Just as tasteful, well-chosen jewelry can turn an unexciting outfit into a stylish, eye-catching ensemble, carefully applied hardwood moldings and trimwork can transform a plain-Jane interior into an interesting — even beautiful — space.
Today’s newly built houses often lack any sort of carved-wood ornamentation. Many older homes have lost their traditional decorative details through successive modernizing renovations. To transform stripped-down to charming, and ordinary to characterful, homeowners are incorporating decorative millwork to enhance their interior design.
While there is an almost infinite variety of hardwood moldings and trims, the pros at the American Hardwood Information Center, and most design experts, recognize the following most basic categories:
■ Baseboards, which run at the foot of walls and act as an elongated pedestal, are both aesthetic and practical. They visually anchor the wall to the floor and at the same time protect it from everyday low-impact abuse such as kids scooting around in toy cars.
■ Crown moldings, which run between the walls and the ceiling, soften the abrupt transition between wall and ceiling.
■ Casings, the trim surrounding door and window openings, define a wall opening and help connect the spaces being joined.
“Our clients are attracted to the enduring quality and ageless appeal of hardwood molding,” says architect Jeff Murphy, principal of Murphy &Co. Design, a Buffalo, Minn.-based company. “For them, it’s the heart of the home — something they see and touch each day. Done right, it will last forever and always be in style.”
For architect Tim Button of New York City-based Stedila Design, hardwood moldings are appropriate in any room in the home, but he also says, “I think wood trim often makes its biggest impact in an entry hall where high ceilings allow for large-scale crown moldings.”
And he’s a fan of using stained-wood moldings in bathrooms.
“It brings warmth to what can be a somewhat clinical space.”
Edina, Minn.-based architect Meriwether Felt agrees, having installed stained-cherry moldings, trims and casings in the master bath of a home she renovated.
“The client asked for a luxurious yet elegant feeling and the cherry fit the bill perfectly,” Felt says. “The stained wood warms up the bathroom and provides richness.”
The size of the trimwork and the complexity of its profile will be determined by the size and style of the space in which it’s being installed; the larger and more traditional the room, the bigger and more ornate the trim. Crown moldings in particular have a profound and sometimes unexpected effect on how people perceive the scale, proportions and character of an interior, so they must be chosen with great care.
If too small and plain, they’ll look skimpy and undernourished; too large and ostentatious and they’ll overwhelm the space. If in doubt, consult a design professional.
Before the Civil War, American hardwood molding was made by hand, so it tended to be simple, elegant and expensive. In the later 19th century, methods of mass production enabled builders to deck out even modest houses with affordable wood trim in ever-more-complex profiles.
The 20th century saw decorative simplifications of the arts and crafts style, emphasizing clean lines, unfussy forms and the inherent beauty of natural wood. This was followed by the art deco and modernist movements, which further streamlined or completely eliminated applied architectural ornament such as moldings and trims.
Today, tastes tend to be eclectic, and whether you install an elaborately carved crown molding featuring acanthus leaves and egg-and-dart detailing or an elegantly austere profile comprising nothing more than a graceful S-curve, will depend on personal preference and the overall style of your home.
Whatever your architectural preferences, you can transform a plain-Jane interior into a distinctive, characterful environment by incorporating hardwood moldings and trimwork into your home’s design. Visit the American Hardwood Information Center, www.hardwoodinfo.com, and be inspired.