Decorative crown molding has changed over the centuries. Crown molding has a rich history which dates back to the second millennium B.C. and was often found in palaces. It has evolved from the beauty of the Greek forms to the simple curves of the Roman era; from the flowers and vines of the Gothic rounds to a return to the simple forms of the Romans during the Renaissance. Today, crown molding can be found in just about any type of material. So what’s appropriate? Which one should you use? There are so many, it can be a little daunting. So let’s take a brief look at the different kinds of materials that crown molding is often crafted from.
Traditionally, crown molding has been made from milled hardwood and plaster. Wood crown molding can be found and made from several hardwoods such as hickory, ash, poplar, alder, cherry, maple, mahogany and oak. Wood crown molding enriches the character of any interior as it frames your ceiling and complements your decor. There are many styles available and you can find many of the traditional styles, such as acanthus, grape and oak leaf motifs and shell. Wood crown molding will certainly add classic detail to any room.
On the down side, hardwood moldings can be quite expensive. Forest resources are limited. The softwood moldings require more time and care to install and finish, although it is less expensive than hardwood. Wood moldings shrink and swell with humidity, they can be damaged by water, it is combustible, it can be damaged by rot and insects, it can crack, it requires mitering and coping skills, it may split and splinter when nailed or cut, and wood molding must be sanded and primed prior to finishing. These disadvantages may outweigh wood’s good points for many.
Renewed interest has been growing in decorative ornamental plaster. Decorative plaster molding can be found in all styles. Ornamental plaster crown moldings do not shrink, burn, warp or produce toxic fumes. Ornamental plaster can be formulated in a wide range of compositions to yield finished products which include a range of properties. They are versatile, safe, stable and economic. Ornamental plaster, although an excellent product, can be costly to install. Although it is no longer required to be manufactured in place, skilled craftsmen are in short supply and it has become almost a lost art.
MDF crown molding, a wood-based composite material that uses wood fibers with a synthetic resin, is another example of how a builder or decorator can accent any room or hallway. MDF is environmentally safe and requires less preparation. It is often primed to a smooth surface which can then be painted with any high quality latex or oil paint. MDF won’t split when cutting, is resistant to warping and is consistent in size and shape. However, during installation of MDF, nailing creates blemishes that will require repair, by hand, prior to finishing. Although it is a less costly alternative to other materials in use, most professionals do not recommend its use.
Polyurethanes are found in many items. They are used in resins, adhesives, fibers, foam padding and insulation. They come in several forms, such as rods, sheets and liquids. Polyurethanes are frequently used as an alternative to such materials as wood, plastics, metal and rubber. And for good reason. Polyurethanes are resistant to wear and tear, weather, impact, scratching and erosion. They are also more cost-effective as an alternative as well.
Other uses for polyurethanes include: fibers, seals, gaskets, condoms, hard plastic parts, carpet underlay and sealants. Items such as domed ceilings, moldings and ceiling medallions are easier to construct of polyurethane foam rather than wood. In fact, polyurethane is considered to be the best replacement for plaster. It’s low cost, lightweight and anything you can do to wood, you can do to polyurethane. It is easy to install, can be used either interiorly or on the exterior and is available in the widest range of products.
In its most flexible form, polyurethanes are found in upholstery fabrics, while the more rigid foams are used inside the metal and plastic walls of most refrigerators and freezers. They are commonly utilized to make up paints, varnishes and glue. Your computer mouse-pad bottom is most likely made of polyurethane foam.
Flexible molding, which is one type of polyurethane, makes it a cinch to decorate around curved walls and arched doorways and windows. Flexible molding is made from a compound polymer resin that has been engineered to bend or curve around more challenging shapes. It can be bent or twisted without breaking or splintering. Flexible molding can actually be purchased in a range of grades, from very flexible to totally rigid.
One of the best features of flexible molding is it’s superiority to wood. Flexible molding can be stained, painted, or sealed just as ordinary molding, but without having to prime the surface first. It also resists warping, wearing, splitting, or mildewing, so it’s great for outdoor use as well.
The installation of crown molding cannot be made any easier than with peel and stick. Peel and stick comes in kits of plastic molding pieces which have self-adhesive backs and four outside corners. Peel and stick is available for the really low-tech, low cost way to decorate. No power tools, saws, nails or hammers are required. No mitering of corners is necessary. One person can install it in no time with no trouble.
Peel and stick, though, especially due to its low-tech and low cost, lacks relief. That is, there is no depth or thickness and it will appear flat.
Styrofoam, also called Expanded Polystyrene., has been used for many years by architects on buildings, homes and in museums. Styrofoam crown molding is light weight, durable and versatile, inexpensive, and adhesive to most kinds of paint. Other advantages and reasons for its gain in popularity are that it requires no special tools to install, and in fact can be installed in less than a day by the average homeowner. Styrofoam does not rot, crack, decay or succumb to insect damage. It can however melt or burn when exposed to flame and must be encased, as it will release toxic fumes when burning.
Another material that is finding its way into popularity is vinyl. Vinyl crown molding gives that old plaster look. While traditional plaster and wood crown molding require extensive experience, the advantage to using vinyl is its simplicity. It is low maintenance, does not blister or peel, swell or shrink when used in extreme moisture conditions, and will not rust, rot, pit or corrode and will not be attacked by insects.
Aluminum, stamped metal, crown molding featuring heavy-duty all aluminum construction is also available for use as a decorative accent. It is preformed inside and outside corners eliminate miter cuts, making installation easier. It is easy to cut, and installs like traditional moldings. It is durable and rugged. Aluminum is a tremendous bang for the buck. Use stamped metal for industry, factory, office, retail spaces, workshop, garages, kitchens, and trade shows.
Styrofoam, aluminum and vinyl moldings are primarily used for exterior decorative purposes.
Each material has its advantages and disadvantages and each homeowner must weigh these options based on their own requirements and desires. I hope this article will help to make the job a little easier. Happy decorating!