Decorative Plaster: A Guide to Arches, Columns, Medallions & More

by Joost Nusselder | Updated on:  June 19, 2022
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Plaster is a material made of calcium sulfate, used to cover walls, ceilings, and other surfaces. However, it can also become decorative plaster. Decorative plaster is a type of plasterwork that uses plaster as a decorative material to shape and decorate interior walls and ceilings. This centuries-old art form originated in Europe and is used in both historic and modern buildings.

In this article, we’ll explore the history, definition, and uses of decorative plaster.

What is decorative plaster

Why Decorative Plaster is the Ultimate Building Material

Craftsmen have been using decorative plaster for centuries to add beauty and elegance to buildings. Here are some famous examples of decorative plaster:

  • The Palace of Versailles in France features elaborate plasterwork on its ceilings and walls
  • The Alhambra in Spain is known for its intricate plaster carvings
  • The Taj Mahal in India features delicate plasterwork in its domes and arches

The Benefits of Using Decorative Plaster Craftsmen

Using skilled craftsmen to install decorative plaster can add even more benefits to your building project. Here are some reasons to consider using decorative plaster craftsmen:

  • They have the expertise to achieve precision and detail in design
  • They can create unique and custom pieces to fit your specific needs
  • They can add a level of artistry and creativity to your building project

Exploring the World of Decorative Plaster Finishes

When choosing a decorative plaster finish, there are several factors to consider, including:

  • The Size of the Surface: Certain finishes work better on larger surfaces, while others are better suited for smaller areas.
  • The Thickness of the Plaster: Some finishes require a thicker layer of plaster than others.
  • The Time Needed for Drying: Some finishes require a longer drying time than others.
  • The Supplies Needed: Certain finishes require specific materials and tools that may not be readily available.
  • The Style of the Room: The finish you choose should complement the overall style of the room.

The Final Word

Decorative plaster finishes offer a unique and impressive way to add style and character to any room or surface. Whether you’re looking for a highly polished, traditional finish or a more rustic, natural version, there is a decorative plaster finish that will meet your needs. Just remember to choose carefully and follow the correct methods and techniques to achieve the best possible results.

Arches: The Stylistic and Structural Element That Can Transform Any Interior

Arches are a structural element that has been used for centuries in architecture. They are created by joining two or more curved sections, with a keystone at the top to hold them in place. Arches can be used for both stylistic and structural purposes, and they are a great way to hide unsightly areas or add movement and relief to a flat surface.

The Different Types of Arches

There are several types of arches, each with its own unique style and historical preference. Some of the most common types of arches include:

  • Round arches: These arches have a semi-circular shape and are often used in historical buildings.
  • Pointed arches: These arches have a narrow, pointed shape and are often used in Gothic architecture.
  • Flat arches: These arches have a flat base and are often used in modern architecture.

Using Arches in Your Interior Design

Arches can be used in a variety of ways to transform any interior. Here are some ideas to get you started:

  • Use arches to surround doorways or windows for a more elegant look.
  • Add arches to your ceiling to create a sense of height and grandeur.
  • Use arches to create a focal point in your room, such as a fireplace surround or a decorative cornice.
  • Combine arches with other decorative plaster elements, such as columns or pilasters, to create a cohesive look.

Overall, arches are a versatile and timeless element that can add both style and structure to any interior. So, whether you’re looking to add historical charm or modern elegance to your space, consider incorporating arches into your design.

Adding Height and Style to Your Dining Room with Decorative Plaster Chair Rails

A chair rail is a horizontal band of decorative plaster that runs around the perimeter of a room at chair height, typically 32 to 36 inches from the floor. It was originally designed to protect walls from damage caused by chairs, but now it’s used primarily as a decorative element.

Why Use a Chair Rail in Your Dining Room?

Adding a chair rail to your dining room can bring a touch of elegance and sophistication to the space. It can also help to visually break up the walls and add height to the room, making it feel more spacious. Other benefits include:

  • Protecting walls from scuffs and scratches caused by chairs
  • Creating a visual boundary between different wall treatments or paint colors
  • Providing a surface to hang artwork or mirrors without damaging the walls

Choosing the Right Chair Rail for Your Project

When selecting a chair rail for your dining room, consider the following factors:

  • Style: Choose a chair rail that complements the existing decor of your dining room. If you have a traditional space, opt for a more ornate chair rail with intricate details. For a modern dining room, a simple, streamlined chair rail may be more appropriate.
  • Height: The standard height for a chair rail is 32 to 36 inches from the floor, but you can adjust this based on the height of your chairs and the overall scale of the room.
  • Material: Chair rails can be made from a variety of materials, including plaster, wood, and metal. Plaster is a popular choice for its durability and ability to be molded into intricate shapes and designs.
  • Color: Consider painting the chair rail a different color than the rest of the walls to create a contrast and add visual interest.

Installation and Maintenance

Installing a chair rail is a relatively simple project that can be completed in a weekend with the right tools and materials. Here are some tips for installation and maintenance:

  • Measure the height of your chairs and mark the wall where you want the chair rail to go.
  • Use a level to ensure the chair rail is straight.
  • Secure the chair rail to the wall with adhesive or nails.
  • Fill any gaps or nail holes with spackle and sand smooth.
  • Paint the chair rail and walls as desired.
  • To maintain your chair rail, simply wipe it down with a damp cloth as needed to remove dust and dirt.

Adding a Touch of Elegance with Decorative Plaster Columns

Columns are an excellent way to add a touch of elegance and sophistication to any space. Whether you want to create a grand entrance to your home or office, or simply add a decorative element to a room, columns are the perfect choice. Here are some reasons why:

  • Columns are versatile and can be used in a variety of settings, from traditional to modern.
  • They come in a range of sizes and styles, so you can choose the perfect fit for your space.
  • They can be used as a standalone feature or as part of a larger decorative scheme.

Plaster Columns: A Classic Look with a Modern Twist

Plaster columns are a popular choice for those who want to create a classic look with a modern twist. Here are some reasons why:

  • Plaster columns can be finished in a range of textures, from smooth to heavily textured, to suit your personal taste.
  • They can be painted or finished to match your existing decor.
  • Plaster columns are durable and long-lasting, making them a great investment for your home or office.

Capitalizing on Style: Corinthian, Doric, and Ionic Capitals

When it comes to columns, the capital is the decorative element that sits on top of the column. There are three main types of capitals:

  • Corinthian: This capital features intricate leaf patterns and is often used in more ornate settings.
  • Doric: This capital is simpler in design and is often used in more understated settings.
  • Ionic: This capital features scrolls and is often used in more elegant settings.

View Our Online Catalogue for Inspiration

If you’re looking for inspiration for your next decorative plaster project, be sure to check out our online catalogue. Here, you’ll find a range of plaster columns, as well as other decorative plaster products, to help you create the perfect look for your home or office.

The Art of Crafting Cornices

Cornices are plaster moldings that are applied to the join between the ceiling and walls. They serve to enhance the styling of the room while also neatly covering the join between the two areas. Cornices are also known as coving or cornicing.

Variations of Cornices

Cornices come in a variety of shapes and sizes, from elongated moldings to repeating patterns atop the walls. Some cornices are crafted with carved reliefs, while others feature architectural details such as columns or pilasters. Cornices can also surround doorways, enlarging the area and creating a grander entrance.

Applying Cornices

Crafting cornices is a skilled art that requires precision and attention to detail. The process involves shaping the plaster into the desired shape and size, then applying it to the ceiling and walls. The finished product can be left plain or painted to match the room’s decor.

The Benefits of Cornices

Cornices add a touch of elegance and sophistication to any room. They can be used to create a sense of height in a space or to draw attention to a particular feature, such as a fireplace or artwork. Cornices also serve a practical purpose by hiding unsightly wiring or uneven joins between the ceiling and walls.

Cornices in Modern Design

While cornices were once a staple of traditional design, they are now being used in more modern spaces as well. Contemporary cornices often feature clean lines and simple shapes, adding a subtle touch of sophistication to any room.

The Beauty of Domed Decorative Plaster

Domes are one of the most striking shapes in decorative plaster. They are a traditional form that has been used in architecture for centuries. The concave surfaces of domes draw the eye upward and create a centered focal point in any room.

Reproduced in Miniature

Architects and designers have long been fascinated with the beauty of domes, and this has led to a revival of interest in this traditional form. Today, domes can be replicated in miniature, making them a popular choice for interior design.

The Finished Look of a Domed Mural

A domed ceiling finished with decorative plaster can create a spacious and grand look in any room. The surface of the dome can be finished in a variety of ways, including scalloped edges or gold leaf. A mural can also be painted onto the surface of the dome, adding an extra layer of beauty and interest to the room.

The Capitol Dome

One of the most famous examples of a domed ceiling is the Capitol Dome in Washington D.C. This iconic structure is finished in decorative plaster and is a stunning example of the beauty and grandeur that can be achieved with this traditional form.

Adding a Touch of Elegance to Your Fireplace with Decorative Plaster

Fireplace surrounds are decorative plaster elements that surround the fireplace opening. They are designed to enhance the appearance of the fireplace and add a touch of elegance to any room. Fireplace surrounds come in a variety of styles and designs, from simple and understated to ornate and elaborate.

Why Choose Decorative Plaster for Your Fireplace Surround?

Decorative plaster is a popular choice for fireplace surrounds because of its versatility and durability. It can be molded into any shape or design, allowing you to create a unique and personalized look for your fireplace. Decorative plaster is also fire-resistant, making it a safe choice for use around the fireplace.

Adding a Touch of Elegance with Decorative Plaster Medallions

Decorative plaster medallions are ornate, sculptured plaster pieces that are used to complement and embellish the ceiling. They are cast in different diameters and are available in a variety of designs that can combine with other mouldings, panelled or beamed ceilings, and mantel pieces.

Pilasters: The Decorative and Structurally Enhancing Elements

Pilasters are used to accentuate the beauty of walls by adding depth and dimension. They evoke the look of classical architecture and can be used to mimic the look of ionic or Corinthian columns. Pilasters can be made of plaster or faux materials and can be painted to match the color of the walls or trim.

What are Pilaster Capitals and Mouldings?

Pilaster capitals are decorative elements that are used to enhance the top of a pilaster. They can be simple or ornate and can be used to mimic the look of a column capital. Pilaster mouldings are decorative elements that are used to enhance the base of a pilaster. They can be used to mimic the look of a column base or to add additional decorative elements to the pilaster.

How can Pilasters be Used in Decorative Plastering?

Pilasters can be used in a variety of decorative plastering applications, including:

  • Trim around doors, windows, and mirrors
  • Fireplace surrounds
  • Cornices
  • Domes
  • Medallions

Pilasters can be used to enhance the beauty of any room and can be customized to fit any design style.

Discover the Wide Variety of Decorative Plaster Products

Decorative plaster products come in a wide range of sizes, styles, and designs, making it easy to find the perfect product for any particular project. Some of the most popular decorative plaster products include:

  • Cornices: These are decorative plaster moldings that are used to cover the edges where walls and ceilings meet. They come in a variety of styles and sizes, and can be used to add a touch of elegance and sophistication to any room.
  • Medallions: These are decorative plaster designs that are often found on ceilings and walls. They come in a variety of sizes and styles, and can be used to add a touch of class and elegance to any room.
  • Fireplace surrounds: These are decorative plaster designs that are used to surround and protect fireplaces. They come in a variety of styles and designs, and can be used to add a touch of warmth and comfort to any room.

Manufacture and Application

Proper manufacture and application of decorative plaster products is a delicate and time-consuming practice that requires a certain level of skill and experience. Some of the key factors to consider when working with decorative plaster products include:

  • Material: Decorative plaster products are typically made from a mix of plaster and water, which allows for easy application and quick drying times.
  • Thickness: The thickness of decorative plaster products can vary depending on the particular product and the desired effect.
  • Setting time: The setting time of decorative plaster products can vary depending on the particular product and the manufacturer.
  • Supplies: Proper supplies, including mix, cover, and protect, are essential for the proper manufacture and application of decorative plaster products.
  • Professional help: Experienced professionals can offer valuable information and guidance when it comes to working with decorative plaster products.


So, that’s all you need to know about decorative plaster. It’s a great way to add some extra beauty and elegance to your space. 

You can use it on walls and ceilings, and it’s a great way to add some historical charm to your space. So, don’t be afraid to explore all the possibilities it offers.

I'm Joost Nusselder, the founder of Tools Doctor, content marketer, and dad. I love trying out new equipment, and together with my team I've been creating in-depth blog articles since 2016 to help loyal readers with tools & crafting tips.