Fitting a decorative plaster cornice, to cover the join around the top of a wall where it meets the ceiling, became popular in Georgian times but the practice really took off in the Victorian period when the process of producing cornice, which is now most commonly referred to as coving, changed dramatically. During the 18th century cornice was run by hand on site and often in situ making it a very slow labour intensive and expensive process. The Victorians changed all that though when they mass produced set lengths of plaster cornice from moulds in workshops, which was then delivered to site and installed. These new methods of production not only had a significant cost benefit they also allowed for more elaborate designs and styles of coving and cornice to be introduced.
There were very few original forms created especially for cornice, instead the Victorian architects, designers and builders picked the popular styles and fashionable architectural themes of their day and incorporated them into their plaster coving and cornice. The vast majority of the elements making up the designs both of Georgian and Victorian cornice were taken directly from antiquity because this was central to the Neo Classical and Renaissance Revival architecture that was in vogue.
I have often seen it written that the best way to authentically replace coving in a Victorian house is to go next door and see if they have any original coving left (assuming they have and do not mind your intrusion), you should then have a cast made from their original cornice and a small quantity made for your property and installed. However to do this would not only try the patience of your neighbours it would be prohibitively expensive for most people. If you do not live in a Grade 1 listed Victorian building it is also worth considering that the original coving was almost certainly a mass-produced plaster moulding, which was chosen by the builder because it was affordable and would create a pleasing effect. Exactly the same process still applies when selecting a cornice. Our fibrous plaster coving is made by hand in a mould the same way it was 150 years ago so it is still possible to choose and buy an authentically styled period plaster cornice.
Choosing coving is easier than often imagined, it’s what homeowners and builders have been doing for hundreds of years. Typically most people just choose something they like, which I personally think is always the best solution. On our store website there are articles that examine some of the different coving styles that we stock, like Egg and Dart, Ogee, Dentil and Modillions to provide additional interesting background information on the cornice designs. When buying coving for your home remember though that quality doesn’t always have to mean expensive and on our website it's easy to compare styles.