Elegant homes, regardless of period or architecture, have one thing in common--custom millwork and mouldings. Great millwork is what takes a basic box of a room and transforms it into anything you want it to be--an traditional English gentleman's study, a Venetian dining room, or a French boudoir.
You're familiar with the standard sorts of millwork--the basic baseboards, quarter rounds, crown molding and the like. But to really bring your home up a notch or two, consider some of the more unconventional options. They'll give your home a huge style boost without a huge investment.
A cornice is a horizontal decorative molding that crowns a furniture or building, and is found in both exterior and interior design. In ancient Greek architecture, the cornice tops the tri-part (architrave and frieze being the other components) design element. Cornices can be installed to cover window treatment hardware. American Federal architecture, known as Adam style in England, features small dentil cornices atop windows and doorways. Other features of the Federal style include double hung windows with thin muntins separating the panes in a six-over-six pattern, a concept easily recreated today.
A corbel is a decorative device that projects from the wall as a support for something else, like a mantel. They were originally designed as a structural brace rather than an architectural element, although they have evolved to be as beautiful as they are functional. The iconic corbel is an acanthus leaf--in wood form it is stained, gilded, or painted, and adds a quick pop of classical design to the room. Corbels are a must-have feature in modern kitchen design; the wide variety of styles and material make them the perfect foil for a chef's range and vent hood, cabinets, and islands.
Corbels are also a type of bracket. Brackets are either structural or decorative, and projects from the wall to reinforce an angle. They range in style from the humble L-shape that supports a ledge frame, to classically carved, and gilded things that add grace to decorated ceilings. Designers will occasionally create an accent wall using brackets as shelving to display a collection.
Creating a coffered ceiling is one of the most elegant things you can do in a room, and it gives you great style without great cost. Install a grid of millwork on the ceiling, and paint or stain it as you wish. The depth and width of the coffers is up to you, although they are typically fairly substantial to deliver the greatest impact. Wallpapering the ceiling in a geometric pattern between the coffers adds surprise to what's ordinarily a boring white space.
If your house is a sought-after mid century then you fight the eight foot ceiling battle. You love your house, but would also the look of a higher ceiling. While moldings and millwork can't work that magic, you can create the illusion of nine foot ceilings with a good carpenter and some trim. Extending deep crown along the ceiling and building it back to the wall creates the effect of a higher ceiling.
A pediment, like a cornice, sits atop the flat surface (entablature) at the top of the element. Unlike the cornice, a pediment features an arch, which may be open or closed. The Greek Parthenon is the most famous example of a pediment; it is closed and has decorative relief carvings in the arch. "Swan-necked" pediments are archetypal in American architecture, whereas in Europe a closed arch with painting inside (tondo painting) was popular. In modern design, pediments top exterior doorways and encase openings in more formal homes.
You can let your imagination run wild with architectural millwork. With some simple tools, you can add any of these elements to your home for a whole new look.