Interior Trim: How to Uplevel a Room on a Budget
Sometimes it’s the seemingly small things that change the look of a room. The color pop in a throw pillow, just the right area rug, and perfect window coverings bring eye-catching finishing touches to a space.
There are architectural features that make a statement too: a skylight or window seat would be great, but renovations may not be in the budget. Instead of changing the footprint of a room, why not add an accent instead?
Interior trim brings charm, style, personality, and cohesion to a space in unexpected ways. From floor to ceiling, interior trim can be the component that pulls the look together, makes you fall in love with your space, and keeps people talking.
It’s been around forever for a reason. The molding that sits where the wall meets the ceiling is a decorative finish that brings a formal, finished feel to a room.
In addition to skirting the top of the room, crown molding is also used where columns and cabinets meet the ceiling too.
While it’s lovely to have the eye drawn up to the simple, or ornate, profile of crown molding, it serves another purpose, which is hiding the point where one surface meets another. Instead of drawing attention to the precision (or lack of) of the paint line between a wall and a ceiling of different colors, you can easily be enjoying crown molding instead.
Chair Rail Trim
Moving down the wall, you’ll find chair rail—the horizontal trim used to create separation along the vertical space of a wall. You can use it in conjunction with crown molding and baseboard, or apply it by itself.
Chair rail gives you the opportunity to use different wall finishes on the same wall, adding visual interest and color cohesion. For example, you could use wallpaper below the chair rail and paint above it. Or apply wainscoting below and wallpaper above. The possibilities are endless.
If you want to create texture in your design, try wainscoting. There are many styles to choose from, so you can create a modern or rustic look within your space.
It’s easy to install and provides a satisfying DIY weekend project to consider.
Board and batten wainscoting uses vertical panels to create a minimalist look. Wide trim boards cover the seams between panels and add depth. Board and batten was popular in the 1900s but is currently undergoing a resurgence.
Raised panel wainscoting is a common choice for colonial homes and formal dining rooms. It was originally popularized in 17th century England, so it’s fair to say it’s a classic style that remains timeless.
In contrast, flat panel wainscoting is made from flat, featureless panels that appear to add depth to the wall. It’s a clean design that offers a lot of versatility.
Overlay wainscoting is a combination of flat and raised panel styles: it includes flat panels with additional panels installed over the top. The finished look resembles a raised panel in cabinetry.
Finally, there is the ubiquitous beadboard wainscoting, which uses tongue-in-groove vertical boards that create a row of vertical grooves. All types of wainscoting will include some sort of top trim, called a top cap, which can also include an upper rail. Similarly, there will be a lower rail and bottom trim called the shoe.
Depending on your level of experience and the design you’re going for, you can buy pre-packaged wainscoting that is ready for installation, or you can design your own look using trim and flat panels.
Saving Money on Trim
Now that you know about the different types of trim and what they can offer to your space, it’s time to get to work. However, you might get sticker shock while walking down the lumber aisle at the home improvement store.
There are some ways to “trim” the budget on interior trim, though, allowing you to level up a room and create your dream design without a nightmare bill.
1. Reduce Waste
Once you calculate the linear feet required for the job (the length of the walls) and find the product you want, check out the lengths that are available.
Figuring out how to minimize waste is the best way to save money on your project so you don’t buy more than you need.
The good news is that most trim pieces can be lined up end to end on any wall by cutting the ends at an angle to overlap them.
This means if your walls are 20 feet, but the pre-formed boards come in 12-foot sections, you can use the three-plus extra feet on the next wall. There will be some length lost due to cuts, so allow for this in your measurements.
Similar to installing flooring, if you use the cutoff from one board on the next wall, you’ll see less waste. Do stagger the seams, however, so you don’t find yourself with huge inconsistencies of 12 solid feet followed by three seams in a six-foot stretch.
2. Cut In Store
Some home improvement stores offer trim for sale by the foot. Usually in the same aisle, you’ll find a cutting station. This allows you to bring your measurements in and only buy the materials you need.
Note you may cause problems by trying to be too precise with cuts at the store. Typically, when you get things home, you find the framing isn’t perfect in the room, or there are slight variations for other reasons.
You don’t want to get home and find out your boards are too short. Give yourself a few extra inches when you make cuts in the store.
This process works well for smaller rooms. Say you have a 10’ x 10’ room and 12’ boards at the store. If you desire a flawless look with no seams, you can cut down the boards to just over 10’ each, so you’re not paying for extra materials with each 12’ board.
Just be sure the product you choose allows you to do this. Some are priced by the board instead.
3. Make Your Own
The cheapest way to use interior trim to level up a space is to make the trim yourself. This is obviously more time consuming and requires both more tools and more expertise. But it’s a rewarding process and will save you a lot.
Use 4x8 sheets of material, which you can rip into any width you desire. You can then embellish the trim boards using a router. In the end, your project will cost you about one-quarter of buying pre-fab trim.
4. Keep It Simple
The more intricate your interior trim design is, the more it is likely to cost. Remember trim is an accent, so it should be in balance with the rest of the space.
If you have wainscoting, the top and bottom rail can be all about function since the eye will wander to the wainscoting pattern anyway.
Baseboards rarely need to have much of a design, so you can save money by going with a flat trim there too. The same goes for a chair rail that doesn’t need to take away from the other textures on the wall.
5. Buy Bulk
If you’re adding trim to several rooms, you’ll save money by buying in bulk. Look for bundles labeled as “Contractor packs” or “Pro-paks” in the same aisle as your other trim options.
There are a variety of options in different lengths, widths, and designs. Many are already primed and ready for paint, if that’s your goal. Bundles can save you up to 40% off the per-board price.,
The Benefits of Real Softwood for Interior Trim
The construction industry is seeing a flood of new products. Some are aimed at convenience, others at architectural interest.
What many have in common is attention to nature, versatility, and sustainability. After all, when it comes to home construction, we want products that are going to have a very long lifespan before facing the landfill.
In searching for what’s new, the answer most often goes back to a classic—wood. If you’re looking for ways to uplevel any room, wood trim offers the look, feel, and functionality to do the job.
Here are a few features of softwood to consider as you select materials for your next interior trim project.
1. It’s Versatile
Softwood is naturally more bendable and compressible, which helps it withstand temperature and humidity changes. This flexibility also helps it withstand nailing better for an easier install and no splitting.
When choosing a wood that will complement your interior, think about the aesthetic of your home. Local fir or pine are generally less expensive softwood types that are budget-friendly and can be painted. If you’re partial to staining, look for Douglas fir or cedar.
Softwood can be cut, carved, and sculpted, so there are many ways you can use it for your interior trim projects. It’s a material that matches many types of interior design, including cottagecore, rustic, country, and farmhouse.
Interior trim can be painted, stained, or left untreated. It’s easy to work with and install.
2. It’s Natural
Interior trim is just one way you can use this natural material inside your home to enhance biophilic elements.
If you’re not familiar with the term, biophilia refers to an appreciation of living things. Biophilic design is a design style that continues to rise in popularity as home and business owners strive to create natural landscapes indoors.
Biophilic design relies on plants, natural lighting, water features, airflow, and natural materials such as jute, hemp, cotton, flax, and of course, wood.
Proximity to and visual contact with natural features like plants and animals, or with geometric shapes that mimic the structures of natural organisms, have been demonstrated to have positive, measurable physiological effects.
As a biophilic design element, wood creates an interior environment that’s been proven to boost focus and creativity, lower stress, and create a connection with nature. All good things!
3. It’s Sustainable
Trees that are grown in sustainable forests bring myriad benefits to the environment. Sustainable foresters monitor the growth cycle of trees in a way that protects water quality, wildlife habitat, and soil quality and guards against soil erosion. Healthy forests provide clean air to breathe, help defend against climate change, and prevent the loss of biodiversity.
The wood products industry supplies jobs in forest management, resource conservation, habitat restoration, forestry, manufacturing, and more.
Wood can even help to lower a home’s carbon footprint. Wood products such as trim provide physical storage of carbon that would otherwise be emitted into the atmosphere. Wood continues to store carbon throughout the life of the product, contributing to a lower carbon footprint.
4. It’s Beautiful
Wood trim is warm and welcoming.
When it’s time for a room facelift, installing or upgrading interior trim is a task that is sure to bring joy, appeal, and increased value to your space.
While you're busy planning remodeling projects, check out Four Wood Renovations to Increase Home Value and How to Restore a Wood Deck.
1. Encyclopedia Britannica - Wainscot
2. Family Handyman - DIY Trim Tips
3. Home Construction Improvement - Save Money on Interior Trim
4. Price comparisons for Home Depot and Lowe's, August 2022
5. Merriam-Webster - Biophilia
6. Journal of Biourbanism - The Biophilic Healing Index Predicts Effects of the Built Environment on Our Wellbeing
7. NRDC - Bringing the Outdoors In: The Benefits of Biophilia
9. Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) - State of the World’s Forests, 2012, p. 33