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June 16, 2013 | Tessa Jones | Comments 0

The Most Common Color Mistake of All Time: White Trim

painting Atlanta new home trimIt is hard to fathom the popular obsession with white trim, a concept so tenaciously held that it is almost impossible to wean people from it. Impossible, that is, until they are brave enough to try one of the Atlanta home design alternatives.

Our eye is physically conditioned to go to the lightest or brightest things. In a beautiful room, would that be the trim or would that be art, carpets, fabrics and furnishings? Muting the trim color means it does not compete for attention.

When does the ubiquitously popular cloud white (PPG 217-1 Crumb Cookie) work? When the trim is really, really attractive, and the walls are white, pastel, mid to light blue or black (though how often are we brave enough for that)? With any and every other wall color white may not be wrong, but it is not the best choice.

In traditional homes for centuries the ideal trim choice was unpainted wood, marble or stone, or the more economical faux wood, marble or stone. The alternative was to paint all trim to match the walls – yes, even the windows, window trim, fireplace mantels, stair bannisters, risers – you name it. Sometimes baseboards were black to hide the dirt. Matched trim is still visible, but as texture and decorative enhancement, and not as busy look-at-me outlining. Loosing white baseboards doesn’t chop the wall off from the flooring, so the room seems taller.

The time to bend the one-color-everywhere strategy a little is when there are white sheers. Behind the sheers you may not want to see any color. The windows and mullions can be painted a soft white or off-white.

In the past if you wanted the trim to ‘stand out,’ then it was typically painted a little darker than the wall color giving a soft tone-on-tone contrast. This works with colors as well as neutrals, but as you go darker, move to a slightly more muted version of the wall color for the trim instead of just moving south on the same color ‘let-down’ strip. This maintains a calm elegance.

For more contrast, a brave choice is black (PPG 518-7 Black Magic) or an ebony trim (PPG 531-7 Black Elegance). I switched out the color on a two-story high bay window in the red great-room of a large country home from off-white to charcoal (PPG 518-6 Knight’s Armour). The client called when it was done to say that for the first time ever she could see – really see – the beautiful view beyond. Unlike white, dark window trim lets the eye float over all the mullions completely undistracted.

When trim highlighting is what you want to do, remember to darken the trim as you darken the wall color. This maintains the degree of contrast rather then letting it get stronger and stronger. Bold white trim makes deep colors look darker and stronger. Shifting to neutral hues, stone and wood colors, like linen (PPG 515-4 Moth Grey), putty (PPG 513-5Sharkskin), grey (PPG 513-4 Whiskers or 411-3 French Grey Linen) or tan (PPG 313-3 Soft Suede or 414-3 Toasted Almond) will give plenty of contrast, but with a quieter sophistication. Note: Be sure to match or coordinate the undertones in the neutral to those in the main room color.

As one skeptic who hesitantly took up the lose-the-white-trim challenge said, “It made my bedroom a sanctuary. Now the trim in the rest of my house bothers me.” Suddenly, white starts to look like visual overload – like white piping around the collar and cuffs of a jacket. Giving up its ‘clean,’ ‘fresh,’ crisp effect for the softer elegance of matched, blended or dark trim that lets wall colors look their most beautiful. In fact, it is so transformative, it may become the color concept held closest to your heart.

Janice Lindsay is a designer who collaborates with PPG Porter Paints.

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