I have a mouldings problem. I have become obsessed with them -skirting, architrave, coving, panelling, pilasters… I have started to irritate strangers and loved ones alike by commenting on them wherever I see them. “What are you watching?” “19 Kids and Counting.” “Huh. I wouldn’t have expected rednecks to have such a nice entablature.” “WTF are you talking about?” They don’t seem to notice or care about them the way I do. Sometimes I feel alone.
Almost alone, that is. My one consolation is the second greatest website of all time: TheJoyOfMoldings.com (even though it’s American and therefore misses out the ‘u’). It has inspired me to fill my house with wicked cool mouldings, on a shoestring of course. It’s amazing what you can make with a bit of MDF and some creative thinking!
The hallway is the most important room in the house for wowing guests, and mine has a rather fine original staircase, but it is let down by the other mouldings in the room that have been abused over the years. The Coving is fine, and I improved the archway, but most of the architrave has been badly damaged and even more badly filled and painted. The original picture rail is gone and and various bits of the skirting have been replaced with generic Torus stuff (and then badly painted. Bad painting is a theme in my house, yeah?). Also the wall had been reskimmed after wiring had been chased into the wall, creating a raggedy plaster edge along the top of the skirting. As much as I like to preserve original features, most of it is beyond redemption. Luckily, Victorian mouldings are one of those original features that are not sacrosanct; they’re just milled timber. There’s noting especially unique or different about a bit of pine skirting from 1879 versus one from 2016, so there’s no sacrilege in removing it, as long as you replace it with something as good or better. Torus won’t do.
Sadly, builder’s merchants universally stock only three kinds of moulding: Torus (ugly and ubiquitous), Ogee (dull and ubiquitous), and Pencil round (why bother). Anything fancier than that and you have to find a specialist supplier, which will cost considerably more. But there is a Third Way, as proven by TheJoyOfMoldings.com: make your own mouldings from bits and pieces. That’s what I did.
I removing all the existing skirting and architrave (except around the front door which was in tolerable condition). Trivia: underneath I found some numbers inked on the door frame -I think it may be the date, as the house was built in 1879. I kept the only piece of original skirting, which I will use to fix a missing section of stair stringer later.
I made plinth blocks by chamfering a bit of ordinary 6×2 pine with a hand plane. As I’ve mentioned before, plinth blocks are architecturally essential for a high-status appearance and for harmonising the junction between architrave and skirting. I nailed them to the door frames with a couple of oval nails (I was interested to find that the original plinth blocks were carefully rebated to fit over the skirting which must have been fitted first; seems like needless extra work?)
The architrave I made out of two layers of 4mm MDF, with dado rail glued on top. The dado rail is made at my local timber yard, Wilsons (£2.57 a metre). I was later pleased to find the profile is not unlike some I saw at the local stately home, Towneley Hall, albeit on a grander scale. By doing it this way I could tailor the overal width of the architrave to fit the unplastered space left by the old architrave. The edges are simply smeared with white filler and sanded -you can’t see the layer cake once painted! By the way, a top tip from TheJoyOfMoldings is you must glue every joint otherwise gaps will open up as the wood shrinks.
The skirting required more thinking. I wanted it to be in keeping with the stair stringer, and it had to be at least 11 inches high to cover the bottom of the wall. The original stuff was attached to the nailer at the bottom of the plaster, and to a batten nailed to the floor. I instead screwed a new nailer (made from some old bed slats again…) to the bottom of the wall. Next I nailed on a strip of 4mm MDF (with expanding foam behind for good measure) followed by a couple more 10mm MDF nailers, glued on. This allowed me to use the same dado rail moulding as before, and nail/glue a sheet of 10mm MDF on top, covering up part of the dado profile. I primed the bottom edge of the MDF before installing to keep floor moisture out of it. Finally I added some slim panel moulding (also from Wilsons) along the very top, which hides the raggedy bottom of the plaster and completes a rather nice overall skirting profile with hardly any gap to fill. In the photo below you can see what I mean in cross section. Pro tip: Use 22.5 degree scarf joints not 45 degree scarfs. This wastes less material and avoids chipping and over-sanding of the thin edge.
Victorian skirtings were often made this way -from multiple pieces- and you could pick and choose how many layers you added, depending on the status of the room. The original skirting in my house was two-piece. Multiple pieces make it far easier to accommodate obstructions and defects in the walls. It’s sad that the building trade no longer uses this ‘lego’ approach. Incidentally, I used some cereal box card as a spacer to ensure that was a small gap between the skirting and the floor so the vinyl isn’t trapped, and so I can slide paper underneath when painting.
Not satisfied with just architrave I just had to add cornice too (thanks, JoyOfMoldings). This I made from some proper cornice from DresserMouldings, topped with another layer of 50x25mm pine that I routed into a cavetto, and finished off with an abacus made from leftover MDF. The cornice is fixed to the wall with a single screw in the centre, plus Instant Nails (pound shop version) at the ends. The whole lot rather conveniently covers some really ugly plaster defects above the doorways.
The house was originally built with picture rails downstairs, but they’re all gone. I always fancied having picture rail, so I bought some panel moulding from Wilsons (they only charged me £5 for 18 feet!) because I wanted something a little more unique than the more commonly stocked type. (Even B&Q sell at least two types of picture rail even though few houses must need it (?), yet they stock only the three ordinary boring skirting and architrave profiles, even though every house needs them. World, you make no sense.) I routed a curve along the back edge so picture hooks can be hung from it. Each length is held to the wall with a single screw and some Instant Nails. I have some heavy pictures so I didn’t trust the glue alone, even though I scored the plaster with a Stanley knife first.
Grandure restored! In my next post I’ll cover how I finished and painted it all.