I’ve been wondering for a while now about the current trends and rules for crown molding, baseboards and other types of interior trim and molding. In my internet search, I didn’t find a lot of articles on the subject. There’s some information defining the different types of trim, but not a lot a hard and fast rules to go by.
In this week’s episode, we’ll go over the few rules that I did find, I’ll cover whether it’s acceptable to paint trim in different parts of the house different colors and I’ll discuss some less traditional trim options that you may not have heard of, or considered.
Practically, lots of trim and moldings are used to hide gaps and imperfections that naturally occur with drywall installation, but trim and moldings also add architectural interest to a home. In general, trim should be sized according to your personal taste. But, there are some guidelines that will keep your moldings in scale with each other and give your house a classic, balanced look.
Although more traditional homes usually have more trim and moldings than transitional or contemporary homes, even if you’re building a traditional house, you should be careful not to go overboard with trim. That overly ornate, “more is more" trim style of the late 90s and early 2000s is no longer on trend. Too much trim can overpower a house and make it look dated, decreasing, rather than adding to, your home’s attractiveness and value.
Almost all homes feature baseboards, except the most contemporary homes. Many homes also have door and window casings, crown molding and chair rail.
Let’s go over those basic terms.
The casing is the molding that frames or outlines windows and doors. Standard casings are usually are 2-3 inches wide, but certain home styles such as older Victorians and craftsman style homes may have wider casings.
Baseboards run along the bottom of walls, and serve as a transition piece between walls and floors. Baseboards protect the bottom of walls from things such as mops, brooms or vacuum cleaners.
Typical baseboard moldings have a simple detail cut along the top edge. There is often a small, separate, semi-circular piece of molding called quarter round running along the bottom edge of the baseboard. Quarter round serves as a transition piece between the baseboard and the floor.
Quarter round is most often used with hard-surfaced floors made of wood, vinyl or tile. Quarter round is shaped like a fourth or quarter of a circle. It’s also called base shoe molding. You might also want to use quarter round with low pile, flatter carpeting, but you wouldn’t use quarter round molding if the floor has plush, fluffy carpeting.
Baseboards are usually taller than casings are wide, and baseboards are traditionally about as tall as the crown molding is. Standard baseboards measure 3-5 inches, but today’s baseboards are getting a bit taller. Even a bit taller than crown molding.
Although they should be sleek and fairly simple in style, baseboards seem to be the stand-out trim piece in today’s new homes. Some designers are now recommending clean lined baseboards that are at least 6 inches tall, instead of the standard 3-5 inches. Ten foot walls may even be able to support 8 inch baseboards. These taller baseboards give a more contemporary, higher-end look. But if you don’t like the look of taller baseboards, it's perfectly acceptable to stick with the standard 3-5 inches.
Crown molding, also called ceiling or cornice molding, is the transitional piece between the wall and the ceiling. Crown molding is typically in proportion to the baseboard molding. For traditional homes, the rule of thumb is, the taller the baseboard, the taller the crown. But as I stated just a minute ago, newer, more transitional or contemporary homes may wish to combine taller baseboards with crown molding that’s a couple of inches shorter.
Standard crown molding, like standard baseboards, range from 3-5 inches. But taller walls, like 10-foot walls, can handle crown molding between 5-7 inches.
Taller moldings can be created by combining several smaller moldings. This is usually a more economical way to get larger crown molding. But even with larger crown, be careful not to use pieces that are too ornate or intricate.
Chair rail runs horizontally along the wall at about the height of the top of a typical chair, or about 36 inches. Most chair rail is usually about half the size of crown molding and baseboards, typically ranging from 1.5 to 3 inches.
Of course there are even more types of trim and molding that you might want to include in your home to add character, like wainscoting, which traditionally adorns the bottom third of the wall, but can come up even higher for a more unique, dramatic look.
There is also picture rail which is higher than chair rail and is used to hang pictures from or sit pictures on.
And you can add molding around ceiling details and art niches to make them look a little more traditional. You might also choose box molding/picture frame molding to add dimension to walls.
STAINING OR PAINTING TRIM
You can obviously paint or stain trim. Staining usually gives a more traditional feel, but I’ve seen examples of contemporary houses with stained trim.
As far as painting trim, almost anything goes. Classic white or light trim with a slightly darker or a significantly darker wall color will never go out of style. But painting trim a darker color with lighter walls is also being seen in new homes. Interestingly, many designers say it's acceptable to paint the walls and the trim the same exact color. It’s all a matter of your personal taste.
Although many professionals say you should stick with the same trim color throughout the entire house, some say trim can be different colors in different rooms of the house. They even say you can paint trim within the same room different colors. If you choose to do this, though, I would choose no more than 2 different trim colors, otherwise the room might start looking chaotic. Maybe the crown molding and baseboards are white and the window and door casings are gray. Bottom line is, be tasteful, do what you like.
Moving on to ...
DIFFERENT TRIM MATERIALS
Hardwoods, like oak and hickory, make the best trim if you want to stain your trim. Hardwoods resist warping and cracking and can be stained to a beautiful finish. It is usually best to apply the stain before installing the piece, and then do touch ups to the cut edges and apply the final finish coat.
Poplar is a hardwood trim material that can be stained, but It is usually painted.
Pine is the most common trim material. Pine is a soft wood. Although it can be stained, it’s usually painted. Pine is less expensive than hardwood and poplar trim, but pine is softer and can dent more easily.
Paint-grade trim is obviously meant to be painted rather than stained. For painting, you’ll most often be choosing among pine and poplar, which we just talked about, and finger jointed pine or medium-density fiberboard (MDF).
Some types of paint grade trim come pre-primed, which is an advantage because you can probably get away with applying only one coat of paint rather than the two or three.
Since we've already briefly mentioned pine and poplar, let’s go over the other 2 paint grade options. Finger jointed boards and MDF.
Finger-jointed boards are manufactured by joining together short pieces of wood. Finger-jointed wood is a common product used on higher-end and mid range projects where painted trim will be installed. The intent of finger-jointing is to eliminate knots in the wood and to yield a straighter board for less money than buying other types of wood trim. Some finger-jointed boards are better than others. Feel the joints to be sure they are perfectly smooth; if not, the joints may be visible even after painting.
Medium Density fiberboard, or MDF, is an economical option that can used be for decorative trim work such as wainscoting, fireplace mantles, and column wraps.
Avoid MDF in high moisture areas such as window sills, and in bathrooms and kitchens. You’ll also want to avoid MDF baseboards in carpeted rooms because when you shampoo the carpet, the MDF will absorb moisture and swell and eventually the paint will peel off of it.
MORE CONTEMPORARY TRIM OPTIONS
If you’re building a transitional and contemporary house, you might decide against traditional crown molding and window and door casings. Instead, homeowners building transitional or contemporary homes may choose drywall returns, extension jambs or shadow lines.
These options are sleek, more minimalist styles of finishing interior windows and doors. Shadow lines can also be used in lieu of baseboards. Let’s talk a little more about each of these options.
Shadow line trim is when there is no real trim material, per se, but a thin, space that outlines the windows, doors and the baseboard area. This is a very expensive option and is usually only seen in the most high end houses. I first saw this shadow line detail in one of the New American Showcase Homes at the International Builders Show.
Another more contemporary trim option is a drywall return. This is another sleek, minimalistic option where trim material is not really used. Instead, the drywall wraps around and extends into the window and door opening, so there is really no transition piece between the walls and the window or door. It just looks like continuous drywall or sheetrock.
Drywall returns are often used in commercial construction and they used to be installed by large production builders as a way to save money on trim. Although it’s true that you can save on finish carpentry labor and materials, you’ll have to pay more to the drywall installers because it takes much more time and effort to install sheetrock for drywall returns. Think about it: the trim that would typically be there to hide sheetrock imperfections, won’t be there.
I’ve read it all, that sometimes drywall returns are more expensive, sometimes less expensive and sometimes about the same price as traditional trim work.
It's sometimes said that a drywall return won’t protect your window opening from cracks and dents as well as traditional trim. The parts of the window opening most likely to be damaged, chipped or cracked with drywall returns are the corner edges of the window opening and the horizontal window sill area at the bottom of the window.
To strengthen the edges of the window opening with a drywall return, insist on corner beads for the corner edges of the opening. Corner beads are a protective plastic or metal material that is applied to drywall corners.
And to protect the window sill area, you might consider combining a sleek, minimalist wood sill piece at the bottom of the window, along with drywall returns at the sides and top of the window. That way you’ll have the streamlined drywall return detail along 3 sides of the window opening, along with a strong window sill that can handle people leaning on it, bumping into it, sitting glasses and objects on it.
Lastly, let’s talk about extension Jambs.
An extension jamb is another contemporary trim option. It’s when the interior portion of the window frame extends the full depth of the wall. That thin frame, usually 3/4 inch thick, extends from the inside surface of the window to the face or surface of the drywall. And edge of the extension jamb is often flush with the drywall.
The extension jamb can be painted the same color as the wall or the same color of the window grill/frame, or the extension jamb can be stained. Extension jambs have a similar clean, sleek look as a drywall return, but are thought to be a little more durable than drywall returns since extension jambs are typically made of wood.
Alright, wanna do a couple of quiz question before you go?
1. What’s the name of the paint grade trim product used in higher end or mid range projects, made by joining together short pieces of wood.
A. Finger jointed wood
The answer is A— finger jointed wood. This is a good, economical option for trim that you want to paint. Just make sure you get good quality finger jointed boards that have joints that are smooth to the touch so the joints won’t be visible when painted.
MDF is a budget friendly choice, but can only be used in non-moisture prone areas.
Poplar is also a good for paint grade trim, but it's more expensive than finger jointed wood
And hardwood trim is the most expensive trim option and is most often chosen for trim that will be stained instead of painted.
2. Compared to traditional trimwork, drywall returns are
A. More expensive
B. Less expensive
C. The same price
D. All of the above
The answer is D. All of the above. Although drywall returns save on carpentry materials and labor, you’ll usually spend more for sheetrock installation since drywall returns take more time and effort than regular sheetrock installation. Depending on the demand in your area for drywall returns and the experience of your sheetrock contractors with the technique, your price for drywall returns might be more, less or the same as traditional trim.
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Please remember that the purpose of this podcast is simply to educate and inform. It is not a substitute for professional advice. The information that you hear is based the only on the opinions, research and experiences of my guests and myself. That information might be incomplete, it’s subject to change and it may not apply to your project. In addition, building codes and requirements vary from region to region, so always consult a professional about specific recommendations for your home.