Originally a purely functional architectural element used to mask imperfections where a property’s walls meet the ceiling, the style of an architectural moulding would also indicate the grandeur of a room: in Victorian houses, reception rooms would have larger, more intricate cornicing than private spaces.
On the ceiling, decorative reliefs surrounding a light fitting also had a practical purpose – they were designed to catch the smoke and soot that rose from gas lamps, in order to protect ceilings from damage.
In How to Decorate (Mitchell Beazley, £30), Farrow & Ball’s Joa Studholme and Charlotte Cosby extoll the virtues of emphasising architectural mouldings with paint, whether you choose to replicate existing plasterwork, restore a period feature (as in Chelsea Townhouse New York by Julian King), or make a contemporary statement by designing new details.
Rather than painting your cornicing to match the ceiling, try painting it the same colour as the walls – it will make the room feel loftier. Alternatively, paint mouldings in a contrasting subtle tone to the walls, which will give a sense of character without confining the room’s proportions.
Five of the best brands for mouldings
These are the companies to turn to when your walls and ceilings need a boost
Best for period detail: Cornice London
This studio specialises in fibrous plastering, with their work appearing everywhere from Berners Tavern and the Cartier boutique to private homes. The team of artisans crafts elaborate ceiling roses and elegant cornices that look particularly striking when juxtaposed with contemporary light fittings and furniture. They can also make friezes, wall panels and corbels and offer a restoration service too. cornicelondon.com
Best lightweight option: Orac Decor
An easy-to-fit alternative to plaster, this Sussex studio’s designs are made from a light polyurethane called ‘Purotouch’.‘C364’ wave lighting profile, £65 for a two-metre strip. City Business Centre, Brighton Road, Horsham RH13, oracdecor.com
Best for restoration: Cast
This is the place to go to for high quality plaster mouldings. The team, who have worked on heritage buildings across the UK, will restore everything from cornicing to corbels. Architraves from £35 for three metres. 2 High Street, Hornsey, London N8, castoflondon.com
Best for 3D wall panels: WM Boyle
This UK supplier stocks a huge range of textured wall panels which are lightweight, easy to install and ideal for quickly adding some character and structure to a blank space. Panels can be painted in any colour to tone or add contrast to an interior scheme. wmboyle.co.uk
Off-the-shelf style: Cornices Centre
A huge array of mouldings are on display in this west London showroom, which is perfect for instantly accessible designs. There is also a bespoke service. ‘PR77’ ceiling rose, from £178. Field Way, Greenford UB6, cornicescentre.co.uk