When remodeling your home, one of the design elements you’ll need to consider is your interior trim. Although trim only takes up a small visual space in your home, it can make an enormous impact on the design aesthetic and functionality of your home. Fortunately for you, there are many different options and types of interior trim to choose from.
At Lamont Bros., our design team helps homeowners sift through the many different options that come with planning a remodel. One such step is selecting trim; not only does it come in several different materials, but it also varies in size and design, as well.
In this article, we’ll discuss everything you need to know about selecting the right type of trim for your home. By the time you finish reading, you should have a firm understanding of:
- What trim is and how it is used
- The different types of trim materials
- How to include trim in your design process
What is trim?
Before jumping into the different types of trim materials, it is important to understand what trim is and how it is used.
Typically, interior trim is used to cover gaps between transitions in building material. For example, we use baseboards to cover the space between the floorboards and the drywall, and window casings in between the windowsill and the drywall.
Trim can also be used for protective or simply decorative purposes. Below are some of the most common uses for interior trim.
Considered to be a standard practice in residential construction, baseboards run along the length of the wall at floor level. Their primary purpose is to conceal the unfinished edges where the floorboards (or carpet) meet the drywall. They also protect against scuffs and scratches from shoes.
Similar to baseboards, chair rail runs along the length of an interior wall. Unlike baseboards, chair rail is higher up on the wall – usually about 3 feet on every side. Adding chair rail to a home not only creates a traditional aesthetic for the space; it also protects the wall from people and furniture (hence the name).
It is typical in almost all styles except some modern styles to have trim boards around doors and windows. These casings can bring visual flair to the windows and doors in your home. Like baseboards, they also help to conceal unfinished edges between material transitions. In this case, it’s between the drywall and the window frame.
Though not frequently used in construction today, wainscoting is a common feature in traditional and historic homes. This decorative paneling typically covers the lower parts of a wall in between the baseboards and chair rail. Historically, wainscoting was used to protect the walls from bumps, scuffs, and scratches.
Think of crown molding as the opposite of baseboards; it runs the length of the wall at its highest point, next to the ceiling. Crown molding is generally purely decorative and serves little to no functional purpose.
Types of interior trim materials
Each of the above-mentioned types of trim comes in several different material options. The four most common trim materials are MDF, wood, PVC, and tile. Prices are typically measured in linear feet of trim board.
MDF – $2 per linear foot
Medium-density fiberboard (MDF) is often the least expensive type of interior trim available. Made from compressed sawdust and resins, MDF tends to be flexible and easy to paint. Because it has no woodgrain, it also does not split when nailed to a wall.
On the other hand, MDF boards aren’t especially strong, and thus don’t handle damage as gracefully. Since they don’t have wood grain surfaces, you can’t get a natural or stained wood look from MDF. They are also highly susceptible to water damage and have been known to warp or bubble when exposed to moisture.
Smooth, consistent painting
Easy to install
Prone to water damage
Cannot be stained
PVC – $5 per linear foot
Almost exclusively used in bathroom & utility room application, PVC has less versatility but more durability than MDF. Since it is made of plastic, polyvinyl chloride (PVC), is an excellent material for use in high-moisture areas. Although slightly more expensive than MDF, it is still considered to be affordable.
Like MDF, PVC can be sanded and painted with relative ease. It also doesn’t rot, isn’t prone to insect infestation, and is resistant to fire. All these things contribute to PVC trim having a very long lifespan. Among the different types of trim, PVC has been known to last the longest, up to several decades with minimal maintenance.
Where PVC falls short is in its thermal expansion properties. Large swings in temperature may cause the material to expand or contract. Also, like MDF, it cannot be made to look like natural wood.
Durable, long-lasting material
Smooth, consistent painting
Water, insect, and fire-resistant
Cannot be stained
Wood – $3-6 per linear foot
If you’re looking for a tried and tested trim material, wood is the way to go. Wood hasn’t just been used the longest out of any other material. It’s also maintained its ranking towards the top in terms of quality and versatility.
In terms of options, there are several textures, millings, and finish choices for wood trim across many different styles. For those seeking a natural or stained woodgrain trim, there are many species of wood and colors of stain to choose from.
Since wood is an organic material, it is prone to rot and water damage over long periods of time. Wood differs from MDF in that it can withstand some short-term exposure to wet conditions. However, you should think twice before installing wood trim where water is likely to cause damage.
The process of installing wood trim also may present several challenges. Due to its natural qualities, the wood is more likely to split and splinter when being nailed to the wall. It also tends to be more rigid, and therefore is difficult to apply to curved walls.
Many design options
Can be stained
Classic & timeless
Can be difficult to install
Prone to rot and water damage
Tile – $6-9 per linear foot
As the most expensive trim material option, tile has a lot going for it. Waterproof, ornate, and incredibly sturdy, tile trim is an excellent design choice for when you want a strong visual aesthetic for areas in your home that frequently get wet.
Tile trim almost exclusively appears in the form of baseboards, and usually matches adjacent tile flooring. Kitchens, bathrooms, and mudrooms are all prime candidates for tile baseboards.
The challenge in working with tile baseboards are in the cost of materials, and also the cost of installation. Since tile work requires more than just nailing a board to the wall, trained professionals should be the ones to install it, which raies costs on the labor side, as well. Although tile is very durable, it’s also very difficult to repair if it does get damaged.
Difficult to install or repair
Interior trim style and guidelines
When adding trim into your home’s design, you’ll want to take into account a few style principles. These general guidelines are not set in stone, but they can help bring visual dimension and character to your space.
Door and window casings should typically be smaller in width than your baseboards. How much smaller depends on who you ask. Some designers will recommend a 2:1 ratio, with your baseboards twice as high as your window casing is wide. That means if you have a 3-inch window casing, you’ll end up with 6-inch baseboards.
You should also think about how the trim’s milling style might interact with the overall style of your home’s design. Ergo, most older homes will almost always demand traditional trim styles, while explicitly modern homes call for more contemporary solutions. For the vast majority of transitional style homes, however, you have more liberty to go with traditional milling patterns, such as colonial, or more modern, like block baseboards.
Square block baseboards are currently more in-style due to their simplicity and timeless aesthetic. However, the milling pattern you choose should be an extension of who you are and how you decorate your home. Going with what is “in” isn’t always the right decision. Rather, think about how your style choices reflect who you are.
Color & finish
White is the most common color for trim; it’s a proven design practice that works well with nearly every other color in a space. However, there’s nothing wrong with doing something a little different.
Natural wood trim offers tons of options in stains and species. Generally, a wood-stained trim should match the floorboards if you have wood floors.
If wood trim doesn’t pique your interest, you can always paint your baseboards any color you’d like. This is obviously a bold move one you should carefully consider before acting on. Think about how the color of your trim will interact with other colors in the space, and where it will draw attention.
Want to talk to a professional designer about trim?
Now that you’re developing your own expertise on trim materials and design principles, take the next step! Learn more about current interior design trends and how you can apply them to your own home in this article.
If you’d like to talk with a professional designer about your remodeling questions, click the link below to schedule a free video consultation. One of our design consultants will help talk you through the process of remodeling your home and help you learn what to expect.