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.

Painted Trim
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.

Stained Trim
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.


01/23/2014

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