A Common Building Mistake and How to Fix It

Hi Everyone,

Anyone who’s read my blog for at least a year knows I adore mouldings. I could look at them all day long.

However, one of the easiest ways to muck up a room is with the wrong crown moulding. What has inspired me is a week ago, I attended a holiday party with the Beacon Hill Women’s Forum. As I turned to walk into the main room with floor-to-ceiling 13′ foot windows, a woman stopped me


“Excuse me,” she said. “I’m new here and don’t know anyone.”


So, we got to talking, and she wanted to know about my renovation, and then she told me that she had just moved to a house on Beacon Street and was also doing a bit of remodeling.

She said the house had been renovated, but they had done some wonky things.

Uh-huh, I nodded. I call that “ersatz.” It’s not authentic.


I showed her pics of my kitchen.


She said, YES!  That’s it! It looks like a butler’s pantry.

I said, “Thank you, that was my goal. It’s my unkitchen.”


A what?


An UNkitchen. It doesn’t look like a typical kitchen with tons of upper cabinets.

She asked me if I wanted to see her place. Of course!

She first showed me a doorway with some interesting corner plinths on the casings. They were carved with lovely proportions. I said, these could be original, but if they’re not, I like them.

Then, she shared some photos of the living room. I can’t tell you what she said because I was fixated on one glaring issue, a building mistake I’ve seen too many times. In the photo, it looked almost cartoonish.

Before I could stop myself, I blurted it out.


Ohhhh… that crown moulding is wrong. It’s very wrong.


I apologized immediately; “I’m sorry, I shouldn’t have been so blunt.” But, she said, “No, I want you to tell me!”

Most of the architecture in Both Beacon Hill and Back Bay is 19th century, from the Federal, Greek Revival, and Victorian periods.  Not all, but too many of these grand homes have been gut-renovated. That’s okay but then, they don’t put back what was there. That is, on the inside. On the outside, the 19th century must be preserved.

Modern buildings exist in Boston. I don’t understand purchasing a historical property and then turning it into something else inside.

There is nothing wrong with restoring or replacing the mouldings. However, please keep them historically accurate. It’s not difficult. I recommend following ABKasha in Paris on Instagram, 

or Gil Schafer.


Laurel, it seems like you have talked about crown mouldings fairly recently.


Very good! You’re right. The crown moulding post was when King Charles was coronated last May. It’s an important post. So, please check it out because that post covers other things.

So, what was so horrible about this crown moulding?

Below, I have recreated it for you to see, and then I’ll explain why this is a building mistake to avoid, especially in a historic home.


Horrible building mistake with a too big cove moulding in an old home.


This is not the moulding that would’ve gone in a 19th-century home.




The typical crown was a Victorian Coving with an exaggerated deep, but not very tall, “swan neck” cove.


It’s the opposite of what my new friend has.


There is always an accentuating trim, like panel moulding trim on the ceiling. Then, below the cove, a small crown. Then, there’s usually a frieze (but it’s okay to go without, as above), and then it is finished with another small crown.


my-apartment-original-plaster-crown-moulding - replacing it is not a building mistake unless it's replaced with the wrong thing!

This is from before the renovation of my 19th-century condo. If I had the budget, I’d love to restore this moulding, but plaster restoration is wildly expensive.


However, if one were to replace it and didn’t want a lot of decoration, they could do something like this below.


appropriate Victorian crown moulding #1

However, returning to the giant cove, I want to be clear that it’s not the cove at issue. It’s the very large vertical cove and then nothing else with it. That’s a late 20th-century abomination.


architectural details cove ceiling picture frame moulding rounded wall

The cove in my old Bronxville apartment (built in 1927) had a fabulous small cove and an art-deco-style flat trim. I remember being confused at first. And then, lying on my sofa one day, I saw that the crown wasn’t really a crown. It was a flat trim 100% on the ceiling! And yes, it did lift my nine-foot ceiling.


One of the best tricks I’ve mentioned before is if you want your ceiling to look higher, then do a crown with much more projection on the ceiling than down the wall.


The moulding above with the green walls is a good example of this, and it also has a classical frieze. Please see some gorgeous friezes here!


Another beautiful and popular crown in the late 18th century into the early 19th century and beyond is the Georgian-style crown.


Georgian is the parallel period in England. If you don’t already know, our Federal style was based on the Georgian style. There are numerous Georgian crown molding profiles, but one of the most popular, still to this day, is the crown with a box and then a step-back crown with or without dentil molding.


Georgian Box crown moulding pediment - Federal style architecture - Prescott House

Above is a perfect example of a Georgian-style crown atop the door casing. I believe it’s possible it was restored (meaning replaced) as it’s in exceedingly pristine condition.


This is from last January; I was very lucky to go on a tour of the Prescott House, an early 19th-century Federal beauty across from Boston Common.


It is owned and maintained by the Colonial Dames of Massachusetts. To join, one must be able to tie their American ancestry to before the Declaration of Independence was signed in 1776.


For Thursday, I will share more images from the Prescott House and more examples of beautiful mouldings that will enhance your space.


As a preview, I love the moulding below, which is plaster from an English company I’ll share on Thursday. This is a terrific example of most of the crown is on the ceiling. This will optically raise your ceiling a few inches, and if you paint it a light blue-green, it will lift it further. The ceiling will float.


Benjamin Moore Opal Essence


Benjamin Moore OPAL ESSENCE 680 is a good one. You can see it being painted on a ceiling here. It’s part of the curated collection of 144 gorgeous Benjamin Moore paint colors and color palettes.

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The beauty of this moulding is what happens when you install it “upside down.” Or rather, in the opposite direction.


coving shop - plaster crown moulding - dm1975-a-2_orig

Doing this doesn’t lower the ceiling but gives one a small frieze. You could also run it the first way and do a baseboard trim underneath to create the frieze.

This is a wonderful trim for an eight-foot or higher ceiling.

Okay, hope you’re all doing well these last days before the holiday!



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12 Responses

  1. Your article shed light on the importance of [specific aspect mentioned in the mistake], and I appreciate the clear explanation of the potential consequences. The suggested solutions provide a practical guide for those facing similar challenges in their building projects.

  2. Laurel, is there a type of home where plain cove trim looks right? I’ve always liked it. And while I like elaborate more traditional trim work, it would not fit my home. And while I like looking at that kind of home, I’ve found I don’t like living in it.

  3. I love crown moldings, but alas, in my desert southwestern home, they would look silly :] But the ones in your Boston home are so lovely. Thank you for continuing my education, Laurel!

  4. The things one learns! As a Canadian, I was set to take umbrage on the word “coronated” and then I looked it up….kudos to you Laurel as you were indeed correct!! (Did you know King Charles is also King of Canada as we are one of his realms).

    On another note, your place will be truly spectacular…I do hope AD or another magazine of that stature takes note.

  5. Laurel, after reading your post I went around my home looking at all the moldings in my rooms. We built in ’93 and were lucky to choose a good local builder, who was a traditionalist. So my crowns all look similar to those you posted as good examples. Sigh of relief. I love the wood work. My friend had the crown moldings and base boards removed from her home during its renovation. She wanted a modern and clean look. While she loves it, I find the house has no character but I keep that to myself.

  6. on your recommendation that I picked up 7 yrs ago, I had my new build ceilings all painted Opal Essence and love them very much—thank you! I gravitated to this quickly because, as a dentist, there is a tooth whitening product named Opalesence! hahah

  7. I have an early 1900’s Arts & Crafts cottage; the ceiling & exposed beams are Opal Essence. The walls one shade darker. The south wall is all windows looking over the water. It’s beautiful with every change of light.

    My home is a 1910 Arts & Crafts. I have considered crowns for the living and dining rooms but don’t know what to do. Most rooms of the era had none. Certainly not as elaborate as you explained.

  8. I have 8’ ceilings so I’m saving this post. I would love to have some crown in my bedroom.
    I’m impressed with the woman that didn’t know anyone at the function you were at. I wish I was as brave as she was. I could never go up to a stranger & announce my situation. I’ll have to remember how she handled herself.

  9. I painted opal essence on my ceiling a few years ago- on your advice ❤️ it’s fantastic and raises my 7.5’ ceiling it’s so pretty and pale you don’t even notice the ceiling is colored unless you look at it

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Hi, I’m Laurel, and Laurel Home is the website and blog for Laurel Bern Interiors.
I’ve been creating new-traditional interiors since 1988. The blog is where I share all.

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