Hallway with flush baseboard, white walls and white oak hardwood floor.

Baseboard Guide - Select, Buy and Install the Right Baseboard

December 27, 2023

Baseboard moulding has been around for ages. The key function of the baseboard molding is to hide and cover the unsightly construction gap between the floor and the wall — in customary American homebuilding the floor stops before it touches the wall. Second, the baseboard protects the bottom part of the wall from random dents, covering a few inches of the drywall.

Most North American homes use sculpted baseboards — these have been widely available and accepted as the go-to choice (and often the only choice) for decades. While commercially available sculpted baseboards are a solid fit for historical homes featuring traditional rich craftsmanship details, they are a less ideal design choice for simpler homes built in the second half of the 20th century. Largely influenced by the Bauhaus — school of design, architecture, and applied arts in 1920's Germany, the language of architecture in the 20th century evolved into modernism. Modernism radically parted ways with ornamentation and paved the way toward a much cleaner visual aesthetic, often subtracting from the material, pattern, and color palette. This evolution affected both architecture and interior design, with the baseboard being seen by architectural designers as purely functional rather than a decorative element. In a contemporary 21st century home you will always want to avoid ornamental baseboards.

What is better — primed or painted baseboard

Ready-made baseboards are available in both primed and painted versions from popular big-box home improvement stores like Home Depot or Lowe's and from countless specialist flooring stores across the United States.

The choice of primed or painted baseboard is yours — if you prefer the baseboard to be identical color as the wall (or you expect your door trim and baseboard trim to match), then a primed baseboard is a better option. Otherwise, white-painted factory-finished baseboards will save you time.

Modern architecture prefers simpler color schemas, so our recommendation for new construction and modern remodels is to have the baseboard the same color as the wall (with or without contrasting door casing).

If the space calls for a flush recessed baseboard, you can explore several suitable solutions including a Dorsis Linus flush baseboard. Dorsis Linus is factory-finished with a white foil-wrapped MDF insert. The foil can stay as-is (the color is close to RAL 9003) or you can paint it with your favorite color — we particularly like the wonderful Benjamin Moore's white collection.

What is the ideal baseboard height?

There is no universal baseboard height standard but typically you'll see baseboards in several common heights:

  • Most common: 3-¼", 5-¼", 4-¼"
  • Less common: 3-⅛", 4", 5", 5-½" 

Let's dive in: Which baseboard height looks proportionally right? How high should baseboards be with 8-foot ceilings? Simple answer: up to 4" in general for any height room. If your interior doors or closet doors have trim, it is advisable to match the width of the door trim with the height of the baseboard. In contemporary homes,  residential architects prefer low baseboards (around 2"-3") or more frequently forgo baseboards completely or use what is known as a "gallery base" or "museum base" (basically a shadow reveal build using a drywall Z bead).

Do tall baseboards make a room look bigger? There is no debate — the taller the baseboard, the more outdated look you get. Taller baseboards will draw attention for the wrong reasons - they will dominate the space and will increase the visual noise rather than being a functional, technical element. Tall baseboards, i.e. 7" or taller, are the wrong design choice for all interiors regardless of type.

One area where the height of the baseboard is driven by other considerations is the baseboard with embedded electrical outlets. One of the manufacturers, Flushtek, makes a recessed electrical outlet that requires a 5" tall baseboard (the reason for the 5" minimum is that you need the 1-gang outlet box to clear the sillplate stud). While the result looks great, the outlet does sit close to the floor, which may not always be practical for frequent use or accessibility.

Flush-mount electrical outlet by Flushtek in a modern flat white baseboard.

How thick is a typical exposed baseboard?

Most traditional and readily available wood and MDF baseboard trims in America are 9/16" (14.3 mm) and ⅝" (15.9 mm) thick, less common are ½" (12.7 mm) or 7/16" (11.1 mm) thick baseboards.

In a traditional setting, you will want to match the thickness of your baseboard trim with the door casing trim. The transition between these two elements should be seamless. But this will always get challenging with ornamental baseboards where the shape of the sculpted baseboard rarely matches the door trim shape.

Pick the right baseboard material

Which is better — MDF or wood baseboard? MDF baseboards are typically more consistent, uniform, and with a flatter appearance which is preferred as a modern architectural detail. For historical home remodels, we'd advise using wood which will result in a more period-accurate detail as MDF was not available before 1960's.

Medium Density Fibreboard (MDF) which combines wood fibres with a synthetic binder, first entered commercial production in the USA in 1966. The first European MDF was manufactured in 1973.

In 2024, standard baseboards are broadly available in many different types of materials:

  • MDF baseboards
  • Wood baseboards
  • Vinyl baseboards
  • Plastic baseboards

However, there are other baseboard material options suitable for specific conditions. Flush baseboards such as Dorsis Linus allow to use for example tile, a great match for bathrooms and mudrooms where you can create a waterproof seal between the floor and the recessed baseboard.

Pick the right baseboard shape

Baseboard manufacturers offer countless styles and shapes, including step baseboard, bevel step baseboard, colonial, etc. Unless you're replicating a historical detail, it's not cost-effective to have custom-made baseboards. Modern architectural baseboards are decidedly flat, or recessed and flush with the wall — and they are frequently the most pleasing choice for modern homes in America, Europe, or Australia.