Magnificent Molding

By Chandra Orr

December 31, 2009 5 min read

Looking for a budget-minded makeover? A little bit of molding can change the entire look of a room without breaking the bank.

"Adding molding to your space adds drama and dimension -- and it's a project that many people can do on their own in a weekend," says interior designer Marlaina Teich, founder of Marlaina Teich Designs, in New York.

Think of molding as the icing on the cake. Around doors, fireplaces and windows, this little plank adds a lot of pizzazz.

"Moldings make a room," says Steve Gray, owner of Steve Gray Renovations, in Indianapolis. "If you have two rooms side by side and one room has crown molding, large window casings and baseboards, that room gets all of the attention. It's warmer and richer."

Choose the right location, pick the right finish and be mindful of scale and you have a no-fail project that's sure to add value -- and style -- to your home.

Entryways, hallways and stairways are great places to start. Such areas are small enough to tackle in a weekend yet see enough traffic to justify the expense. "The foyer sets the tone for the rest of the home and should be the first space to consider," Teich says. "It's the space that welcomes visitors and is the first impression that your guests will have."

For a bigger bang for your buck, focus efforts on the dining room and family room. "These are the areas we want to show off to our friends and family," Gray says. "These are the most dramatic rooms of the home, the rooms that can make a difference when it comes time to sell."

Pay particular attention to fireplaces, bay windows, grand staircases and other architectural focal points -- and don't forget the ceiling. "Who wouldn't want to look at a really cool ceiling with large wood beams and crown molding," Gray says. "It all starts with a great plan and top-quality materials."

Molding comes in a range of styles and materials. From classic red oak and pine to rich redwood and cedar, in design and finish, the sky's the limit. A few of the more common options include:

*Crown molding: Available in a wide range of sizes and styles, crown molding creates high drama and big charm while softening the transition between the wall and ceiling. Crown buildups -- also called stacking -- combine two or more molding profiles to create a custom look without the cost of custom millwork.

*Casings: Generally thicker than baseboards, casings help define the look of a room and cover the gaps between drywall and door or window frames. Combine two or more pieces of molding to mimic the look of crown buildups.

*Chair rails: Both decorative and functional, chair rails add a dramatic accent while protecting walls from scuffs and dents from chairs. Chair rails are applied to the wall anywhere from 28 inches to 48 inches from the floor.

*Wainscoting: Applied below a traditional chair rail, wainscoting resembles paneling with extra depth and texture. Wainscoting typically is installed with complementary chair rails and baseboards.

*Architraves: Also known as door headers, architraves are a smart and stylish way to add elegance to an entryway. With a thick profile, they also can be placed under windows or added to fireplace mantels.

*Plinth blocks: These decorative pieces are placed where the baseboard meets a casing, generally at the bottom corner of a door or at the base of a fireplace.

*Keystones: These angular blocks or headers are centered over doors or windows, sandwiched between casings, to add an extra layer of style.

*Rosettes: Like plinth blocks and keystones, these decorative accents add extra dimension and style while finishing off the corners of window casings and the top edges of door moldings.

Most wood molding requires a coat of stain before it is installed. For a contemporary look, opt for rich wood tones, such as mahogany or cedar. "For a modern look, espresso-stained molding and doors are sophisticated and fresh," Teich says.

If you plan to paint the trim, look for pre-primed MDF molding, which is lightweight and more resistant to dings and dents than traditional wood products -- and stick to neutral hues. Classic white trim is always in vogue. "It's a can't-go-wrong look," Teich says. As with any accent, be sure to consider the scale of the space.

Substantial wood accents, such as stacked crown molding and chair rails with bold profiles, add elegance and charm, whereas skimpy molding can look cheap or unfinished. For a bold statement, go big -- even in small spaces. "Baseboard and crown molding should not be skimpy -- nothing less than 3 inches," Teich says. "Four-inch to 5-inch molding will really make an important statement in any space with at least 8-foot ceilings."

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