Types of Skirting: How to Choose the Right Skirting Board

green panelled hallway with wood floor and dark skirting board in traditional style
(Image credit: Earthborn Paints)

The types of skirting boards you choose for your home make a difference in each and every room, so looking at the difference shapes, sizes and styles is worth the effort. 

Luckily, installing and painting skirting boards can be done on a DIY basis or by a joiner, and the styles can be different in each room, should you choose. It's a design consideration which can be left towards the end of a renovation, extension or self build project, before second fix work begins. However, choosing a style from the outset will ensure the type of skirting you choose harmonises with the rest of your interior scheme. 

Here we look at the types of skirting boards available to you, and explore which type might be best for your project.

How Many Types of Skirting Boards Are There? 

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There are many different types of skirting boards out there and each type will impact the overall aesthetic of a room. 

The most popular types of skirting board ideas are:

  • Chamfer: a simple style with a single angled edge that drop down to a straight, flat face to the bottom on the board. 
  • Bullnose/Pencil-round: With a flat face and a simple rounded edge at the top front of the board. 
  • Ogee: Decorative profile typically featuring angled edge that graduated into a more sweeping curve with a flat face at the bottom of the board. 
  • Torus: This profile features a semi-circular round at the top front of the board. Some designs will feature an indent below the curve, others graduate into a completely flat face. 
  • Ovolo: The top front of the face features an elegant curved arc that tapers back towards the wall. 

painted skirting board in traditional living room

A contemporary colour means this tall ogee skirting design is a fresh addition to the period room.  (Image credit: Annie Sloan)

What is the Best Type of Skirting Board? 

Home journalist Rebecca Foster advises: "Your budget will determine the type of skirting you opt for, both in terms of materials and style. Intricate profiles cost more than basic boards." 

The main materials choices include:

MDF skirting boards

This engineered product offers and robust and affordable solution which is resistant to warping and swelling. MDF is widely available at DIY stores either pre-primed or pre-finished. However, a painted finish using the best skirting board paint is the only option, so if you're keen to see a natural grain, soft or hardwood skirting might be a better fit. 

Softwood skirting boards

Made from coniferous trees, such as pine, cedar and fir, softwood boards offer a characterful solution. They can be stained, oiled or varnished as well as painted to complement your decorative scheme. 

Hardwood skirting boards

Dense, slow-growing woods such as oak, ash and beech provide a luxury option. While hardwood is more resistant to knocks and scratched, cutting skirting boards like these is harder and the boards are tricker to install than MDF or softwood on a DIY basis. 

Tiled skirting

Utilising tiled skirting in lieu of traditional timber boards is a durable and stylish way to finish a home. If you're planning to install skirting on a DIY basis, this type is handy for homes with uneven walls. 

art deco skirting board style in hallway

An Art Deco style skirting board was chosen for this traditional-style self build. The soft off-white delicately contrasts with the pale walls.  (Image credit: Fiona Murray)

Why Use Skirting Board?

Skirting, door architraves and cornices were all devised when walls were wet plastered and not as smooth as today. The plaster finish was rough and needed a junction (stop edge) at the floor and ceilings. The skirting function was therefore intended to hide the junction at the bottom of the plastered wall. The skirting also hid the damp in houses before damp proof courses became the norm.

These days, skirting boards are still are essential at forming the junctions between construction materials – potentially covering untidy or uneven joins – and provide a barrier that protects the wall from scuffs and dents caused by people and pets moving through and vacuuming. 

They are also used for more decorative purposes, with homeowners including skirting board designs as part of an overall interior scheme. 

How do I Choose the Right Type of Skirting Board?

Choosing the right skirting board for your home is an often overlooked design consideration. "While unlikely to be the key focal point in any room, skirting is a small yet important detail that has the potential to make or break your home's decor," begins Rebecca Foster.

"The style and period of your home, and the height of your rooms, will be important factors when choosing the right type of skirting," adds Claire Lloyd, editor of Homebuilding & Renovating. "Simple styles typically suit more modern properties, while more decorative types tend to sit better in period houses."

"Modern boards tend to be slimmer and less detailed than their traditional cousins for a streamlines, unfussy look. Simple square routed shapes are common in modern homes," adds Rebecca. "Follow the theme through in the architraves to the doors.

"Shadow gap designs are the creme-de-la-creme for contemporary homes, though square-edged, bullnose and chamfered profiles can create an equally sleek effect."

On the other hand, if yours is an older home, you may be better opting for a more ornate profile. "Decorative profiles including traditional ogee, ovolo, lambs tongue and torus designs work well in period settings," says Rebecca. 

Skirting board colour ideas are important too — the Victorians used maroons and browns, grained to look like wood. These colours are not popular now, but a neutral white to contrast with coloured walls works well. 

It's worth noting that boards painted the same colour as the wall will disappear into the wall. If a varnished timber board is used the skirting becomes more prominent.

Material is another factor. If the board is going to be painted, you could use low-cost MDF rather than timber. While tiles laid on a floor in a hallway or bathroom can be used as a skirting to give the impression of greater width by using the same material as the floor.

Finally, also consider finish, particularly if you intend to painting your skirting boards. Gloss was traditionally used, but a satin finish is becoming more popular for a modern, sleek finish, so you may need to weigh up the pros and cons of satin vs gloss paint.

Modern skirting board in renovated home living room

(Image credit: Tim Crocker)

How Do Skirting Board Sizes Impact?

If the project is a renovation or if you hope to create an impression of an old building then getting the proportions and skirting board sizes right is an important element. "As a rule of thumb, taller ceilings call for taller skirting boards," comments Rebecca Foster. 

Get an idea of scale in individual rooms before you buy. "Take some simple masking tape and measure the various heights from the floor and stick the masking tape on the wall at those heights," suggests Mark Cant, chairman at Period Mouldings

living room with modern skirting board and sash window

When renovating their dated Victorian terrace, the homeowners chose to install torus-style skirting.   (Image credit: David Barbour)

What Can I Use Instead of Skirting Board?

"A shadow gap can be used in place of the skirting at the wall base, but we aware this requires a high level of advance planning as well as the correct materials choices to facilitate it," explains Greg Elliot, head of technical at Havwoods. 

What Skirting Works Well With Stone or Brick Walls? 

What if the walls are not absolutely flat, but irregular stone or brick? Many architects like the idea of an exposed stone wall in a sitting room if part of the house is a conversion of an old stone building.

“Stone walls go well with oak floors,” says architect Howard Nash, who has retained some of the original brick and stone walls in his old house conversion in Suffolk. “In this instance I would advise not using a skirting. The best option is to leave a 10mm expansion gap and fill this with cork.”

However, with straightforward plaster walls and free-floating timber floors, a skirting board effectively doubles the ‘cover space’ afforded to allow for the expansion and contraction that will inevitably occur. 

Neil Turner

Architect Neil Turner is director at Howarth Litchfield Partnership and specialises in residential design.