All About Crown Molding
Highlighting the transition between walls and ceiling, this decorative trim adds character to even the plainest rooms
In the world of trim, crown is king. Lording high over casings, chair rails, and baseboards, it cuts an impressive profile with elegant curves and distinguished angles. It also elevates a room's stature, drawing the eye up to the ceiling and echoing design motifs seen in other moldings to create a cohesive and polished look for the space.
Crown's lineage reaches back to the ancient Greeks, who created the profiles and the rules of proportion that we still use some 2,500 years later. Only the materials have changed. Rather than the original heavy stone, 18th-century American craftsmen opted for more malleable and relatively lighter-weight plaster or wood crown. While these materials are still top choices for traditionalists, today's handy homeowner can also choose moldings made from foam and flexible polyurethane, which go up with greater ease than the Greeks, or even our grandfathers, could have ever imagined—no chisel, trowel, or nails required.
Pictured: White paint in a high-gloss sheen accentuates the carved detail in this wood crown and adds a classic touch to the entry foyer and living room.
Similar to Shown: Custom 9-inch-high cornice in wood, about $7.50 per linear foot; Stark Custom Millwork
At its essence, crown consists of an elongated S profile atop a cove. Adding trim beneath the cove, as shown, creates a cornice, though the entire assemblage is often referred to as crown.
How much does it cost?
Stock primed pine crown molding starts at about $1.50 per linear foot, plaster at about $5, foam at about $3.75, and flexible polyurethane at about $1.
Stock or custom?
Stock profiles are the least expensive and most readily available. Custom work—matching an existing profile or creating a new design—can cost more than twice as much and take up to six weeks to produce.
DIY or hire a pro?
Installing a one-piece crown is a project most detail-minded homeowners can handle. But if a room has out-of-square or curved walls, or if the molding is made of heavy plaster or built-up wood profiles, hire a pro.
How much to buy?
Measure the perimeter of the room, then add 10 to 15 percent for waste; for rooms with lots of corners, add 20 percent.
Lightweight and relatively flexible, this DIY-friendly material comes in 8- to 12-foot lengths and is installed with finishing nails.
Stock paint-grade crown runs about $1.50 to $7 per linear foot; stain-grade woods range from about $1 to more than $10.
Shown: 7¼-inch-high B301 in walnut, about $14.25 per linear foot, plus about $65 custom fee; Baird Brothers Sawmill
Because it's made to order in 6-foot lengths, each hand-cast piece can be richly ornamented with crisp detail. Plaster is heavy and rigid, and usually requires a pro to install it using screws and construction adhesive. Joints are filled with plaster, then the surface must be painted.
Prices range from about $5 to $30 per linear foot.
Shown: 4⅜-inch-high Georgian 2210, about $9 per linear foot; Monumental Construction & Moulding Company
The 8-foot lengths of extruded polystyrene are topped with fiberglass and a thin coat of acrylic plaster. It's light and flexible as wood, as seamless as solid plaster, and DIY-friendly; joint compound holds it in place and fills seams. Like plaster, it has to be painted.
Stock profiles range from about $1.80 to $7.75 per linear foot.
Cast in 8- and 12-foot lengths, it looks like plaster but is lightweight and doesn't require professional installation. Construction adhesive holds it in place; joints are filled with caulk.
Stock profiles cost about $3.75 to $45 per linear foot.
Shown: 4 15/16-inch-high Carmichael Crown 11750, about $9.35 per linear foot; Focal Point Architectural Products
Cast in 8- to 12-foot lengths, it cuts like wood but is much heavier. Can fit a radius as small as 24 inches. Construction adhesive and finishing nails hold it in place. Choose a painted or stained-wood-look finish.
Stock profiles range from about $1 to $17 per foot.
Shown: 4-inch-high paint-grade 126, about $12.75 per linear foot; ZaGO Flexible Mouldings
Keep these rules of thumb in mind when selecting crown for your house.
Consider the room's purpose. Traditionally, crown was incorporated into impressive cornices in public rooms, such as entry foyers, dining rooms, and parlors. The size would remain consistent from one first-floor entertaining space to the next. By contrast, smaller, less elaborate crown was generally used for private spaces—a powder room or bedroom.
Play off the existing trim. Look to your baseboards and door and window casing to determine the right scale. An appropriately sized cornice is either the same height as, or slightly smaller than, the baseboard.
Measure the ceiling height. Ceiling height is the ultimate arbiter of size, according to architect Richard Sammons, coauthor of Get Your House Right. For standard 8-foot-high ceilings, the crown/cornice height should be 2½ to 6 inches; for 9-foot ceilings, 3 to 7½ inches, and for 10-foot ceilings, 3½ to 8 inches.
This crown is paired with crisply milled dentil molding and beaded baseboard.
Shown: 6 ¼-inch-high B209, B009, and B303 in red oak, about $6.65 per linear foot; Baird Brothers Sawmill
In the tradition of ancient Greek and Roman crown, this molding has both acanthus leaves and egg-and-dart detailing.
Shown: 7⅜-inch-high CM391 in plaster, about $22.90 per linear foot; Hyde Park Mouldings
In place of the typical cove, there's a bead beneath the elongated S curve. This crown is solid, making it a good choice in locations that don't touch the ceiling, such as cabinets and casings.
Shown: 2¾-inch-high SC234 in primed pine, about $1.65 per linear foot; Garden State Lumber Products
Delicate acanthus leaves are commonly seen on trim used in Classical Revival–style homes.
Shown: 6¾-inch-high MLD493-12 in polyurethane foam, about $12.50 per linear foot; Fypon
This flexible, paint-grade polyurethane crown is topped with a large bulbous curve, called an ovolo, that creates a clean shadow line.
Shown: 4¼-inch-high 175, about $19.25 per linear foot; ZaGO Flexible Mouldings
Overlaid strips of solid stock form a crown that would complement 1920s Art Deco or even contemporary interiors.
Shown: 7½-inch-high custom profile in maple, about $7.75 per linear foot; Baird Brothers Sawmill
A scene-stealing frieze with a flowering vine motif tucks neatly beneath a rippled crown.
Shown: 6½-inch-high FM311 in plaster, about $14.50 per linear foot; Hyde Park Mouldings
This ancient crown profile is simply a graceful S curve set above a concave-shaped cove.
Shown: 3½-inch-high B302 in hickory, about $3.25 per linear foot; Baird Brothers Sawmill
An angular profile and gem-like geometric pattern recall flapper-era glamour.
Shown: 8⅛-inch-high 2235 in plaster, about $9.25 per linear foot; Monumental Construction & Moulding Company
Clean, simple profiles are often the best choice for a home's more private rooms.
Shown: 3 9/16-inch-high CTR 514 in plaster-covered foam, about $2.35 per linear foot; Canamould Extrusions
To get intricate details like ropes or beads in a wood crown, these components are often machined separately and then inserted into a groove cut into the crown.
Shown: 3½-inch-high B311 in cherry, about $3.75 per linear foot; Baird Brothers Sawmill
This impressive one-piece cornice has a meandering Greek key design of interlocking geometric shapes.
Shown: 7⅝-inch-high Governor's Palace Fretwork Crown in polyurethane, about $15.50 per linear foot; Focal Point Architectural Products
A dough-like mixture of sawdust and resin forms the decorative beading and the "lamb's tongue" motif on this paint-grade crown.
Shown: 5¾-inch-high CM8856 in poplar with composite details, about $11.75 per linear foot; White River Hardwoods
The earliest crown was planed by hand from the New World's plentiful supply of wood. Simple profiles predominated, owing to the high cost of adding complicated carved details.
Inset: 2¼-inch-high B304 in ash, about $1.15 per linear foot, plus about $65 custom fee; Baird Brothers Sawmill
The use of crown waned in the 1940s, but simple strips are a handsome upgrade to more modern ranches and split-levels, as long as they are in proportion to the ceiling height.
Inset: 7⅝-inch-high MLD253-16 in polyurethane foam, about $11.50 per linear foot; Fypon
In the late 19th century, Americans favored crown that was big, bold, and often encrusted with classical details, such as dentils and acanthus leaves.
Inset: 8-inch-high CM230 in plaster, about $22.50 per linear foot; Hyde Park Mouldings
This early-20th-century style supplanted Victorian-era excess with clean lines and no-fuss shapes. Crown could be painted or, if milled from quality wood, such as oak, stained to highlight its beauty.
Inset: 4½-inch-high Craftsman Cove in poplar, about $4.25 per linear foot; Brent Hull Companies
When you can't find a matching profile at a lumberyard or home center, the easiest way to get a copy of your existing crown is to send a cutoff to a wood millwork shop or a maker of foam or plaster moldings, such as Fypon or Hyde Park. But if a scrap isn't handy and your crown doesn't have details like dentils and leaves, make a template using a profile gauge (left). Press the comb-like device against the crown, then trace the shape onto cardboard, noting which edge is the crown's face.
Shown: Stainless-steel tracing profile gauge, about $23.50; Lee Valley Tools
Crown molding is usually installed so that it appears to run seamlessly around a room. It's easier to do that with foam and plaster trim because their joints are filled; they don't need to be perfect. With wood crown, filling isn't an option—cuts have to be precise so that joints are virtually invisible. That's a challenge in the real world, where corners are never exactly 90 degrees and wood fibers are constantly swelling and shrinking. Here are two ways to keep joints tight.
Coping: This technique, used only with wood crown on inside corners, involves cutting along the profile of one strip so that it fits over the face of the adjoining one. It takes skill and time to make this cut, but it's much better than an inside miter at hiding a joint, and it's forgiving of out-of-square corners. Go here to learn how to cut copes.
Corner blocks: These factory-made pieces, placed at outside and inside corners (shown), eliminate the need for coping or miter cuts; the crown ends just butt up against the blocks' sides. A slight bevel in the back of the crown ensures tight joints in out-of-square corners. Corner blocks come in different styles and can be used with any material. They do simplify joinery, but because they project slightly beyond the profile, they can interrupt a crown's continuity.
TOH Pro Advice: "To minimize your view of the joints in wood crown, make sure the copes and bevel joints point away from the room's main entry, where you might otherwise see shadow lines between sections." —Tom Silva, TOH general contractor
In a kitchen, crown molding adds dimension to upper cabinets, making them, and the room, feel taller.
Similar to Shown: 4⅞-inch-high F45260 in poplar, about $6 per linear foot; Forester Moulding
Capped with a 1x board, the crown above this window serves as a handsome shelf for displaying baskets in a pantry.
Similar to Shown: 4¼-inch-high KB350 in finger-jointed primed pine, about $2.25 per linear foot; Kuiken Brothers Company
Capping the head casing with crown gives heft and classical stature to any door or passageway.
Similar to Shown: 1011/16-inch-high MLD555-12 in polyurethane, about $12.75 per linear foot; Fypon
Crown is a fitting way to finish the top of a fireplace mantel. The outside corners show off the molding's shapely profile to full advantage.
Similar to Shown: 3¾-inch-high TM3175 in white oak, about $7.55 per linear foot; Thomas and Milliken Millwork