7 Ways to Fake Architectural Moldings When You Can’t Afford the Real Thing

published Sep 6, 2020
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Credit: Anik Polo

Nothing creates more old school character and charm in an interior than beautiful architectural moldings. What do you do though when you live in a newer building and can’t afford to hire a contractor for fresh plasterwork or millwork?

Fret not, friends, there’s hope! I asked a few of my favorite interior designers for advice on how to fake the look of moldings, wall panels, and more at home when you can’t afford the real thing, and these fool-the-eye upgrades made their lists. Pick a project—or several—and get to work. All of these faux features are fairly DIY-friendly and easier on the wallet than authentic wooden and plaster accents.

Credit: Amazon

Faux box panels

If you haven’t heard of or seen readymade decorative wall panels, like these molded box-style panels at Amazon, then now’s the time to start searching for a style that will work with your room’s dimensions. “Purchase readymade ‘picture frames’ and nail or glue them to the wall,” designer John McClain advises. “A few coats of paint later, no one will be the wiser. Just be sure to look for frames that will sit flush to the wall surface.”

You could really use this kind of faux millwork in any room, but it’s an especially great source of extra texture and visual interest in a dining room or bedroom. Paint them a contrasting color from the rest of the wall or keep them the same shade for a slight dimensional effect.

Buy: Ekena Millwork Ashford Molded Classic Wainscot Wall Panel, From $12.68 per 2-pack at Amazon

Paint the bottom part of your walls

According to designer Megan Hopp, the simplest and most dynamic way to create a bold architectural feature in your space without real millwork is to paint the bottom half of your walls—or closets and doors—a different color than the top to create the illusion of wainscoting. “You can go for a bold color to define a strong accent or lean to something softer for a subtle detail,” she explains. “If you want to take it a step further, you can paint or tape out a series of geometric boxes and lines to create the look of paneling. I did this in my very first apartment in New York City with bright green paint and a roll of gold tape!”

Why stop at half, either? You can also try this look in thirds or even fourths, as evidenced in the living room above. How much of the wall you paint is up to you, but as a general rule of thumb, darker colors usually look better on the bottom portion of the wall to ground the space. Try this treatment on an accent wall or use it around the entire perimeter of a room for a true “wainscoting” effect.

DIY ceiling medallions

For an easy and cost-effective way to create the look of pricey ceiling plasterwork, Carneil Griffin of Griffin Direction Interiors recommends picking up a PVC medallion or two. “Since they aren’t composed of real wood, PVC ceiling medallions are the front runner for getting the ‘look for less’ in the molding department,” he explains. “After finding that dream chandelier or minimalist pendant, attach the ceiling medallion first, then the light, and customize it with paint.

According to Griffin, these kinds of ceiling medallions are also a great option for renters, since most DIY medallions can be installed with semi-permanent affixing.

Credit: Anik Polo

Buy cheap stock trim pieces

Believe it or not, designer Abbe Fenimore of Studio Ten 25 says you can find and install affordable trim pieces from local hardware stores to create picture molding or paneling in a room. “Once you measure, cut, and paint the pieces, they’re easy to install on the wall,” says Fenimore. “It’s definitely considered a DIY weekend project, but we’ve had quite a bit of success with it.”

Panel-style wallpaper

When you don’t have the time or money to install real wall panels in a room, designer Melissa Warner Rothblum of Massucco Warner says wainscot-inspired wallpaper is the next best thing. “This faux panel wallpaper from Cole & Son can make any room look architecturally detailed—no nails required,” she says. “Just pick your favorite color and mix and match panel sizes and borders from their collection to customize the look best suited for your home.”

Buy: Cole & Son Library Frieze Wallpaper, $173.75 per 11 yard single role from Decorators Best

Credit: Amazon

Faux moldings

To create the look of architectural moldings at a fraction of the cost, designer Lauren Wills of Wills Design Associates says to consider PVC molding panels or trims. “They’re available in panels or as trim, which would work great for a chair rail or crown molding,” she explains. “Paint the bottom and top half [of your room] different colors for a huge impact.

According to Willis, PVC designs are also dent-proof and cut like real wood without cracking or splintering, making it fairly easy for DIYers to work with. “The best part is that it can be glued to a wall—and YouTube has great tutorials,” she says.

Buy: Zhangbl Flexible Moulding Crown Molding Trim, $18.80 for a roll from Amazon

Credit: Selena Kirchhoff

Hollow beams

According to designer Becky Shea, one architectural detail that you can fake for substantially less money that gives you major bang for your buck are hollow beams, which look like structural ones. “If you want to add collar ties or a ridge beam to your space but don’t want to deal with structural changes, heavy machinery, or opening up walls, you can opt to build your beams onsite using four pieces of wood that create a box,” she explains. “This hollow method is less dense and easier to manage during install. The result gives you the look of the real deal, all without the headaches or inflated costs!”