A Quick Start Guide to Molding

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Photography By Zan Maddox

Looking to add some molding and millwork detailing to your next project? Overwhelmed by the options? Review these tips to get started with your selections and figure out what will work best for you.

Molding Materials

There are three primary types of molding available:

  1. Paintable lumber – often painted with opaque colors and primarily of lesser grade lumber
  2. Stainable lumber – higher grade lumber consisting of few knots and imperfections with a transparent stain
  3. Engineered molding – a lightweight option made of a compressed fiberboard profile and finished with a paintable vinyl or wood veneer

Uses of Molding

  1. Chair rails are horizontal strips of molding that are installed about midway up a wall to protect the wall from the backs of chairs. They can be purely decorative or used as a divider between paint colors and textures. Chair rails are also installed at the top of wainscoting, covered below. The proper height of a chair rail is under debate, but carpenter Brent Hull has this to say: “…letting the back of the chair set the chair rail height is like letting the size of a rug decide the size of a room. In most cases, it just doesn’t work!” Want to dig deeper and get it right? Here is a thorough explanation from Hull, including references to the proportions of classical architecture and the human form.
  2. Wainscoting is made up of panels and trim installed around halfway up a wall’s height. Wainscoting is often the same color as other molding in the room. Like with chair rails, the finished height is debatable. Keep in mind your ceiling heights and the square footage of the room; wainscoting can begin to overwhelm walls and the design concept if too tall.
  3. Crown molding comes in a variety of sizes and designs and is primarily installed at the seam between ceilings and walls. A simple Google search (or a search on your favorite supplier’s website) will reveal modern and slick to intricate options. Baseboard molding is the counterpart to crown molding and is installed where the floors and walls meet.
  4. Around doors and windows, install molding that compliments the existing moldings in the room. For example, if existing wainscoting is fresh and geometric, you’ll likely want to stay clear of ornate trims around openings. This will help to keep a matching feel throughout the room and give homeowners and their guests a sense that all moldings were selected and installed simultaneously.

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