Many period properties, particularly ones built in the 19th and early 20th century, would originally have had coving/cornicing in all or some of the rooms.
A room without coving looks rather bare - it’s amazing what a difference it makes. As well as being decorative, coving is a good way of hiding hairline cracks and other imperfections, and makes it easier to get a neat line between a different wall and ceiling colour when painting.
Styles of coving changed throughout history, just as styles of architecture did generally, so make sure any coving you buy matches the period of your home.
If you have coving in some rooms and not others, this is the best indication of style, or your neighbours’ homes may have original coving you can copy.
Specialist coving companies sell popular period-style designs and can often match existing coving (and repair and restore it, if necessary).
The modern trend of knocking rooms through may mean that you have coving in one half of the room and not the other, which is where matching an original design becomes invaluable.
Period coving is made of plaster and many coving companies also work in plaster. This is fine if they’re fitting it for you, but I wouldn’t recommend that you put up plaster coving yourself because it’s very heavy.
DIYers should play safe and stick to lighter coving materials, which are easier to work with and won’t knock you out if they accidentally fall off the ceiling.
The lightest and easier coving to use is expanded polystyrene, but there are other DIY-friendly types, including polyurethane and duropolymer.
As well as getting coving that’s the right period for your home, it’s important to get the right size for the room.
Large rooms with high ceilings will be able to take wider, more elaborate designs, while smaller rooms with low or standard-height ceilings will be better suited to narrower, plainer coving.
The more modern the property, the plainer the coving should (generally) be. Coving can, of course, be used in modern houses and flats to add interest to a room, but it tends to be a plain concave design.
It’s a really good idea to buy coving that has matching pre-cut corners because cutting the corners yourself is a nightmare. Even pre-cut corners don’t necessarily fit perfectly because rooms in old houses often aren’t square, so you may have to do some clever filling to get the corners looking good.
For really big corner gaps, use multipurpose filler or wedge a sliver of coving into the gap and, in both cases, cover with flexible filler. You’ll need a lot of this when adding coving, and not just for the corners. The only way to get a good finish is to use flexible filler all along the top and bottom edges of the coving and in the vertical gaps between lengths, where you’ll have to do quite a few applications to get the best result.
Always use the adhesive recommended for the coving you’ve chosen and have some panel pins to hand because you may need them to keep the coving up while the adhesive dries.
The panel pins can either be banged right in (use a nail punch to avoid damaging the coving) or left slightly protruding so they can be removed.