The Must-Knows About Interior Trim Styles and Elements: Choose the Right Molding For Your New Home

From baseboards to casings, from crown moldings to railings, trim is a design element that adds depth, detail and richness to a room. But it has become so common, so ubiquitous, that many people don’t give it much thought. There are so many profiles, sizes, and materials, that it can be hard to pick the right ones. Here is a closer look at some trim and molding elements.

1. Base. Used where the wall and floor come together, the base, or baseboard, conceals any gaps between floor and wall finishes as well as provides protection to the wall finish from swinging feet, jostled furniture, etc. Traditionally it was composed of three separate parts: a shoe (the small, curved or beveled piece that transitions from baseboard to floor), the baseboard (the tall, flat piece) and the cap (an ornamental piece that sits atop the baseboard). But bases are now more often than not made of one piece for a cleaner and more contemporary aesthetic. 

2. Chair rail. Moving up the wall from the floor, the next piece of trim after the base is the chair rail. Functionally, this trim item protects the wall finish from any furniture that gets placed against the wall. Though most commonly installed about 36″ from the floor, a chair rail can be installed just about at any height. The key issue is how the chair rail splits the wall into horizontal layers and getting those proportions correct.

3. Wainscot. While the space between the chair rail and baseboard can be finished as the rest of the wall (painted or wallpapered), many times the area is paneled. The options for the wainscot are many, including simple wood
panels, beadboard, raised panels and horizontal wood paneling. And while the finish of the wainscoting can match the wood trim, it doesn’t have to. For example, a painted wood baseboard and wainscot of simple, recessed panels works well with the stained wood window and door trim.

4. Window casing. The traditional method of casing a window (or door) is to use separate side, top and bottom pieces. Because each piece is distinct, the trim can be richly detailed and articulated. For example, along the top of the windows there can be a horizontal band that provides a base for a large, flat band that holds a shaped crown. This is a semicustom approach, as each piece can be purchased, or milled, and installed separately, getting you the exact profile and look you’ll want.

Having a nice, deep sill to place objects on is an advantage to casing a window with distinct pieces. And the horizontal piece below the stool (shelf), called the apron, can be shaped and sized as you like. The stool can be shallow or deep, depending on what you’d like to place there and you’re overall design.

5. Door casing. Like window casing, door casing is traditionally installed as separate pieces. But unlike window casing, door casing, for obvious reasons, has no bottom stool or apron.

Though not absolutely a given, the door casing comes from the same family of trim profiles as the window casing. So where there is a Craftsman-style window trim, you’d expect to see a Craftsman-style door trim. Sometimes, especially in a sophisticated design, changing scale while keeping the profiles the same is a way of distinguishing door and window trim. For example, a large and tall door might deserve a larger and more robust trim than, say, a small specialty window.

You may find that you want to treat the sides and top of a cased opening the same. So you’ll take the same profile that’s used on the sides, or jambs, and run that all around the opening. In this example, a cased opening is created by using the same trim on the sides and on the top of the doorway. In a window application, a “picture frame” effect is created by using the same profile all around (top, bottom and sides).

6. Picture rail. Continuing our journey up, closer to the top of the wall you’ll find the picture rail. This trim piece originally served as a support to hang pictures on, as plaster walls weren’t the best and could be easily damaged by all of those picture hooks nailed into the wall.


2 Replies to “The Must-Knows About Interior Trim Styles and Elements: Choose the Right Molding For Your New Home”

  1. I like what the article said about chair rails. It is true, that while it is supposed to be installed 3 feet from the floor, you can do it at whatever height you’d like to. Just make sure it’s proportional, as the author stated.

  2. Interior trim style choices for a new home are extremely important. You should spend a lot of time deciding, because once you do, you can’t go back. can, but with the amount of money it would cost you, it would absolutely not be worth it. Make sure you’re in love with your trim choices.

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