I love molding, and for the most part, the more the better! If it doesn’t move, I will trim it out (see my library). But molding can do a lot more than just be pretty ornamentation, you can use molding to add height, bring balance, create flow, and solve/fix/hide or fool the eye for a number of architectural challenges.
How to use Molding to Solve Architectural Challenges
In the photo below, notice how the windows look low on the walls. Also, how the crown molding looks smaller and less substantial than the baseboard. Combine that with the dark paint under the chair rail, and the room feels bottom heavy and out of balance.
Now I’m not disrespecting this room at all! It’s a beautiful room that is obviously unfinished and the designer probably has plans to balance out the room in other ways.
However, if you wanted to use molding to balance out this room, painting the wall between the crown and the picture rail the trim color would make the crown look more substantial. Then adding a taller header to the window casings would give the windows more height, which would in turn add visual height to the room and make the room feel more balanced.
The windows in this room have a similar placement as the previous picture, but the owners chose to use moldings to balance that out, and the room has a much better proportion
A similar treatment was used in this hallway.
See how much taller the doorways look in the after photo? You might even think that the door openings had been raised,
but you can see with the pictures side by side that they are the same height—it is the molding that creates the taller effect.
Sources: BHG and This Old House respectively
These photos demonstrate how moldings can be used to create visual flow. See how both arched doorways open onto squared openings. By using the same squared trim above the arched trim, the doorways relate to each other in a pleasing way.
My client, Julie, has a similar problem in her living/dining room. She has multiple door openings on one wall that vary in both shape and height, yikes!
She will trim out these openings with similar molding details. This will bring a sense of cohesiveness to what is a very discordant wall right now. It will also help to downplay the height differences.
This is a very rough drawing, but even with my cartoon scribbles you can see how moldings are going to help to turn architectural flaws into a great feature in this room.
Chair rail: Hang it high or hang it low, but whatever you do don’t cut your room in half! This same rule applies to wainscoting, picture rail, borders, or any other decorative detail that you want to wrap around your room. Chair rail is one of the easiest and cheapest ways to add molding to a room, but if not used with an eye for proportions it can make a room look short and boxy.
So what should be the height of chair rail? It depends upon the scale of your room and how you want the chair rail to influence the proportions.
Both of the rooms above have hung the chair rail at roughly the same height, the height of the chair backs. The ceilings in the first room are about 12’ high, where the ceilings in the second are about 8’. See how the chair rail accentuates the grand proportions of the first room, while the chair rail in the second room accentuates the low ceilings (which is probably what the designer intended, as the overall room has a very adorable dollhouse like quality). Now imagine that the chair rail was at the height of the window bench in the green room.
See how much taller the room seems? OK, so let me get real here, regardless of the height of your chair rail, an 8 foot ceiling is never going to look like it’s 12 feet tall, but playing with chair rail height can allow you to play with the proportion of a room and help to visually heighten (or shorten if that’s the direction you want to go) how it feels.
You have probably heard about the rule of thirds, hang the chair rail at the lower 1/3 height, and picture at the upper 2/3 height. If you want to add visual height to a room, putting the chair railing lower and picture rail higher will actually trick your eye into thinking that the room is taller (For more information on chair rail and moldings read this post on This is Carpentry).
Here are some examples:
What should you do if you happen to have an unfortunately placed chair rail in your home and you feel it is creating an unflattering effect?
Before you go to the trouble of tearing it out, paint the rail and the entire wall the same color, this will minimize its visual impact, like replacing a black belt on a white dress with a white one, and you might end up loving it.
Molding can be used to Create Architectural Detail in a plain space. Imagine these columns without the molding details—pretty run of the mill—but trimmed out with the unique art deco inspired moldings and they are show stopping!
A plain wall can become a major focal point when trim moldings are used to create an all-over design. Fantastic, right!
As a general rule, moldings should be scaled for the room (don’t use 3” crown in a room with 10 foot ceilings), and the scale should be consistent across moldings in the same room (don’t use a large crown molding and then skimp on the casings and base boards). A great way to get a big bang for your $ is to stack moldings.
If you have a small crown molding and want to make it more substantial, rather than tearing it out and replacing it with a more expensive molding, add picture frame molding a few inches below the crown and paint it all the same color.
Source: Handyman Pro
Have wimpy baseboards? Find a piece of molding that can be stacked above the base to bulk it up. It will give you the same visual impact, but costs a lot less in money and time.
Source: DIYadvice.com and Do-it-yourself-help.com respectively
When working with molding, as with all design, find what suits you and what you like, use the “rules” as a guide. To deal with architectural challenges, play with size and scale. I have seen small rooms with extra large moldings that look amazing. Moldings are a great tool that you can use to help achieve the look that you want.