Add Old-House Character with Easy DIY Door Trim

Add Character to a Doorframe with Molding - An Oregon Cottage

One of the simplest ways to add old-house character to a newer house is to add moldings to interior windows and doors that are only painted sheetrock.

Well, duh – I’m certainly not giving you any new information there, am I? Why write this, then? To give you the permission freedom to go ahead with little diy projects that most definitely won’t be perfect, because they rarely are when you’re retrofitting something. But that’s pretty much my mantra around here, as you know – the term cottage to me means warm, homey, welcoming…and imperfect.

Because, let’s face it – many times the perfection you see in magazines and tv shows doesn’t always seem very welcoming. It’s that edge of imperfection that makes a place seem real. You know what I mean? But here’s an even bigger point:

It still looks awesome, even with it’s differences, flaws, and imperfections.

Hallway Door Before - An Oregon Cottage

So, yeah…our hallway doorway has always bugged me. I’d sit in the living room and look over the half-wall and think, “that thing needs a frame.” Then as the chipping edges got bigger (and seriously, who regularly touches up those metal sheetrock corners that seem to actually cause the paint to flake off?), it wasn’t only for aesthetics anymore – it was actually looking unkept (oh, and this photo was taken as we were redoing the floors and painting, so that’s why all the walls are bare – but it makes for a pretty dramatic before-and-after, don’t you think?).

It didn’t help that this doorway was the only one in our entire house that didn’t have a frame, making it look really out of place – especially compared with the similar hall doorway that leads to our converted garage. This chipping sheetrock-edged doorway had to go. Painting the walls provided the perfect now-or-never moment, and in fact we started building it out before I could even remember to snap a picture (which is why you see the top 1×6 already installed in the top of the door frame here).

How to Add Character with Easy DIY Door Trim

Note: I’m providing links to Amazon, where appropriate, mainly so you can see an example of what I’m talking about, but they are my affiliate links as well.

You will need:
  • 3 pieces of 1×6 wood of your choice – pine, mdf, primed or not – it’s up to you and the finished look you want (we used primed mdf). These three pieces should be cut to the size of your door openings: small top section first and then the measurement from that installed piece to the floor of both sides.
  • Trim molding to match your house (or look you want) for both sides of the doorway, if needed. Ours only needed the outside – the inside wouldn’t hold trim (more on that later). Again, measure and get long enough pieces to be able to miter the corners if needed (some craftsman styled trim doesn’t require mitering).
  • Miter saw or miter box & hand saw, if your molding needs to have mitered corners like ours.
  • Hammer, 2-inch finish nails, nail set, or air gun for nailing – whatever you feel comfortable using.
  • White caulkcaulking gun (if painting – which is the only way we usually do this, since it covers up a lot of mistakes imperfections) and rags.
  • Primer & paint to match your other moldings (FYI: our paint is “creamy white” by Behr).
  • Optional: if you don’t want to remove the baseboards like us, you’ll want to rent or borrow an oscillating ‘multi-tool’ saw to cut away the wood (here’s one similar to ours on Amazon, though we bought a cheaper one at Harbor Freight).

Add Character to a Doorway with Molding - Step 1 - An Oregon Cottage

First steps:

Another note: as in everything we do ourselves, Brian and I take a tag-team approach: he builds something, I caulk and paint to make it look good finish it up.

1. Attach the smallest 1×6 to the top of the doorframe, nailing in place and sinking the nails.

2. Attach each long side 1×6 the same way, making sure that the bottom where it meets the floor is even and level – this area will be visible and can’t be covered with caulk, so it’s the most crucial for a good fit. Trim and sand as needed to fit flush to the floor.

3. Remove baseboards, if you haven’t already, or take this optional step:

Adding a Frame to a Doorway - Cut Molding with Plunge Saw - An Oregon Cottage

Use an oscillating saw-tool to gently cut away the section of attached molding, being very careful not to gouge the floor. Oh, and hopefully decide to do this before finishing your floors so you don’t have a little unfinished section peeking out like I did. Sigh.

4. Measure & cut outside molding pieces, mitering the corners if needed (here’s an article with tips to get good mitered corners).

5. Attach the outside doorway molding, starting with the top piece, nailing and setting nails before moving on to the side pieces.

Adding Cottage Character with a Door Frame - filling gaps - An Oregon Cottage

Now here’s where we get perfectly imperfect. When adding trim to an existing doorway there will be all kinds of odd spots that you’ll wonder what to do with. Brian and I always need to have brainstorming sessions with these types of diy projects – always. It usually goes something like this:

Brian, “It’s fine – there’s nothing we can do with __________ {that space, gap, area, etc}”

Me, “but that’ll look like crap – and how would we paint (clean, deal with) that?”

Yeah – you know what they say about marriages and diy projects! After 25 years, though, we definitely have a certain groove and we can always come up with something that satisfies us. In this instance, we were looking at about a 1/4″ gap between the closet molding and the 1×6 board that we used to frame in the door. Brian came up with the solution to rip a piece of wood we had in our stash and glue it in place. It doesn’t fit exactly right, but that’s nothing a bit of caulk and paint can’t help to cover.

Adding Character To a Doorframe with Molding - Inside View - An Oregon Cottage

6. So step six is to finish off what you can of the inside door (if your door has enough room, you can just repeat the outside molding pieces and bypass the whole ‘brainstorming-discussion’ session, lucky you). You can see we left the 1×6 molding plain on the right side against the wall (light switch wall above), and that we added a piece of the same molding trim as the outside to the top, but with no need for mitered corners.

Adding Cottage Character - Caulking Equipment - An Oregon Cottage

7. Now it’s time to gather your trusty caulk and caulking gun so we can fill in all those gaps before painting. I LOVE caulk – it makes so many diy projects look great – really! You’ll also need a little container for water and a rag.

Creating Cottage Character - Adding Door Framing - An Oregon Cottage

Caulking Tips
  • I use a number of techniques to get a smooth caulking bead, but there’s no getting around the fact that your hands will get dirty.
  • A number of years ago I found this red cap-smoothing tool – I have no idea if it’s still being made, but I’m sure there’s something similar still. It works great – sometimes. I usually use it for long clearly defined angles, like where the outside molding meets the wall here. I still go over it with a damp rag to smooth it more.
  • For smaller angles, a wet finger is still your best tool for smoothing a caulk bead before going over it with the damp rag.
  • The damp rag is the perfect finisher – it smooths any bumpy areas that remain after tool or finger smoothing, leaving a completely smooth surface for painting.

Creating Cottage Character with a Door Frame - Caulking - An Oregon Cottage

See how great caulk is? It makes this door frame go from a looking like a piece of molding sitting on the wall to a quality built-in.

Add Character to a Doorway with Molding - After - An Oregon Cottage

8. The last step is to paint everything and then sit back and enjoy your handiwork. That’s the best part of any diy project, isn’t it?

Add Cottage Character to a Doorframe with Molding - finished doorway after2 - An Oregon Cottage

I love the result – the doorway now seems like it goes with the rest of the house and adds a finished look to this entryway wall that is one of the first things visitors see. It’s just another small way we’re adding cottage character to our 80’s rancher – and I love that most of all.

Feel like adding some molding somewhere?


Disclosure: this post contains affiliate links and by clicking on them you help support AOC at no extra cost to you – thanks!


  1. Judy E says

    Wow, it’s amazing how nice that trim can make the whole doorway look! I love trim and molding, it just finishes everything up.

  2. Christine says

    Oh, I love the transformation! In my rebuilding efforts, I’m not yet to trim or molding. Not a spec – yet. I love how finished it makes things look. Can’t wait to get finished drywall, just to paint (ick but yeah!) and add sparkle with molding!
    Beautiful job.

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