Interior wall trim or paneling can add dimension and character to a simple wall, enhancing the ambience of an entire room. The most frequently used kind of trim, found at the wall base, is so commonplace that it can easily be overlooked as part of the room’s overall design. On the other extreme, wainscoting, which often takes the form of raised wood paneling applied to lower half of a wall, can seem like such a bold move that applying it to your own home may seem downright scary. Below is a brief overview of how different trim elements can be used to add character to your home.
The Basics – Using Baseboards as a Design Element
Historically, baseboards, wainscoting and chair rail were all used to prevent the wall from damage. The base trim is the only type of wall trim that is still used for this same purpose, which is probably why it is much more commonplace, still found in virtually every home. If you ram a vacuum cleaner or toy truck into the baseboard, the wood will easily withstand the impact, whereas the drywall is likely to break under a forceful hit.
The base also serves a secondary function of providing a transition between the flooring surface and the drywall. The base tends to cover up the edge of the flooring and the bottom of the wall paint job, which forgives any imperfections in how these two elements meet up.
Now that we’ve covered the functional purpose of baseboard, let’s talk about how baseboard can add to a room’s design. The material, height and profile of the base trim all influence the room’s style and character. The most common materials include painted wood, stained wood, and tile. White painted wood trim can highlight a contrasting wall color making the color “pop.” Stained wood baseboard can be used to emphasize natural woods used elsewhere in the room, such as in your furniture, or outside if you live in a heavily wooded area.
Typical baseboard heights can range from 2 inches to 12 inches, with “average” heights falling between 3 to 6 inches. Rooms furnished in a modern style may have an especially short baseboard painted the same color as the wall so that it is barely noticed. Alternatively, if you want to really draw attention to an important aspect of the room’s character, such as natural woods or tile patterns, you might select an unusually high base. Some experts will also recommend taller baseboard in rooms with especially high ceilings so that the height of the base is proportional to the height of the room.
If you were to cut perpendicularly through a piece of the trim and then look at it from the cut end, you’d be looking at the profile. A rectangular profile typically signals a more modern design style, while rounded or curvy edges suggest a more traditional style. In addition to material selection, trim profile is a small but thoughtful way to add a little textural interest to your room.
Scooting on Up – Wainscoting and Chair Rail
Wainscoting (pronounced “waynes-coat-ing”) is basically any material applied to the lower surface of your wall. Chair rail is a piece of trim used mid-height on the wall. Historically, the chair rail acted as bumper for chairs that could potentially hit the wall when pulled out from a table.
Traditional wainscoting consists of a raised wood paneling, and can look very formal. But just because wainscoting sounds old English doesn’t mean it has to look that way. Using other materials for wainscoting can create a huge variety of styles. Wainscoting basically does a few things from an aesthetic standpoint. First, it influences the perception of height in a space, acting a bit like an empire-waist dress. As a result, how high up the wall you take the wainscoting is an important decision that will determine how the space feels. Second, wainscoting can help define or enclose an area, be it a dining nook or mud room. Third, it can be add texture to any space, large or small. Wainscoting can be also used to emphasize windows located immediately above the chair rail or as a backsplash for a freestanding bathroom tub.
Chair rail can either be used as the trim applied to the top of your wainscoting, or as a stand-alone trim element used without any wainscoting. When used without wainscoting, chair rail is usually part of a traditional design scheme that aims to mimic historic interior design.
The King of All Wall Trim – Crown Molding, Cove Molding & Picture Rail
In most cases, crown molding does not serve any functional purpose, but simply acts as a “crown” to an interior space, as the name suggests. Cove molding forms a curve or arch between the wall and the ceiling. Picture rail is a piece of trim several inches below the ceiling that that also serves to emphasize the top band of the wall near the ceiling. Picture rail often will tie into the window trim or form a stopping point for a paint color. This can be especially useful in rooms with high ceilings that would otherwise be difficult to paint.
Putting It All Together
To successfully add character to your room, the choice of material and profile you choose for one trim element will need to coordinate with the other interior wall trim in the room, include door and window trim. Whether you are looking to create a modern style or historic style will influence how many trim elements are appropriate for your space. Also consider the functional aspects of baseboards and wainscoting when developing design schemes for heavily spaces or wet spaces like bathrooms. If you’re having trouble visualizing how to put all the various trim elements together, and coordinate them with your paint, furniture and other décor, considering reaching out to an interior designer who is experienced in home interiors and can show you what your room could look like with a particular trim design.
This is a guest post by Katie Miller. Katie is an interior architect who regularly blogs about home and interior design topics at Roomations.com.
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