Design Tips

Recently, Sally and I have had the opportunity to work on a project that took several years to complete which gave us great experience developing pricing/estimates for multiple French architectural trim options comparing wood to plaster matching the wood profiles to “can you be clever?” A great example is the crown molding in the project. The following examples are from the living room/dining room, foyer, family room and master bed room.

Let’s start with several images of crown molding from our Paris trip we showed the client to which they said, “Yes, I love it!”

Crown with decorative onlay in an Haussmann Style apartment.

crown with decorative onlay; Wilson Kelsey Design

Even with many layers of paint, the lamb’s tongue shines thru.

Decorative crown; WIlson Kelsey Design

French cove moldings. This is in an apartment we visited on the Left Bank.

Left Bank Apartment; Wilson Kelsey Design

In the Grange showroom on the Right Bank. Beginning to see similarities?

Left Bank French cove molding; Wilson Kelsey Design

The roots of these coves? Let’s look at Chateau Vaux Le Vicomte, built in the mid 1600’s.

Vaux le Vicomte Cove; Wilson Kelsey Design

Vaux Le Vicomte Crown; Wilson Kelsey Design

Jumping into the time machine, we arrive back at our job site  and the cost comparisons in which we were involved.

In the living room/dining room and master bedroom, we selected a two piece White River crown with decorative onlay from their Mon Reale Collection. Starting with the Master Bedroom. (Please excuse the photographs. They were taken during construction)

French Style master bedroom; Wilson Kelsey Design

And the living room.

crown during construction; Wilson Kelsey Design

Almost done… Awaiting delivery of antique sconces from Trianon Antiques. Dining room is to the left, same crown.

Living room crown; Wilson Kelsey Design

As a two part molding for White River molding the installed price was about $45/lineal foot. In plaster, the price was about 3.5 times as much per lineal foot. As an aside, the gas fire places in the master bedroom and living room are from Town and Country. Wonderfully engineered “frameless” design, they generate great flames with minimal heat output. The master bedroom mantel is Francois & Co. The living room is from Chesneys. Both have fab customer service, engineers and shop drawings. The floor is a premium grade 7″ walnut plank floor.

In the foyer, a large 4 piece cove molding was created from White River trim to enhance the height of the room.

French style foyer crown, Wilson Kelsey Design

A close up detail…

French style foyer crown detail; Wilson Kelsey Design

This cost about $65/lineal foot installed. In plaster, we were looking at costs of three times as much.

The family room was much less formal and less costly. Looks remarkably similar to the Grange showroom crown…

family room crown; Wilson Kelsey Design

It is a three piece molding made from Forester Molding, installing at just under $20 per lineal foot.  For comparison in plaster the molding cost about three times as much.

Then there were the “can you be clever” rooms – the children’s rooms. There we were able to keep the installed cost down to under $15/lineal foot by using Forester trim. Simple crown and a small piece of applied trim a few inches below the crown. The client wanted the second piece of trim on the wall so that the overall effect would appear larger.

two piece crown; Wilson Kelsey Design

By way of contrast, we recently designed a crown on another project using separate pieces of trim in which the second piece of trim was applied to the ceiling. The effect being the crown reaches our on to the ceiling. Much more if a cove effect, without the expense of a true cove. Far more effect in my opinion.

ceiling inside corner, wilson kelsey design

ceiling outside corner, wilson kelsey design

Over the past 12 months, Sally and I have learned it is possible to create delightful French style crown molding across a broad range of price points.  It’s a very satisfying feeling.


John Kelsey, Wilson Kelsey Design

Every home has a story to tell. We’d love to help you tell yours. Please contact us here.

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Sally and I are pleased and honored to be featured in a two part series where we discuss how we work with our clients and each other in the AIA’s August online publication, CRAN CHRONICLE and remain married after all these years…

John Kelsey and Sally Wilson of Wilson Kelsey Design

Have a great week and remember, Design Matters!



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I periodically post design sketches of the projects we’re working on on our WKD Facebook page. I thought I’d consolidate a series of sketches and mockups we have done on the interior renovation of the living room in an Antique Colonial/Federal Period Reproduction home to show the progression we go thru with a client when we’re working thru the design of the interior architecture of a room with them.

First it’s the ideas and inspiration.

Sometimes it comes from our own work, as in the paneling and mantel surround we designed for a home in Lincoln, MA several years ago.

Colonial paneling and mantel surround designed by Wilson Kelsey Design

Or it can come from from the traveling Sally and I do, as we continue to educate ourselves, learning about our profession and architectural heritage. These are pictures I took in the basement of the Swan House in Atlanta, Georgia last spring. They are of the paneling that was in Philip Trammel Schutze’s apartment, the architect of the Swan House.

Philip Trammel Schutze apartment, Swan House; Wilson Kelsey Design

Philip Trammel Schutze apartment, Swan House; Wilson Kelsey Design

We often turn to our library as a resource. For this project, I pulled Brent Hull’s, Traditional American Rooms off the shelf. It is a fabulous documentary of many of the Federal Period Rooms at Winterthur. I referred to this book recently as I worked on the mantel and cabinetry design for a project we are doing in Wellesley and Charlestown.

The Marlboro Room

Marlboro Room Winterthur

The Hampton Room

Winterthur, The Hampton Room

I reviewed these and other images with our client, went thru their own extensive library with them and began sketching, quickly coming up with 4 ideas.

I call these little sketches/doodles “cartoons”. They don’t communicate much detail, rather they express Gestalt – feel, emotion, a sense of place.

first Federal Period paneling/mantel sketches; Wilson Kelsey Design

Our client pounced on the bottom left because of the mantel. They asked that we keep the door frame assembly simple, as shown on the right of the sketch.

We then moved into more detail and larger scale, reconfirming the selected mantel design in the process.

Yes, the walls will be green – not this intense…

living room mantel elevation, WIlson Kelsey Design

Too leggy…

Federal style paneling and mantel; Wilson Kelsey Design

Next we drilled down to the panel trim.

This shows the panel trim within the confines of the stiles and rails of the paneling. Note how the door trim/assembly has been pulled forward, proud of the paneling, emphasizing it’s verticality, giving the room “lift”. (Lesson learned when visiting Paris last January.)

Federal Period Style Panel; Wilson Kelsey Design

Here the trim sits proud of the stile/rail assembly by about 1/8″. We liked the shadow line created by the difference in height.

Federal Style Paneling Study; Wilson Kelsey Design

We moved on to mock ups and what I call the “eyeball design” phase, confident of the outcome…

Six different mockups were done. I”ll keep it simple.

Here are the two finalists.

Trim proud of stile/rail; Wilson  Kelsey Design

Trim within the stile/rail; Wilson Kelsey Design

We got fooled. What we thought would be best was not. The trim that sat proud of the stile rail called too much attention to itself. You saw a series of picture frames as opposed to an integrated whole, which is what we saw with the trim that sat fully within the stile/rail assembly. it was softer, more delicate – in balance with the room.

Repeat after me.

Pencils are cheap. 2×4’s are expensive.

Mock ups, mock ups, mock ups!!!

Fractions of an inch actually matter – tremendously!!!

And so, the unfinished room awaits it’s final assembly.

federal style paneling and mantel in construction; Wilson Kelsey Design

Take a close look at the flu assembly – how it corbels to the right to pass steel beam supporting the second floor.

I wonder what happens on the second floor…



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