finishing touch
decorative molding adds elegance

By: Thomas M. Ciesla
Originally published in Houston House & Home Magazine; June, 2002. Article has been reformatted for online publishing

The origins of decorative moulding date back to the structural elements of ancient buildings in Europe and Asia, where moulding was used to support and secure surfaces, or prevent weather from entering between cracks in walls and ceilings. In Medieval Europe, the art of plaster and stone moulding was raised to an unprecedented level of craftsmanship. Though European settlers brought their architectural traditions with them when they colonized North America, shelter was the primary concern, leaving little time for ornamentation. After the austerity of early colonial life, the colonists craved more decorative elements in their homes, creating a demand for skilled artisans to provide decorative moulding. But handcrafted moulding was expensive. As the 19th century drew to a close, handcrafted moulding gave way to a new machine created aesthetic bringing decorative moulding to the masses and prompting the design excess of the Victorian Age gingerbread (1837-1901).

This explosive -- some say brutish -- use of interior and exterior decorative moulding created a backlash that called for a return to the simplicity and honesty of the early designs. Enter the modern house. Architects such as Le Corbusier, and Frank Lloyd Wright used a minimalist approach to redefine the home. Architect Mies Van der Rohe captured the essence of this movement when he issued his oft-cited quote, “Less is more”. During the 1980's and early 1990's, subdivisions across America were filled with houses almost completely void of decorative moulding. Ceilings blended into walls penetrated with openings finished in gypsum board rather than cased openings, creating the 'sheetrock box'. Within a short amount of time, however, homeowners grew tired of this spartan look and hungered for the decorative grace of past eras.

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All photos courtesy of Balmer Architectural moldings

Panel molding adds interest to a wall
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Last Update 11/5/2001

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