how to extreme

Blending Various Molding Trim Styles

Construction How-To, Finish Carpentry, Mantels. Trim, Molding, Trim Carpentry April 27, 2010 Sonia

By Mark Clement


Create a new room look for an old room by blending various trim styles and building a home-improvement design vocabulary.




The Madison Avenue advertising culture categorizes the magazine in your hands as a “shelter book.” Too many shelter books are packed with pretty pictures of homes and a few buzz words, but there’s often not a syllable about how to actually make it happen. As a contractor and homeowner with my own fixer-upper, I’ve been handed my share of pictures cut out from shelter books and been asked: Can you make my dining room look like this?


The answer is usually yes, but in figuring out how to pull it off there’s been an unintended consequence: I’ve built a design vocabulary. And, now that I have it, I use it more than I ever thought. Truthfully, the nuance of design isn’t something I gave much bandwidth to as a young carpenter, but lo and behold, it’s an essential tool. I use it in every client meeting—especially those that involve my own home. More and more I’m called into an empty room (a cube of drywall) and tasked with turning it into something spectacular, and on a budget, naturally.

This is a labor of love because I adore houses, especially houses imbued with the charm of an identifiable architectural style, which I find is usually expressed in trim details. And it’s trim work that brings me to the thrust of this piece: Bolding the Molding is “how-to” heavy, but its ulterior motive is to blend design sensibility with steel-on-wood detail for uniquely crafting new spaces.

While I welcome you to adopt the trim techniques shown here (all I ask is, as Kevin Costner said in Bull Durham, “When you speak of me, speak well”), I hope it fires some synapses to those more esoteric elements of design—stuff like proportion, mass, shadow, light and subtlety. Those elements form the outline of the drawings we “color in” with our miter saws and nail guns.


Crowning Glory

To say there’s a bewildering assortment of crown moldings to choose from is an accurate statement. To narrow the field I walk the aisles of my lumber yard and home center and grab samples of the profiles that jump out at me. Then, I take cut-offs home (or to customers) and put them up in a ceiling corner, step back (or I stand on a ladder while my wife or customer steps back) and we take a look. It’s an effective—and cheap—way to test out different looks, styles and sizes.

A note about molding sizes: Most houses I encounter have an 8-foot ceiling. Whereas higher ceilings afford more design flexibility, the 8-foot height usually truncates the mass of the molding you can use to anything 4-1/2 inches and under. Forcing an oversize molding into a too-small room—while tempting—overpowers the space. And, it comes too close to standard window casings, leaving you barely a sliver of wall space for paint. One way to gain space for a larger crown assembly in an 8-foot tall room is to incorporate trimless windows. (Editor’s Note: Learn how to do this at, by reading Mark Clement’s article, “Add Flare with Trimless Windows.”)

The trimless windows of the house shown allowed room to combine a lovely MDF crown from Lowe’s new EverTrue brand molding ( And, because I had the extra inches above the window, I beefed it up with base-molding backers along the wall and ceiling, delivering just the right mass and shadow line, elegance and detail for this room.


Installing the Crown

The first thing I do in a project like this is to use blue tape to mark the stud locations. This allows me to find the studs quickly without punching holes in the drywall to locate them.

I usually avoid MDF moldings because you can’t cope them, but EverTrue is beefy and can be coped. However, when installing a three-piece package like this I miter all the corners so the joints between the wall-backer, crown and ceiling-backer line up. If you cope them, the joints are off-set and it shows up in the final finish.

When installing a three-piece crown, you apply the layers one course at a time, doing laps of the room with each layer. A small undulation in the ceiling is enough to throw the installation off by a mile if all you do is measure from the ceiling in a few spots. To make sure undulating walls and ceilings don’t wreak too much havoc on the layout, I build a 30-inch long template of the finished assembly and map out each corner and a few spots along the wall.

Even then, I usually have to make compromises to get the miters to fit and the reveals to look just right, but at least I have control points from which to make those compromises.

When fastening the ceiling backer, there are spots where there’s nothing to nail to but drywall. Solve that dilemma by driving nails with a finish gun at opposing angles (think of the nails forming an X shape in the ceiling above). This technique pins the wood to the drywall until caulk takes over.

The longest I could get the Lowe’s molding is 12 feet. I wish it came in 16’s so I didn’t have to scarf two pieces on my long walls. Nevertheless, I have a good system for dialing in scarf joints such that they’re nearly invisible.

The solution is gluing with Liquid Nails and stapling a backer using 1/4-inch narrow crown staples behind one leg of the crown. The backer helps the miters sit nice and flush with one another and provides solid nailing. I also dab the miters with a little Phenoseal to glue and seal them together—but a little goes a long way here. You only want a dab or two to seal the joint when you squeeze the pieces together. If you use too much, you have to squeeze out all the excess creating a mess.