Like the icing on the cake or the centerpiece on the table, crown moulding can provide the finishing touch, an elegant detail to turn a humdrum room into a knockout.
It used to be that crown moulding was for the grandest of rooms and could only be handled by master craftsmen; made of plaster and consisting of baroquely ornate details, it could easily crack and break. But the popularity of wood moulding and the advent of new composite materials have moved crown moulding into the mainstream, making it possible for a handy homeowner to install.
A new entry in crown moulding has made finishing and installation much easier: composite moulding, which is generally MDF (medium density fiberboard), plastic or foam. Because composite doesn't have a grain, its smooth surface takes paint better. Installation can be much easier, too; some of the easiest types are even adhesive.
Another way to make installation easier is to use decorative corner blocks. These cover the joint at the inside and outside corners so mitering isn't needed. Decorative blocks generally come as rosettes or plinth blocks, and the pattern can be repeated in doors and windows for a unified look throughout the room.
Before you break out the miter saw, however, here are five things to consider:
Does your room have architectural details that make installation difficult?
Dan Bell of Belbuilt, a Medford installation contractor specializing in interior cabinetry, doesn't recommend moulding on vaulted ceilings, for example, because the shifting angles at the corners make the moulding pieces nearly impossible to join. "I'd take it on a case-by-case basis," he explains, "but generally that would need a very skilled installer."
Will crown moulding fit the style of your home?
"Crown moulding is very traditional. Generally, you use crown moulding to dress something up," says Ginger Lawrence, owner of Ginger Lawrence Interiors of Grants Pass. If your room is a modernist masterpiece of edited minimalism, crown moulding might not be the right choice. Similarly, if your home is very casual, you'll want to stay away from very ornate moulding.
How do you want to finish the moulding?
Moulding comes as paint-grade or stain-grade. "Paint-grade moulding is more forgiving since it can be caulked and painted after installation," explains Bell. With a little caulk in the seam of the joint and some paint to cover, you can hide any less-than-perfect cuts. Stained moulding, on the other hand, shows every flaw and gap.
You might want to finish it yourself before installation. It's much easier to finish moulding on a sawhorse than on a wall.
Decide if you want to use a decorative corner block or traditional installation methods.
If you use a corner block (see sidebar), you'll only need to make straight cuts unless you need to splice two pieces of moulding together end-to-end (a scarf joint).
If you decide to use traditional methods, you'll need special equipment — a miter saw and a coping saw. You'll also want a drill to make predrilled holes for the nails so you don't splinter the moulding during installation.
Remember the old adage: measure twice, cut once.
If you use the traditional method, you'll make coped and mitered joints so the moulding meets at inside and outside corners.
Coped joints are used at inside corners. The first piece butts against the wall while the other is cut at 45 degrees, with the back of the piece cut away so the edge fits tightly. Mitered joints are used at outside corners. Both pieces are cut at a 45-degree angle so that when joined at the corner they meet.
You might also need to make a scarf joint when the wall is longer than the moulding piece. A scarf joint splices the moulding pieces together by cutting them at 45-degree angles and laying one on top of the other.
These cuts need to be very precise, but there are many resources for detailed instructions available through a home improvement store or online.
Whether you choose ornate, traditionally installed moulding or opt for new, easier-to-install versions, moulding can provide a distinctive look that turns a cookie-cutter house into a castle.