Design details: Highlight your home with architectural details

Skirting boards, cornices, architraves and the mouldings that surround key focal points, such as fireplaces, play an important role in sewing together the fabric of a home
Melissa Heath

The architectural details of a home are perfect for creating impact on feature pieces. Mouldings are not only a useful addition when minimising day-to-day wear and tear, they also come in myriad profiles and widths and have detailing that will add a subtle style lift in an instant.

Where to start

If you are building from scratch, set your style and plan mouldings and cornices from the outset. If you are renovating, decide how you’re going to relate to the trims already in play.

When restoring a room, custom design mouldings – try Porta – can match the old with new. Simply take a sample of your existing moulding, photograph the side profile and include key dimensions. In a larger reno, you may wish to reveal the true story of what’s old and new, and celebrate the contrast.

“Don’t be afraid to do something like modern trims in a new extension, because the simple finishes of a modern aesthetic can balance the detail of the existing,” explains architect Tom Favell.

To provide a link to the old without attempting to create an exact match, seek out a complementary style, either in dimension or detail. Try going halfway – choose a modern square-set ceiling, but give a nod to the old with a skirting board in a similar style or profile.

Style wise

To replicate or complement existing trims, find inspiration from the era of the home. It could be richly decorated Victorian mouldings or geometric cornices that speak of Art Deco. If you are after contrast or starting with a blank canvas, stick to broad categories, to ensure longevity. These are some popular approaches:


“Clean, simple details can be a feature itself,” says Tom. Most skirting boards have square edges, with the average sitting around the 62mm mark. Square-set ceilings allow for a more streamlined finish; fine lines are the key.


Drawing inspiration from the Hamptons, French provincial and coastal-themed architecture, the ‘new classic’ style celebrates symmetry and scale. Trims are elegant and formal but simple. “We wouldn’t go below a 140mmskirting board or a 90mm cornice – and always have a cornice,” says interior designer Amanda Harris of Oliveaux Interiors. Joinery is finished with mouldings – capping around the top and skirtings on the bottom – to create a ‘built-in furniture’ feel. 


With its bold geometric shapes and clean lines, Art Deco style came into its own in the 1920s, ’30s and ’40s and has proved eternally popular. “Think triangles, diamonds and fans adorning cornicing and look-at-me hexagonal ceiling roses,” explains HB editor and House Rules judge Wendy Moore. Panelled timber doors are another stand-out feature of this look. 

A simple shadow line makes a feature of a window box (Credit: Simon Whitbread)

space matters

In order to get your proportions right, look first to ceiling height and then to the feel you plan to create within the space. “It’s not a general rule that you have to go for smaller skirtings in a smaller space,” says Tom. “Larger skirtings will make it feel smaller, so if you want a cosy space you can play with the different effects. If you have high ceilings and you add small mouldings, it’s going to make it feel tall.”

The easiest way to gauge what will work for you is to try before you commit to buying for your whole space. Pick up some samples in different heights and widths, and place them around the room, fixing them temporarily in place with Blu Tack or double-sided tape. Leave them in place for a day or two and let your eye judge whether the mouldings feel skimpy or substantial.

panel play

The trick to using timber boards as finishes, either vertically as VJs (vertical joins) or horizontally as shiplap cladding is balance. “In an old Queenslander with VJ walls and timber floors there can be a lot of lines, vertically and horizontally,” says Tom. “It can be a lot to process. You need to focus on what to feature and what will just be breathing space.” In the same vein, shiplap timber cladding works well to define areas, says interior designer Amanda Harris, who tends to reserve it for laundries, bathrooms, hallways, staircases and mudrooms.

Mouldings from Porta, painted Flooded Gum, makes a striking backdrop to this bedroom

fireplace finery

A fireplace provides a central spot to showcase your style. Up the stakes, using the surround to showcase period detailing, classic profiles, inset mouldings or razor-sharp contemporary lines, often with an emphasis on materials. Ensure the surrounds read well with the proportion and detailing in your skirtings. In a new classical setting, Amanda suggests bookshelves on either side and above the mantel, and include more moulding detail to frame art or a picture light. “You can have the most boring room and make it interesting straight away,” she says.

(Credit: Melissa Heath)
(Credit: John Downs)



Usually plaster, the cornice sits where walls and ceilings join. They come in many different styles and sizes.


A shapely decorative architectural feature, often timber or plaster, in a cornice or doorway.

shadow lines

A labour-intensive, but simple alternative to a cornice, leaving a streamlined gap where the ceiling meets the wall. 

skirting boards

Protective timber boards that run along the base of interior walls.

square-set finishes

A square corner between wall and ceiling.VJ & SHIPLAP boards, popular in Queensland homes, VJ (vertical joins) and shiplap (horizontal) timber lining boards for walls and ceilings bring a heritage feel.

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