Molding (decorative)

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Cavetto molding and resulting shadow pattern Molding-cavetto.png
Cavetto molding and resulting shadow pattern
Ovolo molding and resulting shadow pattern Molding-ovulo.svg
Ovolo molding and resulting shadow pattern
Cyma recta molding and resulting shadow pattern Molding-cyma.png
Cyma recta molding and resulting shadow pattern

Moulding (also spelled molding in the United States though usually not within the industry), also known as coving(United Kingdom, Australia), is a strip of material with various profiles used to cover transitions between surfaces or for decoration. It is traditionally made from solid milled wood or plaster, but may be of plastic or reformed wood. In classical architecture and sculpture, the molding is often carved in marble or other stones.


A "plain" molding has right-angled upper and lower edges. A "sprung" molding has upper and lower edges that bevel towards its rear, allowing mounting between two non-parallel planes (such as a wall and a ceiling), with an open space behind. Moldings may be decorated with paterae as long, uninterrupted elements may be boring for eyes.


Moldings from 1728 Table of architecture in the Cyclopedia Moldings on the Table of architecture.jpg
Moldings from 1728 Table of architecture in the Cyclopedia

Decorative moldings have been made of wood, stone and cement. Recently moldings have been made of extruded PVC and Expanded Polystyrene (EPS) as a core with a cement-based protective coating. Synthetic moldings are a cost-effective alternative that rival the aesthetic and function of traditional profiles.

Common moldings include:


At their simplest, moldings hide and help weather seal natural joints produced in the framing process of building a structure. As decorative elements, they are a means of applying light- and dark-shaded stripes to a structural object without having to change the material or apply pigments. Depending on their function they may be primarily a means of hiding or weather-sealing a joint, purely decorative, or some combination of the three.

As decorative elements the contrast of dark and light areas gives definition to the object. If a vertical wall is lit at an angle of about 45 degrees above the wall (for example, by the sun) then adding a small overhanging horizontal molding, called a fillet molding, will introduce a dark horizontal shadow below it. Adding a vertical fillet to a horizontal surface will create a light vertical shadow. Graded shadows are possible by using moldings in different shapes: the concave cavetto molding produces a horizontal shadow that is darker at the top and lighter at the bottom; an ovolo (convex) molding makes a shadow that is lighter at the top and darker at the bottom. Other varieties of concave molding are the scotia and congé and other convex moldings the echinus, the torus and the astragal.

Placing an ovolo directly above a cavetto forms a smooth s-shaped curve with vertical ends that is called an ogee or cyma reversa molding. Its shadow appears as a band light at the top and bottom but dark in the interior. Similarly, a cavetto above an ovolo forms an s with horizontal ends, called a cyma or cyma recta. Its shadow shows two dark bands with a light interior.

Together the basic elements and their variants form a decorative vocabulary that can be assembled and rearranged in endless combinations. This vocabulary is at the core of both classical architecture and Gothic architecture.

See also

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Cornice Horizontal decorative molding that crowns a building or furniture

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An astragal is a moulding profile composed of a half-round surface surrounded by two flat planes (fillets). An astragal is sometimes referred to as a miniature torus. It can be an architectural element used at the top or base of a column, but is also employed as a framing device on furniture and woodwork.

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Ovolo, an architectural and design term for a fundamental element of ornamental, architectural molding, as presented in the 1911 edition of Encyclopædia Britannica, was:

adapted from Ital. uovolo, diminutive of uovo, an egg; other foreign equivalents are Fr. ove, échine, quart de rond; Lat. echinus... [as used] in architecture, [for] a convex moulding known also as the echinus, which in Classic architecture was invariably carved with the egg and tongue. In Roman and Italian work the moulding is called by workmen a quarter round.

This page is a glossary of architecture.


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Egg-and-dart Ornamental device alternating ovals with points

Egg-and-dart, also known as egg-and-tongue, egg and anchor, or egg and star, is an ornamental device adorning the fundamental quarter-round, convex ovolo profile of moulding, consisting of alternating details on the face of the ovolo—typically an egg-shaped object alternating with a V-shaped element. The device is carved or otherwise fashioned into ovolos composed of wood, stone, plaster, or other materials.

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Cymatium, the uppermost molding at the top of the cornice in the classical order, is made of the s-shaped cyma molding, combining a concave cavetto with a convex ovolo. It is characteristic of Ionic columns and can appear as part of the entablature, the epistyle or architrave, which is the lintel or beam that rests on the capitals of columns, and the capital itself. Often the cymatium is decorated with a palmette or egg-and-dart ornament on the surface of the molding.

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  1. 1 2 3 4 5 6 PD-icon.svg This article incorporates text from a publication now in the public domain :  Chambers, Ephraim, ed. (1728). Cyclopædia, or an Universal Dictionary of Arts and Sciences (1st ed.). James and John Knapton, et al.Missing or empty |title= (help)
  2. 1 2 3 4 5 6 Lewis, Philippa & Gillian Darley (1986) Dictionary of Ornament, NY: Pantheon
  3. Chisholm, Hugh, ed. (1911). "Cyma"  . Encyclopædia Britannica . 7 (11th ed.). Cambridge University Press. p. 690.
  4. "Lamb's tongue profile" . Retrieved August 26, 2019.
  5. See drawings of period ceilings in Bankart, George, "The Art of the Plasterer", 1908; also Millar, William, "Plastering, Plain & Decorative", 1897
  6. Chisholm, Hugh, ed. (1911). "Torus"  . Encyclopædia Britannica . 27 (11th ed.). Cambridge University Press. p. 79.
  7. Distinctive Wood Designs Inc. (2010) "Trim Mouldings"

Further reading