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Architectural Millwork: From Design to Finish

The architectural elements of home interiors consist of baseboards, wainscoting, chair rail, door and window casing and crown molding. These influences trace back to antiquity; being popular finishes in the Greco-Roman era, to more contemporary Victorian architecture.


white house - greco roman design
Greco-Roman design is defined by attention to the size and scale of elements and how they relate to each other. These construction methods and esthetics predominate today’s interior design and finish.


colonial revival
Classic and Colonial Revival design inspiration is traced to an “American-born” architectural style. Colonial Revival style houses were derived from Anglo east coast colonial precedents, which also incorporated eclectic interpretations of classical details on simple massing types.


victorian woodwork
Victorian design references the architectural period encompassing Queen Victoria’s rule. Victorian design surged in popularity thanks to the Industrial Revolution and the ability to mass produce intricately carved designer woodwork, making it affordable for the rising middle class. Elements of this style include: heavily designed porches, elaborate woodwork, and textures created by scalloped, diamond, and fish-scale shingles.


Once an architectural style is selected, construction and finish determine how it will be utilized in your home. Wood craftsmanship looks best when it adheres to these guidelines:

  • 90 Degree angles are required for dark outlining details – this requires fine detail sanding by hand
  • The concave and convex circles must have consistent radius to provide varying shades of grey for detail contrasting
  • All flat surfaces must be level without any marks or scratches, requiring inspection by touch
  • Each molding piece must be in its proper position according to its architectural function.
  • All molding must be consistent with the architectural ornamentation of the historical style. Mixing design styles makes for a confusing visual.

By following these characteristics, architectural moldings will be complimentary to your home’s design aesthetic. If millwork is not properly designed and constructed it can lead to expensive errors which diminish function or even damage the millwork or other surfaces.


After attention to design and construction are established, a proper veneer must be selected to complete the finish. Veneer specifications take into an account the unique qualities of the wood and the variations therein. A flitch of veneer refers to the collective slices of wood called leaves that are sliced from an individual log. According to the American Institute of Architects, “The four most important visual elements of each flitch are its color, grain, figure and size. Grain refers to the long lines formed by the tree’s annual growth rings which generally run parallel along the length of the flitch. Figure refers to patterns of lighter and darker wood that are the result of natural patterns of growth or sometimes biological “defects” in the wood. Common forms of figure include curl, flame, fiddle back, burl, bird’s eye, and bee’s wing. Because veneer is a product from a living organism the color, grain figure and size of each flitch vary not only from each other but between each leaf in the flitch and even within each individual leaf, as the log varies from one end to the other.”

Once the veneer is selected, the next important step is ensuring that the moldings are stable and can withstand wood movement. Wood is a hydroscopic material, meaning it absorbs and releases moisture in response to changes in the relative humidity of its environment. The force exerted as wood expands is extremely strong and cannot be contained by mechanical means. In ancient times, granite was split by inserting wood into cracks and adding water. Invariably, the force of the expanding wood would crack the granite into slabs.

These steps ensure quality millwork for your home. Using millwork designers that employ these standards is essential to the design aesthetic of your home.

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