Last edited 17 May 2022



In classical architecture, a cornice describes an area or space that overhangs something else. It is the uppermost horizontal area that projects out over the top of a wall or below a roof line. A cornice is a common feature of ancient Greek and Roman architecture, where it is the uppermost part of the entablature.

Traditionally, the cornice is made up of the following elements:

  • Cyma: A moulding with a double curvature, also known as a 'wave moulding'. Used as the uppermost element. Can either be a cyma recta (upper concave curve and lower concex curve) or cyma reversa (upper convex curve and lower concave curve).
  • Corona: A component that has a vertical face and horizontal soffit.
  • Bed-moulding: A moulding that appears under the projecting cornice.

The function of the cornice is to protect the structure’s walls by directing rainwater away from the building, although its traditional function is also decorative.

The cornice is also common in interiors where it is a type of moulding that runs along the top of interior walls. It can assist with brightening a room by reflecting light into areas of shadow, and can make small rooms seem larger by drawing the eye upwards. It can also be used to help conceal cracking that may occur along the join between walls and ceilings.

The term 'cornice' may also be used to refer to an overhanging strip above items of furniture such as kitchen cupboards.

An interior cornice can be plain or highly decorative as in these examples from a Scottish manse.

Cornice, The Manse, Millport.jpg

Cornice detail, The Manse, Millport.jpg

Plain cornice may be referred to as ‘coving’.

The most common materials for cornices are timber, paper-covered plaster, polyurethane, expanded polystyrene, plaster and medium density fibreboard (MDF).

Window cornices are box-like structures placed over windows to conceal the strings and other attachments of shades or curtains (also known as a pelmet). Door cornices may be used over a door frame for decorative purposes. Sometimes this maybe referred to as an architrave.

NB Short Guide: Climate Change Adaptation for Traditional Buildings, published on 10 July 2017 by Historic Scotland, defines a cornice as a: ‘Projecting line of masonry, often at the top of an elevation, designed to finish the elevation at the top and to route water away from the building.’

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