The Italian word for ledge, describing any horizontal decorative moulding that defines the top of any architectural feature – especially doors, windows, walls and buildings. External cornices were designed to throw rainwater free of the walls, and in some architectural styles the cornice and eaves are integral.

Cornices depend on light and shade to enhance the crevices and mouldings rather than colour or exotic material.

Room cornices are also an integral part of the architectural style of the building and although the design, shape and style can be changed and manipulated for a particular design angle, the fashion tends to be short lived. Certainly within a period house the original style of cornice will look the best.

Changing the room cornice is not difficult, as they are decorative rather than structural and it’s good to be rid of something inappropriate . If in doubt, always simplify.

Here are two mouldings we use fairly frequently , one for low ceilings where some sort of finish is needed and the other for high ceilings and spacious rooms. They are both very simple and originally from the Georgian period.

Painting the cornice, whether to and how to, is always a query on a redecoration agenda.

The general rules are:

a) to paint all cornices as ceiling, with the same matte paint, so that the detail is shown up by light and shadow, subtly.  The only cornices where detail needs to be defined by colour are in the grand reception rooms of stately homes, to be true to the style of the time.

b) If you need the room to look taller and more spacious, paint the cornice in with the walls, either with the same paint, or in similar tone to a wallpaper beneath.

c) In a scheme when all flat surfaces are given different tones of a colour use one of the lighter ones for the cornice; if the cornice is darker than the walls the room will feel smaller – the ceiling will visually come in and down , when it’s lighter than the walls the ceiling is opened up and out.

d) There are no absolute rules and if you want to try something different then do so, and be prepared to change it if it doesn’t work- paint is the least expensive material in the room.

If you’ve inherited an ugly or inappropriate cornice it’s well worth changing it with the first re-fit, as later on it will, feel too disruptive.

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