BEFORE UNADORNED WALLS became the modern vogue, decorative wall design consisted of seven sections: baseboards to prevent bootprints; wainscoting to disguise fingerprints; chair rails to protect from furniture; frescoed, stenciled or wallpapered fill; picture rails to safeguard soft plaster from nails, friezes for decoration and cornices to achieve a finished look.
At the turn of the century, not only the walls but also virtually every inch of a home's interior space was decorated. Stairs were embellished and fitted with brass corners. Gilt cornices topped windows. Doors had spindled arches, scenic panels, embossed hinges, pins and escutcheon plates. Keyholes were carved like rosebuds, and even ceilings were covered with stamped-tin designs.
For homeowners who have never warmed to the minimalist look, there are many places to buy these ornamental architectural details. Unlike some of their historic models, newly fabricated details are made in modern, lightweight materials. They're indistinguishable from the originals after they are painted but are much easier to handle than, say, a 100-pound, solid-wood ceiling medallion.
The J. P. Weaver Co. in Burbank, embellisher of the State Capitol and Hearst Castle, stocks more than 8,000 delicate period ornaments in pliable, self-adhesive composition. The House of Mouldings in Van Nuys stocks hundreds of wooden moldings (look for Art Deco designs here) plus ceiling medallions, staircase parts, plaques, finials, spindles and fancy corbels. And the World of Moldings in Santa Ana carries a full range of ornaments plus fancy fretwork, scrollwork and columns.