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Tricks, Tips, and Uses for Architectural Trim Work

Make Your House Feel Like a Custom Home with Decorative Trim and Molding


Interior trim is the molding that frames a room’s windows, doors, walls, floors, and even ceilings. Trim is often the thing that gives a space the most character. So by adding some to a space in your home, you can almost instantly transform a drab room into a fabulous one.

And the best part of all? It’s not usually that expensive and is often easy to do yourself instead of hiring a contractor. 

What follows are the most common types of trim and molding and how to best use them to make any home seem more like a custom build – and suit your personal taste.

Kitchen and dining room that show off decorative architectural white trim work

Paying attention to detail and installing the right architectural trim and molding can make a big difference in the interior of a home, creating an upscale and custom feel at relatively little expense. Notice the crown molding around the ceiling and on the cabinets in the kitchen, which ties the cabinets in with the rest of the room. The window trim matches that on the door and wall openings, and the wall panels in the dining room add an extra touch of elegance (Plan #198-1132).


Window and Door Casings

One of the best things about using trim to make a space more unique is that you can use it to adorn nearly any single architectural element in a room. A popular way of stepping up the architectural decor, for example, is to “case” both the windows and doors in matching, intricate custom trim – replacing existing standard or low-quality clamshell casing – to add depth, character, and style to the areas. 

Not only that, but you can use the opportunity of replacing trim to make your home more energy efficient. This is because there may be areas around the rough window frame – underneath the existing casing – where there are gaps between the frame and the interior wall. While the window was likely caulked and sealed on the outside during installation, it probably wasn’t sealed on the inside. Before adding new casing, seal the perimeter of the rough window opening with caulk or expanding foam in the case of large gaps. The combination of the caulk and casing will ensure that you’re keeping the elements out and sealing out air infiltration.

Remember that when installing window and door casing in the same room, they typically match.

Light-colored laundry room with custom window and door casings

The window and door in this laundry room in a beautiful rustic Ranch style home are trimmed out with matching custom casings that complement the cabinetry, tying the dcor gether (Plan #161-1126).


Crown Molding

This type of trim typically adorns the top of a room, connecting the walls to the ceiling. Crown can also be used to finish off the top of wall cabinets in a kitchen or laundry room, to differentiate levels in a tray ceiling, or as an element in a decorative fireplace mantel. It’s a popular molding – and there are a few different types. However, for any of them, it’s important to keep in mind that for a standard height ceiling (about 8 or 9 feet tall) that the molding should be around 5 to 6 inches in width. Here are three most common types of crown molding:

  • Smooth, or Cove. Cove molding is perhaps the simplest crown molding. Cove molding is smoothly concave, which means it curves inward. Other kinds of crown molding are more complex, with geometric shapes and a combination of concave and convex lines, and generally curves out from the wall.

Example of cove, or smooth, style crown molding

Image Source: Ekna Millwork


  • Egg-and-Dart. Like dentil molding, egg-and-dart molding is a type of crown molding with decoration in a certain shape, in this case, typically an egg-shape object alternating with a V-shape element.

Example of egg-and-dart crown molding

Image Source: Ekna Millwork


  • Dentil. In dentil molding, a series of closely spaced, rectangular blocks decorate the crown molding. It gets its name because the block often looks like little rows of teeth.

Example of dentil crown molding

Image Source: Ekna Millwork


Dining room with tray ceiling outlined by dark brown crown molding

This formal dining room in a two-story luxury Mediterranean style home has a tray ceiling, the central outline of which is adorned with dark-brown crown molding. The molding and associated lighting call attention to the tray; the molding also helps tie the room together by complementing the dark-brown casing that surrounds the wall openings on the two long walls (Plan #161-1122).



Do you really need baseboards? The answer is a resounding yes. The only variable is how intricate or decorative you wish to make it.

Baseboards – and the quarter-round shoe molding that is typically applied at the bottom of the baseboard trim – are handy because they cover the joint between the wall and the floor, so by including it, you can cover any uneven edges of flooring. You can also better protect the wall from any sort of damage from furniture, people, and pets, as well as the elements.

That’s right, baseboards can even protect your home against water damage. This is because drywall can easily succumb to moisture because of its porous nature.

So any water spilled on the floor (or in the unfortunate event of flooding, however slight) there is less chance of the damage spreading even farther up the walls because baseboards can help seal off the gap between the floor and the wall for a short period.

Besides its practical application, baseborad can be a great decoative tool. If you want to make a great architectural statement, install substantial baseboards and shoe moldings that are at least about 6 inches tall. You can use a single-piece baseboard and separate shoe molding or make the baseboard out of two or three different trim members pieced together. Consult with your local lumberyard for adivce and to see whats available.

Laundry room with crown molding and baseboard that match in color

The baseboard and crown molding in this laundry room of a four-bedroom, 3.5-bath European-influenced Ranch style home match in color and – because they are darker than the walls and ceiling – clearly define the lower and upper limits of the walls (Plan #153-2050).



Wainscoting is a collective term to describe decorative panelling applied to walls

This wall paneling’s purpose is mainly decorative. You may wish to finish these panels with a clear coating to show off their natural wood color, but you can also paint them to suit your taste, which is the prevailing trend these days. You can easily make a room feel more cozy by adding dark-colored wainscoting. Alternatively, you can also make a space seem light, airy, and larger by adding in shorter ones with lighter colors. 

There is also another function, however: protection. Wainscoting can also act as a sort of large baseboard which keeps more of your wall material and paint safe from damage. It also provides an extra layer of insulation, which can come in handy in colder climates. 

There are a few different types of wainscoting.


Frame and Panel

This is the most common type, as it’s a type of architectural trim that usually only covers the lower portion of the wall -- typically up to a third. It is then topped with a decorative chair rail (sometimes called a dado rail). 

Here are just a few different ways you might see this type of wainscoting in action. 

Framing on

  • the lower half of the wall with a chair rail

  • the wall below and extending above a chair rail

  • the bottom of the wall with no chair rail

Dark-painted formal dining room with white wainscoting and crown molding

The wainscot wall frames in this formal dining room of a five-bedroom, 5.5-bath luxury home exude elegance. The effect is further enhanced by the extended mantle-like structure surrounding the wall art and the elaborate crown molding, all in white to contrast with the dark walls (Plan #198-1133).


Flat Panel

This is a very popular style because of how clean the lines tend to turn out; you get a more “Shaker Style” look which is essentially a style of panel with a flat middle and square edges, as well as minimal detailing or profiling. 



This is a row of narrow-cut wooden planks which are fitted together using “V” joints, often with beaded edges, and lined up against the lower portion of the wall. They are then typically capped by a chair rail, which offers a polished, modern appearance. The look of beadboard can also be achieved more economically by installing panels that are milled to look like beadboard assemblies.


Chair Rails 

A Chair rail is sometimes called a Dado rail. It is a type of architectural trim that is fixed permanently to the wall around the perimeter of a room. 

“Dado” comes from Italian meaning "dice" and refers to "die", an architectural term for the middle section of a pedestal. Which is fitting as a Chair rail is found in the middle section of a wall.

Like most other trim, the Chair rail has two functions in both aesthetic and practicality. While they tie a room together nicely, these rails protect the wall from furniture and other constant contact (hence the name “chair). Because of this, they are common in busy environments like shopping malls, schools, and hospitals.

Family room with a wall that has white wall paneling and a chair rail

This family room in a four-bedroom, three-bath Contemporary Craftsman style home has a paneled wall with a chair rail running in the center of the paneling. The chair rail, which is positioned at the bottom of the windows, doubles as a stool molding for those windows (Plan #198-1062).


Picture Rails

If you think that a certain room in your house is looking particularly drab, then a great – if sometimes seen as old-fashioned – way to create a more custom home feel is to add a picture rail.

As the name might suggest, a picture rail is a thin piece of horizontal molding that usually sits about 1 foot to 18 inches below the ceiling in a room. Its main job is entirely functional. That is, it’s there so that residents have a place to nail picture frames into the wall, without filling their walls with pockmarks.

This way, when you move house (or simply want to move your picture frames) you dont have to worry about adding more and more holes to your wall.

Adding a picture rail to your home is relatively straightforward as well, so if youre interested in adding trim and are new to the world DIY home improvement, it’s a great place to start. If you bring the measurements of your room to any lumber yard or hardware store, the staff will be able to cut you a piece – or pieces – of lumber that will do the trick.

Bedroom with picture rail molding

This master bedroom suite with sitting area in a quaint 3-bedroom, 2-bath Cottage style home shows the charm of a picture rail, which empphasizes the horizontal lines of the space (Plan #198-1079).



The main reason why a designer (or a DIY home improvement guru) might create a column out of architectural trim is to cover up an ugly pole. However, they can also cover things like heating ducts, pipes, wires, and other mechanical elements.

Additionally, they don’t have to cover anything at all, they can simply spruce up things like support columns.

Depending on the style of the home, these columns can be made from wood or even sheetrock. If they are made of wood, they may be intended to provide extra support for a beam. If they’re made of sheetrock and sport elements like a baseboard and crown molding, then it is likely that they are being used as a stylish hideaway.

Massive natural wood columns with stone bases enclosing a formal dining space

These spectacular natural-wood timber columns sit on stacked-stone bases and reinforce the rusticity of the luxurious rustic Ranch-style home in which they appear. Here, three columns define the formal dining space of the open-plan home. Beyond, two columns define a pass-trough opening (Plan #198-1125).


DIY or Professional

Whether you hire a professional contractor or you do it yourself, adding trim work is an inexpensive way to transform spaces in your home to better suit your personal taste. If you don’t have the budget for a professional contractor, most trim – with exception of crown molding – is fairly easy to learn how to do and doesn’t break the bank. Its a good idea to invest in a power miter saw because its much easir to make accurate cuts with. And if you find you enjoy installing casings and baseboard, you can tackle trying to lear to install crown molding.

So if there are places in your home that seem a little lacking, you know what to do! 

Sprucing up a drab interior with trim work is one of the quickest ways to make your house start feeling like a home. You can easily make a recent buy seem more like a custom build.



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