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Archive | Installation & Design Tips

Short posts on all of my tricks of the trade for designing and installing moldings.

Wall Frame Moldings and Electrical Outlets

picture frame molding

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

I was digging around in my photo files and looking for something short and sweet to write about, when I found this MDF frame I built around this wall plug.

When laying out wall frame moldings in a room (I used PM-014 to make these wall frames), you will more than likely have to make the pattern take priority over what limiting factors the moldings are going to run into, like electrical outlets and air return vents. Which also means you’ll have to get creative solving problems like this one.

The frame, made from 1/2 MDF, acts as a kind of plinth that allowed me to dissolve the wall frame moldings into the plinth. I also installed an arch shield to maintain the fire safety of the electrical box.

wall moldings

The room turned out even nicer than I had imagined, and is still one of my favorite projects I’ve ever done.

chair rail molding

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 (Wikipedia link), 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 (external link), 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!

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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.

Kitchen

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.

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Wood Molding Warpage: A Warning

poplar baseboard

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

If you are going to use a tall, single-piece baseboard like the one pictured above, then you need to know about warpage.

I had to deal with it when I used the above molding profile (BB-002) while wrapping it around the pilaster bases of FIREPLACE MANTEL-103.

First of all, keep in mind that this is a high-quality poplar baseboard I picked up at a really good lumber yard, and not an inexpensive finger jointed pine product.

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Return Your Chair Rail On Top of Door or Window Trim

chair rail return

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

Historic Example, 1928

When your chair rail pattern projects beyond the door or window trim, then the proper way of installing it is to return it on top of the casing and not butted into it.

This example I found in the historic Allen House in Birmingham, Michigan. The chair rail is a two-piece design and acts as the wainscoting cap as well, though you will often find it as a stand-alone chair rail.

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A Room With a Blue. French c. 1760-70

french room

Photo courtesy of Greg Roth.

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

These ornate wall panels and ornaments were taken from a château near Amiens, France, and then somehow found their way to the Detroit Institute of Arts and reassembled.

I’m posting this beautiful room for two reasons:

  1. I love blue and white rooms.
  2. Because the ornaments over the doors are made from paper mache!

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Oh Happy Day, Ken Gets a Brand New Miter Saw!

Dewalt DW715 12″ Compound Miter Saw For $179.00

dewalt miter saw

My new saw is on deck duty to start, but eventually it will produce some new molding patterns for you.

Super Happy True Love Saw Story

My first professional-grade miter saw was a Dewalt 705 dual bevel miter saw. It was twelve inches of spinning perfection, and I loved it. It cut like butter.

I bought it way back in the year 2000 or so, and it served me well day in and day out until, seven years later, I reluctantly sent it in for an emergency overhaul when the on/off trigger finally gave up the ghost.

Without a second thought I went straight from the Dewalt service center over to Home Depot and bought the newest version of the same saw, because you know, you can never have too many saws.

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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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The Wonderful World of Plinth Blocks

plinth block information page

This traditional style plinth block comes already shaped from the lumber yard — just cut to length and install.

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The Only Finish Carpentry Book You’ll Ever Need

how to install moldings

The one to buy, Trim Carpentry Techniques.

If you’re looking for just one book on finish carpentry tools and techniques to rely on, then I’d have to point you to Trim Carpentry Techniques.

Authored by Craig Savage, one of the most-published finish carpenters in the business, this current edition of Trim Carpentry Techniques shows you the right way to use molding installation tools like table and miter saws, biscuit joiners and nail guns.

It’s the only finish carpentry book you’ll really need, and it’s the primary reason I don’t go into much tool use detail here on The Joy of Moldings, because Taunton’s stable of authors like Clayton DeKorne and Craig Savage have got that covered.

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Fun With Flat-Stock! MDF Board for Decorative Molding Projects.

lowes home improvment home depot mdf board

MDF board for our kitchen wainscoting cut to size on a panel saw.

[This is part of my DIY Molding Inventory and How to Install Moldings pages.]

The core of the architectural details that I like to make is this stuff, Medium Density Fiberboard, or MDF.

It’s an engineered wood product — so says the product literature on it — which simply means wood fibers glued and pressed together.

But for the molding projects you and I are going to use if for — wainscoting, baseboard, crown molding and door trim — it means these important things Continue Reading →

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The Lawyer and the Lute

A Short Tale of Moldings & Music

front door moldings and trim

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

The point finally came in this project when I could put away all the noise-makers — the saws and sanders and dust collectors — and turn on some music.

I never play harsh music when I’m at someone else’s house, so NIN, Fatboy Slim and Pearl Jam were out, while Mozart, Bach and Vivaldi were in.

Besides, it’s really just classical music that I want to listen to while I spend the many days needed to prepare complex rooms like these for paint.  And it was during this phase of the project that I learned about my friend’s deep knowledge and love of classical music.

My friend, an international patent attorney by day, but classical aficionado at night, would pop his head in now and then and say something like, “Mozart, Concerto Number 3, Third Movement,” and then pop back out again, only to return later with, “Purcell, Chacony in G Minor.”

Each time my response was the same.  I’d stop what I was doing and go check the CD case because I usually had no idea if he was right.  He always was.

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Corner Blocks for Dave’s Living Room & Foyer Archways

easy to install moldings

A center panel can break up a long run of molding on wide archways.

Other Posts in Dave’s Series

  1. Dave’s Kitchen Crown Molding Challenge
  2. Dave’s Foyer Moldings
  3. Corner Blocks for Dave’s Living Room & Foyer Archways

Hi Ken,

Once again I am very grateful for your help!

Corner Blocks

Q  When using corner blocks, is it better to use casing with a symmetrical profile?

I hadn’t even thought of this until you mentioned that the rosette corner blocks installed in my living room were Victorian style.

Although I had reviewed your Door Trim Gallery several times in the past, I reviewed it again with a focus on corner blocks and  noticed that all the casings used with corner blocks were symmetrical.  I’ve also noticed the same thing on other website photos of rosette corner blocks.

I’ve attached a few photos of our favored symmetrical and tapered casing profiles that have been increased in width and depth using back band or strips of flat stock.  The thought was that we could use one of these basic profiles but vary the width depending on where we use it.

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Frankentrim: “You Get What You Pay For” or “Beware the Low Bid”

simple door trim moldings

Use a miter saw not an ax.

[This is part of my Hiring a Finish Carpenter Tips series]

I like to keep things very positive on my blog, and so I prefer not to critique other carpenter’s work because we all work at different experience levels. But if you are going to hire someone to install your moldings, you should expect at least a minimum level of craftsmanship.  After all, finish carpentry is all about attention to detail — that’s what you’re paying for.

The following examples of “professional” molding installations should serve as a warning to you that not all who call themselves finish carpenters share the same definition of finish.

Above  The contractor on this project said his crew could trim the French double doors they installed.  Looking at the quality of their finish skills, I’m surprised they ever managed to get the door installed.  Or get paid.

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Hiring a Finish Carpenter Tips

finish carpentry

On our blog we call basic production moldings “trim carpentry. Upgraded trim we refer to as “finish carpentry.”

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

Not everyone has the time or desire to install their own moldings.  So I’m writing this series of posts for those of you who will contract the installation of your moldings some things to consider before you open the phone book or Google a local contractor.

The Most Important Thing

It will always be up to you to verify that your finish carpenter is licensed, insured, reliable, and capable of performing the quality of workmanship you need in a safe and timely manner.

Posts in This Series

  1. How Much Does a Finish Carpenter Charge to Install Moldings?
  2. $400.00 a Day.  Why Finish Carpenters Charge so Much
  3. Frankentrim: You Get What You Pay For

Finish Carpentry vs Trim Carpentry

I like to make a distinction between basic production moldings — the kind you want to get rid of — and upgraded moldings, the kind that make you go ooh and aah!

The differences I assign the two terms is my own convention.  This way we have some way to distinguish between the two very different types of molding installations, and the skills required of the contractor performing the work.

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