How to Paint Trim on a House

Complementary trim schemes add flair to home fronts and spruce up façades to create a classic look without repainting the entire exterior. (credit: rebecca pepper canese)

Complementary trim schemes add flair to home fronts and spruce up façades to create a classic look without repainting the entire exterior. (credit: rebecca pepper canese)

The façade of a home offers a large plain of color which—even when broken up by shutters, windows and doors—can come o as predictable (read: boring). To add originality to their paint schemes, homeowners have lately been exploring ways to incorporate surprising details that flatter the architectural lines of the house. Using three to four colors of trim, the more contrasting the better, is back in vogue. It’s a trend with roots dating to the Victorian era, but one that can be compelling on virtually any style building.

“There’s an elegance to keeping the art of the house original; the architectural design was built to fit a certain time,” said Andrew Vatier, owner of Home Beautiful Painting in Manhasset. He’s worked in the industry for more than two decades and sees clients’ preferences going towards the traditional. “Gray [for exterior paint] is the trend right now with lighter trim and more people are going back to the authentic styles of wood.” But Vatier also pointed out that in certain towns on Long Island design is not a matter of choice. He cited areas like Munsey Park and Sea Cliff as having particularly stringent building codes concerning what materials can be used. Basically, no vinyl. And even paint choice may be scrutinized.

credit: rebecca pepper canese

credit: rebecca pepper canese

Not that vinyl isn’t without its appeal: it’s less effort and usually less expensive—not only the materials but also the install. And it doesn’t require as much maintenance as wood because it won’t peel or chip even when painted. Fading does occur, but it lasts for years, though an annual cleaning is usually needed.

Still, Vatier pushes clients towards wood trim to maintain the domain’s charm. “I’m doing a home in Bay Shore now. We stripped out the aluminum capping on the window frame and we’re refinishing the original. It’s an old cottage and it’s going to look more like that now with the original wood.” Keeping the trim and architecture genuine increases individuality as well. “I encourage people to go back to the original look, your cedar or hardwoods. Traditional is always more elegant,” Vatier said. “The downside is that it’s more maintenance. Every five years you’re looking at the trim.”

The key to extending the finish’s lifespan is preparation. Gaps in the wood (especially around windows) should be caulked flush and nail holes filled. The wood should be sanded evenly to the smoothest finish possible. And then a new primer put on to form a fresh bond for a quality topcoat of paint. At least two coats of paint should be put on any surfaces that are bare or where wood was filled. On average, the job will cost 40–60 percent more for wood over vinyl. Vatier suggested anticipating a two-to-three week timeframe for installation, depending on consecutive dry days. “It might only take 10 days to do, but that could take 3 weeks.”

credit: rebecca pepper canese

credit: rebecca pepper canese

Because trim is the finishing touch, kind of the makeup on the face of a house, the color scheme is crucial to achieving an eye-catching look. Vatier recommends Benjamin Moore’s Aura Paint. “Every one of those colors on there go warmly with the other colors…they are muted in such a way that work together and don’t seem to clash.” For the quintessential Victorian-style house, the look would be earth tone green as the main paint—light on top, dark on the bottom of the house—an alabaster or off-white on the fascia and soffits and the shutters and crown molding in a cinnamon red. If there’s a porch, it should have dark floors with lighter rails and columns to avoid distracting from the main colors, while still adding dimension. And the door? “Do the door in your favorite color.” Vatier suggested cedar tones but said anything works so long as it’s a statement piece that pops.