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How High Should the Entablature or Overdoor Frieze Be?

craftsman overdoor frieze

My Craftsman/Art Deco hybrid door surround with Art Deco ornaments above the frieze.

[This is part of my How to Install Moldings series.]

Jay commented on Before & After: Will’s Bathroom and Window Trim, and asked a very simple question that I’m shamed to say I should have addressed long ago:

Can anyone tell me an easy way to find the correct proportion for the entablature?  I’ve tried to research this on the web, but it seems like most sites want to give a history lesson and I walk away not knowing anything more than when I started.

Ken’s Short Answer

About 4″.

Ken’s Long-Winded Answer

There you have it, Jay.  That’s the basic height I use for the frieze on most of my door and window entablatures, even long ones.  I may adjust up or down depending on what I want, but 4″ high is a good starting point.

Focus on the Frieze

I’m going to focus on the frieze height in this post, because the height of your entire entablature is ultimately dependent on the moldings you stack around it.

There are exact rules of scale and proportion that classical architectural historians can explain, but we want to avoid the history lesson for now and just focus on some general ideas and lots of examples that will get you going in the right direction.

After all, we’re not trying to create museum pieces here, just nice molding that don’t cost too much for our homes.

The picture below shows Will’s bathroom window trim, and it looks like he made it about 3″ tall, perhaps a little less.

overdoor frieze height

I strive on The Joy of Moldings to use the most accurate terms for moldings I can find.

For terms that I just can’t find a specific vocabulary for I make up my own, like I did with flying crown molding.

craftsman style entablature with frieze

I based the frieze height of this Craftsman entablature on a molding pattern book published in the mid-1920s.

But like you said, Jay, it can be hard to sift out the specifics when either too much information is given, not enough information, or, because this is the internet after all, just plain wrong information.

What’s that Thing Above the Door Called?

Entablature or Overdoor.

overdoor frieze with palmett appliques

One of my Greek Revival entablatures or overdoors with corbels and appliques on the frieze.

That’s what the whole buildup is called.  Classical architecture has specific words for each component that make up the entablature, and the portion you are asking about Jay is called the frieze.

You can see a more detailed breakdown of all parts of a door surround, top to bottom, here at our DOOR TRIM-114 page.

entablature french provincial decore

This is a swan’s neck entablature because of the graceful scalloped ends. I’m anxious to make more of these!

The entablature is often mistakenly called a pediment, which is a separate, unique treatment.

It is also mistakenly called a door header, which is a structural component of the framing.

How do I Calculate Frieze Height?

dining room moldings with frieze on archway

This, my favorite kind of entablature for large doorways or archways.  It sits on top of an eared architrave. The frieze is decorated with rosette, scroll and lions head woodworking appliques.

My 4″ starting point is based on what’s called the Golden Ratio, also called the Golden Rectangle.

I deviate from it as I see fit, as have craftsman for the last few thousand years, but it is almost always my starting point.

Historic Molding-Watching

I know I’m being somewhat vague about how to come up with frieze dimensions.

That’s because I don’t have a formal education in any of this, so I don’t have a formal way of presenting the information.

I am an enthusiastic amateur at best, at worst just a copycat of what craftsman created in the past that we still love today.

neoclassical frieze entablature

A neoclassical entablature at the Detroit Institute of Arts.

This Neoclassical door surround at my beloved Detroit Institute of Arts partly inspired me to create the door surrounds in the picture below.

My original intent was to keep the frieze plain like the original, but we ended up making it highly ornate (See the ornaments in the final version all the way at the bottom of this post here).

how to build an overdoor or door header

A Neoclassical door surround that started out with this simple frieze, but ended up richly ornate.

Of course, this is one of the reasons I started this blog — to help sift out all of the good and bad information about decorating with moldings and distill it into something that makes sense that we can act on at home.

overdoor with no frieze

An example of an overdoor with no frieze at all.

entablature with no frieze

A simple, subordinate (dissolved) overdoor made from crown molding solved the issue of limited height avoiding bumping into the crown.

These two overdoors above and below were inspired by historic moldings I’ve seen in homes and public buildings all over the world.

crown molding over door trim

The crown molding over this door trim is wrapped around a core of 1/2″ thick mdf flat-stock.

But ultimately, I simply love the moldings in historic homes, and so have stared at them long enough that it helps me improvise when I create my molding patterns.

All of my moldings designs have to pass this test:

Does that look like it came out of a historic home?

If the answer is no, then I make an adjustment or start over.  I don’t always nail it — there are many patterns that I would never show you because I ultimately failed at what I was going for — but it is my ultimate goal.

how to install front door moldings with frieze

This design was inspired by an historic home in the charming town of Romeo, Michigan, where I used to live.

Above  This is a hooded entablature, meaning it has a soffit that projects above the frieze.  Look closely at the frieze.  Notice the molding has a convex profile?  That is called a pulvinate molding.  The center panel is painted in cameo, and the whole entablature rests on an eared architrave.

Victorian style overdoor with plain frieze

A simple Victorian entablature I installed in a new ranch house.

Victorian Friezes

A common trait of Victorian era entablatures (and other moldings in this period) is their height.  They tend to be taller than their Greek Revival or Neoclassical cousins.

Think of them as being stretched too tall.  The frieze on the Victorian style door surround I built in the picture below could have been another inch taller than this.

But I had a specific ornate applique in mind for it and so kept the frieze height lower to accommodate the rectangular rosette I eventually installed.

Victorian farmhouse overdoor with frieze

DOOR TRIM-114 is Victorian in style and very easy to make.

Below  I built this frieze with these appliques in mind, and so they had a part to play in determining the frieze height.

But don’t let the appliques completely rule, find a design that looks balanced.  Again, that’s where referring back to historic moldings helps so much.

archway moldings with ornate frieze

Since this archway was so large it could accommodate a much larger frieze.

how to install archway moldings with entablature

A corbel entablature with ornate frieze. This was a good solution given the limitations the staircase imposed.

Well there you have it Jay.  I hope this post will help you come up with a frieze height that you’re happy with.

When you’re all finished, how ’bout sending us a pic of what you came up with and we’ll add it to this post?

Good luck Jay!


Architectural Subordination

large and small moldings trim details in same room

How to create molding variety in the same room without sacrificing unity.

[This is part of my How to Install Moldings series.]

Architectural subordination infuses diversity into your decorative moldings by giving you rules that produce both harmony and variety.

Public vs Private and Utility Rooms

The molding patterns in your home should reflect differences among rooms.

Rooms can be formal or informal, public or private, and decorative or utilitarian.  A formal room used for entertaining requires more emphasis and grandeur — think “foyer” while a basement media room should be more relaxed.

This advice may contradict what you may have read or heard; there’s a common myth that your moldings should match throughout the house: same baseboard, crown molding, door and window trim in every room.

In a more subtle, classical arrangement, however, the moldings will differ from room to room, cuing visitors to the mood and function of each space.

Here is a suggested order of room subordination, starting with the most senior rooms:

Foyer, Formal Dining Room and Parlor

Since you receive and entertain guests here, the level of architectural detail should reflect your esteem for them.  The rooms can be equal in rank or subordinated to each other according to your priorities.

Guest Bedrooms, Gust Bathrooms and Hallways

While you don’t have to be showy in these secondary rooms, the moldings in these rooms should give a polite nod to your guests while they are not in your presence.

Home Office

This can be a grand room with paneled walls and a coffered ceiling, or a simple, functional space.  You’ll need to consider how you actually use the room, and whether it’s primarily public.

If you write or balance long columns of figures in solitude, you may want to omit distracting treatments.  If you meet with clients or if it’s visible to guests on the main floor, it’s better considered a public space — show off accordingly.


A kitchen is a cooking work space.  You may eat there, too.  These are potentially messy activities.

It’s strange, then, that the remodeling industry so often persuades homeowners to spend their entire remodeling budget in the kitchen.

As a result, formal dining rooms, parlors and foyers have dwindled from decorative neglect, while kitchens — where grease flies and children eat grapes off the floor — mutate into opulent, and ruinously expensive showrooms.

Remaining Bedrooms

A solid foundation molding package will work here.  Nothing trivial, mind you: big baseboards, substantial door/window trim and a simple three-piece crown molding.

Laundry And Other Utility Rooms

These rooms should be functional and easy to clean, but to preserve unity with the rest of the home, you should still upgrade the moldings.  Start with a 6″ flat-stock baseboard and a 4″ flat-stock door trim.

Master Bedroom

Do whatever you want in your master bedroom.  After all, it shouldn’t be visible from the foyer.

Example #1

The photo below shows the view of my client’s foyer from the main door.  The client choose to subordinate this first archway, which leads to the parlor; the more significant archway to the formal dining room dramatizes the transition from casual to formal.

archways interior moldings living room

It’s not just rooms that are subordinate to each other, but architectural details within a room.

The dining room archway dominates, not simply because it is wider, but because the moldings themselves are proportionately larger.

I accomplished this by doubling the pattern — essentially, layering two archways on the same design.  If the moldings had been identical, they would have looked less significant on the larger arch, not to mention I don’t like to duplicate patterns if I don’t have to.

moldings different size in same room

The largest opening received the largest and most detailed archway.

Above and Below  Note how I used the same individual pieces of molding for each capital, and the same ornate applique, a rosette.  This maintains unity between the two designs.

However, the archway capital in the above picture is larger because I doubled the pattern.  Also, the large pilaster has recessed panels on the inside pilasters whereas the smaller archway (below) has flat-stock — though an ornate applique has been applied as an after-thought.

moldings of different styles and sizes in same room

Same design and molding details on this capital as the larger one, it’s just smaller.

Example #2

Transitions from public to private space can present a challenge, since it would be awkward to carry a crown appropriate for a great room into an upstairs hallway without upgraded baseboards and  door trim (I’ve done it, and will post those pictures in the near future).

Here, the homeowner choose two crown moldings of the same design, but of different scales to mark the transition between great room and upstairs landing.

large and small crown moldings in same room

Same style crown molding styles but on different scales accounts for subordination in their respective rooms.

Example #3

Below  A large, two-piece baseboard that runs through the foyer and living room transitions into a smaller pattern in the back hallway.  This hallway could have had a grand baseboard too, but that would have required we upgrade the door trim as well — and that was not in the renovation budget.

large baseboard in foyer

BASEBOARD-103 makes an easy transition down to BASEBOARD-108.

To achieve architectural subordination, you will need to think explicitly about each room, and how the moldings will transition between rooms.  Done properly, it will communicate the function and mood of each space in a way that looks natural, seamless.

Good luck designing the transitions in your own home!

[This is part of my How to Install Moldings series.]

Let’s hear what you have to say about architectural subordination in the comment section below.


Why Moldings? I Am My Father’s Son

Update: My dad, Herb O’Brien, passed away in late January, 2014, peacefully and at home, right where he wanted to go. He was a wonderful dad, and I’ve missed him every day since.

His last year was quite difficult, and so helps explain my lack of publishing new posts since July. But now with life settling down to a new normal, I’ll resume creating new molding patterns for you to enjoy.

moldings historic architecture

A model of the HMS Beagle my dad built for me, and one of my most used architectural books. Both sit just above my computer as I write DIY molding post for you.

Everywhere my dad lived he would eventually upgrade some of the moldings.  Usually just the baseboards, but sometimes the door trim too.

This came to mind as I stood in the great room of my newly purchased home, the one that started my love of moldings.  “I’m a homeowner now,” I thought to myself, “I can do anything I want to this house.  So what should I do first?  Paint the walls, of course, but what else?  Dad always upgrades the moldings where he lives, maybe I should look into changing the moldings.”

moldings and detail

My dad building one of his sailing ships.

Dad has no particular love for historic architecture, and his upgraded moldings were never more than slightly larger than the old ones, but he loved tinkering with the house on the weekends — a vastly different activity from his day job as an automotive draftsman, sitting at a drafting table all day designing functional parts for Cadillacs.

But as his mobility declined, and with it his ability to take on big home diy projects, he focused more on tending his flower gardens and building model sailing ships, some from kits, and later, as his skills improved, from scratch.

Mention that you served on a particular ship during WWII and next thing you know dad would take a year off from whatever sailing ship he was building at the time and build you a replica of your old ship — configured exactly how it was during the years you served on it.

That’s my dad: Cadillacs, gardens, home improvement and ship builder. He was an all-around detail guy.

Me? Same same: Jet engines, wildlife biology and architectural details.  I am my father’s son.


Finding Happiness in Our Local Lighting Store

sun lighting tucson arizona

Parking lot yoga. It helps her shop.

Our Bathroom Light-Hunting Safari Part 2

By Jennifer

Lighting our half-bath presented a Gordian knot of design challenges: limited space, basic functional requirements, and poor choices at our initial price point.  We can’t expand the bathroom and I don’t intend to give up hope of grooming in there, so price had to give.  We would find a specialty store, thereby resigning ourselves to paying for good materials, thoughtful design and an expert staff.  In this case, it was well worth it.

Continue Reading →


Jennifer & Ken Leave the Big Box

Part 1 of Our Bathroom Light-Hunting Safari

bathroom renovation

I think it’s ugly. She thinks it’s tolerable.

By Jennifer

Ken and I realized yesterday that for weeks we’ve been in the grip of what a friend of mine from graduate school calls the Serengeti Effect.  The Serengeti Effect originally described human behavior in relation to the refrigerator in a graduate housing apartment, but the following scenario may sound familiar even if you don’t write J.D. or Ph.D. after your name.

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My Nesting Material: Books, Not Just Moldings, from Tucson

antigone book store tucson

By Jennifer

To hear recent transplants talk, the only true safety in Tucson lies in retreat along the freeway to Vail or Marana, and the neighborhood where I grew up is a meth-crazed wasteland.  For me, part of nesting has been to reject the hype, return to my old neighborhood, and to think very carefully not just about how to create a peaceful home, but about what’s needed to sustain a community.  Part of the answer, I think, can be found at bookstores like Antigone on Fourth Avenue.

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Half Bathroom Renovation Part 3: Ceiling Rosettes and Border Test Color

woodworking applique round rosette

The small rosette on the right was our first choice, but now we’ve decided on the larger.

Lately we’ve been playing around with the ceiling rosettes and the accent border color dimensions in our half bathroom.

And it’s a good thing, too, because this layout has helped us decide we want a larger rosette than the one we originally chose (the one on the right was our original choice).

The accent border still needs some work, and with any luck I’ll get to that tomorrow.  Once I’m happy with the border I can install the small molding on the ceiling that will edge the border color.

The time it takes to play with these design elements is well worth it.  So try adding some test colors when creating accent borders on ceilings and walls when you install your own moldings.


Warning! is No Longer My Website!

This is the header image from my old blog, I no longer own that domain name, and certainly not the link farm that sprung up in its place.

I just discovered someone has purchased my old domain name,, and threw up a construction-related link farm in its place — apparently to capitalize on the reputation and traffic of that old blog.

So please don’t think that web property has anything to do with us or the original, quality content you enjoy here on The Joy of Moldings.

Cheers, Ken


Nonce Orders. Why There’s a Lizard in the Architecture

column capital nonce order

A regal column capital and a regal horned lizard make up this Tucson, Spanish Baroque facade.

This may be my only chance to seamlessly combine my two greatest passions — architectural detail and wildlife biology — into one post.  And do it without contrivance.

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$400.00 a Day. The Cost of Hiring a Finish or Trim Carpenter

finish trim carpenter

Finish carpenter installing a three-piece crown molding in a large room. Expensive.

[This post is part of our Hiring a Finish Carpenter Tips series.]

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How to Make DOOR TRIM-115 Corbel Entablature Part 2: The Fascia & Crown

corbel entablature molding diy

Posts in This Series

  1. How to Make DOOR TRIM-115 Corbel Entablature Part 1
  2. How to Make DOOR TRIM-115 Corbel Entablature Part 2

Entablatures of this style, a hooded entablature (with both a soffit and fascia) that is supported by corbels, is a mainstay of classical architectural detail.

And since this project is so simple, it’s a great basic lesson on how to build one.  The tips I give here you can apply to many other architectural details for your home.

Now let’s make the entablature hood and wrap it with crown molding.

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Bang, Bang, Psssssssh! Wet Walls & Stud Finders

how to install bathroom moldings

Don’t do what I did. A few notes on wet walls can help avoid calling the plumber.

Think Before you Hammer

I drove the nail through the baseboard with one final, satisfying whack.  And then I heard a faint hissing sound.

Pressing my ear to the wall I listened in disbelief.

Sure enough, the sound was coming from inside the wall.  A hissing sound.  I am such a dork!

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Tucson Historic Building Inspires Our Half Bathroom Project

tucson arizona historic architecture

That’s Jennifer in the alcove waiving you in for a closer look.

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Friday Updates: Half Bath and Posting Schedule

powder room renovation

You there! Have a great weekend!

I’m re-priming the half bathroom for two reasons:

  1. Jennifer was having a hard time visualizing her new color scheme with the old colors still on the walls and…
  2. I want to sketch my layout lines against white primer so I can show you more clearly what I have in mind for the moldings.

So for both of us the white primer is like working on a fresh canvas.

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