Should Baseboards and Crown Molding Match?

My husband and I got into a pretty heated argument the other day. How essential is crown molding in a room? As a longtime fan of the finished, elegant look, I obviously took the pro side: crown molding makes a room. He, on the other hand, argued about the cost, the difficulty installing, making it match the room, and what color it should be painted. His home growing up never had crown molding, why should ours?

Now, this conversation is petty, and I’m lucky that my marital issues aren’t worse. But this argument did bring up a good point: should the crown molding match the other trim, like baseboards, in a room? Old school designers may scoff at the idea of mismatched colors and textures, but the truth is this is just a design myth. Baseboards and crown molding do not need to match in today’s home designs.

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There are two parts to this question we need to analyze. Matching is defined in two ways by designers: the type (meaning size and design) and the color (meaning the paint and finish). So, does anything really need to match each other to make a room look great? Let’s consider the options.

Purpose of Interior Trim

The argument with my husband aside, trim is an important part of the room for design and functionality. Around the doors, windows, and floors, trim covers the gaps left behind by construction. Even if this is insulated well, you’ll notice that when you take it off that there is always a gap into the abyss of the house’s framing.

Personally, I always avoid those gaps when I’m working on the house because who knows what dragon-bat may come flying out to take off my hand? Okay, clearly it would just be a spider, but fear is irrational. My fear shows a good point: trim is needed. It gives the room a finished look, while also keeping out creepy crawlies and blocking drafts.

Crown molding, on the other hand, is not needed. In fact, Mid 20th-Century homes didn’t use crown molding. It is expensive. It is sometimes difficult to install. And, if not done properly, it can look really bad (please don’t tell my husband I admitted to all this). There is also no real functional purpose, since there are no gaps between the ceiling and the walls. However, just like trim, it finishes a room and adds a touch of elegance that is missing otherwise.

Matching Baseboard and Crown Molding Style

There are so many versions of trim out there to experience. Depending on the look you’re going for in the room, you’ll likely want the crown molding and baseboards to all match that style. For instance, Modern farmhouses tend to use a wider, simpler design, while traditional Tudor homes tend to use a few sharp cuts with a wood stain. Some designers create their own trim by piecing together different sized moldings together.

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Essentially, you want to try to match the style so the room is cohesive. Having a piece of crown molding with sharp angles but rounded window casings will look off. Try to match the mill work in style, if not exactly identical to make you room look professionally designed. Again, if you have the budget and resources, you could even seek a carpenter to create trim that has original millwork that will fit the exact style you want.

Some types of popular trim styles include:

  • Modern
  • Bohemian
  • Georgian
  • Farmhouse
  • Modern farmhouse
  • Federal
  • Pre-Colonial
  • Colonial revival
  • Rustic
  • Scandinavian
  • Gingerbread

Matching Baseboard and Crown Molding Size

Another major design myth is that all trim should match in size. This couldn’t be further from the truth. Many people like the look of quarter-round trim at the baseboards, but want a more elaborate crown molding or chair rail. Some designers even extend crown molding onto the ceiling so that the eye is drawn up even higher.

There are suggestions for what size should be used in your room, but these rules are broken time and time again by designers. Instead, just consider the dimensions of your room. Very small trim work will be lost in a huge room, while overly-large pieces of trim can make a room feel suffocating. Again, depending on the style of your room, you’ll choose what works best for you.

Some people will also argue about the size of the crown molding versus the baseboards. Which should be bigger? This is a dangerous rabbit hole to fall down, and trust me, there is no correct answer. Overall, the best advice is to make everything complement each other for a clean, cohesive product.

Matching Baseboard and Crown Molding Paint Color

Let’s get this out there: you do not need to match paint colors. It’s been said. Argue with me if you’d like, but there are some great reasons not to match paint. For instance, using a dark color on your baseboards will ground the room and help the room seem larger. On the other end of this, dark crown molding will draw the eye up toward the ceiling. To use this design trick, many people paint the other trim the same color as the walls.

Overall, you can do whatever you like- it’s your home! Make it meet your style. I do recommend sticking in the same color wheel when selecting your paint colors. Try to make all colors warm- or cool-toned. The other thing to think about is complimentary and contrasting colors. If you want your room to be comfortable and peaceful, be sure to use complimentary colors. If you want your room to be more aesthetically sharp, contrasting colors will work well.

There is also the fact that the trim can all be the same color as the wall, maybe a soft gray, to create an uncomplicated modern look. However, if you choose to match the casings, baseboards, and crown molding in color (often a bright white to really add a punch to the design), it will make your room look cohesive and polished. If you choose to keep the natural wood look and want to stain the trim, I suggest keeping the same stain for all the wood in the room. Similar to paint colors, if you cannot match the wood floor stain to the trim, try to use the same tones. Commonly, a darker stain works for wood trim against a wooden floor.

Matching Baseboard and Crown Molding Paint Finish

If you’ve figured out the color(s) you intend to use for your baseboards and crown molding and are ready to purchase the paint, there is still one more decision: what paint and finish should be used? Several professional painters I know suggest using a glossier finish on trim to make it pop. The glossier the finish, the more natural light will bounce off of the trim. This is a good rule-of-thumb, but gain, not a hard rule. If you want the baseboards to disappear, you wouldn’t choose a different finish from the wall (just use the same paint). However, the most popular choice for painting trim is semi-gloss.

That brings me back around to the type of paint you’ll want to use. The two common types of paint used on trim are latex and oil-based. Oil-based paints will dry very shiny, almost glass-like. It is also the most durable, so it would be perfect for baseboards, which tend to get scuffed and hit often. The problem with oil-based paints is that the VOCs are very high, so the room is pretty much unusable for a day or so until the paint completely dries. It is also difficult to clean up after you’re done painting.

Of course, oil-based paint may make the trim too shiny. Latex paint, which is water-based, is available in many different finishes. Walls are traditionally painted with a flat or eggshell finish, so you’ll want to use the semi-gloss or gloss. High-gloss paint is nearly mirror-like, so you’ll want to skip this one if you don’t want that ultra-shine that the oil-based paint will give. Paint companies have also reduced the number of VOCs that are given off during the drying process, allowing the room to be usable sooner. Clean up is also a breeze- simply use some dish soap and water to clean off the brushes. Do keep in mind that only synthetic brushes can be used with Latex paint, because the natural bristles will absorb the paint.

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