The Magic of Molding

- Sunday, May 01, 2016

What makes a beautiful room? Well, that is open to debate. If the room in question is furnished and decorated, it could really be almost anything within the space. A pretty painting, a sumptuous sofa, a fabulous fireplace, dramatic drapery, or any combination thereof could contribute to that assessment. But what about a naked room? What makes a bare room beautiful? Is it the proportions? The composition of doors and windows? A southern exposure? For me, it is beautiful moldings and trim.

I have always had an appreciation for interior molding, even as a kid. When my family moved from our late '50's-era ranch (devoid of any discernible architectural features) to our late '70's Colonial Revival, complete with 6-panel doors, plinth blocks, chair rails and wainscoting, double member crown molding, v-groove pine paneling, and solid wood beamed ceilings in the kitchen and family room, I felt like I was in heaven. Yes, I was an architecture junkie from an early age.

Correctly done, moldings can take a room from bland to beautiful. They do not have to be excessively elaborate or grandly over-scaled to make their presence known. In fact, sometimes the simplest of moldings are all that is needed to give a space that just right finish and pop. I find the moldings we favor these days tend to be much more plain than the "more, more, more!" carved and layered ones we used so much in the 1990's. In fact, I cannot tell you the last time I worked on a new construction project that featured egg-and-dart or dentil molding. And, although I typically favor a contrast from trim to wall color, a properly paneled room is stunning even when painted all one color.

And, do not think that just because a home's decor is more modern and streamlined that a trim package would not be merited or appropriate. Simple, flat, beveled, or coved moldings look just as good with contemporary designs as they do with more traditional looks. The added definition and transition from one plane to another is emphasized with good trim.

The following are some basic trim elements common in most residential architecture.

Baseboard - The base molding sits at the bottom of the wall where it meets the floor. The base trim can be a simple one-piece design or for more impact a 1x8 or 1x10 capped with a base cap trim. Since this element serves as the foundation for the room, bigger is typically better.

Casing - Casing is simply woodwork which frames an opening in walls, whether that opening is a door, a window, or a passage between rooms. Casings can be uniform on all four sides or more elaborately detailed at the top for more prominence. The key to having it look nice is to be consistent from opening to opening and not be too skimpy.

Crown - Crown moldings come in many shapes and sizes, making it easy to tailor a custom look. It can be as simple as a single cove molding or as elaborate as using a crown with a skirt and ceiling band too. The whole point of a crown molding is to soften the transition from wall to ceiling.

Chair Rail - Chair rail molding was originally used to protect plaster walls from furniture dings. As more durable sheetrock walls replaced fragile plaster, chair rails have become decorative. Although the height of a chair rail can be placed anywhere  on the wall, typically they are installed 36-42" off the floor.

Wainscot - The finishing of the wall space between the base and the chair rail can vary greatly. That space can be painted, wallpapered, or finished with yet more trim elements making it a wainscot. Paneled boxes, beadboard, or buttboard in a vertical or horizontal application are options for creating a wainscot.

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