Decorating with Plaster Moldings

Want to add new moldings to your home? Or restore ones which may have been lost in renovations? Our expert guide covers everything you need to know about choosing, restoring and installing moldings.

What are the Different Types of Moldings?

As well as their aesthetic value, helping to define period styles and the status of homes, or even individual rooms, most moldings fulfil practical purposes, too.  Skirting protects the foot of walls and acts as a line of defense against the vacuum cleaner. Dado rails were originally fitted to stop the backs of chairs scraping surface finishes, but still serve to break up blocks of color and wallpaper patterns. Moldings around doorways, or architraves, also add protection and can turn a mundane opening into a welcoming entrance.

Coving or cornicing is perfect for mirroring skirting and hiding joins and cracks between the ceiling and wall, but it can also help large rooms appear less clinical and more intimate. In ornate interiors, a cornicing may be complemented with a decorative frieze running beneath.

How to Choose Moldings to Suit Your Home

Moldings can be as clean-lined or as opulent as you desire but staying true to the style of your home and its period, as well as creating a balance in the proportions of the moldings, is the key to success. Imposingly large moldings in a small space will look overdone, but in a vast room you can afford to be bolder; most off-the-shelf moldings are available in more than one size. Also bear in mind their depth: if their protrusions differ too much, they will look unbalanced. The status of rooms is important to remember when renovating a house, as elaborate reproduction moldings introduced into informal areas can seem out of place. Adding moldings where none would have existed can also upset the proportions of a room. Removing original moldings can have a similar effect. It is always worth looking for any telltale signs that might indicate where moldings were used. For example, when wallpaper is stripped away, patched nail holes or parallel lines of paint on the original plaster may reveal the position of long-lost picture and dado rails.

Materials for Moldings

In Victorian times fibrous plaster became the traditional material for producing moldings, and it is still popular today for its superior appearance and texture. Plaster is perfect for moldings, as it can be used for both mass-produced and bespoke designs, and can easily be resized and shaped in the production process; however, it is usually more expensive than modern versions and also more difficult to install.

There are alternatives that some manufacturers like Stuc Nola are also competent in using, such as polyurethane, GRP and glass fiber-reinforced gypsum. Wood is another popular molding material, as it brings warmth to the interior and can be beautifully carved into ornate designs. It tends to come unfinished so you can either varnish or paint it.

How to Repair Moldings

When undertaking renovation or repair work, try to avoid removing moldings as plasterwork easily crumbles, and timber splits and chips. Where removal is necessary, photograph, number and note the position of all sections so that they can be correctly returned later. Moldings were often made up of various pieces to create the desired size and look. They were also sometimes composed of a combination of materials, so it is important to try to understand how the moldings were formed before starting renovation work.

Timber: Where timber moldings must be removed, gently tap an old chisel under the edge then, using a block of wood to provide leverage, gently prise the molding away from the wall. Take care not to damage the face of the timber while removing the nails. Screws and wall plugs are ideal to use when replacing items. 

Plaster: Plaster detailing can be fragile and great care should be taken during building and repair work to protect it. Ceiling decorations, in particular, are vulnerable to vibrations, so may need to be supported. The way plaster moldings were made varied: originally items like cornices were ‘run’ in situ with further ornamentation added separately in the form of ‘enrichments’ cast in molds. Later, fibrous plaster was used. This is formed from plaster, hessian and timber laths, which meant that items could be cast on a bench, with the prefabricated sections subsequently fixed in place.

Minor damage may be repaired with a proprietary filler, while plaster of Paris is ideal for larger repairs. However, plasterwork requires considerable skill, so it is advisable to employ a craftsperson where significant or intricate work is required.

Where to Buy Moldings

Most polystyrene and timber moldings are available from DIY stores, timber yards and specialist suppliers. Lengths of plaster moldings in almost every style conceivable can also be found online from specialist companies. Cornice tends to be available in standard lengths, with 3m being a popular option. If you are looking for moldings to match original designs already in your home, or for something more specific, specialist companies will make them to match, or will run them in situ, either from plaster or glass-reinforced gypsum. Another source is architectural salvage yards; it’s worth taking a section of what you are trying to match when searching.

We hope this guide is somewhat useful to your efforts in bringing a touch of class to your home. Share your experiences in the comments below.

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