Ask Katie: Thoughts on interior trim

Q: I would like to upgrade the builders’ grade trim package in our center hall colonial home. Faced with all the different molding choices at the lumber yard, it is very difficult to make a selection on the size and scale. Our home has 8-foot ceilings and I would like to add a crown, chair rail, new base, and window and door casings. How large can these moldings be before they start to look out of scale with the 8-foot ceiling?

Dave from Wheaton, IL

A: The way you’ve phrased your question suggests that you’re already on the right track. Selecting trim that is aesthetically appropriate to your space, while in proportion to it, is the key to a successful upgrade.

Since your home is a “center hall colonial” you may be looking for more traditional trim options. These are typically comprised of multiple components for each location and are generally larger than more contemporary alternatives. Since I suspect that yours is a newer “colonial”, not an antique, you needn’t slavishly reproduce period details. I recommend keeping it simple and elegant.

Consider a two-part base that consists of 1x6 flat stock plus a molded cap or quarter-round. You might use a window/door casing comprised of 1x4 flat stock, plus a back band or 3/8 inch inner bead. If you have bullnose window sills, you may want 1x4 aprons. The chair rail could match the apron detail, or even align with it if the window sill height isn’t too low or too high. The chair rail height should relate to its function, protecting the wall from chair backs; three feet or below often works. Don’t go overboard with the crown. Choose one that has more ceiling coverage than wall coverage since your ceilings are fairly low. Group it with flat stock against the wall, or for a dressier look, include a bed mold and intermediate fascia. The total cornice assembly (crown + fascia + bed mould + flat stock) height could be an inch or two less than the total base assembly height.

For more information about choosing trim for ceiling heights of eight, nine, or ten feet, check out a design column that I wrote on the subject for the Journal of Light Construction, available on their website.

by Katie Hutchison for the House Enthusiast

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