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How to Use Paint to Mimic the Look of Trim

Strategic bands and blocks of paint can add height and architecture to a plain space

When a room lacks detail, consider creating the illusion of molding the way decorative painter Ingrid Leess did in this once dull dining room. "The ceiling is a smidgen under 8 feet," she says, and the space, with its snowy walls, baseboards, and window casing, "was white on white on white." Leess created a warm-beige "wainscot," then added bands in the same shade along the ceiling edges and the top of the walls to visually add height—and suggest crown molding. Painting out the intersection of wall and ceiling by running the color onto the overhead plane fools the eye into seeing a taller space, while deep-blue blocks in a light-absorbing flat finish make the walls step back. After experimenting with different proportions, Leess let the distance from the top of the window casing to the ceiling dictate the band width there, made the bands alongside the window slightly narrower, and lined up the faux wainscot with the window apron. She kept the furnishings clean and simple, too, adding a striped carpet and a whitewashed tabletop and cabinet to reinforce the palette. For the project step-by-step, read on.

Shown: The bold geometry of this approach adds dimension and interest to bland walls. It's balanced by soothing neutrals and the careful alignment of the blocks and bands with the existing trim.

TOH Tip: For a well-proportioned look, line up the color blocks with the window molding.

Step 1

Paint the Light-Colored Bands

Photo by Wendell T. Webber

Put down the light-colored bands on the walls. To reduce the amount of taping, use a brush to cut in around casings and base molding, then roll the light color on the walls, leaving a rough edge just beyond where the darker color blocks will go.

Step 2

Draw the Dark-Color Block Guides

Photo by Wendell T. Webber

Draw guidelines where the darker color blocks will go. Use a tape measure, a level, and a pencil to draw guidelines for the color blocks, aligning them with the top and bottom of the window trim.

Step 3

Paint the Ceiling Bands

Photo by Wendell T. Webber

Measure, mark, tape off, and paint the ceiling bands. Draw guidelines for the bands, and put down painter's tape, taking care to position it just outside the pencil lines. Run a plastic putty knife or credit card along the edge of the tape to help prevent bleeding. Roll on the ceiling bands, using a brush to get into the intersection with the wall. Slowly pull off the tape at an angle before the paint is completely dry.

Step 4

Tape Off the Darker Color Blocks

Photo by Wendell T. Webber

Outline the color blocks with painter's tape, again taking care to position the tape just outside the pencil lines and sealing it by running a plastic putty knife or a credit card along the tape's edge.

Step 5

Start Rolling

Photo by Wendell T. Webber

Roll on the darker color. Using a clean roller cover, fill in the blocks with the contrasting color. Let dry, and add a second coat if needed.

Step 6

Remove the Tape

Photo by Wendell T. Webber

Slowly pull off the tape at an angle before the paint is completely dry. Now stand back and watch the room come to life.