SKIRTINGS or baseboard is a quiet ingredient in a room. A decorative moulding and protective bumper, it neatly hides that untidy gap between the floor and the wall. It’s so much part of our architectural vernacular that we only notice it if it’s not there at all.
With wood flooring the baseboard veils any gaps between the wall and floor as it naturally contracts. It also provides a measure of draught exclusion through cunning gaps in the floor. Until recent years when hardwood flooring became such a rage, skirting was generally a 100mm (4”) apologetic, skinny bit of trim, tacked up with the door architraves during the second-fix carpentry. Painted in the wall colour to lessen its impact or left a pure gloss white, modest Ogee (curving in) and Torus (curving out) were the sum total of moulding choices.
In grand period homes, baseboards had higher walls to scale, and were generally deep and sometimes part of more extensive timber panelling, shielding polite society from soggy, collapsing renders beneath.
Marble skirting sometimes took the place of humble ‘mop-boards’ in the best of houses. Tracking up to the cool daring of the mid-20th century, a slender recess at the base of the wall was developed by architects in place of skirting, sometimes featuring track lighting. Architects can choose to do away with skirting, as sleek wall in plasterwork or wood, quality flooring and a high build finish make the tracery of wood a redundant visual nuisance.
With the arrival of feature skirting matched to fabulous oak, ash and other figured planks, a new catalogue of glorious deep profiles yanked the floor unashamedly up the walls. These handsome baseboards from 150mm up to 230mm marking a return to traditional period sizing. Deep boards not only have a luxurious look but fend off damage to walls by Dinky toys, chair legs and everyday floor level abuse. If you fancy more substantial boards and have suitable plain or chamfered boards you or your carpenter can build a deeper profile by adding mouldings to the top edge. Fix and finish will be important to make the built-up boards look like one original element that’s won’t boomerang across the room.
If you intend to paint your skirting and architraves, MDF offers a stable, economical board that’s light to handle, knot free and ready to go. Look out for primed and pre-finished products that are just in need of a finishing coat. A recent inclusion in MDF and other skirting is a rebate in the back of the board to accommodate wiring. Standard MDF skirting, pre-finished or primed starts around €7 per metre.
PVC skirting is also available for the progressive homeowner looking for easy installation and zero maintenance. This offers the benefit of being waterproof in the bathroom and can include low-voltage cable tidies on the bottom edge. The lengths snap together and come with edge clips that do away with mitre cuts. Try Coving Direct for the Orac and Swish ranges. www.covingdirect.ie from as little as €3 per metre plus delivery.
Softwood is also relatively cheap, but preparation is key if you want a sleek glossy board. Furry, knotty ill-prepared larch skirting will lift paintwork into a stuttering unpleasant finish and if not well fixed will leer off the wall along its top edge. Painting skirting board puts you right up against your precious finished floor and cramps the most agile wrist. It makes sense to paint, stain or oil the boards where possible before installation and then touch-up after the event. Expect to pay around €3 per metre for white deal and a euro or two more for red.
In hardwood, oak, ash, walnut, beech and maple are all widely available. If you can’t mitre corners or handle second fix carpentry confidently, leave these pricy beauties to a qualified carpenter. Prices vary but €12-€15 would be a good deal for well made quality boards in 150mm profiles per metre. If you love the look of hardwood, but can’t quite afford the expense there’s veneered MDF, with real wood veneer set over an MDF core. A tough contender, colour choices are unlimited as you can finish with oil or varnish in just the same way as you would treat real wood. Expect to pay more for thicker models, deeper boards or a character profile.
There are two DIY challenges with handling skirting board. First of all, there’s the tricky business of getting the old boards off. It’s difficult to wheedle old boards away with their accompanying layers of paint sucking to the walls without doing a measure of damage to the plasterwork or plasterboard. Use a slim piece of backing board between the tool and the wall, use gentle taps and tender pulls. Secondly there’s that precision mitre cut, the join between lengths of board at outside corners, inside corners and ideally between even straight runs. If all you have is a clamping mitre box (around €20), take plenty of trial runs at making the cut to 45°. Failing that, or the relief of a table saw, spare yourself the hassle and pay to have the skirting installed by a seasoned pro’.
When ordering you’ll end up with extra metres of skirting, but where possible invest in as many long lengths as you need rather than cobbling together off-cuts. When fitting wood flooring, the floor goes in first to avoid gobbling the skirting height and to help hide slight contraction and swelling of the floor with the baseboards. When using carpet, the skirting can go in first, its edge tucked under a small gap left under the boards. This makes it easy to rip the carpet out when you want a change. Decorators caulk applied and smoothed with a wet finger will hide any small gap between the top edge of the new skirting and the wall.