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.