Architectural Detail

By Vicky Katz Whitaker

June 20, 2008 5 min read


Give a plain room a classic look with molding and trim

By Vicky Katz Whitaker

Copley News Service

Simple, budget-friendly trims like crown molding, chair rails and decorative beams can add style and increase the value of your home. Just don't over do it.

That's the advice from Natalie Weinstein, a veteran interior designer, lecturer and author from Long Island, N.Y., who frequently uses architectural details such as molding and trim to make ordinary rooms extraordinary. With a little skill, you can install them yourself, but you need a master plan before you start, she says.

"A lot of people underestimate what they can do, lack the right tools or the ability to visualize the overall effect," Weinstein finds - and that can translate into poor workmanship or visual overload.

"You don't want your home to look like a McMansion," she says, alluding to the unattractive jumble of architectural styles ingrained in the design of many mega-sized development homes. Unless you have the time, talent and energy to handle the job yourself, you're better off hiring someone with experience to design and install trims and other architectural details, Weinstein says.

Most mid-priced homes built in recent decades are devoid of detail-rich architectural touches standard in older homes like crown molding or wainscoting, a decorative treatment for the lower half of a wall. Commonly made of oak, cherry, or even composite beadboard, it's topped with a rail and at the bottom, a wide baseboard.

Many newer homes have open floor plans in which rooms flow from one area to another. Architectural add-ons like columns can help define that space, Weinstein says. Other details that add character to a room include:

- Coffered ceilings, a grid of framed recessed panels.

- Decorative beams.

- Ornate ceiling moldings and domes that make a room more formal.

Weinstein recommends that before you purchase that first piece of trim, study photos gleaned from magazines and books. "Emulating is good," she says, and you can do that best by keeping a scrapbook of ideas you've seen elsewhere. You can also get tips on how to use and install molding, ornaments and similar products online at and, which provide a comprehensive guide to materials and prices.

Other useful resources include Philip Schmidt's "Decorating with Architectural Details" (Creative Homeowner, $19.95) and a newly updated "Decorating with Architectural Trimwork" by Jay Silber (Creative Homeowner, $19.95), both available at online booksellers, bookstores and home-improvement centers. Schmidt covers virtually every aspect of adding architectural details to your home, including how to select the materials and where to buy them. Silber provides step-by-step photos that demonstrate how to do the installation, the tools you'll need, plus lots of professional tips.

Another way to preview your room before you invest in trims and more is to buy a peel and press design system used by many professionals. Available to homeowners for $250 (and in a more comprehensive - and at $1,275 - pricier version for decorators, architects, designers, and remodelers), the basic E-Z Decorator system contains a wide assortment of architectural elements, more than enough to meet the needs of the typical homeowner, says its creator, Los Angeles interior designer Cheryl Howard.

An alternative to mastering the often complicated interior design software programs now on the market, the decidedly low-tech product can give a homeowner a professional rendering in a matter of minutes, Howard says. The E-Z Decorator system includes a binder filled with hand-drawn images on reusable static cling "stickies." Drawn to the same scale and perspective, the images can be peeled off and placed on a template grid that can be photo copied and colored. Changes can be made by peeling off one image and replacing it with another.

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