With the housing industry tightening up and the phone ringing less frequently, remodelers need to learn new business and marketing techniques so that they can develop more work from the customers they do have. Yes, that’s right, there’s more to the building business than driving nails. Knowledge and enthusiasm for the craft will encourage your customers to upgrade their remodeling projects. On a typical remodel, moldings are rarely given the attention they deserve, but adding crown molding, wainscoting and coffered ceilings, changing out baseboard, casing and chair rail, will not only boost the scale of a small project, but if done with careful design and quality materials, upgrading moldings can lead to a nice profit center and a specialty career.
What makes a Good-Looking Molding
This 18th century mantelpiece (left), in a historic home outside Philadelphia, is a perfect example of well-crafted moldings, and well-conceived composition, from the architrave molding to the crown molding. The moldings are deeply incised, but the real drama and impact are produced by crisp details and sharp edges.
I’ve watched a lot of customers choose moldings for their homes. Most often they’re attracted to the largest pieces or the most ornate, whether it’s casing, baseboard or crown. The sad truth is that most of those gaudy profiles disappear once they’re on the wall; they turn into mush. That’s because a lot of moldings, especially big ones, don’t follow the basic rules of successful design.
Fine moldings are the result of fine details. Notice how the edges around the egg-and-dart molding in the Cliveden mantelpiece are all sharp, the carving deep, so that the shadows around each detail are well defined — thin dark lines of shadow. The same is true in the simple crown molding on the mantel shelf, and the chair rail that terminates against the architrave just beneath the crossette corner.
It shouldn’t come as a surprise that we can learn the most about moldings by studying historic homes. Books are useful, too, but for real information on molding design, you have to look for a book that precedes any influence by the International Style. In The Theory of Moldings (1926), C. Howard Walker (reprint available from www.amazon.com) offers an excellent explanation of molding design and use. Walker writes at the very outset of his book:
“The value of moldings with curved profiles is . . . the production of variations of tone, thereby creating interest and distinction. . . . But the curved sections must have their boundaries defined, or the shades they create will slur into the surfaces of the planes to which they are related, or into other curves. It is of the utmost importance that these outer boundaries should be announced, and because of this, curved sections either impinge upon planes at an acute or at a right angle to the plane, or are separated from it by a small bead or fillet.” (pp. 3-4)
Walker’s point is simple: Curved profiles must be separated by flat fillets and sharp-edge terminations; otherwise, the curves “slur” into each other. Unfortunately, moldings today often combine a multiplicity of profiles compressed into a small area, separated by eased edges. The results aren’t always satisfying.
Incorrect Molding Design
The casing on the left has four profiles at the butt end. All those curves, as well as the upper profiles, are eased one into the next. Several of the smaller profiles in the baseboard (center) are nearly lost, even in this closeup image because the details aren’t distinct. The crown molding (right) is simple, but because the edges aren’t sharp, the color tone on the molding is almost a single shade, without variation.
Correct Molding Design
The casing in this example is cut with sharp edges, the profiles aren’t compressed, and they are separated by flat fillets. The base cap detail is simple but handsome. The elliptical shape of all three moldings produces variations in tone or shading, especially in the crown molding. These are WindsorONE moldings.