Design Matters: Mouldings Emphasize A Form


Multiple surfaces show play of light and shadow.
By George R. Walker
Pages: 20-21

From the June 2010 issue #183
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Time was when I thought mouldings were handy for covering up mistakes at the workbench. I used a mallet and clamps to force ill-fitting joints together – then held my breath while I’d slathered glue, tightened screws and finally covered the unseemly mess with a run of mouldings. Those days are long gone. Complicated glue-ups can still be nerveracking but my joinery skills have improved and pressing joints together with brute force is behind me now.

Still, nothing could be further from the truth than thinking of mouldings functioning as camouflage. It’s true they often transition one element to another so they naturally cover gaps between cases and furniture parts.

Yet the real purpose of mouldings is to emphasize rather than hide. One of the definitions of emphasize is “sharpness or vividness of outline.” In furniture design terms, this means mouldings function primarily to emphasize the underlying form that anchors a design. They accomplish this dramatically by exploiting the reflective properties of convex and concave surfaces to form a border element with strong parallel bands of light and shadow. This visual effect can help our eye take in a form from a distance whether it’s a building seen from across a town square, a fireplace across a room or a cabinet gracing a study.

Mouldings are traditionally used to elevate an important focal point like a door, window or cabinet. Knowing that mouldings emphasize a form begs a few important questions. How much emphasis is needed? How much is too much? If you don’t use enough, a design can look weak – like a wooden refrigerator or appliance. Too much and it can be overpowering and garish. Something as simple as a crown moulding can lend a presence to a design, giving it character and a voice.


From the June 2010 issue #183
Buy this issue now