I've built homes and furniture in northwestern Vermont for 25 years, but for the past 10 years, my design-build firm has focused on the highly competitive new-home market. Most of my homes are in the "move-up" category in desirable neighborhoods. Buyers in that market segment expect some interesting architectural details and a premium trim package. It could be my formal education in accounting, or it could be old-fashioned Yankee ingenuity (or frugality), but I've always prided myself on good-looking trim details that don't cost a fortune. Those details make my homes distinctive and get people in the door, but it's their impact on the bottom line that's made my business successful.

One of my favorite ways to give my customers something out of the ordinary while saving money is to use MDF trim instead of solid wood. Besides standard trim details like baseboard, casing, and crown, I use it for custom details like wainscot and built-ins. With MDF trim costing less than half of what a similar wood product costs, I can create...

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