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Don and Beth Cunningham love the Victorian homes of the late 19th and early 20th century—but neither likes the maintenance and upkeep issues often associated with these grand old dames. So the Irvine couple bought a four-room bungalow and set to work transforming their space into an elaborately trimmed but easy-to-care-for “country colonial” with Victorian flair. Their design scheme?

Decorative molding.

Ron Moore, vice president and lumber manager at Norris Ace Hardware Store in Henderson, says that installing decorative molding is a very popular project among the do-it-yourself (DIY) set. It is a skill that is relatively easy to master, and a home-improvement project with endless room for self-expression.

“When you want to dress a room up, decorative molding is a fairly inexpensive and creative way to do it,” says Moore. “And it’s a project that can be completed in a weekend.”

Moore lists some of the possibilities with decorative molding: “crown molding, decorative chair rails, decorative casings around windows and doors, fluted moldings around windows, base moldings, panel moldings, and scalloped trims.”

Adds Lou Manfredini, Ace Hardware’s Helpful Hardware Man and nationally recognized DIY expert: “You can literally transform a home by adding decorating molding. Even if it takes you longer than you expect to complete the job, and even if you make mistakes, it’ll change the look of your home and is a value-added proposition.”

The Cunninghams applied many of those possibilities in their two-decade quest to upgrade and transform their home. Beginning with their front porch and running around the ceilings, floors, and interior windows and doors, the couple installed a variety of styles of decorative molding in their home, now doubled in size to approximately 1,500 cozy square feet with the addition of a master suite.

“The baseboard molding is colonial molding, special ordered because what we wanted was taller than the standard off-the-shelf molding and we wanted an older look,” says Don Cunningham. “We bought fluted casing to go around the doors and windows and bull’s-eye blocks for each corner of the windows and the two above each door.

“It gives the look of a home built around the turn of the (last) century.”

For ceiling trim, the Cunninghams installed 3-1/2-inch chair railing in place of the more traditional crown so that the trim would fit snugly up into the ceiling.

“It’s a more ornate, more finished look,” says Don, who readily admits he prefers the unconventional in room décor and loves to experiment.

In the Cunningham kitchen, for instance, the diligent do-it-yourselfer topped off tongue-in-groove bead board paneling with brick molding, a trim usually reserved for a home’s exterior.

“I wanted something square that would look like it was finishing off the bead board.”

In the couple’s former bedroom—now transformed into an elegant parlor—Cunningham designed and built a pine board shelf that he installed about 11 inches beneath the chair rail molding (in lieu of crown molding) that was installed at ceiling height. The shelf, painted a glossy white to accent the holly berry red walls, measures 6 inches deep—the perfect size to display Don’s antique bottle collection, gathering dust in the attic for nearly 30 years. Cunningham wanted a dramatic trim not only to set off the richly painted walls, but also to punctuate the room’s antique furniture, which displays Beth’s own collection of vintage McCoy pottery.

All the windows and doors (in the parlor and throughout the house) were then trimmed out in fluted casing painted white and given their own accents with bull’s-eye block molding. The parlor, which occupies the space of a former bedroom, connects to the living room, which connects to the master suite.

“We cut a hole into the wall and put in an arched door that enables you to sit in the pale yellow living room and look into the holly berry red parlor,” says Cunningham.

The archway, an aesthetic achievement that added much-needed charm and character to the house, also allows more light into the home and livens up the colors of the adjoining rooms.

“This was not a decorative home when we bought it,” says Cunningham with a chuckle. “It was just a little old country house that had been built kind of like a barn.”

To attain a country colonial sensibility with shades of Victorian overtones that the Cunninghams favored (but without the attendant maintenance issues), Don installed vinyl-coated columns (also considered decorative molding) on the home’s front porch, and then added solid vinyl gingerbread accent pieces. A vinyl picket fence and vinyl arbors add provincial appeal to the overall Victorian effect.

“We basically turned our house inside out.”

Moore offers a word of caution to eager do-it-yourselfers to avoid the most common mistake made in installing decorative molding:

“Measure twice; cut once. People tend to cut the molding wrong. Also, be sure that where you’re nailing the molding that there is something to nail into—a stud or plate. With windows and doors, you nail into the jambs. Be sure you have the molding painted or stained before putting it up. Then, go back and touch it up.”

Adds Manfredini: “We always underestimate how long it will take to do the job. However long you think it will take, double it and then add two days.”

Cunningham doesn’t recall how much time he originally slated for his project. He just knows that he and Beth wanted to personalize their space and kept working on their home until it began to match the picture they both had in their minds.

“After 20 years of working on our house, we’re about finished with it and ready for a sabbatical.”

Do-it-yourself decorating with molding
Gary Yates, the decorative molding expert and mill worker at The Home Depot in Elizabethtown, offers clinics in installing decorative molding to do-it-yourselfers who want to tackle this home-improvement project.

Once trained in technique, Yates says that do-it-yourselfers can save money by selecting and installing their own decorative molding on this eminently doable do-it-yourself job.

The decorative molding category includes, in a variety of styles, designs, materials, and sizes, these types: casing, bases, crown molds, chair rails, panel molds, stick moldings, and columns. There are medium density, already primed fiber boards, various primed or clear wood products (either solid or finger-jointed), and plastic moldings.

The price range varies as well.

“Price depends on how big your house is and how much you want to spend. Crown molding ranges from 89 cents to $5 a foot for more decorative pieces. On an average-sized house, the price might run from 89 cents to just over $2 a foot.”

At The Home Depot, molding styles can be special ordered to accommodate a customer’s personal design preferences, such as multiple tiers of molding, special corners, or molding style combinations.

Decorative molding can be used simply but effectively to define a homeowner’s style and space, whether it is country, modern, art deco (a trend Yates is seeing on the upswing lately), or something else.

“We can show customers how they can put different moldings together to get the look they want. It’s a versatile product. You can create a really individualized look that is affordable.”

Besides crown molding and chair rails—the type of decorative moldings most homeowners are familiar with—there are a variety of casings, door trims, and baseboards, in a natural wood finish and stained finishes.

“We can help with the plan and design,” says Yates. “We show them how to cut the molding. If they don’t want to do the angle cuts, they can buy the corner blocks. They can make their house look any way they want to.

“We can show them how to install columns inside for entranceways or in great-room areas to define the space. This is very easy to do. Of course, most people who do columns pretty much know what they’re doing.”

The Home Depot stores,, offer free clinics covering a variety of do-it-yourself projects on Saturdays. Yates says that if a clinic isn’t being offered on the specific project a do-it-yourselfer is interested in, such as cutting and installing decorative molding, if they come in and ask, “We can show and tell them how simple it can be.”

Spicing up the kitchen with decorative molding
If you’re looking for a manageable, relatively inexpensive solution for a tired or less than dramatic kitchen, kitchen designer Andrea Chapman has two words for you: decorative molding.

The owner of Kitchen Solvers of Louisville, a kitchen and bath remodeling franchise with more than 100 locations nationwide, has made a living out of helping customers revive and reface their kitchen cabinets through the use of a hardwood surface, new hardware, and a variety of moldings: rope, fluted, crown, and decorative feet, among other types.

“Molding is used to enhance, not to overpower,” says Chapman. “You want the molding to reflect the style the homeowner is trying to achieve in the kitchen so that all of the elements work together.”

According to Chapman, the average molding update for a typical kitchen costs in the neighborhood of $200 to $1,000, depending on the type and amount of molding selected. Adding just crown molding to a kitchen will enliven and enhance the space. Refacing cabinetry and then trimming it with molding will not only enrich the cabinets, but will also give the kitchen a whole new look.

Regardless of how simple or detailed a kitchen upgrade with decorative molding, Chapman cautions that the décor and architecture of the home, as well as scale and proportion, must be kept in mind.

“Decorative molding is like the icing on a cake—not the cake.”

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