Decorative wooden mouldings and plaster mouldings are based on the ancient Classical Order comprising Tuscan, Doric, Ionic, Corinthian and Composite forms. These orders encompass the decorative style of Greek and Roman columns and are found in classic architectural designs.
Plaster was known throughout ancient history, with primitive versions composed of clay and mud. In 1212, King John demanded that certain dwellings should be plastered to keep them safe from fire. It was in the Middle Ages that wealthy citizens began commissioning plaster decoration, often featuring gilded ornamentation.
Before the Victorian era, plaster mouldings were created using fingers in wet plaster, with ornate heraldic and naturalistic plasterwork ceilings being the result of this technique in the 17th century. In the following century, Italian craftsmen created beautifully intricate ceilings on site by hand.
Before the 1800s, lime plaster was employed for internal work, but later Plaster of Paris or gypsum became a more common material.
In the 18th century, the types of plaster ornaments grew, with the ability to afford mouldings dictating one’s place in the social hierarchy. Generally, the guest rooms, such as the dining room, reception and parlour, would have larger mouldings with an appropriate theme based on the room’s purpose (such as fruit images in the dining room).
In the 19th century, mouldings were less ornate and bulkier, with greater detail. Wooden picture rails were a feature, with taller skirting boards and deeper cornices. This era saw a trend for ceiling plaster decorations. Ceiling roses became a design focus, with ceiling roses cast off site before being fitted.
Gelatine moulds and fibrous plaster were invented mid-century, providing lighter and stronger options for workmen.
After 1880, mouldings became simpler as decorative wallpaper came into vogue.
House & Garden offer advice on choosing contemporary mouldings for your home at https://www.houseandgarden.co.uk/gallery/decorative-mouldings.
Wooden mouldings have often been designed with an architectural purpose. For example, corbels are brackets for mantelpieces, and architraves cover unsightly joints.
Skirting boards give aesthetic appeal to a room and are usually made of wood. They protect against damage from traffic in the area. Early mouldings were straightforward designs with a functional purpose, while later mouldings were made separately for sticking on.
In the 1840s, simple elements were combined to create numerous types of rails and architraves as interior joinery became more elaborate.