A Remedy for Ugly Trim or Molding

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May 07, 2011 | Linda Merrill

Photo: Linda MerrillThere seems to be a standard philosophy that exposed wood is good and wood trim in rooms is always preferential to nothing. But, is that really true? The fact is that we often see poorly planned and applied trim carpentry in many homes and it can make the space look worse than if it wasn’t there at all. A too skimpy crown molding will look cheap and a thin or poorly placed chair rail will make the room feel awkward.   But is it necessary to rip them out and start over?

David West, owner of Meadowview Construction in Ipswich, MA, offers some great tips on sprucing up and pumping up miserly moldings without breaking the bank.  “When remodeling budgets are stretched it sometimes forces us to get creative.  On a recent bedroom renovation we suggested a simple upgrade to their existing colonial casing using nothing more than a stock back band molding.  Without too much effort we created the illusion of a much wider and deeper casing by just tacking on this small back band profile to the outer edge of the casing.” 

West suggests this same technique can be used to great effect on chair rail moldings as well. While it may be common to see simple Colonial casing used horizontally around a dining, this is often too small a profile causing a feeling of cheapness. West simply raises the height of the chair rail by adding back band molding onto the top of the existing molding, which results in a significantly more elegant and finished look. Additionally, this is a fairly easy and inexpensive upgrade. 

In areas where there is significant stock of older and antique homes, the moldings may have at one time been lovely, but have degraded or been painted so many times that they become eyesores. There are many who find the idea of painting wood to be somehow wrong, but most professionals will suggest that it’s not such a black and white issue. If the wood was not of good quality to begin with, it likely should have been painted. Over time, even the best quality woods will discolor, depending on location and the quality of the original finishes. 

West says that re-staining wood is an easy job, but notes that in some cases the original stains had sealers applied over them. “Sealers will prevent a stain from absorbing into the wood” says West, “so one trick we use is to apply a coat of straight shellac to the old finish. Shellac with stick to just about any surface and will serve as a clear primer over which a darker stain can be applied.”  When it comes to over painted molding, West does not recommend going to the effort of stripping it down, unless the paint is cracked and peeling, possibly the result of an inexperienced painter using paint over a previously stained surface. The work involved is very labor intensive and dirty and best avoided if at all possible.

As with many home repair projects, ugly moldings can usually be spruced up with a little creativity and elbow grease.

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