What is Millwork?

When discussing interior architecture, millwork refers to any piece of woodwork that was created in a mill. Simple, right? However, this broad category of finishing woodwork can encompass multiple types of wood, trim styles, standard pieces, as well as custom projects. As a rule of thumb, millwork is any item created from raw lumber and cut in a sawmill. Everything from molding to doors to flooring to cabinets to custom built-ins falls in the category of millwork. So, why are these finishing details so crucial to a home’s design scheme? 

In this article, our Texas-based interior designers and architects will be reviewing a brief history of millwork applications in the home, essential millwork terms to know when talking to your designer and contractor, styles to become familiar with, and why adding millwork is so vital to a finished design.  

A Brief History of Millwork 

Historically, millwork has been applied to homes to add decorative flair, warm ambiance, and elegant personality. It is important to note that millwork elements serve a decorative purpose rather than a structural need. At its core, millwork is a celebration of the design process. The application of millwork can be seen in almost every design style throughout history. Examples include intricate moldings of Victorian homes, refined paneling in Colonial estates, and celebrated built-ins of Craftsman-style homes. Millwork hit its peak from 1880 through 1910, coinciding with Victorian design. During this period, industrialization made it possible to standardize the process, making wood moldings, trims, and panels affordable and practical choices to clad the home. While millwork was abandoned to give way to more modern designs, we are now seeing a return to millwork applications because of the warmth and personality they offer.  

Terms to Know When Talking About Millwork 

Since millwork is a broad category, it is important to be familiar with terms and definitions to discuss design plans with your interior designer, architect, or contractor. Here is our list of “must-know” millwork terms.  

Millwork 

Millwork refers to any type of woodwork produced in a mill and can include everything from crown molding to flooring. 

Crown Molding 

Crown molding is a type of millwork created to accentuate the point where the ceiling and wall meet. Crown molding can vary in size and range from simple to ornate.  

Casing 

Casing refers to finishing trim around a door or window frame. The standard casing width spans two to three inches. 

Picture Rail

Picture railing is a less commonly seen type of millwork. It is a small piece of molding that allows pictures to be hung without nailing directly into the wall. Typically picture rails are installed between seven and nine feet from the floor and are paired with crown molding.  

Chair Rail 

Chair rails are practical pieces of millwork designed to prevent chairs from backing into and scuffing the wall. However, they can also be applied as a form of decoration. Chair rails are typically installed three feet from the floor. 

Wainscotting 

Wainscotting is paneling that can cover the lower half or full wall. Wainscotting varies in style and adds lots of character to a room. 

Baseboard 

Baseboards are trim pieces that are installed at the seam where the floor meets the wall. This finishing piece can range in height from three to five inches.   

Column 

When made of wood, decorative columns fit into the millwork category as well. Squared wood columns are popular in the Craftsman style. 

Mantel 

Wood fireplace mantels can range in style and come in both standard and custom specifications. 

Trim

Trim refers to any decorative piece of millwork used to frame and finish a wall, door, window, floor, or ceiling. 

Railing and Banister 

Wooden stair railings and banisters can become gorgeous millwork focal points in an entryway. Railing refers to the vertical or horizontal supports, and banister refers to the handrail.  

Casework 

Casework refers to forms of boxed construction storage like cabinets and shelving. Casework is typically made in standard sizes and can be combined with specified millwork for a custom look.  

Cabinetry 

Cabinetry is a type of casework made up of shelves, doors, and drawers. It is utilized for storage in areas like a kitchen or bathroom. 

Bookshelf

Bookshelves are pieces of casework that can be made up of open shelving and closed storage. 

Custom Built-in 

Custom built-ins can be designed to fit any specification or design, making them an excellent choice for awkward spaces or design schemes with a high level of personalization.  

Millwork Styles 

When first discussing millwork, the mind can gravitate towards images of traditional style and old-world charm. However, millwork can be utilized in traditional, modern, coastal, and rustic-inspired designs. Here are a few popular molding and wainscotting styles to keep in mind. Always remember that millwork can be highly customized! 

Molding Styles 

  1. Dentil – Dentil moldings consist of a repeated block pattern, typically associated with traditional and Colonial style. 
  2. Egg and Dart – Egg and dart moldings feature repeating oval pattern, giving off a formal feel. 
  3. Stepped – Stepped moldings are named for a stepping pattern that can give a modern look to a room. 
  4. Cove – Cove moldings offer a simpler design featuring a curved slope. They are commonly seen in a range of design schemes. 

Wainscotting Styles 

  1. Flat Panel – Flat panel wainscotting offers a simple design with less ornamentation, giving a clean, modern line perfect for transitional design. 
  2. Raised Panel – Raised panels create a more dimensional look and are commonly associated with traditional design schemes. 
  3. Board and Batten – Board and batten is an even simpler paneling style. Boards are trimmed with batten pieces in a style that creates larger panels. This type of wainscotting can be seen in Craftsman and farmhouse-inspired designs. 
  4. Beadboard – Beadboard features smaller vertical panels with decorative beading in between. Beadboard is perfect for coastal homes.  

Why Should You Add Millwork to Your Home?

Since millwork is purely decorative, the practical side of you may question why it should be added to your home at all. At Amity Kett, we believe millwork adds a level of personalization and warmth to a home that cannot be achieved with sheetrock and paint alone. Trims, moldings, and panelings are the difference between an empty shell and a home where one can comfortably live. It is important to consider how simple decorative elements can transform a space from feeling cold and boxy to warm and cozy. These elements can highlight the proper proportions and details to create a sense of welcome. 

In many cases, simple millwork items like crown molding and baseboard are enough to frame and define a room. Other spaces, like a home office, can benefit from floor to ceiling paneling and custom built-ins for practical storage. Millwork is one romantic design element that will always have us coming back for more.

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