In period houses, from the Georgian period and into the Victorian and Edwardian eras, much use was made of a variety of wood mouldings - for skirtings, dado rails and picture rails, and architraves for doors, windows and built-in furniture.
See the Terminology section for examples of the shapes and patterns used.
As with all these mouldings, the skirting board serves both practical and decorative functions; it covers the gap where the plaster of the wall meets the floor, protects the plaster from knocks and sets off the decorative role of the wallpaper or paint.
The more grand the house and the room in it, the more elaborate and therefore costly the moulding.
The original reason for dado rails, from the 18th and into the early 19th centuries, was that furniture was arranged round the outside of the room - facing in, so the rail protected the wall. The decorative opportunities were then exploited.
During the Victorian period, furniture was rearranged into clusters, in the middle of the room but the decorative role continued. So in the period, say 1830-1870, the rail would have been in all rooms still. But then as fashions moved away from the clutter and fiddle of those decades, the rail began to be dropped - initially from bedrooms, and by the last decade from everywhere except the hall, stairs, landing etc. These needed protection from knocks, for example from servants with buckets of coal and hot water, so the dado area continued to be papered in a heavy paper such as Anaglypta.
The dado rail persisted in the hall, staircase and landing through the Edwardian period and into the 1920s.
The architrave is a moulding bridging the gap between the door frame and the wall, or between a window frame and the wall. As with other mouldings, a more affluent home would use a larger and more elaborate moulding to match a larger door or window and in more public rooms.
The picture rail is the most recent of these mouldings to be used. It begins to appear only in the mid-19th century, and in rooms with higher ceilings where it could be used to separate off the upper wall or frieze.
The rail started off high and by the Edwardian period was moving down to meet the top of the door architrave. In Arts & Crafts houses and in many houses in the 1920s and 1930s it was often replaced by a narrow shelf used for plates or other decorative items.