picture frame molding tutorial

by | Mar 19, 2019 | All Things Home, home improvement, Tutorials | 29 comments

While my mom was here, the biggest job on our project to-do list was wallpapering the guest room.  I was planning on installing the chair rail as a part of that, but I was going to stop there and work on the picture frame/box molding with Jeff.  He’s the real woodworker in our family and he is much more detail-oriented than I am.

Plus, there’s the math.

But once we got the wallpaper done and the room was looking so good, we didn’t want to stop.  I decided to just go for it.  I’ve done other types of trim and I took a chance that I would be able to figure this out.

So, my mom and I went and bought all of the trim we would need for the guest room and we even got a little ambitious and bought it for the bathroom, too!

One tip – The trim comes in 16′ lengths and if you’re getting a lot (we needed 230′ for both rooms), it’s worth having the store cut it down for you as opposed to using the manual saw on the cutting table they let customers use.  We would’ve been there for an hour cutting all of the pieces.  We had them cut them into 8′ lengths, so we could fit them in my van.

In each room, we started by installing the chair rail.  We used this as a guide when installing the box trim, so it was important to make sure it was level.  I chose a height of 32″ for my 9′ ceilings, which is pretty standard.  You can really put a chair rail at whatever height you want, though!

I originally felt like I needed to have all of the boxes the same size, but I kicked that idea to the curb pretty quickly and focused on having uniformity in the space around each box.  I played with 2-4″ and landed on a 3″ space on all sides of each box.  To determine the height of the vertical piece, I measured from the top of the baseboard to the bottom of the chair rail.  For the living room, that measurement was 27″.  I then subtracted 6″ (3″ for the top and 3″ for the bottom) and determined each piece needed to be 21″.

For the horizontal piece, I measured one span of the wall at a time (like from a corner to a door frame or from corner to corner).  If the span was a larger one (over 50″), I would decide if I wanted to split it into two or more boxes or just leave it as one.  For the guest room, I split the two longer walls into three boxes.  In the living room, I opted for one large box, because I knew there would be furniture in the middle of the wall and I didn’t feel the need to use the extra wood or spend the time on something that would always be covered up.

Once I got the measurement for the span of each wall and determined how many boxes I wanted to install, I would subtract 6″ for one box, 9″ for two, 12″ for three, etc.  This was to allow a 3″ space on each side of each box.  That measurement gave me the length I needed to cut my pieces.  Here’s an example of how I drew up a diagram and cut list for my living room…

Under the window of each room, I had the trim line up with the window frame exactly.  Having those boxes inset 3″ on each side would’ve looked a little strange.

I cut all of the pieces on our mitre saw at a 45° angle, so they would fit together to make a box.  Because measuring with a measuring tape can be unreliable, I would measure and cut one piece and then use it as a template for the other of the same size.  That way, the pieces are exactly the same and the box would be perfectly square and not off by 1/16″ here or there.

In the same way, I used blocks to measure the 3″ space around each box.  This way, I didn’t have to pull out the measuring tape and level with each piece I’m installing.  I just position one or two of my blocks between the molding and the chair rail or the molding and the wall and I know it’s right.

Now, because not all trim, floors, and walls are level and plumb, the blocks are just a guide.  I would use them without a level along the chair rail, because I just installed it and I knew it was level.  For the vertical pieces and the baseboard, though, I would double-check with a small level.

So, I always started with the top horizontal piece, then added the right-hand piece, double-checking it with a level.  I would then fit the bottom and left pieces at the same time, to make sure the corners lined up nicely.  My mom would hold them in place while I shot in the nails.  Once we got our system down, we were able to install the trim quickly.  Each room probably took about two hours including the cutting, fitting, nailing, and caulking.

The nailer we use for all of our trim and finishing work is this DeWalt angled finishing nailer.  I used 1 1/2″ nails for this project.

I use Dapp paintable white caulk to fill in all of the holes and seams and painted the wall and trim in a custom white.  (The picture below was after one coat.)

You can also have the trim and wall contrasting colors if you like that look.  I like it both ways, but I’m going to paint mine all white.  Here’s an idea of how it looks in the living room, though, since I haven’t gotten around to painting that, yet.

I’ll show you how the bathroom looks in another post.

The cost of trim for each room was about $150 and that’s a small investment for such an impactful look!  Once you throw in painting, each room probably took 3-4 hours to complete, so it’s an easy weekend project.

I will warn you, though…

It’s addictive.  I’m already eyeing the walls in the master bedroom.



  1. Tori

    The “guide” you made is called a “preacher”. (In the South, anyways). It comes in really handy when building a deck so you can ensure each picket is the same distance. When I asked my husband why it was called a preacher, he said “because preachers never lie”. 😆.

  2. Kim

    Please show a pic of under the windows. I’m not visualizing it. Looks amazing!
    Also, I love the photo of you in the blue dress below. Reminds me of Holly Hobby.

  3. CJ

    Looks great – now time for crown molding in those rooms 😉

    • Marian Parsons

      We’re not doing it in the guest room, but we will be in the bathroom and living room (box beams in the living room, too!)

  4. Eileen

    Your bedroom turned out so beautifully. The wallpaper is just beautiful and I love that dresser and mirror.

  5. Katherine King

    Beautiful work. I’m looking at your curtains in the living room. To get enough width, did you use two panels per side?

  6. Deb Nathan

    Just lovely. I took these kinds of moldings off of my walls when I moved into my 100 year old house, but they had angled corners and looked so fussy in an old farm style victorian. Your rooms just sing! May have to revisit these in my living room…

  7. Ashlee

    That is beautiful!!!

  8. Elizabeth St.

    I love the way you use the boxes. They add lots of interest and texture. I also like the fact that, in this instance, you went for a monochromatic look from the chair rail down.

  9. Joyce

    Fabulously done !!!

  10. Addie

    GORGEOUS!!!! Eye candy!!!
    We know you wanted an old farm house….but I think your touches are making this home everything you need and want for this time of life with your family…as well as it is nice having lots of roomy closets and cupboards .

  11. Gina

    Love, love, love this . . . I’ve been waiting for this tutorial so I can do my bedroom and bath. Unfortunately, I have a very old home with what I believe they call orange peel texture walls. Any suggestions on what inexpensive flat board you could put behind the frames? Also, might you show a picture of around your window, as I wasn’t sure I really got those instructions. Thank you for all the wonderful things you teach us.

  12. Donna

    Love it! I’ve been planning on doing this in my 1895 Victorian to break up LARGE tall walls. I can’t afford to do wallpaper for so much wall space, but this is doable. I’m excited to give it a shot. I have one stair well that is 24+ feet tall and a LOT of wall space. How would you do this to look like panels all the way up the wall? Do you think it could work? I plan to paint it all the color of the walls, but it would make it not so flat and disguise some of the flaws in the old plaster. You always inspire me to keep moving forward. I’m 17 years into a renovation and money and time are short. I lost my work partner- my Dad- after he had several strokes. He just doesn’t have the energy or the use of his hand. It’s heartbreaking, but he loves to hear of my “further adventures”. 🙂

  13. Kim

    Wow, it looks great! My neighbors did this with their suburban home and it just transformed the place. I grew up with trim like this that my parents did in our house and it was wonderful.

  14. Cynthia Raines

    Beautiful work. I like the white in the bedroom and the two colors, just as they are in the livingroom. It looks very crisp, the wall color makes the white really standout. Lovely.

  15. Pamela

    Do you loan or rent Jeff out to other women for woodworking jobs? This sort of paneling look is exactly what I want to do in several rooms. Do you ever watch the DIY program called “Stone House Revival?” It’s mostly in Bucks County, Pennsylvania homes. I could watch the transformation they do in those rooms all day. This is exactly my situation, a 200+ home and I have places I could expose natural stone. However, in a foyer they did a stenciling design of the black and brown checkerboard look. I’ve wanted this for 40 years. I know better than to do it myself. I would like to have the real paneling (for people who aren’t sure what I’m talking about this is not 1970s paneling like in my parent’s basement, I’m sure everyone alive knows that that stuff looks like). Picture in an natural all-wood library or white or painted on the bottom half of very formal rooms in manor houses. Essentially you get the look that was done here in the guest room but its done with sheets of wood, or paneling as its called. I’ve wanted this in the parlor, as the room was called when I was little. Nothing I’ve done has been right. However, my dad was afraid to do it, not being a real carpenter, as the walls are NOT plumb in this 200+ year old house. Norm Abram would pass out at a few things we didn’t get into correcting. I’m going to save these pictures and see if this alternative method might work in places.

  16. Debra Vessels

    The look is so classic and timeless. We have remodeled our 1935 cottage twice since 1997 and the first time we put up the chair rail, intending to put up the picture frame molding later. After replacing all of the sheetrock to add insulation 4 years ago, I did not put the chair rail back up and decided not to do the picture molding. It is such a classic look, but at least I know I can always add it if I change my mind, and your pictures have me thinking, hmm that really looks nice. Well done!

  17. Jeffrey Favreau

    You do such productive work Mariam so glad you have your mother to help. Can I ask a old Question planning our vacation for October in Italy looking to stay in Florence for 5 days and 5 terres and a few other small places. We are winging this on our own with the help of a agent for our flights and rail passes, do you have a special place in your mind to stay? Just a thought from your wonderful time in Europe. I am trying for apartments on Home away. Thanks for your time and love your rails. LOL

  18. Brenda

    I have a room that I want to do. I was really struggling with boxes of different sizes. Sometimes it really helps to have a visual. And to be honest, I really like how the living room looks with light trim but on the Stonington gray wall. I want to do this in my master bedroom, I love the look! Thank you for the post, it was very helpful! A tutorial on beams would be so helpful! 😉

  19. Lee Ann

    It looks fabulous, and I really appreciate the tutorial. But I had to laugh … you taped off your carpet! I thought you were the “brave soul” who painted without a “safety net !” LOL!

  20. Cora

    We did this in a bunch of rooms in our 80s Colonial when we moved in and it added so much character. It can be a great way to make a long and narrow hallway space seem wider. It’s also smart because with kids, dogs and vacuums, the lower half of your walls will need to be painted way before the top. We used a more durable, satin finish on it. I especially like it with the gorgeous paper you chose!

  21. Kris

    Simply beautiful.

  22. Terry

    Beautiful but do you ever worry about shooting a nail through a plastic pipe or an electrical wire in the walls?

  23. Louise Alexander

    It looks awesome. Y’all did a really great job. I just love your house. I have a Jenny Lynn picture just like yours and have had it since the 1970’s.

  24. Linda

    You both did an amazing job!!! I am very impressed that you were able to accomplish it all by yourselves in such a short amount of time.

  25. Kaye

    I LOVE this look and I’m so thankful you did it and posted instructions on the project!!! I’m amazed at all you’ve done in your home; I love it all.

  26. Patricia Kasparian

    This is a great idea you’ve shared. I may do this in the bedroom we’re currently building. Thanks, Marian!

  27. Stephanie

    This you be a dumb question, but does your wall have texture? It looks smooth. My wall isn’t heavily textured, but it isn’t smooth. Would I need to sand it off?

  28. MaryJane Moore

    I have the same question as Stephanie, my walls have an orange peel texture, I’m not sure if that’s just a West Coast thing or not. I have a chair rail in the dining room of our new home & I’m planing on adding picture frame molding.
    Mariam I’ve so enjoyed reading your blog post daily for years now! Your talent is inspirational, your courage to just jump in there & do the job yourself help me to find the courage to give it a try. Thanks for sharing with all of us!


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Marian Parsons - Miss Mustard Seed

I’m Marian, aka Miss Mustard Seed, a wife, mother, paint enthusiast, lover of all things home and an entrepreneur, author, artist, designer, freelance writer & photographer.  READ MORE to learn more about me, my blog and my business…


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