Painting or Staining: Best Options for Interior Millwork

You can paint the walls, hang the curtains, arrange the furniture, but a room just isn’t complete until you’ve addressed that one final touch, the component that will tie the whole look of the room (and house) together  – the millwork.

Millwork refers to your home’s interior doors, window casings, baseboards, mantels and crown molding. Choosing the right look for your home’s millwork is an important decision, as it not only impacts the look and feel of each individual room, but in many cases it impacts the look and feel of your entire home. And even though you only have two options when it comes to finishing millwork – paint or stain – there is a lot of careful consideration that should go into your final decision. So to get some professional insight on the matter, I spoke with Brandi Hagen, Principal Designer of Eminent Interior Design in Minneapolis.

In about 85% of remodeled or new construction homes Brandi visits, homeowners are opting for painted millwork.

“Most homeowners are going with some variation of white for their millwork to contrast with the dark floors and bold wall colors that are so popular right now. It’s all about contrast, so if you’re using dark, bold colors on your walls and floors you need that clean white line to offset it.”
– Brandi Hagen

Some of Brandi’s favorite paint colors for millwork include Benjamin Moore’s Swiss Coffee (OC-45) for a nice, crisp white and Benjamin Moore Calming Cream (OC-105) for a warm creme color. Benjamin Moore’s Mayonnaise (OC-85) is another of Brandi’s favorites.

Best paint colors for trimYou can pick up color swatches of these Benjamin Moore paint colors at your local Hirshfield’s. Hirshfield’s offers “sample size” 16 ounce cans of most paints so you can test the color in your home under various lighting conditions before committing to a large paint purchase.

Although white is a popular color choice for millwork, Brandi says she also likes to use black. She says black isn’t something she usually recommends for an entire house, but for one room that is separated from the rest (such as a bedroom or office), black can really make a statement. Paint the walls a lighter color to pop against the black.

painting trim
Photo courtesy of Brandi Hagen

Staining is another option for millwork. When looking for a stain color, Brandi recommends going either really light or really dark – medium tones are out. Just like with paint, it’s all about high contrast. So think about the colors you want to use in your house and then pick out your stain.

stained millwork
Examiner Home & Living

If you are staining your millwork, Hirshfield’s recommends trying the stain color on a scrap piece of the actual wood used for the project.  Bring along a piece when you’re shopping for stain colors and Hirshfield’s will be happy to provide a brush-out for you to take home.

But if you just can’t decide whether you want to go with paint or stain, there is no rule against mixing and matching!

“There’s no hard and fast rule when it comes to mixing paint and stain for millwork finishing. Just think about the flow and transition of your rooms. If you have an open-concept floor plan, it might be hard to make a sensible transition between the paint and the stain. But if you have a closed off room you can make it work.”
– Brandi Hagen

So whether you choose paint, stain or both, the most important thing is to pick a color that will work well with your entire home for many years to come.

“Painting and staining millwork is not an easy task. You don’t want to be refinishing all the millwork in your home every couple of years. Pick a color that you like, but that will also work well as your style changes throughout the years.”
– Brandi Hagen

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