A Trim Story: Repairing Old, Matching New + How We Install

The Scary Room is slowly chugging along, despite spending every weekend working on the trim. We didn’t make it easy on ourselves – what, with our 3-piece door moldings and 2-piece baseboards – but after caulking the last seam earlier this week, we can say that all the time intensive work has absolutely been worth it!

Over the years, I’ve had to retrain my brain on how to approach trimming a room. Instead of writing with a fat black marker on our kraft rollTrim Scary Room‘ (punctuated with three exclamations and underlined emphatically), I’ll write this instead:

Measure the room + buy trim
Cut and install trim
Spackle and caulk trim
Sand everything!
Paint trim

You get the point. Scott and I have our strengths and weaknesses in each bullet point (he’s the master cutter, and I can caulk any room with my eyes closed), and after trimming almost every room in this house from scratch, I can honestly say that this has been the most challenging room yet. Of course, it all started with my declaration to salvage the original window trim (more on that in a second!), and that snowballed into the hunt for the closest reproduction for the rest of the room.

It was almost a month ago when we shared our trim plan for the room, and we’ve been working on the task every weekend (with the occasional weeknight) since. Essentially, the door and closet moldings would be made up of 3 pieces, and the baseboards would be a regular 1-by with a decorative panel mold on top. The cost of all the specialty molding was quickly escalating, and a reader recommended finish grade plywood in place of 1-by common board to save a few bucks. Some quick math in the hardware store proved that one sheet of 4′ x 8′ plywood would save us almost $75 over the cost of 1″ x 8″ common board! We had the store rip down the plywood to 6.5″h strips, and with the addition of the panel mould, our total height came to 8″ – exactly where we wanted to be:

You can see a glimpse of the closet trim in this post (the door trim is identical), and with all the new trim behind us, we were able to turn our attention to the old. When we removed the original window trim, we scribbled a note on the back of each piece where it belonged (i.e., left window top). Sadly, the sills and aprons were water damaged due to a leaky window (that we’ve since corrected), but the remaining three sides would be good-as-almost-new with a generous amount of elbow grease. To start, we laid them out, and Scott took measurements. This was important so that we could adjust the level and height of our soon-to-be sills to align with the lengths of the original window trim.

We knew with certainty that these moldings would contain lead somewhere, and a quick lead test confirmed this. Luckily, the top several layers of paint were water based, with only the very first layer of paint being the lead culprit! This confirmed our idea to simply encapsulate the trim with fresh paint, a process we felt more comfortable doing (as opposed to stripping all the paint and starting over).

I was in charge of trim repair, a job that required removing every last bit of old glue, tape and staples – and there was a lot of that! Here’s what I did: 1) I started by prying up any old debris – again, staples, nails, etc. 2) There was a build-up of drywall mud along the edges, and I used a putty knife to chip it away. 3) Using drywall spackle (this is a favorite), I filled holes, gouges and rough patches. 4) The next day, I used 220 grit sandpaper to smooth out the spackle, making sure I didn’t go through the outermost layer of latex paint. Tip: I prefer to use spackle on moldings because it’s easier to sand than wood putty. If I was repairing, say, a heavy-use furniture item, wood putty would be the way to go!

While I repaired those moldings, Scott got to work on the window sills! The old sills had a bullnose, so we used a 4′ stair tread with bullnose to replicate that look. The aprons were made from scrap wood and trimmed with leftover cove molding. Here’s a more detailed tutorial on how we insulate and install window trim – also, Maddie!

Finally, it was time to re-install the prepped moldings! The sill was raised an additional 2″-ish, allowing us to give the ends of the old trim a fresh cut:

Last but not least, it was time to spackle, caulk and sand! We’ve gone through a lot of brands and formulas over the years, and now without hesitation, my go-to tools for the job are:

Patch plus primer
Dynaflex 230 latex caulk + gun
220 grit sanding block
A cup of water
Paper towels

My method looks like this: Fire up Spotify and turn up the 90s tunes. Get in the zone. Next, I use my finger to swipe spackle over exposed nail holes, making sure to apply enough that the holes are completely filled. I then apply a line of caulk along the tops of the baseboards, around and inside the windows and anywhere else that has a seam. Before I smooth the caulk, I dip my finger in water, which not only makes the seam nice and pretty, but it also prevents the goo from sticking to my fingers. I keep a wet paper towel nearby, and I wipe off any excess along the way. For problem areas or decorative joints, I’ve found that the more water I use, the better the smoothing process! The next day, the spackle gets a quick sanding, and everything gets wiped down with a damp towel.

Some of you might have extra wide gaps where your drywall is bowed, maybe? We do! In those cases, I use a small backer rod, giving the caulk a surface to cling to. When uneven drywall cannot be avoided, this has been a game changer. Although I still need to squeeze a decent amount of caulk into the gap, the caulk sticks to the backer rod, as opposed to just filling – and filling and filling – a dark hole (and therefore, wasting half the tube!). Depending on the size of the gap, more than one pass may be necessary, but swiping a wet finger over the fresh line forgives all sins. Tip: A backer rod can also come in handy when filling 1/4″-1/2″ gaps along a wall that meets a cabinet or a built-in, too.

Phew! All of that is why trim is my least favorite task, and yet it’s the one that we’re probably the most proud of. (To be fair, there is something magical about caulking; it’s weirdly, incredibly satisfying.) Every time we trim a space, I’ll say aloud – like, loudly, over the chorus of anything Cranberries – I have so much respect for professional millworkers!

Now, all of the trim is installed, spackled, caulked and sanded. Next up? Paint!

Even without the paint, we’re pleased with how closely the new trim resembles the old! On the left, we sandwiched a symmetrical chair rail between 3/4″ cove molding, and on the right, you can see the 130-year-old trim we were looking to replicate:

New vs. Old

The baseboards are simple and adorable, and you know I told Scott that I wished the rest of our home had them, too!

You’ve heard me bemoan the mountainous task that is trimming a room (this post being no exception), and despite my displeasure in this to-do, there’s still not a doubt in my mind that this detail is so, so important to the room’s foundation. When you walk into a room, rarely does anyone say, Wow, I am obsessed with the millwork!’ (Well, most wouldn’t; you and us, we would. Let’s be real.) But my point is this: All the moldings that make up any given space have the ability to make a plain room exceptional. It’s a necessary building block with the potential to be great.

PS! We’ll be in Baltimore this weekend to help Chris and Julia revive Nate and Aura’s kitchen! Follow along on Instagram (@yellowbrickhome) for a behind the scenes peek with the whole crew! It’s going to be fun.

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  • Mallory3.30.17 - 8:41 AM

    So glad our little money saving trick worked out! I’m definitely in the millwork-loving camp and totally think it makes a room. Can’t wait to see all your meticulous work painted!ReplyCancel

    • Kim3.30.17 - 8:49 AM

      Yes, THANK YOU, Mallory! I searched through my messages and old posts, and I couldn’t find the way you had reached out – I’m so glad you chimed in here.ReplyCancel

  • Karen3.30.17 - 9:13 AM

    You guys are amazing. The trim looks amazing!!!ReplyCancel

  • Daria3.30.17 - 9:42 AM

    My parents have been dying to redo the molding in their 1970s house for YEARS, and this might be the trick to helping them with it!

    It looks amazing! I can’t wait to see the finished product on the scary room! (That’s not so scary anymore!)ReplyCancel

    • Kim3.30.17 - 9:50 AM

      Updating all the molding is a huge task, but it would be SO worth it! Little by little. We’ve been redoing ours for the last (almost) 4 years!ReplyCancel

  • Karen Smith3.30.17 - 10:35 AM

    You guys, this looks awesome!! We are about to embark on replacing trim in our home and will be using this a reference :) Thanks!ReplyCancel

  • Paige3.30.17 - 1:21 PM

    Its coming a long great! You guys are doing an awesome job!


  • Julie Marquez4.1.17 - 11:05 PM

    It looks so good! I’m loving the baseboard hack. We will be doing molding on our house soon, so it so timely to read this.ReplyCancel

  • Life On Hill Street4.2.17 - 11:23 AM

    This room is looking less scary and more awesome! Your windows turned out great – and thanks for the step by step for when we have to do it (which I’m already nervous about!) I hope you’re having fun in Baltimore, your insta stories look like you are!

    • Kim4.4.17 - 10:08 AM

      Thank you! It’s been a fun adventure!ReplyCancel

  • Jenn4.3.17 - 3:50 PM

    About to embark on a similar scary task. I have been stripping old moulding in my 30s bungalow forever and now to start repairing and installing what’s missing. Have alot of similar areas that need some imagination to recreate and alot of patience. Hoping you do a post on priming and painting. Thanks for all the information and inspiration!!!ReplyCancel

    • Kim4.4.17 - 10:08 AM

      Best of luck, Jenn! We plan on using the same paint/primer we use on all the rest of our home’s trim – it’s BEHR Marquee in Ultra Pure White. :)ReplyCancel

  • Meredith4.4.17 - 7:35 PM

    You may have answered this elsewhere, but what paint brand/color/finish do you like to use on trim? We are about to start the process of fixing our house’s trim (in its life its been painted red, then beige then a superrrr crappy/cheap white that is now flaking off) and we have never done anything like this. Your posts have been super helpful!ReplyCancel

    • Kim4.5.17 - 9:25 AM

      We use regular off the shelf semi-gloss paint! It’s BEHR Marquee in Ultra Pure White (untinted), which is just a really bright white. Depending on what look you’re going for, you can always choose your own white from a paint swatch, but I’d recommend at least a satin or semi-gloss finish so they’re super wipeable!ReplyCancel

  • Laine5.13.17 - 12:44 PM

    We live in an older home with detailed molding and I would love to restore too. I did the lead test however and it came up positive like yours did. I’ve googled a ton and some of the techniques for safe lead handling seem so difficult and tedious that it sounds much easier and cheaper to just buy new. How did you sand down the molding and restore it while controlling the lead exposure? Can you sand it with just a mask on? It’s hard to tell what’s going overboard and what is actually dangerous. By the way, no kids in our house to risk eating it while doing the reno.ReplyCancel

    • Kim5.15.17 - 10:07 AM

      You’re right – it can be dangerous and definitely confusing. In our case, I used a mask with HEPA filters, and I didn’t sand below the top layer of paint, which was still just water-based paint. The lead based paint was under a few coats of the latex. The whole patching/sanding job was done in our basement, and any dust was sucked with our Shop Vac using HEPA filters in that as well! If you’re unsure of the process, it might be worth collecting some quotes for having it done professionally.ReplyCancel


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