Everything You Need to Know About Crown Molding

This prewar staple continues to stand the test of time.

Whether you reside in a home with turn-of-the-century plaster walls or simply want to infuse some prewar charm into a more modern home, crown molding can make a big impact on the look and feel of a space. "It is a decorative detail, often seen around ceiling lines, with design features and patterning used to draw the eye upward," interior designer Breegan Jane says. "It differs from other millwork in that it typically describes the trim used to soften the angled intersections where the walls and ceiling meet."

Unlike other popular molding types—such as baseboards, window trims, and wainscoting—that are often installed to safeguard a surface from damage, Kimberlee Gorsline, founder and principal designer at Kimberlee Marie Interiors, says crown molding isn't necessarily practical. "While those other types of trim add character and definition, they often serve to protect the walls in spaces they might otherwise suffer dings and dents," she explains. "Crown molding primarily adds aesthetic value to a room, more so than functional value." Interested in learning more about crown molding and how to use it at home? From the interior design styles that best complement crown molding to the different material types and more, interior designers share their insight, ahead.

crown molding unfurnished dining room
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Crown molding can complement a variety of interior design styles.

Before the widespread use of drywall in the 1950s, most interior walls were constructed from plaster, a mixture of gypsum, lime, sand, or cement that resulted in sturdy, soundproof walls; ceilings were embellished with ornamental details, including crown molding. "Crown molding is typically associated with classical architectural styles, and it presents a very traditional regality in a home space," Jane explains. While this type of molding naturally lends itself to traditional- and transitional-style rooms, Caitlin Murray of Black Lacquer Design says that this shouldn't deter you from using it in a contemporary space. "In a modern context, it's important to use trim with a clean and simple profile that complements the home," she advises. "You can also add crown molding to one space without [using it everywhere]."

This trend continues to persevere.

Don't let its prewar charm give you pause: Crown molding is every bit as relevant today as it was 100 years ago, says Murray. "I think there's a popular interest in it right now that stems from the popularity of shiplap that started several years ago," she explains. "The shiplap trend started to familiarize people with millwork and how you can introduce depth, visual interest, and richness in character to even the simplest of homes by adding that kind of architectural detail."

Molding comes in an assortment of durable materials.

You can choose from plaster and natural or treated wood molding; Jane says the best type depends on both your budget and where you'll be installing it. "Wood molding is easy to work with, and typically applied close to the ceiling so it's easy to paint or apply any desired stain, finish, or color," she explains. "Plaster molding can be costly, but it isn't as susceptible to temperature or moisture in the environment, so it most likely won't contract or expand like wood can." For an affordable alternative to plaster or wood, Jane recommends molding composed of medium-density fibreboard (MDF). "MDF is a cost-effective option that's extremely durable," she explains. "It's great to use in rooms where you plan to paint the trim."

In some cases, crown molding is even DIY-friendly.

Since crown molding is a decorative element, and not an electrical or plumbing application that requires a skilled tradesperson, Jane says a seasoned DIY-er should be able to install it on their own. "Just make sure you're taking all of the necessary safety precautions with ladders and using a buddy system for support," she says. "Also, make sure you're comfortable with a nail gun, as that's typically how wood molding is applied."

If you aren't DIY-savvy, interior designer Roger Higgins recommends hiring a professional millwork installer or trim carpenter to ensure a seamless installation. "Wood to drywall application seems like it shouldn't be that difficult until you run into an uneven plane of drywall and have a gap in your crown," he explains. "If you want to have perfectly mitered corners around all of your cased openings and ceiling height, it's almost imperative that you hire a professional."

It's affordable.

If you want to incorporate crown molding into a room without breaking the bank, Jane says to look no further than the nearest hardware store. "Your local hardware store typically has rows of various trim pieces from which you can choose," she explains. "You can even have an associate cut the trim pieces to the exact sizes you need if you pre-measure your walls. All you'll need to do then is rent the nail gun, and you're set!" Additionally, interior designer Liz MacPhail says the market is filled with stylish decorative trims composed of affordable polyurethane (be sure to peruse Home Depot's budget-friendly offerings) and PVC plastic—if you're going this route, put Ekena's millwork on your radar ($31.87, amazon.com)—to help you fake the effect of plaster and wood crown moldings for a fraction of the cost. "I suggest making an in-person or virtual trip to Home Depot and scrolling through YouTube," she says.

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