures, and highlights the black and gray in the tile. I added a black-framed mirror to complete the look.

I love how it came together. The black trim gives the space a warmth and sophistication that would have been completely lost with white. My experience with this powder room got me thinking about trim in general, its history, and the trend right now to keep it all white.

Trim in the 1700s (think historic Williamsburg) was colorful and meant to highlight and frame in architectural details. The furnishings were understated, often just bare wood that was stained or painted, so trim became a common way to introduce color.


Later, as fabrics and art became more vibrant, and furnishings marked status, trim transitioned to the backdrop – natural wood, sometimes heavily milled, was the trend in the Victorian era.

These trends have morphed over time, but attention to trim was almost completely abandoned during the boom of tract houses and suburban developments in the 1980s and 1990s. Builders kept the walls a neutral off-white (“Builder” white), and all trim was left semi-gloss white, presumably to allow new homeowners a prepped canvas on which to create their home of colors.

And while walls got painted various shades of peach, blue, and lavender, the trim remained white or was painted the same color as the walls – one less factor to have to think about with all of the flower print sofas and drapes so prominent in those decades.

These days the neutral interior colors found in the Williamsburg era (creams, tans and light grays) are popular again, but without the vibrant trim.

We rely on the furnishings to create the accent colors – throw pillows and tchotchkes and artwork. Things that can be swapped easily and intermittently to create a new look and stay on point with seasonal trends… but for my inner-minimalist, I prefer to make the color part of the space itself and not dependent on ever-changing stuff. And so, consciously incorporating trim has become integral to my design.

It’s not about going bold; the goal is simply to find an alternative to semi-gloss white – to make trim color a thoughtful decision, not an assumed trend or worse, an afterthought.

A modern alternative to boring white is to paint the trim two or three shades lighter than the wall color.

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This bedroom has Sherwin Williams SW7656 Rhinestone for the trim work. Rhinestone is two shades lighter than the wall color. This selection keeps the same general look of white trim, but without the glare. That’s right, white trim gives off a glare. White is a natural reflector and bounces light back at you. By using a color, we created a softness and thus more relaxing vibe, which is especially nice to have in living rooms and bedrooms where you go to wind down.

For your designs, I urge you to make each decision a choice. Consider the age and personality of your house. White trim has a place, just not in every space.

If you have any questions, or want a color consult, email me at Nicole@piperbearproperties.com. I am always happy to talk about paint colors!