If you would like your home to have the look and feel of a million-dollar mansion without spending a million dollars, we have helpful hints on how to create a rich, quality appearance at a smart price. Crown molding, chair rails, and wainscoting are a few elegant extras that give even the most modest home a designer look.

    Molding delivers a nuanced structural design while hiding and preventing imperfections along the walls.

    Keep reading to learn how crown molding, chair rails, and wainscoting enhance your space and maintain your walls.

    Crown Molding

    Crown molding can actually create a striking focal point using a wide variety of styles and materials. It softens and highlights an otherwise stark, empty corner where the wall meets the ceiling.

    Crown molding is a classic architectural detail that adds elegance and visual interest to any room. The decorative trim goes where the wall meets the ceiling, which softens the harsh 90-degree angle. Crown molding helps draw the eye upward, making rooms feel more spacious and grand. It is an easy way to create style without a major renovation.

    Crown molding comes in a range of materials, shapes, and sizes to complement any decor. Choosing the right style is key to creating a cohesive look. Bold, ornate molding pairs well with formal spaces, while simpler, shaker-style molding suits casual settings. The molding should match the room’s existing architectural details. For example, crown molding with dentil blocks would complement a fireplace mantel with dentil molding.

    Proper installation is also critical for an attractive finished product. Precision miter cuts at the corners are a must. Most pros use special coping saws to cut the inside corners. If you are doing it yourself, take the time to practice the cut on scrap pieces first.

    Wood molding
    Image Credit: Canva


    Wood molding is available in a variety of wood species, such as pine, spruce, poplar, oak, and medium-density fiberboard. It comes in various styles, from plain to decorative. When installing wood molding, you may opt for a simple, single piece of crown molding or create a custom design by combining lengths of various styles of molding.

    Crown molding made of solid wood offers a classic, quality appearance. Oak, cherry, maple, and poplar are all good choices. The drawback is that solid wood is more expensive and prone to splitting or warping.

    Pine is a popular, affordable option. While not as durable as hardwoods, painted or stained pine suits any decor. Pine crown molding costs $4 to $8 per linear foot on average. For a budget-friendly alternative, consider medium-density fiberboard (MDF). MDF crown runs $2 to $5 per linear foot and takes paint very well. Just be aware that MDF does not hold up to moisture.

    Whether using wood or MDF, proper priming and painting prior to installation yields the best results. Working with pre-primed molding is easier than painting after it is up.

    Wood crown molding offers versatility in shapes and styles, and combining different profiles is an easy way to create a custom look. For example, you could use a simple cove molding on the bottom with a more decorative dental or rope molding on top.

    Cutting and installing wood crown molding requires precision. The mitered corners should fit together seamlessly without gaps or overlapping edges. Use a miter saw to cut the ends at 45-degree angles. For the inside corners, make relief cuts with a coping saw.

    It is also imperative to secure wood molding to the wall and ceiling. Longer finishing nails work well. We recommend applying a quality wood filler to hide any nail holes for a flawless finish.

    Image Credit: Canva


    As with many home-related products, synthetic materials like urethane provide additional decorative choices in molding. Because it is lightweight, urethane makes installation easier. Urethane crown molding resists splitting, cracking, and peeling because of age and changes in temperature and humidity. Various manufacturers also make ready-made corner pieces that virtually eliminate the need for much of the cutting that wood requires.

    Urethane foam molding offers a lightweight, durable alternative to wood. Made from polyurethane, it weighs up to 70% less than wood molding. That makes it easier for one person to install.

    The lighter weight also means you can use smaller nails and less adhesive when mounting urethane molding, preventing cracks that can occur with wood as it expands and contracts.

    Urethane resists moisture and holds paint well. Unlike wood, it will not rot or warp. It is a great choice for kitchens, baths, and other high-moisture areas. The only downside is that it dents when subjected to blunt force.

    For DIYers, the pre-cut corner pieces are urethane’s best feature. You can create a seamless look without complicated coping and miter cuts. Pre-cut pieces also let you mount molding flat to the wall. With wood, you have to install the molding at an angle.

    Expect to pay $3 to $7 per linear foot for urethane crown molding. Cost depends on style, texture, and depth. Deeper molding is more expensive.

    Chair Rail
    Chair Rail
    Image Credit: Adobe Stock

    Chair Rail

    Traditionally installed to protect walls from chairs as they scooted away from the table, chair rails also supply a decorative finish and a means to separate two different colors or finishes on a wall. Also, chair rail is easy to install and most homeowners can do it. You can buy strips of molding at any home center. Match the style with either your crown molding or the style of the room.

    The chair rail molding typically projects 2 to 3 inches out from the wall and runs horizontally at 32 to 36 inches above the floor. Beyond function, chair rails also add style. The interruption in the wall draws eyes and makes rooms feel taller. Chair rails often coordinate with other trim finishes like crown molding.

    Chair rail molding comes in wood, MDF, and synthetic materials. The traditional style is a simple strip of wood, but many ornamental styles are available. Prices range from $1 to $4 per linear foot.

    Installation involves measuring and cutting the molding to size with mitered seams at joints, corners, and ends. Most chair rails are nailed directly to wall studs. Pre-drilling avoids splitting wood. Countersink finish nails and fill in holes and gaps with wood putty before painting.

    Today’s Homeowner Tips

    For a seamless look, use pre-primed molding. Priming and painting chair rail before installation yields a smooth, consistent appearance.

    Chair rails also delineate different wall colors. Paint the lower wall one color and the upper wall a different shade. The color contrast makes for an easy and dramatic way to make the room interesting without redoing all the wall finishes.

    Image Credit: Canva


    Wainscoting refers to wood paneling applied to the lower portion of walls. Beyond just decoration, it serves several purposes that make it a popular architectural detail.

    In the past, wainscoting required custom millwork and a sizable investment, making it quite a luxury item. However, a wainscoting kit that is now available makes the project an affordable option for many homeowners. It costs a fraction of traditional wainscoting, with an installation process that is as simple as putting together a child’s puzzle. The kit includes pre-machined stiles, rails, and panels that fit together by a tongue-and-groove joining system.

    Wainscoting kits create the look of elaborate, custom millwork using simple pre-cut pieces. The tongue-and-groove design clicks together easily. Just cut the pieces to length and adhere them directly to the wall.

    These systems include rails, stiles, decorative trim, and panel inserts that can be painted, stained, or wallpapered. Assembly requires only basic tools. Expect to pay $15 to $30 per square foot.

    After installing the kit, you can apply molding along the top for a more finished appearance. The change in finishes allows for different shades above and below the wainscoting. While wainscoting protects against scuffs and hides imperfect walls, it also adds architectural interest. The varied textures and contrast make a bold statement.

    Keep the style in mind when selecting your kit. Modern homes suit clean-lined shaker panels, while Old World charm calls for raised recessed panel designs. There are many choices for colors and finishes, too.

    Today’s Homeowner Tips

    For a less permanent option, some manufacturers make peel-and-stick wainscoting from vinyl or PVC. Panels adhere directly to the wall without nails or glue. They also come off clean when it is time for a change.

    So, Is Adding Moldings an Effective Way to Enhance Your Home?

    Overall, adding crown molding, chair rails, and wainscoting can elevate the appearance of any room without the need for major renovations. These architectural details lend elegance and sophistication.

    The key is choosing styles that coordinate well with your home’s existing features. Proper installation is also critical — good cuts, seamless joints, and secure mounting. DIY is possible but can be tricky.

    For many homeowners, the visual impact is well worth the effort and expense involved. Before starting any project, come up with a budget and consider consulting a professional if you lack experience with trim carpentry. Upgrading with quality moldings and trim imparts a feeling of fine craftsmanship.

    FAQs About Adding Moldings

    What are the benefits of adding moldings?

    The main benefits are aesthetic – moldings add style, character, and visual interest. They draw the eye to certain architectural details. Chair rails protect walls and enable two-tone painted finishes. Moldings can also help make rooms feel larger.

    Does installing molding require special skills?

    Trim carpentry skills are needed, especially for intricate crown molding. Precise miter cuts are critical. Ambitious DIYers can tackle some molding projects. Experience helps. Many homeowners opt to hire a professional trim carpenter or contractor.

    How much does it cost to add molding?

    A basic chair rail starts at around $1 per linear foot. Crown molding costs $3 to $8 per linear foot on average, depending on the material and style. Wainscoting runs $15 to $30 per square foot for affordable kits. The total cost depends on the amount of molding needed and how accessible the installation area is.

    What tools do I need to install molding?

    You’ll need a miter saw, a coping saw a finish nailer or hammer and nails, a drill, measuring tape, a ladder, adhesive, wood filler, and caulk. We also recommend safety equipment like goggles, masks, and gloves.

    Should I paint the molding before or after installation?

    It is best to prep, prime, and paint molding beforehand whenever possible for a smoother finish. The project may need some touch-ups on joints and nail holes after installation.

    Editorial Contributors
    avatar for Lauren Greene

    Lauren Greene

    Staff Writer

    Lauren Greene is a passionate storyteller with over 4 years of experience writing and editing. She attributes her expertise from working at local magazines, newspapers, and corporate marketing and communications teams. She has worked on content with topics ranging from plant care, home decor, and home improvement. Lauren resides in Raleigh with her adorable Shih Tzu. You can catch Lauren attending to her plants, spending time with her puppy, enjoying the greenway, or lifting weights at the gym when she’s not writing or researching the latest home improvement topics.

    Learn More

    photo of Sabrina Lopez

    Sabrina Lopez


    Sabrina Lopez is a senior editor for Today’s Homeowner with over 7 years of writing and editing experience in digital media. She has reviewed content across categories that matter to homeowners, including HVAC services, home renovations, lawn and garden care, products for the home, and insurance services. When she’s not reviewing articles to make sure they are helpful, accessible, and engaging for homeowners like herself, Sabrina enjoys spending time with her family and their two parrots.

    Learn More