Baseboard Molding

Now that the Chennai apartment’s floor tile is installed, it’s time to choose baseboard molding. Why bother using precious time in life to ponder baseboards? What is the point? What is the purpose of baseboard molding?

It finishes off a room by covering the edge where the floor and wall meet. Baseboard molding might sound like a luxury (well, and if you think about how most people on this planet have to live, even basic quarter-round molding actually really is a huge luxury) — but imagine a room without it. Imagine the raw edges of tile, wood floorboards or carpet butting against the bottom of walls. A messy unfinished look.

Baseboards also silently convey a lot about a house and a room. Many American suburban tract homes built during the post-war years have basic flat molding with curved edge, about 3″ tall, along with a quarter-round piece of wood. Or, just the small quarter-round piece of wood to cover the floor-to-wall seam. Here’s an example, and this person wrote a helpful blog post about how to remove baseboard molding:

Our house, built in the late 60s and upscale at that time (doesn’t feel like it by today’s standards) has solid oak baseboard moldings about 4″ tall with some decorative carving, plus the quarter-round shoe, exactly like this:

Our oak moldings are so solid, in one room there’s a length of it just laying against the wall because I don’t have the strength to drive the molding nails through it, no matter how hard I try. So yes our house is full of that Midwestern orangey oak, but I’m not painting it or removing it because it’s quality stuff. We won’t be living here forever anyway, we’re just temporary stewards of the house, is how I look at it. I don’t have a right to rip out such quality materials.

Homes with larger rooms, taller ceilings and bigger mortgages need taller baseboard molding to be proportional to everything from the size of the room to, well, the size of people’s expectations. Thickness of the moldings matters too. Like this grand example:

Our India flat is not a super-big place, but it does have an open floorplan and 10-foot ceilings. So we’ll make tall baseboard molding. I just found this photo on megahowto.com with a mega thrifty idea to get the look of tall baseboards without the full price — use wide planks of wood topped with decorative strips:

This is similar to the look I’m going for in our India apartment — what a great idea to use two different pieces!

The material you choose depends on whether you want a natural wood look or whether you will paint the molding. MDF is being used a lot now to keep costs down, but it should be painted because there’s no woodgrain for stain. If you plan to paint, MDF or inexpensive wood might be more appropriate because you won’t see the material. Save your money for materials you will see. But if you want to stain and see the wood grain, an investment in fine hardwood is worth it.

Regarding style and design of baseboard molding, here is where there is a bewildering array of choices, such as these below, just a tiny selection of options from Burton Moldings:

My gut sense is leaning toward a mostly basic straight line with a bit of curved detail at the top, like the sample above that’s second from the right. But why I’m favoring that, I’m not consciously aware. There must be a reason. Never in my life have I given baseboard molding much thought, other than when it must be dusted, and then I think it’s a pain in the butt detail. Some style guidelines to narrow the choices are needed!

Indeed, you get a gut sense that something is “off” if the baseboard and any crown molding is wrong for the architecture. Particularly with homes that have a period style. It’s a detail that should support a building’s architectural roots. Here’s an article from Realtor magazine about baseboard molding,  architectural style and impact on home buyers. So … what are the roots of our India pied a terre’s architecture? What are visual cues that would support the look of the place? Uh, I don’t know. It’s just kind of a box right now! My sense is that we should take inspiration from the Tuscan kitchen design which is a dominant feature in the open floor plan space. If we took inspiration from the exterior architecture, the terra cotta tile roof and balcony balusters could support Tuscany style too. At least, they wouldn’t clash.

Simple unadorned baseboards are more modern and may look good with the contemporary modular kitchens many are installing in new Indian homes. Intricately carved baseboards deliver a more vintage feel. These choices don’t have to correlate with the size of a room — you can do intricate baseboards in smaller rooms. Just because a room is smaller doesn’t mean the baseboard must be very basic and simple. In fact smaller rooms could benefit from the punch of style that detailed baseboards could deliver. One factor to consider is the ceiling height and the height of the baseboard — the lower the ceiling, the lower the baseboard. One rule of thumb seems to be, don’t go taller than 6-inch baseboard for an 8-foot ceiling. (true??) And in our apartment, the tiles are 2-feet wide so the baseboard should be proportional to the tiles. Plus, baseboard molding should coordinate with existing trim like door and window frames, so it should be to scale and have a similar style.

Hmmmm … that last sentence just gave a “lightbulb moment” of style guidance — I know what the interior doors will look like, so that narrows the design choices for baseboard molding …

One Response to Baseboard Molding

  1. Are you sure you want to go with wood baseboards?If you have tiled floors, they usually do tiled “baseboards”. When I close my eyes and try to conjure floors back in India, I can only bring up images of tile and cement(or marble).

    Practical application—floors in India need to be mopped down–not sure how long wood would survive??

So what do you think?