Moldings are meant to divide and separate a room into visually appealing pieces that the eye can digest and understand. When this is accomplished well, your remodels and additions will take on an elegance and feel that customers will pay more for.

Up until about 1950, molding shapes and their placement in a room had their roots in classical architecture. See drawings.

Between the 1890s and 1940s, picture molding — actually an element of the architrave, from which pictures could be hung from wires — was in vogue. The best way to use it today is as a proportional divider that moves up or down on the wall based on ceiling height. In rooms over nine feet, it may drop down as much as six inches. If the area between the crown and picture mold are painted the same color as the trim, the two pieces work together to give the crown a built up and fuller, more elegant look without spending a lot of money.

There are two rules to keep in mind:

  • Pick moldings that have a clearly defined shape and crisp detail. Avoid moldings with rounded edges or flat details that will look muddy and unclear on the wall. Also avoid moldings that have too much going on. When moldings are heavily faceted with too many lines, the shadow lines are too busy, causing the eye to lose touch with the room's scale and proportion.
  • When choosing moldings from a lumber supplier's catalog, find molding details and shapes that complement one another. Or look through historic millwork catalogs that date from pre-1940. They often sold complementary moldings as a package. —Brent Hull owns Hull Historical Millwork in Fort Worth, Texas, and is author of Historic Millwork.
  • Rick Vitullo