Repair and replace your decorative mouldings

Decorative mouldings can add character and style to period homes, so learn how to fix them with this expert advice exclusively from Leyland Decorative Mouldings.

What are decorative mouldings?

Plaster mouldings are an important architectural device that help provide proportion to interiors while indicating the status of the building and of individual rooms. Mouldings were designed to impress visitors, so the most decorative examples were reserved for hallways and reception rooms, with simpler styles used in more workaday areas.

Some mouldings are not all decorative however, many have a functional aspect. Cornices and architraves can disguise joints between different building elements, picture rails prevent damage to walls with nails, dado rails stop chairs scuffing wall coverings, skirting boards protect the base of walls and corbels act as supporting brackets.

How are they made?

They are made either in a whole run or parts that are assembled insitu. Sometimes the final element could have been made out of different materials, so what looks like wood could be plaster or even papier mâché.

Here is a list of the different materials mouldings can be made out of:

  • Timber

In Victorian times, intricate mouldings were created by hand using carpentry tools, but come the industrial revolution machines were introduced resulting in shapes being simplified for mass production.

  • Plaster

Cornices and ‘profiles’ as they are known were created insitu using a ‘running mould’, which meant the plaster was ran through the mould, then left to dry. Afterwards the mould would be removed. To create complicated designs other casts were placed on top of the moulding.

  • Fibrous plaster

Fibrous plasterwork is much stronger than original plaster moulding and consists of plaster, hessian and timber laths. Because it is a flexible material longer  lengths of cornice can be created in one piece.

  • Papier mâché

We’ve all played with papier mache at school, and know how strong it can be. It was used as a substitute for the more expensive plaster mouldings in the 18th and 19th centuries. Papier mâché is made of layered or pulped paper that is pressed into a mould and bound with glue, and sometimes to make it even stronger other fillers are added.

Do your research

If you want to install decorative mouldings in a room, make sure you look into whether it’s a good idea first. Adding inappropriate ceiling roses and cornices into a room that is too small or disproportionate can ruin the proportions and relevance of a space. For example, low ceilings would not suit an enormous ceiling rose.

Break down the room to find out if you are putting decorative mouldings in a room that traditionally should have them. When you strip the wallpaper, you should be able to see parallel lines of paint on the plaster and patched nail holes may show the position of removed dado and picture rails.

You can have a good look at other houses built in a similar style to research the type and style of mouldings originally used.

How can I spot damaged mouldings?

Mouldings can be damaged by everyday wear and tear and can be removed in renovation work, especially when trying to achieve an ‘updated’ look. Water penetration and damp can damage plaster cornices, while also contributing to rot and insect attack that can then spread to skirting boards and other joinery mouldings.

What to look for

  • Missing sections
  • Thick paint
  • Cracks, chips and splits
  • Crumbling or loose sections
  • Damp, rot and insect infestation

Making repairs to plasterwork

Try to hold on to the original mouldings and go for repair rather than replacement. You should be careful not to dislodge sections, and intricate detailing should be supported and protected during building work.

  • Fill small cracks with proprietary filler.
  • Using plaster of Paris to fill larger cracks and to remake small areas.
  • With common designs, use off-the-peg fibrous plaster components to infill missing sections.
  • Have broken or missing parts remade using casts of existing items.
  • Employ a skilled plasterer to create or repair sections of cornice.

Can I remove layers of old paint myself?

The intricate detailing of many plaster and timber mouldings is lost because it has become clogged with paint layers. Removing paint from mouldings can be difficult, so you have to be careful not the damage the original moulding.

  • Always make sure you use your method of removal on an inconspicuous part before you begin.
  • Avoid using hard abrasive tools such as wire brushes or sanders, and be careful not to dig into the moulding itself.
  • Warm water, steam and proprietary wallpaper stripper can be successful in removing paint from plaster.
  • Chemical removers can be used on plaster and wood.
  • If you are using hot air guns to remove paint from a wood moulding, make sure you do not leave any scorch marks.
  • A toothpick and toothbrush can be used on the finer detailing.

How should I repaint mouldings?

  • Remove as much of the old paint as possible.
  • Lightly sand so the paint can key into the moulding.
  • Make sure you remove any dust.
  • Apply paint in thin coats.

Is it possible to remove mouldings without causing damage?

Never remove mouldings unless absolutely necessary as they can be easily damaged. It is better not to touch plaster or papier mache mouldings as they are highly likely to split or crumble. Timber mouldings were originally fixed with nails, driven either directly into the masonry or into wall plugs, so they can be removed with the following method:

  • Chisel underneath timber mouldings to loosen them.
  • Use a wedge for leverage to prise the moulding away from the wall.
  • Remove nails with pliers.
  • Replace using screws and wall plugs.

Can I match new mouldings to original designs?

Profiles are used to create mouldings, but there are hundreds of them available so it can sometimes be very difficult to match them exactly.

  • You can find new mouldings from timber yards and good DIY stores.
  • Architectural salvage yards stock a range of mouldings.
  • Take a section of the original when searching for replacement mouldings.
  • Get replacement sections machined at a good timber yard or joinery workshop.
  • Make sure you order enough and at the correct size, as ordering a second run can be expensive.

So if you are looking to repair or replace your decorative mouldings in London, give us a shout.