Interior PlasteringOld Edinburgh buildings with ornate exterior cornices

What is a cornice?

In architecture, a cornice is defined as any horizontal decorative moulding that crowns a building or feature within a building. The word cornice comes from Italian where it means ledge. On the exterior of a building they are often found above doors and windows.  Although often very decorative their purpose is to project rainwater away from the building.

There is evidence of architects and builders adding cornices to buildings as far back as ancient Egypt. The Greeks and Romans then incorporated cornices into their classical architecture.  If you research cornices from this period, you will be shown ornate buildings with cornices on the exterior of the building. 

External cornices continued to be popular in Europe for centuries and can be seen in Scotland on Victorian and Georgian buildings.  Georgian buildings tend to have a simpler design than the ornate Victorian buildings.

Modern architecture does still have external cornices but never as ornate as the Victorian or Roman period.

Cornices in Scotland

We can see the external cornices on all our old Victorian and Georgian buildings. These buildings date from 1820 – 1910.  However, to most people in Scotland, when they hear the word cornice, they think of the decorative plaster cornice seen on the interior of tenements and town houses.

You just need to visit some of our castles to see that the architects in Scotland were bringing ideas from Europe and adding ornate cornices to the exterior and interiors of their buildings. During 1776 – 1792 Culzean Castle was being renovated and redesigned.  The architects included new decorative features that included columns and cornices.  

Typically, internal cornices had no practical use and were added for decorative purposes only, however, it was believed that those in Victorian tenements did provide some sound proofing between flats as the joint between the walls and ceilings was not good enough to prevent noise drifting from flat to flat.  

William Bain and Sons - Cornice Repairs webpage Image

What is the difference between cornice and coving?

Internal cornices and coving are found in the same place, covering the joints between the walls and ceiling. Coving is usually a very simple curved shape that is made from lightweight polystyrene or plastic and attached to your room.  Whereas, even simple cornices are made from plaster by craftsmen. Cornices are more ornate and usually much larger and cover more of the wall and ceiling.

Cornices today

Today, we still see stunning cornices especially in Victorian homes and tenements, however you will be very lucky if they have survived the last 100 years without showing signs of wear and tear. Luckily, cornices can be repaired by master plasterers.  They can even recreate sections that are missing.

William Bain and Sons - Decorative Plaster

At William Bain & Sons, our plasterers have been repairing cornices in Edinburgh since 1950. We can also repair damaged ceiling roses, picture rails and other damaged decorative features.  If your room has any of these features missing, we can create new decorative plasterwork.