interiors & styling

My Thoughts On Moulding & Millwork

My Thoughts On Moulding & Millwork - roomfortuesday.comMoulding and millwork make a HUGE difference in a home- especially when your house is pretty basic or architecturally uninteresting (like mine). It’s an easy way to add personality, depth, and highlight specific areas throughout your home. It also makes your a space look 100 times more custom and expensive than it actually is. So what’s the downside and why isn’t everyone adding millwork to their home? It’s not so great when done incorrectly. Click through for tips on adding moulding and ways to avoid rookie mistakes (aka my pet peeves). Disclaimer: this is a lengthy and opinionated post that could potentially get controversial, but I’m hoping it will be helpful for someone selecting millwork for their home!

This post sort of spawned from “Decor Tip Tuesday” on Instagram a few weeks back- it’s actually saved under ‘millwork’ if you want to go watch it. I got SO many questions about this, I thought it warranted an entire post. I participated in a millwork class a few years back that seriously changed my outlook on designing architectural details and trim. It boils down to this…. balance, proportion, mathematics, and aesthetic. If all four aren’t working together, you’re not going to get a great end result.

My Thoughts On Moulding & Millwork - roomfortuesday.comWithout writing a novel / history lesson on the architectural integrity of millwork, I’m going to try to keep this post relevant for today, and use simple terms that are easy to understand. Normally, I’m a giant advocate for DIY projects, but millwork is something you really have to be informed on prior to diving in. Finishing carpentry and millwork is a very classical skill (a true art form) that is kind of being lost to DIY, in my personal opinion. I’m not discouraging anyone from taking the DIY route (we installed our own millwork), but hopefully this post will make it easier to decide what look best fits your home.

My Thoughts On Moulding & Millwork - roomfortuesday.comSo many people slap up trim without actually knowing how it is supposed to look, and the result is less than satisfactory. To the untrained eye, it might look fine… but I cringe when I see wainscoting or board and batten that travels three quarters of the way up a wall, or fireplaces trimmed with heavy dental moulding in a space with standard height ceilings. Is that a snobby attitude? I don’t think so. It’s like telling a mathematician that the solution to 2+2 equals 5. There IS a correct answer and the one in front of you is inaccurate. Millwork isn’t a factor that’s a matter of taste or personal preference (like art)… it’s a formula that has a very specific solution.

T H E    P U R P O S E    O F    M I L L W O R K

The purpose of moulding isn’t to structurally support your home. That seems obvious. If you removed the casing, crown moulding, baseboard, and any other existing trim, the entire house wouldn’t come crashing down. So what exactly does moulding do if it’s not functional? What’s the point?

My Thoughts On Moulding & Millwork - roomfortuesday.comIt makes a space feel secure, balanced, sturdy, and well-constructed- not to mention, it’s beautiful. It’s definitely an aesthetic element that contributes to the integrity of a home. To give you a silly example… think of a big room shaped like a shoebox: 4 walls, a ceiling, and a floor. You walk into the room, it seems/looks fine, now let’s imagine a wind storm is rolling in. You’re in the space and can hear the wind gusting on the opposing side of the wall. Take this same example and apply moulding… crown moulding, baseboard, panel moulding, columns (if the ceiling is super tall), etc. It feels and looks reinforced or safe… even if the millwork is providing no real structural support. It’s all about that feeling. It doesn’t take a wind storm to give you that feeling or lack thereof. If you walk into a home with millwork, it just looks more secure, appealing, and comfortable.

It’s not something we consciously think about or notice feeling until after learning about millwork (at least in my experience). Most people feel more comfortable in homes with moulding and that’s why. The same goes for moulding that has been installed of the WRONG proportions… it can make you feel uneasy if it doesn’t add up / serve it’s purpose.

My Thoughts On Moulding & Millwork - roomfortuesday.com

T H E    E Q U A T I O N

Ok, so you want millwork because it’s beautiful and makes you feel at ease, but how do you get it right? Greek and Roman orders of architecture can help establish moulding size and placement. That might sound archaic, but it’s true. This article does a really fantastic job explaining it. Seriously- go read it! It sort of sums up the class I took.

I don’t want to bore those who are uninterested in this topic, so instead I’ll link some books I’d recommend if you want to learn more (we own all three): Historic Millwork: A Guide to Restoring and Recreating Doors, Windows, and Moldings // Get Your House Right // Carpenter’s Assistant

AESTHETIC:  Make sure sure the style of the millwork selected matches the architecture and aesthetic of your home. One thing is certain- make sure when installing, your home is consistent throughout! The baseboard, crown, and casing should all feel cohesive and proportionate.

BALANCE + PROPORTION: When planning your millwork, make sure to apply the pythagorean theorem and orders of Greek & Roman architecture (linked above). It’s all one big mathematical equation that will achieve balance. If you’re not a math person (like me), a more simplistic way to think about it, is by breaking your wall into thirds or triangles. Planning and sketching is definitely essential in “getting it right”.

My Thoughts On Moulding & Millwork - roomfortuesday.com

R O O K I E    M I S T A K E S

I cringe when I see millwork installed improperly. I decided to make a list of my pet peeves below, so that you guys can avoid these rookie mistakes:

  • Non-mitered corners // When I see corner pieces or rosettes instead of a beautiful miter in the corner of a room, it ruins the entire look. Seriously, that’s the lazy route and I hate the way it looks.
  • Separating joints // As houses settle, expand and contract with humidity, sometimes mitered edges can separate (think hairline fracture). That’s normal, minimal, and totally ok! Odds are it will expand and contract forever. However, sometimes there are giant gaps at the miter that is the direct result of poor carpentry or execution. I’d rather see no moulding at all, than moulding poorly installed that doesn’t align. Hire a finishing carpenter if you’re aren’t confident in your skills… this is advanced carpentry work that can make or a break your space.
  • Moulding that is painted the wrong color // Although I do like the monochromatic look, I personally prefer contrast. Even if your moulding is the same color as your wall (which does look amazing when done properly), at the very least, choose a different finish. It will add depth and accentuate the moulding in a good way!
  • Millwork that doesn’t match the aesthetic of the home // You have to consider the architecture and aesthetic of your home when selecting millwork. It makes zero sense to put flat, craftsman style moulding in an ornate victorian house. I hate seeing that!! You always want the millwork to feel organic, like it belongs, and could be original.
  • Non cohesive collections // I also hate seeing baseboards that don’t match the crown moulding, stylistically. Make sure you choose a collection of trim (panel moulding, crown, base, casing, etc) that is balanced and feels cohesive. If you’re doing a chunky baseboard, a slender crown moulding isn’t going to look right.
  • Moulding that is out of proportion // Classic proportions make attractive trim- use the equation! That’s what the entire upper section of this post highlighted. Wainscoting should not travel three quarters of the way up your wall… that is not the correct proportion according to the equation and order.

I wanted to share some bad examples, but the more I thought about pulling images that were done incorrectly that weren’t my own, it felt kind of wrong / mean. Do you think that would be helpful though? Maybe I’ll plop some ‘what not to do’ images onto my Insta story? They’ll disappear after a day anyway. I’m visual person- so for me, that’s how I learn.

My Thoughts On Moulding & Millwork - roomfortuesday.com

M L L W O R K    I N    M Y    H O M E

If you’re wondering how I selected the millwork for my home, it was by following the above principles. We live in an architecturally basic / boring home and therefore, I had to keep it pretty straightforward and simple. As much as I love beefy, ornate mouldings, it wouldn’t make any sense in our home that has standard ceilings and zero character throughout.

So far, we’ve installed the following (each specific product is linked):

My Thoughts On Moulding & Millwork - roomfortuesday.comI opted for a transitional style. To be honest, I probably pushed the design limit a bit, given we live in a ranch style home (that I hate). Traditionally, our trim could’ve been even more streamlined and modern. Our hope is to eventually add a garage and bathroom, which would change the existing architecture and exterior aesthetic- that would certainly influence the mouldings throughout.

For our first home, I worked alongside a super amazing 70 year old finishing carpenter (shoutout to my man, Les!) who knew everything about everything when it came to millwork. I’m glad I didn’t do it alone because I totally wouldn’t have known about the formula and carpentry equations at that point in time.

My Thoughts On Moulding & Millwork - roomfortuesday.com

H O W    T O    C H O O S E    M O U L D I N G S

Hopefully this section will make your decision easier! There’s a lot to think about when it comes to adding trim…

QUESTIONS TO ASK:

  • How important is durability? Do you have dogs or children? Is there a good chance your pets or kids might damage your trim or scratch at your baseboards? If the answer is yes, you might want to choose a solid wood material as opposed to MDF.
  • What is the aesthetic of my home? If you live in a modern farmhouse, flat paneled trim would be best suited for your project… anything overly intricate wouldn’t be a great match. Consider what would feel original to the home!
  • What is the budget for the project? If you have limited funds, you might opt to only add baseboard and casing, then forego other items like crown moulding, panel moulding, etc. Or maybe you choose an MDF material instead of solid wood because it’s less expensive.
  • Will this be professionally installed? If you’re not an experienced carpenter, it may be worth it to hire a professional. You’ll need to factor that into the budget. Trust me when I say Emmett ruined plenty of trim while he was learning to install millwork (it’s tough), so if you’re taking the DIY route, you’ll want to order plenty of overage.
  • Do I want the trim to be emphasized or understated? This will influence the size, color, and finish of the moulding.

My Thoughts On Moulding & Millwork - roomfortuesday.comIf you’re feeling worried about committing to a style, think of what the original trim in your home might’ve looked like. If you’re not sure, look for homes that are similar architecturally. Original, historic homes typically got it right. Updated, builder-grade homes are typically a different story (not all of them, but a lot of them anyway). On those projects, you’ll need to start from scratch because there’s a good chance it’s not accurate.

PLACE THE ORDER:

  1. Decide on the style.
  2. Choose the material (we opted for pre-primed MDF, but solid wood is more durable / high end).
  3. Choose how much millwork you’ll be adding (casing, base, crown, panel moulding, quarter round, etc).
  4. Plan and sketch how it will be applied (use the formula for proportion).
  5. Crunch the numbers for quantity (and include overage).
  6. Order a sample (if applicable).
  7. Make the purchase and install!

In the end… if this sounds confusing to you and you’re feeling nervous to make moulding decisions for your home, my biggest tip is to consult with a designer or skilled finishing carpenter. I’m not saying the DIY route can’t be done, but knowing when to DIY or hire a professional is an important asset- and trust me when I say, this is not an element you want to chance messing up. Either do your research or leave it to the pros.

My Thoughts On Moulding & Millwork - roomfortuesday.comI hope you don’t want to murder me after that. Was that information overload? I got carried away, and I hope you’re not all bored to death! I personally find this topic really interesting, so I could talk about it all day. I thought it might be helpful for those asking, “What millwork should I choose for my home?” Sadly, there’s not a short, ‘one size fits all’ answer, but hopefully this will give you the tools and info to feel more confident in your decision!

One last tidbit… “mouldings” can also be spelled “moldings”. It’s the English way vs. the American way… I have no idea why I’ve always stuck with the English spelling- it just feels right to me. Ha! Questions, thoughts, conversation? Do you agree or disagree that there is a specific formula to this art? Comment below!!

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  • Reply
    katrina blackley
    March 21, 2018 at 4:27 am

    Hi Sarah,
    I currently have crown molding. The previous owner installed it. they did a terrible job with installing the molding and it must be removed at some point. my home aesthetic is Mid Century Modern. I am thinking about not replacing the crown molding. Do you think this is something I should reconsider? I don’t believe this aesthetic had crown molding.
    I just had new flooring installed. I added 5 1/2 base boards around the room (the base boards are basic no detail to them at all). if I decide to add crown molding, I am not sure what I will use. I would like it plain and simple with no detail

    • Reply
      Sarah
      March 21, 2018 at 7:47 am

      Hi Katrina! I think you’re in the accurate mindset. Your mid century home certainly does not need crown moulding… it’s totally a personal preference. Is the interior aesthetic of your home also modern? That’s something else to consider! The baseboards sound like the perfect choice (nice job!). I’d say you could go either way on the crown moulding- sometimes mid mod homes are better without if you have sloped ceilings and other architecturally interesting moments. Does that answer your question? Hopefully that was helpful! Oh, and if you do add crown… I agree, it needs to be simple, minimal and look cohesive with your base. xo

  • Reply
    Jane O’Reilly
    March 21, 2018 at 6:50 am

    Hey Sarah,
    Although I agree with your philosophy and I am impressed by the mouldings in your homes, the presentation maybe a little harsh😧 For all those viewers who are it their best with 8 foot ceilings , no budget and only diy skills to enhance their esthetician, maybe a follow up on “the do’s” would be a more positive approach. Love your blog and your design work!

    • Reply
      Sarah
      March 21, 2018 at 7:32 am

      Hi Jane, thanks so much! I definitely didn’t intend the post to come off in that way, but rather educational. The class I took really opened my eyes to the formula and even on a limited budget, there’s a right way to add moulding. If DIY is the only path that fits the budget, then by all means do it (we did), just be sure to do your research and math first. I was hoping the post would actually save people money. We also have a limited budget, 8 foot ceilings, and obviously we installed our own millwork. Hope this helps to clarify! Thanks for reading. xo

  • Reply
    Jane O’Reilly
    March 21, 2018 at 6:52 am

    Oops darn auto correct* esthetic

  • Reply
    joy
    March 21, 2018 at 7:11 am

    I totally respect your opinions, but want to chime in to say we bought a house where one room has high wainscoting and it looks awesome! We painted the top part the same deep green color as your Ohio house, and it really pops and gives the room a unique architecture. I think as with most things there are always exceptions, and if done well even the most “cringey” idea on paper can look great!

    • Reply
      Sarah
      March 21, 2018 at 7:33 am

      Hi Joy! That’s such a good point. There’s always exclusions and if you’re not redoing or correcting millwork that builders or previous homes have, you have to work with it and make it look amazing. I bet the green is beautiful! It’s all about balance and deep colors are so good at that. Smart choice on your part! xox

  • Reply
    Lbpv
    March 21, 2018 at 9:01 am

    I love this post! Very informative. It did not come across as harsh at all. I agree there is a right way to do ‘some’ things. And your home is a perfect example of mouldings done right! Of course a homeowner is free to do it the way they want but it will not have that same calming, secure, cohesive look that doing it the proper way will. I really appreciate the integrity of good architecture. Thank you also for the book recommendations. I love this subject.

    • Reply
      Sarah
      March 21, 2018 at 9:19 am

      So happy to hear that! I have the exact same mindset. A home should be a creative reflection of the inhabitant. I took a ton of art and architecture history courses in college so I think that’s what has made me appreciate millwork so much. It’s super interesting! Glad to hear you’re also a fan of the subject :)

  • Reply
    Jane O’Reilly
    March 21, 2018 at 12:09 pm

    Thanks for the reply Sarah!

  • Reply
    Kirsten
    March 21, 2018 at 8:16 pm

    love your shirt in the last pic! Anthro?
    As for the post, I didn’t think it was even slightly harsh. It was great and so informative…which I love. HGTV and blogs (I love both) have created a renovation craze that has a lot of people doing things that are not stylistically appropriate for their home/area. So I think pointing out the rationale to people and giving solid historical references is your gift to the Internet!

    • Reply
      Sarah
      March 22, 2018 at 10:04 am

      Thanks so much Kirsten! You will laugh when you see how cheap that shirt is: http://bit.ly/2GbrLmm … one of my friends convinced me to go into the store with her and it was the first time I’d been in years, ha! That’s what I ended up with.

      So happy to hear you thought the post was informative. That was the goal! I also love both HGTV and SO many home improvement blogs, and agree that not all solutions presented as “quick and easy” DIY projects aren’t always the best solution. You can’t argue with history and the old, true craftspeople! xox

  • Reply
    Lauren Allen
    March 21, 2018 at 10:54 pm

    Sarah,
    I found great value in this post! I’ve already added your “suggested readings” to my amazon cart and bookmarked the link. I, too, cringe when I see moulding done wrong in a house. I don’t know that I can think of anything worse than those tiny 2-3″ builder basic baseboards. (To whoever is still producing those: please stop!) What a great post to provide people (including me) guidance and reference on proper moulding aesthetic. Thanks!!

    • Reply
      Sarah
      March 22, 2018 at 10:06 am

      So happy you’re ordering the books! They’re really fascinating and have been helpful to us while renovating. And yes- that baseboard is terrible.. it’s too bad builders are still slapping it up in houses as a cheap solution and selling it as “beautiful moulding” haha! xo

  • Reply
    Christina
    March 22, 2018 at 12:14 am

    I was so looking forward to reading the attached article on millwork. Unfortunately, it lost me VERY quickly.I have a modern craftsman.We chose appropriate baseboards and casing.I was hoping for a basic formula…such as: if your walls are this high then divide by this then this to get your casing…blah..blah..lol…I was more confused than before I read it..P.S. You were not harsh at all..I LOVE being educated and try to absorb it like a sponge.

    • Reply
      Sarah
      March 22, 2018 at 10:09 am

      Oh no! Sorry, Christina! I really wish there was a “one size fits all” solution / formula. There are SO many factors that go into it, as you know. I thought about breaking it down by home style and doing 5 or 6 different equations to make it easier, but I found it kind of impossible since so many different elements and measurements are involved. Let me know if you need help figuring out millwork in your craftsman! Also glad to hear the post didn’t come off as harsh. xo

  • Reply
    Wendy
    March 22, 2018 at 4:51 am

    Sarah,
    This is a wonderful and well thought out post. I absolutely agree about trim! We are building a modern home and I am SO jealous of your millwork right now! I hope once it is complete I can add some more detail in a way that fits the home. We did make certain we used a trim style that is appropriate (but it’s kind of boring). We also added a 20′ shiplap entry wall that I am in LOVE with! I will be ordering those books because I would love to be able add some details myself. Thank you!
    Wendy

    • Reply
      Sarah
      March 22, 2018 at 10:12 am

      Thank you, Wendy! Congratulations on building your home… I know it’s going to be beautiful. The shiplap sounds gorgeous and with a modern style, it sounds like you’re making the perfect simple and minimal selections. Thanks again for taking the time to read that long post! xox

  • Reply
    Emily
    March 22, 2018 at 11:03 am

    I am in LOVE with your casings!!! You guys do a beautiful job :)

    • Reply
      Sarah
      March 22, 2018 at 11:32 am

      Thank you SO much, Emily!! We may renovate super slowly, but we take a lot of pride it researching and doing it the right way :) I appreciate that!

  • Reply
    Caitlin
    March 22, 2018 at 11:35 am

    I think this post was very informative (although sounds a little intimidating for DIYers) but I just wanted to point out another functional aspect of some millwork or finish carpentry and that is to join two different planes of materials. Cutting drywall to meet the edge of a door or window jamb PERFECTLY is very, very challenging so there is usually a rough edge that needs to be covered. That’s where casing comes in!

    This also applies to baseboard and crown moulding (I always spell it the English way!) where the walls meet the ceiling or floor – it takes a lot of work and attention to detail to make that joint look good, so baseboard and crown can hide an otherwise messy seam. Obviously this doesn’t apply to every house, there are tons out there with no crown moulding, but its just something else to consider when referencing moulding details or profiles. I’m a PM at a general contracting company so I’ve seen my fair share of messy seams that miraculously get beautified by a little bit of moulding!

    • Reply
      Sarah
      March 22, 2018 at 11:44 am

      Definitely an awesome point! It’s a good solution for original or old carpentry that is settling or wasn’t completed to satisfaction. Thanks so much, Caitlin! xox

  • Reply
    Liz
    March 22, 2018 at 7:51 pm

    I don’t think you were harsh at all. Why beat around the bush when you know what you’re doing? I’m a graphic designer and I CRINGE when I see technical errors out in the wild; I would write a treatise too if I had an audience!

    • Reply
      Sarah
      March 23, 2018 at 9:07 am

      Really glad to hear that, Liz!! I bet you lose your mind over type that isn’t kerned correctly or terrible fonts like comic sans. haha!! xox

  • Reply
    Joanna
    March 23, 2018 at 12:43 pm

    A very informative article. I just updated my casings and baseboards from the builders small insignificant ones.what a difference! I’s like To add some character to the master and main guest room but have no idea what to ask the contractor to install. What would you suggest for a new build, transitional decorated home? A bit of background – I lean towards minimalism when it comes to belongings and love neutrals.
    Following you now ~ Joanna

  • Reply
    Tori A.
    June 29, 2018 at 2:23 pm

    Really enjoyed the article! Side question though: where are the doors in your Utah house from? I really like the French closet doors!

    • Reply
      Sarah
      July 2, 2018 at 7:52 am

      Thank you, Tori! The doors are Jeldwen… you can order them from the Lowes or Home Depot millwork department.

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