Paint or Stain for Interior Trim
By Bud Dietrich
The white painted trim makes a crisp contrast with the colored walls in this sitting area.
Painted, stained, cherry, oak, pine, maple, primed, synthetic, and
more are all options for the material and finish of the interior trim. Each has
a different look, conveys a different message, has a different cost and
requires a different installation technique. So how do you pick one over
another given all of these differences and the number of choices?
Paint or Stain
The first thing to decide is whether your trim will be painted or
stained. Making this decision will really narrow down the universe of
choices you have and decisions you’ll have to make. Sure, you can use a
wood like oak for your trim and then paint it but that’s a very expensive way
to go about achieving the look you want. And don’t fret about using painted trim in some rooms and stained
trim in others. This is often done as each finish has its own character
and you may want to change the character of each room as you move about your
home. The trick when changing the finish from room to room is how a
transition is made from one to the other. For example, will a door be
painted on one side and stained on the other? Or, where there are no
doors leading from one room to the next, how will and where will one finish stop
and the next start? You may want to have a professional designer help
with these kinds of decisions.
From cost to availability to ease of maintenance to changing the
color, there are many advantages to using painted trim. These are all the
reasons why we see painted trim just about everywhere and certainly in most new
houses. And there’s nothing quite like a really nicely trimmed out room
that has all of the trim a nice, crisp white. A room trimmed this way
always has a clean and tailored look to it.
Painting the trim also allows you to use some of the less costly
materials as the exact material choice isn’t as important. Some synthetic
and fiber trim materials can provide an overall look that’s indistinguishable
from a painted wood trim. The trick is to look for trim material where
the edges have sharp, defining edges to them. Some of the cheaper trim
pieces can lose their crispness with more than one coat of paint as the profile
edges didn’t start out sharply defined.
Staining the trim will require the wood species first and each
species has a different grain and takes stain in a different manner. And
even when you’ve selected the species, you’ll have to select the type of cut
and character of the wood.
For example, say you want oak trim that’ll be stained a golden
tone. To do this, you’ll have to decide whether you want a regular cut,
quarter sawn or other. Each way of cutting the oak will result in a
different grain pattern, yielding a different look. And you’ll have to
decide on whether or not you want the oak to be completely free of any
blemishes (knots, checks, etc.) or if having some won’t bother you. Just
remember that each decision you make will yield a different look and have a
different price. Also, note that each wood species will take stain differently so
even when using the same stain color will end up looking different. For
example, maple, which has virtually no visible grain, can be blotchy looking if
not stained evenly and carefully. And cherry, which starts out red, can
end up being darker and redder as it ages, especially when in direct sunlight.
So it’s probably best, just from a sanity point of view, to hire a
professional designer to help with making these decisions.