Easy tutorial to upgrade an existing plain wallboard doorway with DIY door trim and add old house character to any age house. We show you all the steps plus tips for finishing and adapting to different doorway configurations.
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One of the simplest ways to add old-house character to a newer house is to add trim and molding to interior windows and doors that are only painted sheetrock/wallboard. Along with textured walls and ceilings, trim – or lack of it – is one of the ways you can tell a house is of the newer, builder grade type.
But guess what? Adding trim really is a doable DIY project anyone can do! They might not turn out perfect because you’re retrofitting something, but perfection is not required (and I have tips to cover some imperfections below!).
And that’s pretty much the mantra at AOC, as you may know – the term cottage to me means an older home that is warm, 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 and lived in, you know what I mean?
But here’s an even bigger point with regards to upgrading your home with DIY door trim (update: or window trim like we’ve done here in our new farmhouse):
The finished project still looks awesome even with its differences, flaws, and imperfections!
Easy DIY Door Trim Tutorial + Tips
Our Project: Doorway from Entry-Living Room to Main Hallway
Our hallway doorway has always bugged me. I’d sit in the living room, look at it 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.
Note: the photos were 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).
Gather Your Supplies
- 3 pieces of 1×6 wood of your choice for the inside door frame – 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 caulk, caulking gun (if painting – which is the only way we usually do this, since it covers up a lot of
mistakesimperfections) and rags.
- Primer and paint to match your other moldings (FYI: our paint is “Creamy White” by Behr).
- Optional tool to cut out baseboards: 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).
DIY 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.
DIY Door Trim Tutorial:
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:
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.
Tips for Odd Doorways
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 (you’re not alone…).
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 later?”
Yeah – you know what they say about marriages and DIY projects, lol! After 25 years, though, we definitely have a certain groove and we can always come up with something that satisfies us.
The Problem– 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.
The Solution– 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.
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.
You just do what you can to make it look nice and call it good.
Now it’s time to gather your trusty caulk and caulking gun to 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 – and these tips for caulking like a pro:
- 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 the red cap smoothing tool on the left above- I have no idea if it’s still being made, but I’m sure there’s something similar still (I can’t find it, but this looks like it would work similarly and has good reviews). It works great – sometimes. I usually use it for long clearly defined angles, like where the outside trim 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.
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.
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?
The result? I love it!
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.
Plus, 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 trim somewhere?
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