Friday, May 1, 2009

The Improper Use of Cyma Recta (Crown Molding)

I see lots of people misuse crown molding. There are 2 ways that people mess up. One major mess up, is that they install it upside down. The other way which is what I'm most intrigued by and guilty of myself is using crown molding in an improper way. Using the wrong crown for the job. These illustrations are from one of my Favorite books "Get Your House Right" This book really has helped me with my details. You will never design the same way after reading it.

There are 2 types of crown molding, Cyma Recta (self terminating) and Cyma Reversa (supportive). How can you tell which one is which? Start by examining the top of the molding. If it points OUT, then its a self terminating molding. If the profile points UP then its a supportive molding. Why is that important? When your designing millwork you want the details to feel like they belong. Drawing the eye upward and out.
The moldings in a build up should showcase that they are fluid and are uninterrupted all the way to the top and have a graceful finish. In this picture, notice how the Entablature on the top feels cut short or missing something. It also looks very odd and is lacking that finish or ending. Almost making it seem like there is no point. Trim work like this is very amateurish in nature, because there is no thought to the classical orders of architecture.

Now look at the Entablature on the bottom. It just feels right, and complete. Notice also on the lower one the bed molding has the chunk or meat at the top so it can look like its holding all the weight of the corona and terminating cyma on top. Look closely at the miter and see that it invites your eyes to continue looking up and out to see the weight and also the delicateness of the finishing fillet at the top. Very attractive!

Here is another example of using the wrong crown. The eye is seeing a heavy beam detail but with that delicate crown holding it up. That just doesn't work aesthetically, because of the smaller profiles and the outward direction the crown is pointing. It draws the eye out and away from the rest of the beam. The details are still going up so you want your molding to be pointing toward the next detail or where the finish line is..that is Up at the ceiling, or top of the entablature. The natural place the eye wants to go.

See this one is much better...The crown is supportive of the next part of the detail..The Beam. Also, at the top of the beam is a self terminating molding (Cyma Recta) which shows your eye the finish. Knowing when, where , and how to use these moldings appropriately is something that all quality finish carpenters should know. Especially if they claim to be attentive to the details. I have been installing moldings for the past 14 years only recently learned this. I have to admit its a humbling experience learning that details that you thought were correct...are actually Very Wrong architecturally speaking!....That is why its important to take the time and study the craft. I have always had an eye for the details and knowing what looks good. . But it wasn't until I read some books like the one I mentioned that explained the reasoning behind the design. There is a reason why something looks good. It really makes a HUGE difference in the end result. You cant just throw moldings together expecting them to look as good as those from the past.

The main Goal for me is to always try to be architecturally correct when I design. For me that means getting the little details right. Granted most people probably wouldn't even care or think about the details like i would. But I feel that in order to be a better finish carpenter, you need to study the craft. Putting together Millwork that looks and feels good requires that you know the reason why you put those moldings together. Look at Historic and classical architecture to get the details right. Its always something I'm working on..and it can be frustrating at times..but the sense of satisfaction I get from caring about the details is truly rewarding...


  1. Wow! Thanks for bringing it back to the basics! It is easy to forget that there IS a right and a wrong way to do things. I will have to look into that book.

    TrimLogic Inc.

    1. thank you. currently in a class and was about to take a quiz on molding. your blog helped.