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How to Install Crown Molding on Vaulted or Cathedral Ceilings

This Page Shows You Five Examples of Crown Moldings on Vaulted Ceilings

crown molding for cathedral ceilings

[This is part of my How to Install Crown Molding Series.]

Making My Case for Flying Crown Moldings

It was the worst crown molding installation I’d ever seen.

And in a neighborhood that counted Eminem, Kid Rock and the guy that invented the bar code on its tax rolls, making the molding carnage seem that much more absurd.  It looked like scrap lumber hammered in place by unsupervised, sugared-up ten-year olds.  Carpentry more befitting a tree house than a million-dollar showplace.

“We normally build decks,” the carpenter said, as he led me through the garage and into the great room of the house next to the one I was working on.  As we walked I glanced down at the decrepit table saw they were using, and thought to myself that I’d better prepare my best, Jeepers-that-looks-swell! face, because this isn’t going to be pretty.

The carpenter stopped in the middle of the great room and cast a dramatic, self-congratulatory gaze over his crew’s workmanship.  I simply stood in shocked disbelief.  “They’re actually going to pay you for this?” is what I wanted to say, but instead muttered some diversionary but honest praise about the difficulty of the installation, and away from the craftsmanship itself.

It truly was a difficult installation.  These deck builders managed to install a three-piece crown molding, in their own special way, in a cavernous great room with a very high, complex vaulted ceiling.

There are many finish carpenters who’d shy away from a job like that, tell the customer they couldn’t fit it in their schedule.  But these guys actually finished the job, and without sending anyone to the hospital because of the hobbled together ladders and planks they used to access the difficult ceiling, or, more surprisingly, because of that wretched, finger-chomping table saw in the garage.

The point I want to make is this: Even if the deck builders did a fantastic job, the end result would still look messy.  That’s because crown molding does not belong on the chaotic angles of vaulted ceilings.

Most homes are a combination of traditional and contemporary design elements.  People want open floor plans and lofty spaces above them, the response from builders being great rooms, foyers and halls with vaulted ceilings.

But crown molding is a traditional, horizontal architectural detail, and so should not be forced on the contemporary portion of the home.  Crown molding, however meticulously installed and finished on a vaulted ceiling, looks broken, disorganized and confused as it follows the ceiling’s ever-changing direction of peaks and valleys.

Install a Flying Crown Molding Instead

Find a consistent height in your room with the vaulted ceiling — say, 8′ to 9′ high, or follow the lowest point in the ceiling  — and simply run your crown molding horizontally around the room.

You are in effect splitting the room’s vertical space in two, creating a more defined and intimate living space below the crown, and yet allowing you to emphasize the lofty, vaulted space above the crown.

That’s all there is to it.  And it really looks fantastic.

By the way, “flying crown” is not a proper architectural term, it’s one I made up to describe this kind of molding installation.

Flying Crown Molding Examples

Example 1: Parlor

This is a sensible room with vaulted ceilings because the vaults are at least symmetrical.  I installed the flying crown 12′ up, just below where the ceiling begins to pitch up.  The room apex is 14′ high.

room painted red with white moldings

This is still one of my all-time favorite rooms that I designed installed and painted moldings in.

Below  Turn around and you see the other end of the room.  See how well-defined and intimate the living space below the flying crown is?

room painted red with white moldings

The ceiling vaults could have been painted any number of complimentary colors, not just this lovely coral color

Example 2: Guest Bathroom

In the same home is a guest bathroom with twelve-foot high ceilings.  I’ve already written that sitting in that bathroom was like sitting in an elevator shaft.  But installing some large, defining moldings — included a flying crown — and then finished with patterned wallpapers, sufficiently quenched the elevator shaft effect.

bathroom wallpaper on ceiling

This flying crown is made from two simple, inexpensive moldings.

Below  The ceiling before moldings and wallpaper.

guest bathroom wallpaper and moldings

Looking up at the top of the “elevator shaft.”

wall paper on ceiling

Flying Crowns Make Decorating Large Walls Easier

I’ve seen many people vexed over how to decorate rooms with vast expanses of wall.  A common response is to hang some gigantic, expensive multi-media art object to fill the space.

For a few hundred bucks you can install a flying crown molding and then decorate the walls below the crown like you normally would, with normal sized decorating items.

In fact, you don’t even need to install a full flying crown, you can install a simple architrave instead.  An architrave as room divider requires all you do is install a single yet wide piece of molding horizontally around the room.  This is what I did below.

Example 3: Use an Architrave Molding to Divide a Great Room

moldigns for large great room

Example 4: Flying Crown in Home Office

This office is in one of those homes whose ceilings are a riot of compound angles running off in every direction.  The only way to bring some kind of architectural order to this room and the great room (Example 5) just outside its doors, is with a flying crown molding.

diy crown molding

A home office high ceiling that’s difficult to decorate.

diy how to instal crown molding in home office

I don’t have the heart to show you the blood-red color the painters put above this crown.

Example 5:  Flying Crown Molding in Great Room

When your great room looks like a giant wedge, what do you do?  You install a flying crown molding to restore architectural order.

great room with dining room before and after

A dining room/great room combination in need of definition.

great room with vaulted ceiling

Wrapping the crown around the pillars I though was a nice touch.

If I still haven’t convinced you to install a flying crown instead of jacking it around the vaults of a ceiling, then consider this — it’s a lot more complicated to install crown on those compound angles than it is to install a flying crown.

But if you insist, you should know there are angle-finders you can buy that will help you cut those complex miters perfectly.

A flying crown molding is less expensive to install because you’ll use less material, and that leaves you with money for your next molding project.

Whichever way you choose, good luck installing your crown!

Related Crown Molding Posts

CROWN MOLDING-107: Another Flying Crown Molding Idea

Four Ways to Terminate a Crown Molding

How to Return a Crown Molding to the Wall

How to Build a Corbel Return

How to Terminate a Flying Crown Molding With a Finial Return

Why I Don’t Install One-Piece Crown Moldings

Three-Piece Crown Molding: Three Common Mistakes

Great Room Molding Ideas for Marijke and Joel

Crown Molding & Corner Blocks: Do This Not That

[This is part of my How to Install Crown Molding Series.]

14 Responses to How to Install Crown Molding on Vaulted or Cathedral Ceilings

  1. Marijke June 1, 2012 at 9:53 AM #

    Wow, this is really great. I love it. We have a high ceiling (2 story) in our living room and I am having a terrible time decorating. We need to do this…only thing is – the stairs to upstairs is also open to this room. How do you tie in the stairway?

  2. Ken June 1, 2012 at 7:55 PM #

    Marijke: If you email me a few pictures of your stairs/great room maybe we can come up with a few ideas together.

    Follow-up post: Great Room Molding Ideas for Marijke and Joel.

  3. Josh August 21, 2012 at 4:41 PM #

    Installing crown molding on vaulted ceilings is not hard if you have the proper tools and some basic math knowledge. With a compound miter saw and a nice angle finder you can create transition pieces for the corners out of two smaller pieces. If people want crown they should get it and not be swayed because of some other person’s person opinion on how it looks.

  4. Ken August 21, 2012 at 5:04 PM #

    You’re right, Josh, an angle finder will help you install crown right on up the vaulted ceiling — I said as much in the post.

    And of course, people are free to choose if they want to force crown molding up in the wrong direction or not — it’s done every day by professional trim carpenters.

    But here at The Joy of Moldings we try to follow what is a more historically correct use for crown molding.

  5. Carol September 3, 2012 at 6:24 PM #

    I think you just solved my problem. We bought a house and the previous owners put crown molding on the vaulted ceiling – and we just couldn’t figure out why it didn’t look right….I agree with your post – I think we are going to take it down and install in as you suggest!


  6. Ken September 4, 2012 at 7:21 AM #

    That’s really nice to hear, Carol. It’s such a simple, inexpensive solution for rooms with cathedral ceilings — not to mention it’s been done this way for the last 2,500 years of western architecture. Let us know how your project turns out, we’d love to know. Good luck.

    Cheers, Ken

  7. Sara October 1, 2012 at 12:08 PM #

    This is amazing! Finally, there’s hope for my giant walls after all! I have two tall rooms that are fairly open to each other and are in desperate need of some flying crown molding. I definitely need to snap some pictures and pick your gifted brain.

  8. Ken October 11, 2012 at 2:06 PM #

    Bring it on Sara!

  9. Allie O. October 30, 2012 at 7:27 PM #

    Got my answer about crown with vaulted ceilings. However, I have a vaulted end wall with an arched window above the door that will interrupt the crown molding. Any ideas how to install crown in that situation?

  10. Ken October 31, 2012 at 5:36 PM #

    Allie, email me a picture of that problem spot and maybe we can come up with something.

  11. AJ November 8, 2012 at 3:52 PM #

    Hi, looked at these images and they look great. I want to add crown moulding to our great room, which has a vaulted ceiling. I have spent the last couple if days trying to figure out the angles, but your designs make sense. My only concern about the flying crown relates to the size of the room. The house itself is not very big, so I’m concerned about the look. The size of the room is 15 x 30 and the ceiling vaults from 8′ to 12′ at its highest point. Your thoughts…


  12. Ken November 8, 2012 at 7:05 PM #

    Hi AJ,

    If you have not seen this post What Molding Do I Use for a Flying Crown Molding? then check it out. It might help.

    That flying crown molding pattern will fit your room just fine. You can substitue the ogee crown for a cove or anything else that catches your fancy. The absolute best thing to do though is to build a few models of the crown molding patterns you like. Then tack them to the wall and live with them for a few days until you’re sure which one is your favorite.

    If your flying crown can be viewed from above, then I suggest you top it off with a flat-stock cornice like CROWN MOLDING-103.

    Let us know how things turn out!

  13. AJ November 9, 2012 at 7:25 AM #

    Hi Ken,

    Thanks for the information and the link. I discovered this site yesterday and I have already learned so much. So informative, thank you.

    To install the flying crown (“flying crown” sounds like it should be an action hero with super powers!)I know I have to select a mounting height of about 8 or 9 feet. What do I do if 8′ ceiling begins to vault at the same place where I would place the flying crown? I saw a similar example in the image which you describe as your all-time favorite rooms that you designed, installed, and painted moldings in. I can’t quite figure out how to place the cornice piece at that junction.


  14. Ken November 9, 2012 at 8:03 AM #

    AJ, Send me some pictures of the room you want to install the flying crown in so I can help you out better.

    I made up the term “flying crown” because it sort of kind of reminded me of a “flying buttress.” Sort of.

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