crown molding stacked in store shelves
Photo: Erika Larsen
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The Alphabet of Architecture

A popular 18th-century building text described molding as the "alphabet of architecture." On the surface, these carved-wood pieces are mere decorative strips, but they have a more complex purpose. Through the play of light and shadow across their profiles, they soften the transitions from a wall to the adjacent windows, ceilings, floors, and doors.

Shown: Mills keep stock molding on hand, organized by 4-digit numbers (visible on the end grains of some of these samples). Many of the profiles and their codes haven't changed since they were introduced in millwork catalogs in the late 19th century.
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