What Molding Says About Style

Decorative molding adds elegance to any room. Learn about the various types and patterns of molding to pinpoint a home's architectural roots.

July 1, 2006

You can find it running along the wall, on the ceiling, around the floor, and even surrounding windows and doors.

It's architectural molding, a feature popular among buyers that adds style and stature to any room. Often made of wood or plaster, molding defines a space, hides unsightly wall seams, and adds visual interest to otherwise plain walls.

When you're marketing a property that has distinctive molding, you may want to mention it in the home description to catch buyers' eye. And when working with buyers who want a traditional look — or, conversely, who want a sleek modern look — help them understand how they could change the feel of a room by adding or removing molding after the purchase.

But to explain the feature properly, whether you're working with sellers or buyers, you first must understand the various types of molding that you typically find in modern-day homes.

Know the Vocab

These are the most common types of molding that you will see in today's homes:

  • Crown Molding. Also called a cornice, this type of molding is found where the wall meets the ceiling. It can have the effect of making a ceiling appear higher. It's not common in modern homes.
  • Dentil Molding. A horizontal series of square blocks runs under a crown molding. It is used break up the shadow under crown molding and to add additional detail. It is typically seen in formal, traditional homes.
  • Baseboard Molding. This runs along the bottom of a wall, where the wall meets the floor. In a modern setting, the baseboard might be just 4-inches high with no details. In a traditional setting it is more likely to be 6-inches high with a curved profile.
  • Shoe Molding. This type of molding is a quarter-round strip that is installed to cover the gap between the floor and the baseboard if the floor is uneven. When wall-to-wall carpeting is installed, it's a neater look to have no shoe molding.
  • Door and Window Casings. These run around doorways and windows, helping to define the space. Like other moldings, if they have a contoured surface they will have a more traditional look than if they are flat. Modern door and window casings are often made of metal, while in a traditional setting they will typically be made of wood.
  • Chair Rails. These are traditional moldings that run horizontally around a room at approximately 32 inches to 36 inches above the floor. In Europe, during the 17th and 18th centuries, chairs were placed around the perimeter of a room instead of scattered throughout the room. Chair rails were originally used to protect the wall from being damaged by the backs of chairs. The wall above and below a chair rail can be treated differently, with wallpaper above and paint below, for example.
  • Classic Shapes. From Cavetto, a concave semi-circle molding, to Scotia, in which the bottom of the molding juts out, there are many different shapes from which to choose. View illustrations and descriptions in the Architecture Guide's Classic Molding Types section.

Molding Over Time

Unlike home features such as columns and the roof pitch, it is not possible to decipher the style of a home simply by looking at the molding. That's because moldings are used in many housing styles and throughout many periods, from the Classical architecture of the ancient Greeks and Romans to the more modern Federal period. Also, home owners often add or remove molding according to their own styles.

However, molding does provide a clue to the general style of the home. The more detailed and elaborate the moldings are; the more traditional the home is. On the other hand, sleek molding with few details and clean lines is more common in contemporary homes.

New Molding Adds a New Look

Molding can be added or removed to change the look of a room. Adding it creates warmth and a traditional feel, while taking it down or replacing elaborate molding with a more streamlined style can give a room a modern touch.

When working with buyers, help them envision what a room would look like with or without molding. Adding molding is more complicated than painting a wall, but it's still a relatively simple job that many people choose to tackle on their own, without the help of a carpenter.

While the finest moldings are custom-milled by a cabinetmaker, there are plenty of home furnishing outlets and millwork catalogues that sell standard moldings. The moldings must be affixed to the wall and will require priming and painting. The wall and ceiling around the molding may possibly need some touch ups after the work and the best scenario would be to repaint the entire wall and ceiling including the moldings with a fresh coat of paint.

Removing molding and trim can be a more involved process, requiring you to repair the wall and repaint or re-wallpaper. But it's something to consider if a previous owner has used molding excessively, or if the molding seems too big or too small for the space.

It's in the Details

Fine details such as molding are often what makes a buyer fall in love with a home. For that reason, it's smart to draw buyers' attention to the architectural moldings of your listings and to point out the feature to clients who are looking for their dream home.

Leslie Banker is co-author of The Pocket Decorator (2004) and The Pocket Renovator(2007),  published by Universe.


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