Base­boards, bland to boast­ful

The Telegram (St. John’s) - Home Buyers' Guide - - DEBBIE TRAVIS -

Base­boards may not be the most im­por­tant el­e­ment in a room, but they serve a prac­ti­cal pur­pose, and in some old homes, a dec­o­ra­tive and ar­chi­tec­tural pur­pose, while neatly cov­er­ing the space where the wall meets the floor. They are also there to pro­tect the wall from mops and vac­uum clean­ers. Sadly, to­day in newer homes most of the beau­ti­ful high base­boards have been re­placed by a 3-inch ver­sion that is best painted the same colour as the walls. How­ever, there are sim­ple ways to em­bel­lish the boards that will give your room char­ac­ter and a sense of im­por­tance. They can make a dec­o­ra­tive state­ment as large or small as you choose.

I have al­ways been fas­ci­nated by base­boards. They frame a room and an­nounce the walls around them. When I was in my twen­ties, I lived in a tiny flat in Lon­don that had 12-inch base­boards, or skirt­ing boards as we called them in the U.K. I spent weeks on my knees strip­ping off lay­ers of paint to re­veal the orig­i­nal pine un­der­neath. It was the fash­ion of the times, and looked amaz­ing. Of course, trends change, and ten years later every­one was paint­ing their wood base­boards white.

In Italy, rather than us­ing wood mould­ings, base­boards, called bat­tis­copa, are gen­er­ally painted onto the lower wall. The lower part of the painted walls takes a beat­ing when the floors are mopped, and a darker colour hides the marks. (An­other trans­la­tion of bat­tis­copa is mop­board.) The base­boards could be a sim­ple band of paint, a foot or more high seen mostly in farm­houses but in grander vil­las they grow higher with dif­fer­ing shades of paint and trompe l’oeil tech­niques. Us­ing shad­ing, th­ese sec­tions could be trans­formed into the look of fancy mould­ings, richly tex­tured and even gilded.

In one of my Tus­can guest rooms, I painted the bat­tis­copa about 22 inches high in medium gray, and topped it with a line of fuch­sia. Th­ese shades were drawn from the stun­ning Tri­cia Dec­o­rat­ing ex­pert and tele­vi­sion per­son­al­ity Deb­bie Travis ap­pears in The Tele­gram’s Home Buy­ers’ Guide each week. Email your ques­tions to house­2home@ deb­bi­ Guild Peony fab­ric that dresses the head­board. The up­hol­stered chair is also trimmed in fuch­sia. While the big­gest im­pact is gleaned from the gi­ant peony, the eye is drawn to the other el­e­ments in the room that com­ple­ment the flower.

If you would like to add some piz­zazz to your base­boards, there are plenty of op­tions. Mould­ings in wood and plas­tic are avail­able in many styles and widths. Build up an ar­chi­tec­turally in­ter­est­ing de­sign by piec­ing to­gether dif­fer­ent widths and shapes. Fill in any spa­ces or gaps with pre-mixed plas­ter filler, prime and paint for a co­he­sive fin­ish.

You can use paint alone, or add a paint de­tail to the top of an ex­ist­ing mould­ing. Your room’s style and mood can dic­tate how you pro­ceed. Vic­to­rian rooms call for high base­boards and or­nate de­tails. They can be painted all white, or pull a colour or two from your furniture fab­rics. A con­tem­po­rary de­sign is more min­i­mal, but a high band of bold colour will also work. In rooms with high ceil­ings, use a high base­board to bring the space into a more com­fort­able hu­man scale. Tran­si­tion style al­lows for a mix of old and new. Keep the base­board about 8 or 9 inches high, and try a com­bi­na­tion of paint and mould­ings.

Base­boards are a fas­ci­nat­ing dec­o­ra­tive de­tail that is of­ten over­looked.

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