Adding White to Your Space Without Painting Stained Wood Trim

Although the gray and white trend has been cooling in recent years in favor of warmer, natural finishes, many homeowners still love the freshness that white and palest neutrals brings to a space. For many homeowners in the past decade, that meant painting out all their stained wood trim, which was costly and also took away some of the visual warmth. I’ve also experienced situations where one partner wants to paint the wood and the other partner wants to keep the stained wood, leading to a stalemate that pleases no one. In a previous blog, I spoke about applying paint to selected, stained wood elements in a strategic approach that marries both stained and painted surfaces. This creates a home that feels lighter and brighter, while maintaining the natural beauty of stained wood surfaces.

This continues that conversation but addresses other ways to add warm white (or a complex cream) without painting the wood trim when that option is off the table entirely. That leads to another effective strategy.

Change Out Your Other Permanent Finishes

In the kitchen, adding white or light-colored countertops and backsplashes can immediately brighten your space and highlight your stained wood cabinets and trim. Here are some examples of that strategy:

White and very pale neutrals, also know as complex creams, have a high light-reflective value (LRV), which means light bounces off them and is reflected into a space. Dark colors have a low light-reflective value, which means they absorb light. A room should have a good balance of light and dark colors. This provides contrast to highlight your different finishes, creating visual drama.

If you have a fireplace, adding a light-colored surround can add some much-needed contrast to your stained wood. Finishes include pale brick, tile, or stone. Taking it all the way to the ceiling magnifies the effect as in these examples below:

Painting out your dark brick can also make the stained wood trim pop.

This light-colored stone is highlighted by the dark wood walls and mantel that surround it.

Here, light-colored marble contrasts beautifully with the dark-stained wood mantel.

A dark mantel and hearth contrast beautifully with this warm-white, herringbone tile.

Add furniture and décor in warm white and pale neutral colors

Adding light-colored, transitional elements can also brighten up your space and keep it from being overwhelmed by dark permanent finishes. In this room, the warm white walls, drapes, area rug, and furniture contrasts beautifully with the golden oak trim.

Dark trim (and even walls) can be balanced with light-colored window treatments, furniture, and décor.

Note how the dark wood and walls in the image below are complemented by white elements like the furniture, drapes, light fixture, wall art, and table runner. The vibe is cozy and warm, without feeling depressingly dark.