Decorating a cookie cutter house is full of creative challenges, mostly where character is concerned. We live in a 1959 ranch that would be pretty run of the mill if it wasn’t for the brick wall in our kitchen and living room. But the bedrooms? Uninspired blank boxes with zero interesting elements.
I was considering how to add some character to my daughter’s new bedroom without just throwing more stuff into the small space. Clutter does not equal character. I felt a little envious of the wide moulding and beamed ceilings of spaces I was pinning to my Pinterest boards, when the thought occurred to me—I could add my own touch of architectural interest to the room with a functional picture rail!
I love the interest that breaking up wall color adds to a space, and finishing off the transition between colors with moulding adds an elevated look to the room. Throw in the picture rail functionality to the deal, and the bland room now has a generous dose of character! Not to mention my drywall has been saved from many future nail holes as artwork gets rearranged on the walls. Check out how I did it below.
-duct tape (helpful during a dry fit when working with less hands)
-wood glue (if you are joining together different pieces of moulding)
-nail gun or hammer with a nail set
I purchased my picture rail hooks before selecting my moulding because I envisioned myself ordering hook after hook, only to find that they didn’t fit the moulding I had purchased. I brought the hook with me to the lumber yard and asked the millwork men if they had any picture rails. They look confused. Not good. When I explained what a picture rail was, they understood, and said, “No, I’m sorry, we don’t have that.”
So I looked around the lumber yard at the seemingly endless selection of pre-cut moulding and finally found one little strip that perfectly fit my picture rail hook. I brought it to the same guy and said “Found one!” He said, “No, that’s pencil moulding.” I said, “Not anymore! Now it’s a picture rail.”
The problem with the pencil moulding was that it was just really skinny. Not exactly the dramatic detail I had envisioned for the room. So I looked around at the other moulding before I found another profile that looks great when resting below the pencil moulding. I had them cut the pieces to the measurements I had made of our room (with a little extra just in case), and brought them home in my parents’ mini van.
Because I’m not a master craftsman, I didn’t use any fancy installation techniques, such as fashioning coping joints, but I did get the job done with professional looking results. Check out my tips to get the same look in your own home.
Tip #1: Glue together your strips of moulding before trimming and installing. To get started, I glued together the lengths of moulding (before trimming them) so they could be installed in one piece. To do this, I simply ran a bead of wood glue along the pencil moulding and used duct tape as a clamp to attach it to the other strip of moulding. Make sure to wipe down any seeping glue right away or it will harden and become almost impossible to remove.
After the glued moulding had dried for over an hour, we measured each section of wall and began cutting the pieces of moulding to fit. I used a miter saw to cut 45 degree angles where the moulding would meet in the corner. Against door frames, I just cut the moulding straight across. As you can see above, the angle of miter saw can be adjusted to the specific angle you cant to cut. My saw locks into place at common angles, such as 45 degree angles, taking away any guess work as I cut.
Tip #2: Always cut the moulding a bit longer than you think you need it. It might mean lots of trips back to the miter saw, but it’s better to take your time than to trim a board too short. You may end up needing to recut your angles because…
Tip #3: Your walls may not be square, 90-degree angles, so don’t assume they are! As you can see below, my walls were not square, so my angles were too obtuse to fit together. I had to shift the angle of my miter saw to make the angled ends of my moulding more acute. After recutting each piece of moulding to something closer to a 43 degree angle, the corners fit together perfectly.
Tip #4: When tweaking the angle of your cuts to ensure a good fit in the corners, both pieces of moulding must be cut to the same angle. If you cut one piece to a 50 degree angle, but leave the other angle at a 45, they will not match up when fit together. They must be cut to the same angle, such as 48 and 48 degrees.
Once our corner angles matched up perfectly, I trimmed the end of that piece (shown above) to fit snugly against the door frame. When we were checking the corner miters, we held the boards above the door frame so the untrimmed board could rest flat against the wall to accurately check the corner fit without cutting the board to fit inside of the door frame. I wanted to save some length in case I needed to make more cuts at the corner to get a good fit.
Tip #5: Do a dry fit before painting and installing the trim. We used duct tape to hold the moulding up to check out the joints as we trimmed each length of moulding. We didn’t leave the duct tape up for very long, so it didn’t leave any marks on our walls.
Tip #6: Use a level when installing the moulding— don’t rely on paint lines or chalk lines.
Tip #7: Nail the moulding into studs. These rails should be capable of bearing heavy weight on the hooks, so make sure they are secure by fastening them into the studs on the wall. Use a stud finder to locate the studs and mark them with masking tape to make installation quick and easy.
Tip #8: Hide imperfect joints on painted moulding (not stained wood) by caulking the joints and painting over the caulk. I cut one of my pieces too short and actually had to piece a sliver of moulding into the corner to fix my mistake. The joint still wasn’t perfect, but I was so over it by this point, and the gap ended up not even being visible in the end, thanks to a little caulk and paint!
Tip #9: Cover nail holes for a nice finish. I painted my boards before installation, so I used a synthetic filler to cover the tiny nail holes, then dabbed primer and paint over each spot so that they’re now unnoticeable.
I chose to paint the moulding before installation because I didn’t want to be 7 months pregnant priming moulding in an enclosed area on a ladder. Very bad ideas, all of them. Also, when priming raw wood, there’s lots of sanding between coats involved to get a professional finish, and it’s just a lot easier and less messy to do that outside on saw horses. Here are the steps you should follow to get silky, smooth painted moulding:
1. Lightly sand down the unfinished wood to remove any splintered cuts or rough surfaces. Then thoroughly wipe away any residual dust.
2. Spray with one moderately heavy coat of primer. Don’t spray it on so thick that it drips, though. My favorite primer to use is 123 primer. It works really well to fill in any wood grain that might be visible, too.
3. Wet sand the first coat of primer with 400 grit wet/dry sandpaper (just keep dunking the sandpaper into a bucket of water as you sand to keep things wet) or buff it with grade 0000 steel wool (which is what I did, since that’s what I had on hand). Wet sanding works to really smooth out any unevenness in the finish caused by pronounced wood grain, but if you’re using a wood like poplar without pronounced grain, buffing with steel wool is probably good enough. Do not skip this step, though, because it will make the finish sleek and smooth, removing the little hairs of the wood that pop up when the primer initially soaks into it.
4. Spray with one more coat of primer.
5. Finish with two or three light coats of your semi-gloss paint. Semi gloss is a great finish for moulding because it is sleek, easily wiped down, and the paint finish isn’t easily damaged by cleaning products like eggshell or even satin finish paint is. Spraying the paint will ensure a smooth finish without brush marks, but brush marks aren’t the end of the world!
Once your touch-ups are dried and cured, go ahead and hang some pictures! I mounted strap hangers on the back of the side rails of my picture frames so I could easily attach wires on each side. I cut each side’s wires to be the same length, then looped the top and twisted the wire around to secure it in place, as shown above. While holding a level on top of the picture, I pulled on one side or the other of the frame to tighten the wire as needed in order to make the picture level.
Things look much more polished in Lucy’s big girl room with the addition of the picture rail moulding. When she got home and saw it, she squealed with delight. I said, I know! So fun, right? –Mandi
Credits // Author and Photography: Mandi Johnson. Photos edited with Valentine and Stella from the Signature Collection.