Recently I skyped with a colleague who just moved into a prewar rental in Brooklyn; she asked me to see if I could come up with solutions to the various challenges imposed by the wonderful but imperfect and not-hers-to-renovate space. So we did a video tour of her space. (I hope show some before and after’s in coming posts).

One design issue came up that affects MANY old apartments: decades of built-up paint on moldings and doors, as well as an array of physical textures: bricks, tin ceilings, conduit, etc.  In my friend’s case, the landlord had painted the moldings and doors glossy gray against white walls. It made the apartment visually MUCH busier and drew your eye right to the not-so-lovely parts. It’s a common mistake, as is painting walls a color that highlight moldings.

What if you can’t renovate, don’t have the time or energy for the grueling job of stripping off decades of old paint, and want a quick fix?

The solution to making these elements recede and calming the space down visually —doable even in a rental — is to paint them the same color as the walls. The apartment at top, found at Remodelista, is a fine example.

That strategy can turn a hodgepodge of texture and color…

…into a calm and unified space…something like this

You don’t need to stick to white paint (although it will make a space look bigger.) Designer Betsy Johnson used pink paint to transform the pipes, electrical lines, moldings and tin ceiling of her Soho loft.


My colleague doesn’t have to paint her whole place. She’d just have to match the color of the walls, and paint moldings and doors as she has time.

If you ARE able to do some renovating, we love this approach: Remove the moldings, and leave the worn walls as is…

intentional worn paint



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One thought on “A Solution for Paint-Crusted Moldings and Doors

  1. I’ve lived in many rentals with this issue (decades of dirty, chipped, peeling, flaking paint in various colors on all surfaces). If you’re not able to paint, a heavy cleaning of all that dingy molding and baseboards helps so much, psychologically. If you are able to paint, I 100% agree that painting the walls to match the moldings helps make everything look cohesive. I’d put two samples on the walls as well – one in a gloss level that matches the trim, and one in an eggshell/satin. Although the higher-gloss paint on the walls would likely match what the landlord used on the moldings, it could not look so great on all your walls. A more matte version could provide just enough contrast to be interesting, without staying busy (high-gloss paint is harder to work with and can end up making walls look shiny/wet depending on the shade).

    Quirky architectural details (even dingy ol’ molding) can sometimes be really neat when combined with modern or spare furnishings as well – keeps the space from looking sterile and cold, and makes it much more approachable/cozy, I think 🙂

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