The Fail-Proof Guide to Choosing the Right Baseboard Style for Your Home
When it comes to renovating or designing a home from scratch, baseboards are often cast aside as an afterthought. Sure, you definitely see that slim board at the bottom of your wall—and absolutely clean it when it's looking a little dusty—but you likely haven't put too much thought into this architectural detail otherwise. But here's the thing: Baseboards are an important feature and deserve your attention. "They add visual weight and anchor walls, particularly in large spaces with high ceilings," explains Susan Bohlert Smith of Bohlert Massey. "They can also be a practical element and protect fragile finishes like wallpapers during the floor cleaning process."
A baseboard myth designers hope to debunk? Though they might be common, baseboards aren't a one-style-fits-all feature. (In fact, experts agree that not every space even needs a baseboard to begin with.) To help you navigate this important, but nuanced design element, two experts share important questions to consider when choosing baseboards for your space.
First off, does your home even need baseboards?
Though baseboards give most homes a finished look, Zandy Gammons of Miretta Interiors points out that they're not a requirement. "We just completed a project that didn't have baseboards because our client wanted her home to feel like an art gallery," the North Carolina-based designer explains. "She wanted her walls to be the focus." So, how do you decide if your home actually needs this fixture? While personal preference plays a role, so does your home's overarching design. "It is always dependent on the home's style," Bohlert Smith affirms.
What materials are baseboards made from?
Before you select your baseboard's height, style, and color, determine the correct baseboard material for your space. Though there are plenty of options—for example, PVC or vinyl are excellent moisture-resistant options for outdoor spaces and bathrooms, while medium-density fiberboards are cost-effective alternatives—many designers are partial to wood. "The most common baseboard material is paint-grade wood, but stain-grade wood, ranging from mahogany to pecky cypress, are also used frequently in custom projects," says Bohlert Smith.
However, the key is to select a wood species and grain that will work with your design goals. "When it comes to baseboards, the first question to ask yourself is this: Do you want them painted or do you want the wood grain to show through?" Gammons explains. "That will determine the material you can use." For example, lighter species, like oak and ashwood, are easy to stain or paint, while darker options can shine on their own. Though Gammons says type of wood is less of a concern if you're hoping to paint your baseboards, Bohlert Smith notes that poplar is a fail-safe option. "The typical paint-grade wood is poplar because it is smooth. Although it is not a hardwood, it is dense—so it won't dent like other less expensive paint-grade species would," she adds.
How high should baseboards be?
According to the experts, it all depends on personal preference. While some dwellers prefer a short piece that blends in nicely with your walls, others opt for a longer style that looks like substantial trim. But, for a happy medium, Bohlert Smith says it's important to measure up. "A good rule of thumb is for the overall base height to be approximately the same height in inches as the ceiling is in feet," she shares.
What are the main types of baseboards?
As the saying goes, the devil lies in the details—and your baseboards' small nuances are no exception. Ultimately, each type has specific characteristics, and though it's important to select an option that best matches your design aesthetic, Bohlert Smith says that some styles work best in certain types of homes. "For a grand, traditional home I would choose a simple, flat base with a graceful base cap that creates shadow lines and adds an elegance to the top," she explains. "In more contemporary settings with high ceilings, we go the opposite direction and select a very simple molding profile." You do, however, have options—there are ultimately three key baseboard styles. Flat baseboards are perfect for modern spaces and boast a flat front. Or, consider rounded iterations if you want to embrace a curvier silhouette; also called stepped baseboards, these options have a rounded shape that juts out and back into the wall. And if you can't decide between flat or round? Get the best of both worlds with a sculpted style. This selection has the look of a traditional flat piece with a few decorative touches, such as ridges or scalloping toward the top. And, since sculpted baseboards typically come in mid-height or tall sizing, they're poised to make a statement.
Do your baseboards need moulding?
If you want to give your baseboard the perfect finishing touch, consider adding moulding into the mix. Lovingly nicknamed the "base shoe," this feature covers up any inconsistencies, gaps, or imperfections between your floor and baseboards. Typically, dwellers choose between one of two styles: shoe moulding or quarter round moulding. Though these terms are often used interchangeably, each style has subtle differences: quarter round iterations are always shaped like one quadrant of a circle, whereas shoe options can vary in size and shape.
Should you paint your baseboards a different color?
Once you've selected a style—and a moulding type to match—it's time to give your baseboards a little visual intrigue. "Some people use baseboards to add an interesting flair," Gammon shares. "You can go heavy on the baseboard or you can choose a simplistic, sleek look, which will give the home a modern and clean feel." If you opt for a simple baseboard, Gammon encourages homeowners to consider painting these pieces an interesting color to create depth. Simply put, your baseboards deserve a chance to shine.