Mastering Complex Crown
A multiple-piece cornice adds sumptuous detail.
Synopsis: A multilayered crown molding can add depth, detail, and elegance to a formal room. The trick is to spend time on design and layout, then build a solid foundation. Author Joe Milicia and his crew spend their days trimming out high-end houses in the New York City suburbs, and has plenty of techniques for design, layout, materials, and construction. Want to learn even more? FineHomebuilding.com Members can learn how to create mock-ups, build jigs for cutting and coping, cope inside corners, and seamlessly install crown molding by watching our series Video Workshop: Installing Built-Up Crown Molding with Tucker Windover.
For the past 14 years, I’ve spent my days building houses, mostly as a finish carpenter, and one of the most rewarding parts of my job is installing built-up crown, also called a cornice. To the untrained eye, a big crown is just another texture, but anyone who has built it knows that the process is more like building a cabinet than nailing up window casing and that most of the work remains hidden.
Because I run a crew (and sometimes an entire project), I spend less time with a hammer, but I still enjoy the work when I can get to it. Many of our projects are high-end houses in the New York city suburbs, so it’s not unusual for us to devote a couple of months just to the interior trim. In addition to a typical package of tall baseboard, wainscot, and two-piece casings, we often use a built-up crown detail that includes soffit, fascia, and frieze boards along with crown and bed-molding profiles. A multilayered cornice in a room with high ceilings evokes a solidly traditional, even classical feel that many of my clients look for in a new house.
Mock-ups and design: an unbeatable combination
We start most of our jobs with drawings, but I still think a mock-up is the best way to settle on the final design. Mock-ups allow me to confirm with an architect or a homeowner exactly what they want and whether the proportions are correct. If the design works, we use that winning mock-up to confirm blocking dimensions and to settle on a materials list.
I make two types of mock-ups. The first is made of short pieces that I use to get all the parts and locations right. Once I’ve settled on a profile that I think will work, I build a larger version, usually about 12 in. to 18 in. long, that I can tack onto the wall. With two or three mock-ups on the same wall, my clients and I get a good sense of what’s going to work in that room.
A good layout keeps you out of trouble
The layout method is as important as the pieces selected and assembled. Initially, going over the locations gets us in touch with any potential problems like bumps and dips in the drywall, as well as window and door heads that aren’t exactly parallel with the ceiling. Catching these problems early saves a lot of aggravation later.
One of the ways I’ve found to offset bad drywall is to select crown profiles that allow me to make inconspicuous scribe cuts. Working from the mock-up, we cut pieces of plywood to the measurements indicated for the projection and the drop, then go around the room and use gauge blocks to scribe reference marks. Chalklines connect the dots. To minimize mistakes, we use red chalk to show where the blocking goes and blue chalk to delineate the actual extent of the built-up crown.
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