A Remodeler's Guide To Interior Trim Moldings and Finish Carpentry


Choosing Interior Trim When Remodeling a Home

One of the best ways to add an element of luxury, depth, and detail to any room in your home, is through the use of interior trim. From baseboards to casings, crown molding, and railing, trim gives your room a finished look that can bring a room to life! From Victorian homes with that signature gingerbread look to Mission or prairie style homes where function takes priority, to streamlined modernist homes with simple understated elegance, the choice of interior trim style can make or break the success of the design.

There are many different types of interior trim molding, styles, and materials available. Not everything is clamshell. Let's take a closer look at interior trim molding. Knowing what each type is and what it is used for will help you discuss your options when working with a designer on a home remodel or new home construction.

The Many Types of Interior Trim Molding

From floor to ceiling, there are a number of types and styles of molding that can add an element of depth and design to any room. Here they are, explained from bottom to top.

Base Molding

Also called baseboard is used where the walls meet the floor. It covers gaps between the floor and wall and provides protection from swinging doors, vacumes, and furniture. It's typically composed of three individual elements, a shoe– a beveled section that transitions from baseboard to floor, the baseboard, and the cap– the ornamental section at the top. Today, one piece molding is available that is easier to work with, and cost-effective.

Chair Rail

Moving up the wall, the next decorative element we come to is the chair rail. Functionally, it is meant to protect your walls when furniture is placed against them. Generally, about 36-inches from the floor, where you place your chair rail depends on keeping proportionality between the upper and lower portions of the wall.


The space between the baseboard and chair rail can be simply painted (or wallpapered), or panels called wainscoting can be installed. Panels can be simple wood, beadboard, raised panels or horizontal boards. The finish can be painted, or match the wood trim. Wainscot is typically found in traditional kitchens, dining rooms, and bathrooms.

Window Casing

Window casings are typically made up of individual elements for the top bottom and sides. Because each piece is separate, the trim can be intricately detailed and articulated. Casings can include a horizontal piece called a stool finished below with a second piece called an apron. A stool can be shallow or deep. For example, a deep stool in the kitchen can hold fresh herbs for use in creating your meals.

Door Casings

Like window casing, door casings come in three separate pieces (there's no bottom piece). While not a hard and fast design rule, typically door and window casings will match in terms of style. Craftsman style window casings will typically be paired with Craftsman style door casings. Sometimes to create a dramatic effect door and window casings in the same family may be scaled differently.

Picture Rail

As we get towards the ceiling and the crown molding, there's another trim element called a picture rail. Originally in older homes, this was used to display pictures, dishes and other artwork since plaster walls didn't take picture hangers or nails well. Today, it's used more as a way to divide the wall into horizontal layers.

Plate Rail

Though not always close to the ceiling, a plate rail is basically a shelf that can be used to display a collection of objects. Depth can range from very shallow (slightly wider than a picture rail) to quite deep if you have large objects to display. A plate rail's location will determine it's depth, with wider rails higher up on the wall.

Crown Molding

Where the wall and ceiling meet is where the crown molding is placed. Like all of the other types, the choice of profile, style, and size can vary widely. Crown molding is used to soften the transition between wall and ceiling, between the vertical and horizontal planes.

Interior Trim Materials and Finishing Options

Interior trim is available in several materials and grades. Natural wood molding is a great choice if you are planning on staining your woodwork. Other materials can include resin and composite in both raw and pre-primed versions.

The grade or quality of interior trim is generally broken down into two categories, stain grade, and paint grade. The grade you choose will depend on its location, whether you want to paint, stain, or leave the wood natural, and how much you have in your budget.

Stain-grade is solid wood and generally much more expensive than paint-grade. Typically stain-grade is used for crown, mantels, and staircases where natural wood can add a dimension of interest to a space. Moldings like door casings, window casings, and chair rails are generally made using paint grade trim so they can be finished to match the wall color. This keeps the room looking light. Natural wood tends to be darker and absorb light.

Interior trim can add depth and dimension to a home, turning a plain room into an elegant finished space. Make sure that you are working with a skilled craftsman when installing trim in your home. It is a precise installation that has an artistic element. Your designer can offer you choices that can fit your interior design perfectly and enhance the beauty and elegance of every room in your house.

If you are considering a new home or remodeling project, give the design experts at Forward Design Build a call. We've been helping our Ann Arbor clients build and remodel homes since 1997. Click here to learn more about our design-build process.

Forward Design Build is a residential design-build firm in Ann Arbor, Michigan that is known for its commitment to craftsmanship and communication. We are committed to improving our neighbors quality of life with inspired design and creative remodeling. Our homes are highly functional, exquisitely beautiful, and remarkably comfortable. Contact us to speak with an expert about your new home or remodeling project.