Guide to Types of Wall Trim

Wall trim is designed to hide joints, gaps, and other imperfections on surfaces, but most people add trim to their rooms because it is a bold design statement. White trim is a striking accent against a field of dark-colored walls, imbuing these rooms with a formal, traditional look.

MDF, natural wood, or poly trim can be used on walls. Wood is more solid and durable than either plastic or MDF. If you want the natural clear-coat or stained wood look, then natural wood (such as hemlock) is the only way to go. 

If you plan to paint the trim, you can use either MDF or plastic. MDF is the cheapest trim material you can buy. Plastic is more expensive, but it is far more durable than MDF, which can break easily. The strongest point for plastic polymer trim is that it does not shrink as wood does.

  • 01 of 05

    Chair Rail

    Chair Railing in Formal Dining Room

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    Chair rail is a horizontal piece of trim typically 3 feet above the floor that originally served the purpose of protecting walls from chairs. Today, it’s used more as a type of decorative element.

    Where: Dining rooms

    Best Point: Functional as well as attractive, chair rail is often combined with a lower section of wainscot to give the wall added protection.

    Worst Point: Chair rail, like any other horizontal surface, attracts dust. Unfortunately, this is a highly visible surface that cannot be ignored, as it is just below eye level.

  • 02 of 05

    Crown Molding

    Crown Molding on Ceiling and Wall

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    Crown molding is found at the intersection of walls and ceilings. It is installed typically at a 45-degree angle, with a hollow space behind it.

    Where: Mostly in living rooms, dining rooms, and other public rooms.

    Best Point: The drywall junction between the wall and ceiling does not need to be finely finished as the crown will cover it up. This is highly valuable for DIY homeowners who are not confident about their drywall mudding and sanding skills.

    Worst Point: It is difficult to effectively cut tight, gap-free angles on crown molding. There is a significant learning curve associated with hanging smart-looking crown molding. This is one type of molding you may want to consider hiring a finish carpenter for.

  • 03 of 05

    Baseboards

    Quarter Round Installed on Baseboards

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    Baseboards are the most common type of trim found in houses. Baseboards range from the very narrow type all the way up to 6 inch wide baseboards found in many older houses.

    Baseboards dress up a room and serve as a defining line at the bottom of the walls. However, baseboards also hide gaps between the bottoms of the walls and the flooring.

    Where: Every room of the house will generally have baseboards.

    Best Point: Baseboards, when tightly installed against a floor (especially when quarter-round is added, as shown here), keep drafts out of the house.

    Worst Point: Baseboards may eventually develop gaps near the floor. Repositioning the quarter round or the baseboard itself can cure this problem.

  • 04 of 05

    Picture Frame Wall Molding

    gray wall with gray picture frame moldings

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    Wall picture frame molding is not common. You may see wall frame molding in houses that are striving for a very formal, English look. It is a purely decorative wall element. The most common use is when you find four pieces of molding assembled to create the look of a picture frame. 

    The molding can be painted a different color from the wall, but if it is painted the same color as the wall, shadow effects are pronounced.

    Where: Mostly in the formal public rooms, such as dining or living rooms.

    Best Point: An elegant look that few homes have. Plus, it is very easy to build.

    Worst Point: This molding entirely fits into the category of "nice to look at but completely non-functional." Improved aesthetics will be your only gain with this one.

    Continue to 5 of 5 below.
  • 05 of 05

    Picture Rail

    view of dining room with picture rail

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    Picture rail is basically chair rail that is much higher on the wall. Less common than other types of trim, picture rail traditionally served the function of holding the hooks for hanging pictures with wire.

    Where: Living rooms

    Best Point: Functionally, picture rail will allow you to move pictures in and out of rooms with ease. Aesthetically, it can help break up the monotony of rooms with very tall ceilings.

    Worst Point: Due to its higher position, it can interfere with windows.