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Custom Sculptured Ceiling Mouldings
by Dr. Oneida Cramer

Custom sculptured moulding?tailored to the house?can pull the home decor into one comprehensive theme, according to William Briggs, A.I.A., who designs mouldings whenever he can.

?When we go to old buildings, classical buildings that people really like, it?s the details that strike us,? Briggs said. ?If you walk into a room, your perception of the room?the size and how open it is?is usually based on the ceiling. In turn, the ceiling is best described by the moulding; it tells the shape of the room. You learn a lot when you look at a window or a door. It?s very much like the frame of a painting or picture. We give a lot of thought to picture framing. Doors are the same thing.?

?There?s a whole body of thought to moulding and trim design,? Briggs said. ?Most people don?t value that level of detail. Yet, the trick is to know what shapes make sense and are truly beautiful and not just odd.?

?I look at the proportions of the room, the way the room is to be used, even the furnishings of the owners,? Briggs said. ?It?s important for the architect and the designer to collaborate on the moulding design. You wouldn?t want to mix and match heavily detailed, moulding with modernists furniture unless you had some sophisticated ideas in mind.?

?Originally, moulding was invented to handle all the joints in the house?where the wall meets the floor?there?s a seam there,? Briggs said. ?You can?t hide the seam or cover the seam unless you put a piece of moulding or trim?same where the wall comes to the ceiling or a window is inserted into a wall.? But it didn?t take long for moulding to become an expression to articulate aesthetic ideas that overlay the practical.

Yet, 20 or 30 years ago, we didn?t have much moulding or trim available because we weren?t very sophisticated in our ability to process wood, according to Briggs. Today, however, computers and elaborate, sophisticated machines make it easier to do traditional design.

?It astounds me that we can do better traditional work in the modern age,? Briggs said. And also available are people who can make any shape you want for really, not very much money.

Central Hardwoods, Inc started as a lumber company in 1946. Ten years ago it was a wholesale distribution company, and today it manufactures mouldings and floorings, amounting to 55% to 60% of their business, according to Peter Wilbert, a third generation member in the family run company. At the time Wilbert?s father took charge of the company in the early 1970?s, in place were surfacing capabilities to trim and smooth the rough lumber. Now a large moulder is capable of carving out patterned moulding.

?What makes us unique is the machinery?we are not only a hardwood lumber distributors, but we have a mill here?on site,? said Tommy Mitcham, Outside Sales Representive for Central Hardwood, Inc. ?We have the inventory?the extensive amount of hardwood lumber. And we have the capability of building it.?

?We got involved in high end custom housing about seven years ago, where an architect will custom design a profile, a knife will have to be made, and molding is manufactured?unique to that house,? said Mitcham. ?We didn?t realize there was such a big market in that until we got into it. Now, seven years later we?re very, very busy manufacturing moulding of that type. Typically, the houses range in price from the low end, probably from about $1,000,000, upwards. On the lower end, it?s typically when someone really wants to pay attention to the detail of the house?really cares about the finish.?

?Most of the mouldings that are bought off the shelf, so to speak, they are stock, standard size mouldings like crown moulding and casings. Things like that that are relatively shallow?flat?not a lot of depth,? Mitcham said. ?The types of mouldings that we get involved with have a lot of deep cuts. You see a lot of depth. A typical door casing that we would run would be 1 and 1/16th inch to 2 inches thick. That allows room for a lot of deep cuts.?

A lot of these molds are designed by leading architects who do residential work,? Mitcham said. ?In a very few cases, homeowners actually design their own. People are doing this because it does upgrade the home.?

?We?ll get a drawing that?s a scale drawing from an architect, and he?ll show us what he wants,? Mitcham said. ?We?ll produce knives from that drawing and, in turn, reproduce the moulding. We package those knives up and give them to the builder, and he, in turn, gives them to the homeowner. So, the homeowner actually has the knives that were used to produce the moulding in his house. Then, 15 years from now, if he needs or wants to add on or restore a room, he can reproduce those molds. That?s quite a bit of expense in producing that.?

But in today?s houses with ceilings up to 18-20 feet tall, small moulding just won?t show up. So, people build up three, four, five layers of different types of mouldings and put them together to make a very dramatic look, according to Bob Starford with Wilson Plywood & Door.

?There is definitely a Dallas architecture, where you have very elaborate roofs?very steep roofs,? Starford said. ?With that you have room for very tall ceilings. Back in the 60?s and 70?s, when they were building ranch houses, the Dallas sprawl ranch, the ceilings really weren?t that tall. As the lots have gotten smaller, people started going to two story houses and elaborate roofs. Dallas was one of the first markets to have 8-foot interior doors. With 8-foot interior doors, you need at least a 10-foot ceiling. And then you have the grand entrances and the big hallways where the ceilings are 20-foot tall. The same with windows?you?ll have windows from floor to ceiling. In most parts of the country you don?t. But it?s really Dallas architecture.?

?Another thing indigenous to the Dallas market is trim?used more than in most parts of the country,? said Starford. ?You won?t find as much ornate trim or varieties of trim, whether they be casing or base or crown molds, as is used in the Dallas market. This gives a real high finished look. We?ve really created a look that?s being duplicated in other places. But it started here.?

-by Dr. Oneida Cramer
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