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Byline: Barbara De Witt Fashion Editor

Recessed lighting.

Granite counters.

Gold faucets.

Now it's molding mania.

Not only can the application of traditional decorative wood (or plaster or plastic) trim turn a standard stucco tract home into a customized beauty with all the architectural enhancement of a pre-World War II home, it also adds instant resale value for very little money if you do it yourself, say decorating experts across the country. Molding (it's moulding in Great Britain) is a form of finishing work that's a hot ticket this year in decorating magazines - and also home improvement stores, where the wood strips are sold by the foot or in goof-proof kits, according to Holly Frommelt, national decorating consultant for Home Depot stores.

The reason for so many do-it-yourselfers tackling jobs once reserved for skilled finishing carpenters, she says, is the convenience of stores and books that make it easier for people who otherwise wouldn't have tried it.

And the crown jewel in molding - the show stopper - is crown molding, which is applied at the top of the wall where it meets the ceiling and is often accented with decorative pieces in the corners.

Chair railing, a narrower, less decorative strip of wood placed at chair level in kitchens and dining rooms, is a close second in the popularity polls, and the easier of the two projects. More versatile, Frommelt explains, it can be used to create squares on the wall to give the illusion of paneling, or in the traditional method to protect the wall and serve as a divider between paint and wallpaper.

At the Do-It Center in Valencia, salesman Adrian Loenzana has also been selling more molding than usual this year, and says chair rails are his best sellers, owners of new homes his best customers. Also popular in his community, he observes, is decorative base molding (also called baseboards) in bathrooms.

Al Havranek, owner of Old World Mouldings in New York, reports his business has increased 400 percent since the late '90s and a lot of it is in California. ``We have a Web site,, and a catalog business, and it's clear from the response that people are looking for a traditional decor again and the only way you can get it is with wood trims, whether it's crown molding or window and door casings ... but I think it's also appealing because it's such an easy and inexpensive home improvement,'' says Havranek.

Frommelt agrees, commenting that crown molding can be applied to a 10-by-12-foot room for about $300 and that includes premitered, preprimered wood. However, she adds, natural oak has more resale value than painted white molding, which is usually made from less-expensive pine.

Sure, you have to have some skill with a hammer and nails, she says, and a friend to help hold the lengths of wood up, but stores have made it appealing to the amateur handyman. They'll cut the wood for you, offer it pre-primered and sometimes will do the mitering (the most challenging part of crown molding) for an easy fit in the corners of the ceiling.

Other tips?

First, arm yourself with the proper tools, including a pry bar and hammer to remove existing trim, a measuring tape, miter saw, coping saw, some finishing nails and a ladder.

Next, eyeball the room and consider proportions. If you're lucky and have a large room with a high ceiling, go for the hefty, ultra-curvy crown molding, otherwise use narrower molding for smaller rooms. After you have measured the walls (do it twice to be sure) and brought home the wood (hardly anybody uses plaster or plastic, which are more expensive, often difficult to work with and don't look like natural wood when stained), paint or stain the molding before nailing it on the wall.

Still nervous? Consult a do-it-yourself book such as ``Ron Hazelton's House Calls'' (TimeLife Books; $29.95), which devotes several chapters to different types of molding with supply lists, step-by-step instructions with detail photos or visit the On the House Web site at for more home improvement tips and information.

Where to begin?

Havranek says most people like to start with the dining room, the room that he thinks is the easiest to make a bit more formal.

His advice: ``Apply some ornate crown molding, then chair rails, and also window and door casings. The dining room chandelier could also be enhanced with a ceiling medallion, which is especially good for hiding an error in chandelier hanging.''

The next room should be the kitchen, he says, where you can add chair rails and window casings, saving the living room for last. This way, you'll have built up your carpentry confidence for the room that will get the most attention.

Havranek, who's familiar with California homes, says living rooms with pitched ceilings, partially pitched ceilings and/or sky lights don't lend themselves to crown molding, but decorative window and door casings accented with rosette blocks at the top corners will provide continuity of theme.

Once you've learned how to apply molding with ease, you might consider wainscoting (partial-height wall paneling topped with a decorative trim) and then add a faux fireplace mantel using the same supplies.

Or, if you discovered a fear of ladders, Frommelt suggests adding decorative base molding - about three inches high - throughout the house and you'll still get a lot of oohs and ahhs for your efforts.

Now that the home has been transformed into a cozy English cottage or a colonial mansion, you might want to rip out the white wall-to-wall carpeting and put in a wood floor.

Home improvement centers have kits for that, too.

Nailing down the terminology

Thinking of adding some molding to your home but don't know a cap rail from a pilaster?

We gathered some millwork terms from ``Ron Hazelton's House Calls'' (TimeLife; $29.95) that should help you find your way around the home improvement store or at least communicate with a finishing carpenter (the guy who installs crown molding). By the way, ``millwork'' refers to woodwork such as window sills, sashes and molding done in a planing mill.

Base molding: This is the strip of wood that is placed at the bottom of the wall and is usually flat. It can be painted the same as the wall or in a contrasting color or varnished to match wall paneling or wainscoting.

Cap rail: A type of molding used to cover and ``finish'' the tops of wainscoting boards. Cap rails have a squared notch or ``rabbet'' to fit over the top of the wainscoting and come in a variety of profiles.

Chair rail: A holdover from earlier days, chair rails are strips of wood placed between 32 and 36 inches from the floor. Today, they are usually topped with decorative molding - large, wide molding for spacious rooms and simple, narrow molding for small rooms. Chair railing makes a decorative divider between paint and wallpaper or wainscoting.

Ceiling medallion: A round piece of molding on the ceiling, usually with the chandelier hanging in the center.

Crown molding: (sometimes referred to as cornice) Decorative molding at the junction of the ceiling and wall that gives architectural interest to otherwise plain rooms and adds to the appearance of a room with period furniture. It can be stained or painted (before being nailed to the wall) to match or contrast with the walls. It can be a one-piece style or a beefier design with a bigger profile. Traditional styles include cove with a simple concave curve and a crown-and-bed style with an irregular profile that includes a convex curve. It can be enhanced with laser-cut appliques such as a garland, or rosette blocks.

Fluted pilasters: A decorative strip of wood that looks sort of like a Roman pillar, often found in door and widow trim packages, but also used for decorative mantel or molding designs.

Molding (the British spell it moulding): Horizontally placed strips of wood, plaster or plastic, used as decorative trim on a wall, either at the junction of the floor and wall, ceiling and wall or midlevel at chair height. Also used to trim doors and windows. Available in simple one-piece designs or more elaborately curved profile designs. Carved or molded plaster was original, followed by wood and plastic, and it remains the most expensive.

Plinth blocks: Victorian-themed transition molding element used at the base of door and window casing or in fireplace mantles.

Rosette blocks: Victorian-themed transition molding element used at the top of the door and window casing or in fireplace mantles.

Wainscoting: A type of paneling applied from the floor to chair level to protect the walls from heavy furniture. Painted, it gives the room a formal look; stained, it provides a country ambience. Generally, the lower the ceiling, the lower the wainscoting should be placed.

- Barbara De Witt


5 photos, box


(1 -- cover -- color) Molding mania

Decorative trims an easy, inexpensive way to bring new look to the old homestead

(2 -- 3 -- color) This Victorian home, above, boasts wide molding around doors, with a 3 1/2 -inch plate rail on all the walls. At left, molding can be added as crown molding or as this plate rail, with matching molding over the pocket door.

(4 -- color) Stairwell molding, painted or stained, can enhance an area's visual flow.

(5) A ceiling medallion adds a nice touch to ordinary light fixtures.

Photos by Craig Mailloux

Box: Nailing down the terminology (see text)
COPYRIGHT 2001 Daily News
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 2001, Gale Group. All rights reserved. Gale Group is a Thomson Corporation Company.

Article Details
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Title Annotation:L.A. Life
Publication:Daily News (Los Angeles, CA)
Date:Feb 24, 2001

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