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April 18, 2017 > Interior molding: ItÕs all in the details

Interior molding: ItÕs all in the details

By David R. Newman

Decorative molding (or moulding) has been in existence since the time of the Greeks, a technique to add contrast and definition to a structure, both inside and out. In modern homes, it not only creates an aesthetically pleasing design, but also fulfills the practical purpose of covering gaps between surfaces.

Most new homes in the Bay Area come standard with interior molding already installed. This can include crown molding (which covers the junction where wall and ceiling meet), base molding (or baseboard, which covers the junction where wall and floor meet), and casings (the molding around doors and windows).

Many older homes go through remodels where owners install molding to add value and character. Says Brian Neesham of Bay Area Molding & Door in Fremont, ÒThere are a lot of reasons why people get new molding: new floors, new doors, facelifts before selling, modernizing, new construction, etc.Ó

But with a seemingly endless array of styles and materials to choose from, the world of molding can often be confusing. Says Neesham, ÒWhen people come in and see over 50 different samples, itÕs very overwhelming. We can help by asking, ÔHow big is the house? How big are your doors? How big are your windows? How tall is the ceiling?Õ Knowing these numbers can help bring the number of choices down to a manageable number.Ó

It all comes down to proportion. By following basic design principles laid down by the ancient Greeks, homeowners can quickly determine their best options. For example, for an eight-foot ceiling, a molding with a height of three to five inches is recommended. For a nine-foot ceiling, five to seven inches looks best. Says Neesham, ÒIf crown molding is too big, it feels like the ceiling is coming in more, it feels shorter. Baseboard is more flexible since itÕs often hidden behind dressers, beds, couches, etc.Ó

Molding can be made from a variety of materials, but here in the Bay Area the three most popular choices are Medium Density Fiberboard (MDF), Finger Jointed (FJ) Pine, and natural hardwood. MDF is engineered from a combination of wood particles and resin, creating a wood-like product that is the most affordable option. It comes pre-primed and ready to paint. A newer subset of this material called Ultralight MDF is easier to use and more water resistant.

FJ Pine is made from recycled wood joined together to create a long, continuous piece (16 feet is a common length for crown molding and baseboards). This material also comes pre-primed, is more durable than MDF, but costs a little more. Homeowners often use FJ Pine for the baseboards, which take most of the everyday wear and tear.

Hardwoods are the most expensive and are often used in homes where a natural, stained wood look is desired. Common species include Fir, Redwood, Oak, Poplar, Cherry, Maple, Mahogany, and Alder. Other molding materials include plaster, polyurethane (less expensive than wood), PVC (best for bathrooms, limited designs), Flex (rubbery), and polystyrene (lightweight, glued on).

Moldings are grouped into families that follow the architectural style of the home, such as Colonial Revival, Georgian, or Federal. Many of these homes have dramatic molding features, like coffered ceilings, wainscoting, and cased openings. Here on the West Coast, the Craftsman style is extremely popular, with its clean, simple look.

Is installing molding a DIY project? If you have the right tools and skills, it can be. And there are plenty of resources available to homeowners who want to learn. Just keep in mind that there can be variances in a wall or ceiling, and achieving that perfect fit is often trickier than it first appears. Don Utley, owner of Apple Blossom Moulding and Millworks in San Ramon, offers this advice for beginners, ÒCut templates, take measurements, and make a map. Start at the least used room and work your way to the room your family occupies most.Ó

The main cost of molding doesnÕt come from the material itself, but from the labor. Says Neesham, ÒIn general, 25 percent of the square footage of your home is about how many linear feet of molding you will need. So, for example, if you have a 1,800-square-foot house, you will need about 450 linear feet of molding.Ó Basic molding costs roughly 80 cents to $1 per foot.

When deciding on where to purchase molding, local independent companies give you much more for your money than places like Home Depot or Lowes. They can help guide you through the decision-making process and give you samples to try out at home. Many have access to their own mill so they can customize any design. Some will pre-paint the material for you, and some can do the installation themselves.

Investing a little time and money into decorative molding can really beautify your home. As they say, itÕs all in the details.

For more information, contact Bay Area Molding & Door at (510) 657-3667 or, and Apple Blossom Moulding and Millworks at (925) 820-2345 or

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