A classic architectural embellishment with a long lineage, decorative mouldings can be used to mask, contour, or enhance the seams of surfaces with an added flourish. Cutting a striking profile with prominent angles and sinuous curves, the traditional trimmings can create a cohesive and polished aesthetic. Adapted from elements of ancient architecture, modern mouldings maintain a rich vocabulary of decorative motifs that are modeled with recesses and reliefs, which are often set in rhythmically repeated patterns. A catalogue of moulded motifs introduced centuries ago have persevered over the years and still stand as symbols of traditional taste and acquired attention to architectural detail. “Classic architectural elements such as mouldings adorn and decorate homes and building exteriors with purpose and deep history,” says Nikki Dodson of Ekena Millwork. “We value aesthetics as a means of expressing ourselves through creativity and skill, celebrating beauty or prosperity. The popularity of these mouldings have endured and will continue to do so, so that designers, homeowners, architects, and builders will have an opportunity to convey their achievements and love for their craft through the designs of their homes and buildings.” The information below outlines the visual characteristics of two popular decorative moulding motifs—egg-and-dart and dentil—while tracing their lineage and exploring their continued use today.
Origins and Overview
It is understood that the origins of decorative egg-and-dart and dentil mouldings date back to ancient Greek and Roman architecture. Profiles and rules of proportion served to support or separate surfaces, while implying a structural logic. Both decorative motifs proceeded to become popular ornamentations of the Beaux Arts, Federal, Georgian Revival, Colonial Revival, Greek Revival, Neoclassicism, Renaissance Revival, and Second Empire. As monumental architecture advanced, mouldings evolved from the use of ephemeral materials to encompass more enduring surfaces such as stone. Through this measured progression, moldings continued to contribute to a comprehensive decorative system that is still used today.
Enhanced by carefully rendered carvings, the profiles of decorative architectural mouldings may feature an assortment of stylized forms, from geometric shapes and spirals to combinations of rounded and angular forms. Clever combinations of simple profiles and intricate carvings created a rich vocabulary that has been employed by designers and architects since its conception. “Intricate architectural details are what allows an individual’s personal style to be imparted into their home or space,” says Dodson. “Whether it is historical accuracy, pretty details that standout, or grand designs that make a statement; the driving force behind the design is a representation of someone’s story, or their brand, or their love for beauty. Dentil and egg-and-dart moulding have survived centuries capturing history in their profiles.”
Visual Characteristics and Construction
Egg-and-dart mouldings are characterized by a careful repetition of interchanging figures—a rounded echinus, or oval-shaped form, is bounded by alternating angular elements, such as downward-pointing darts. With the earliest examples found in ancient Greece, these mouldings are often seen adorning classical cornices or atop ionic capitals and friezes. Sometimes stamped or carved in sections, the appearance of alternating ovoid shapes and vertical bars are said to bear semblance to Greek soldiers holding shields and spears. “Egg-and-dart offers many variations of egg-shaped ovals alternating with a v-shaped element such as an arrow, anchor, or dart,” says Dodson. “The repetitive pattern of curved and non-curved elements creates delicate and detailed designs. Many times, egg-and-dart profiles are combined with bead-and-reel, rope, or floral profiles to make a stacked or layered look providing that classic regal feel it is known for.” Egg-and-dart design elements offer rich and refined embellishments that evoke a regal aesthetic.
A decorative band that boasts a simple repetition of closely spaced, rectangular blocks, dentil mouldings most often project below the cornice and along the roof line of a building. Dentil mouldings were a foremost feature employed in the architecture of ancient Rome and the Italian Renaissance. The name dentil is a noun that stems from the Latin word for tooth, which aptly depicts the appearance of the ornamentation. It is understood that the projection of the dentil should be of equal measure to its width, and the intervals between each must measure half this distance. “A dentil is one block of a sequence of closely spaced rectangular blocks that form a molding,” explains Dodson. “Dentil molding exudes proportionality and symmetry. It is often referred to as ‘tooth’ trim, as the series of blocks resemble perfectly spaced teeth. Many dentil profiles consist of a single row of square or rectangle blocks, offering a clean, modern take on the ancient architecture. More elaborate stacked profiles consisting of curves or geometric shapes with various rows of differing size and spaced blocks combined can be used for a more traditional or luxurious home style.” Dentil mouldings deliver a dramatic and stately appearance that demands proportionality and symmetry.
While moulding motifs have endured in the centuries since their inception, the materials have changed. Original heavy stones have been replaced by more malleable and lightweight materials such as plaster or solid milled wood. Contemporary craftsmen can also choose moldings made from foam and flexible polyurethane, which enable an easy installation and low-maintenance application. “Polyurethane is formed when two chemicals react creating a foam-like structure,” explains Dodson. “When this reaction occurs in a pre-primed mold, the urethane foams, expands to the desired shape, and then hardens. This reaction creates tremendous heat, causing the primer on the mold to fuse to the material, forming a hard outer shell. A high-density product with crisp detail is then released from the mold. The result is an exact replica of the historical pattern in an easy to use, easy to install light-weight product. Our polyurethane mouldings are a cost-effective alternative to traditional materials such as expensive wood or heavy plaster. The great thing about polyurethane is it is low maintenance. Urethane will not absorb water and will never have insect infestations, making it perfect for interior and exterior applications.”