How to Build a Shower Cornice

If you’re in the market to try to hide your curtain rod then you need a cornice board. There are about a million ways to design and create a custom cornice. But today I want to show you how to build a shower cornice that mimics the Eastlake Vintage Style.

Small Guest Bathroom Farmhouse Style with solid wood DIY shower rod, DIY Shower curtains made from thrifted panels, and a beautiful Eastlake inspired shower cornice hanging from the ceiling.

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Add Vintage Charm to Your Bathroom with a Wood Cornice

If you aren’t in love with your shower curtain rod, or unsightly tension rod as I was, this is a great option to help you cover it. Not to mention hiding the shower curtain liner and rings on the rod.

Many times these are used to cover curtain rods and are used as a part of window treatments. You will hear they referred to as a window valance as well as a window cornice. But whichever term you choose to use, wooden cornices can quickly elevate a space.

As part of my small guest bathroom makeover DIY project, I decided to build a simple shower cornice to compliment the space. If you want to see a few of the other projects visit How to DIY Dowel Curtain Rods Cheap and Make a DIY Shower Curtain from Thrifted Panels.

Handpainted shower cornice installed about DIY shower curtain and solid wood dowel rod.

Watch this on Youtube:

Tools & Supplies to Build a DIY Shower Cornice

The tools and supplies you need to build a shower cornice will depend on the style you choose, but what is listed is merely what I chose to use in my design.

All of these tools & supplies can be purchased at your local hardware store or Home Depot, but I’ve added Amazon links for your convenience.

Step One – Measure Your Shower Space & Cut Your Board to Fit

For this step, you’ll need a Measuring Tape, Pencil, 1x6x12, and a Saw.

This tutorial is based on the assumption your shower is a wall-to-wall box, typical of a builder-grade home. You may have to adjust the design based on your shower dimensions and design.

Dark Stained Solid Wood Dowel Rod with DIY Shower curtains made from thrifted panels.

Steps to Cut Your Shower Cornice Boards

  1. The first thing you need to do is measure your space. From wall-to-wall my entire shower width was 58 3/4″, I knew this from having measured and cut my shower curtain rod previously. See How to DIY Dowel Curtain Rod Cheap for that full tutorial.
  2. Since I wanted a shower cornice that fit the majority of the space between my ceiling and shower curtain rod, I needed to double up my 1×6.
  3. I took my 1x6x12 and cut it in half. The space between my curtain and the ceiling was just over 10 inches and two 1x6s will equal 11″ since they’re 5.5″ each. I then cut them both down to 58 3/4″.
  4. At this point, I chose not to use pocket holes and save myself some time. So, I cut 4 smaller 1×2 scrap boards at 9″ each to brace the two 1x6s and hold them together as one. But you may choose to use pocket holes as it is a much cleaner look, I wish I had gone this route.
  5. On the back of the two 1×6 pieces, I spaced the 1x2s apart and used my brad nailer to attach the braces evenly.
  6. When your boards are cut and put together, it’s time for a dry fit to ensure the cuts are perfect. If they aren’t, adjust before moving on.
1x6x12 board cut in half and then cut to fit the space in my shower. I laid them side by side and attached them with 1x2 scrap wood boards and brad nails.

Step Two – Cut Your Design Pieces Out & Add Grooves with Table Saw

For this step, you’ll need a Measuring Tape, Pencil, Carpenter’s Square, Miter & Table Saw, and 1x4x8 Common Pine Board.

Before you start sanding you may as well get your design down so you can sand all the wood all at once.

Because I’m designing my shower cornice after the Eastlake Washstand that will be the vanity, I took a lot of inspiration from the trim and decorative pieces on my DIY Wall Mounted Laundry Drying Rack.

This mirror frame is the original frame for the washstand that will become the bathroom vanity. The carvings are my inspiration and where I got my rubbings.

Steps to Create an Eastlake Design

Study the design elements you’re wanting to use as inspiration. Eastlake has ornate carvings, trim pieces that layer, and both square edges and rounded elements.

All of these pieces were bespoke. Measured and cut specifically for their placement in the design. So, this will be a slower process as you’re creating and laying out your design. It’s best to use scrap wood for this part if you have it since you will likely have waste.

Adding decorative trim molding to the sides of the cornice to mimic that of the Antique Eastlake style.
  1. Side Trim. On each side, there was a layered 1×4 with carvings. I cut my 1x4s down to 8″ and at the end cut a 45° angle at one end.
  2. Center Trim. And down the center, there was inlay trim, carvings, and rosettes. I took some smaller 1″ scrap wood to lay in between the sides in the center.
  3. Rosettes. Then I cut 1x4s down to 3 1/2″ to act as rosettes.
  4. Inlayed Grooves. Since I cannot carve wood, I chose to try to make the horizontal inlay lines with my table saw and smaller pieces of scrap wood. On both my side pieces and center in lay boards I chose to cut a groove with my table saw by putting my blade down to 1/8″.
Putting the cornice design together out on my table saw while I'm cutting the pieces to fit. All of this except the 1x6x12 was made from scrap wood.
The inlay grooves were created using my table saw with the guard taken off. The saw blade was set 1/8″ up so it didn’t go all the way through the board.

Step Three – Sand All of Your Pieces Smooth & Attach Together

For this step, you’ll need an Orbital Sander 120 Grit Sanding Pad, or 120 Grit Sanding block/sponge. You’ll also need Wood Glue, Measuring Tape, Pencil, Pneumatic Brad Nailer, and 1″ Brad Nails.

Once you’ve decided on a design, sand all of your pieces down to a smooth stainable finish. Then I used my orbital sander with 120 grit sanding pads, but you can also use a 120 grit sanding sponge.

To make a more fluid rounded piece to match the Eastlake trim I used my orbital sander to sand my 45°.

Sanded smooth, I used my orbital sander to create rounded grooves in the side pieces to mimic the fluidity of the Eastlake trim pieces.
I used my orbital sander to round the 45° to mimic the Eastlake decorative trim.

Attaching Your Design Elements to the Base of the Shower Cornice

Lay out your design and finalize the fit. I was very detailed in this step as I really appreciate symmetry. I used my measuring tape and a pencil to make sure things were spaced apart evenly.

  1. Glue Your Pieces Down. Start on a corner piece and work your way to the other corner. Use wood glue on the back for a tight, secure fit. Wipe off any excess wood glue really well as anything with wood glue will not stain.
  2. Attach Using 1″ Brad Nails. Working one piece at a time, apply the glue, put it in place, and secure it using a 1″ brad nail.
  3. Repeat this process for all the trim pieces in the design.
Finalized design for the shower cornice that has Eastlake inspired decorative trim added.,
The final design is sanded and installed, ready for wood filler.

Step Four – Fill In Brad Nail Holes with Wood Filler & Sand Again

For this step, you’ll need Wood Filler, Orbital Sander + 120 Grit Sanding Pad, or 120 Grit Sanding Block/Sponge.

Filling in the brad nail holes with wood filler into the solid wood Eastlake inspired Shower Cornice.
  1. When all your pieces are secured with wood glue and brad nails go back in with a sustainable wood filler and fill in all of your brad nail holes.
  2. This will give it a very clean appearance. No wood filler is 100% stainable, so try to use it sparingly and only get it in places you can sand it down later when it dries.
  3. When it dries go sand all the spots with your orbital sander and 120 grit sanding pad or sponge. Sand it until all the wood filler is no longer visible.

Step Five – Stain Your Shower Cornice with Early American Stain

For this step, you’ll need Lint-Free Rags, 2″ Angled Brush, Gloves, and Stain Color of Choice.

I fully intended to use a rag on this as I typically do. But the tight spaces and harsh lines required the use of a brush.

Stained Early American Eastlake Shower Cornice laid out on my dining room table which is my work space most times.
Yes, my dining room table gets a lot of use for things other than food!
  1. Mix your stain really well, shake or stir, depending on what kind you use.
  2. Start with your 2″ angled brush and get in all the hard-to-reach places. Beware of splatters.
  3. Then go back through with your lint-free rag, cleaning up the excess, and getting rid of any brush strokes.
  4. Let it dry for 1-2 hours. And do a second coat if you wish.

Step Six – Design Your Stencil & Paint Your Design *Optional

For this step, you’ll need small Acrylic Paintbrushes, Paint, Paper, X-Acto Knife, and a Pencil.

This is actually pretty basic, it’s just a tad time-consuming. But I love this kind of creative artwork. If you don’t, feel free to skip this step!

Steps to Create Stencils & Paint Your Design

  1. Create Rubbings. Since my washstand that is going to become a vanity in this bathroom is Eastlake I chose to do rubbings with paper and a pencil of the engravings.
  2. Cut the Designs out to Create a Stencil. I cut them out with scissors and cut out the details with a razor blade, but you should use an X-Acto knife (I couldn’t find mine!).
  3. Arrange Your Designs on the Shower Cornice. After creating my stencils I chose where on the top of the cornice (face) I wanted each design. Then I put my stencil down and traced it with a pencil lightly.
  4. Now to Paint. When you’re satisfied with the placement of all of them it’s time to paint them.

To read a full tutorial on 2 different methods to make custom stencils check out my post How to Make Stencils from a Rubbing.

Step Seven – Apply 1-2 Coats of Polycrylic or Other Protective Top Coat

For this step, you’ll need Polycrylic (or another protective topcoat) and a 2″ Angled Brush.

Because this is going to be hanging in a shower I felt the need to do 2 good full coats of water protection. Otherwise, you may deal with mildew issues.

Applying Polycrylic to my Eastlake inspired Shower Cornice with a 2" angled brush.

How to Apply Polycrylic

A few things to note about polyacrylic. It dries really fast, even faster if it’s hot, so you need to work fast and efficiently. Once it starts to dry you should not go back over it to correct any brush strokes, it’ll only make it worse.

  1. Stir your Polycrylic with a paint stir stick. Or gently roll your can back and forth to mix it. Never, ever shake it.
  2. Use a 2″ Angled Brush to start applying it from one side to the next. Use a fair amount on your brush at a time and quickly evenly spread it around.
  3. Try to smooth out your strokes as you go. You won’t be able to go back through once it starts drying.
  4. Let it dry for 15-20 minutes, until it’s dry to the touch. Humidity and temperature will play a huge role in how fast this dries.
  5. Do a light scuff sand with 120 grit if you think it needs it. This will smooth any roughness and help eliminate any obvious brush strokes or missed drips.
  6. Look for any spots you may have missed in the first layer and get those spots first.
  7. Repeat steps 2-4.
Shower Cornice Handbuilt solid wood Eastlake Style Shower Cornice. Applying polycrylic by minwax with a brush.

Step Eight – Time to Install Your Shower Cornice

For this step, you’ll need a Stud Finder, Level, 1x4s to act as side braces, 2″ Star Bit Wood Screws + Star Bit, or Drywall Anchors + Drill Bit Appropriately Sized, Impact Driver or Drill, and a second pair of hands to help you.

I don’t know how I could have possibly installed this by myself, so I would recommend you get someone to help you from the get-go.

How to Install Your Shower Cornice Efficiently

I would not recommend someone install it the way I did, so I’m going to tell you how to install it efficiently from my hindsight of experience.

3 Methods to Connect the Shower Cornice to the Wall

  1. Install sides with pocket screws, creating a cornice box. Then attach it to the wall from the sides.
  2. Install it straight to the wall using pocket screws on either end. If you are so lucky to have studs this would definitely be the easiest way to do it.
  3. Use metal corner brackets to attach the shower cornice to the walls.

Installing the Shower Cornice

  1. Check for studs in the wall. I was assuming I would have to drill for drywall anchors on both ends but was surprised to find studs on one end. If there are any you can use mark where they are.
  2. Measure from your wall to your shower curtain rod to mark the spots you’ll want to install your cornice on both ends. This way you know it isn’t going to be installed unsymmetrical.
  3. Choose one of your methods from above.
  4. Drill pilot holes in your side braces if you’ve gone this route. Otherwise, you may have wood splitting.
  5. You will need someone to hold the cornice in place while you mark the placement for your screws or to drill and install drywall anchors. Use a level to ensure your marks are not going to install the shower cornice wonky.
  6. Attach the top screw for both ends.
  7. Then use your level to ensure you’ve got it straight up and down before attaching the bottom screws. Adjust where needed.

This is by far the trickiest step so don’t be discouraged if it goes slower than you’d like.

Eastlake inspired shower cornice hanging in the small guest bathroom above the DIY dowel shower rod and diy shower curtain made from thrifted panels.
I just want to point out how perfectly the designs also match the tiling in this bathroom. Just sheer luck. I didn’t notice until I installed it how beautifully it all goes together. Providence!

My arm muscles were screaming and honestly, this is not the best time to have to use drywall anchors. Mine ended up slightly off, which made the installation that much more difficult.

When it was up, it was beautiful, and I love it. Though I will probably uninstall it and install it the right way!

Finished DIY shower cornice Eastlake style hanging above the shower curtain in my small farmhouse style guest bathroom.

Cornice Q & A

What Other Places Can You Use a Cornice?

In architecture, a cornice (from the Italian cornice meaning “ledge”[1]) is generally any horizontal decorative moulding that crowns a building or furniture element—for example, the cornice over a door or window, around the top edge of a pedestal, or along the top of an interior wall. A simple cornice may be formed just with a crown, as in crown moulding atop an interior wall or above kitchen cabinets or a bookcase.

  • Bathroom Window.
  • Master Bedroom. They can beautifully act as a way to define a space, like behind your bed.
  • Living Room As part of other Window Coverings.
  • Above Showers and Freestanding Bath Tubs.
  • Doorways. As a form of trim.
  • Dining Room. Above doorways, windows, or as a decoration.
  • Home Office. A cornice would look gorgeous as a back accent wall to a desk with or without curtains.

What Different Ways Can You Make Cornices?

They’re typically built in a box form to mimic the style of crown molding, but they have evolved quite a bit over the year. In the 80s you would have seen them upholstered and very gaudy with swag and ruffles.

But when I think of them I think of Gone with the Wind with the Victorian-style swag and tassels.

The two most popular designs for an indoor cornice or valance would be Upholstered Boxes in varying styles and Crown Molding Boxes.

But I am creating a cornice that hopefully mimics the style of the Eastlake era with the decorative moldings and even faux carvings.

Why Would You Want to Use a Shower Cornice?

The reason I chose to create a cornice was out of sheer curiosity if I’m honest. Because I’ve seen beautiful pictures of small bathroom spaces and bedrooms where they’ve utilized a cornice and was enthralled.

It’s the smallest details that build a beautiful charming room. Therefore here are a few other reasons you may want to build a shower cornice:

  1. To hide an ugly drapery rod, the top of your drapes, etc.
  2. Increase the statement of a window frame.
  3. Add visual interest to a small or plain space.
  4. As a compliment to new curtains.
  5. It’s an easy project that packs a punch.

Can I Upholster A Cornice?

Yes. But I would not recommend you upholstering one that is going into a bathroom as the high humidity and water would likely cause mold!

To create a cornice in front of the window and upholster it’s just as simple as creating the front of a box. A piece of wood with two side pieces.

To upholster a cornice you will need a few supplies like A large Piece of Fabric, a Staple Gun & Staples, a Hot Glue Gun & Glue Sticks, quilt batting, and Foam Board (Optional), and Wood to Create the Wood Frame.

Thank you so much for stopping by! I hope I have given you some inspiration, ideas for creativity, and maybe a push to create your very own shower cornice. It really does add so much character and charm to this small bathroom space.

Don’t forget to come back for more Bathroom Makeover projects like this one.


Meet the Author

Hi, I’m Julie! Mother to five beautiful kids, Homeschool Educator, Writer, Handicraft & DIY Enthusiast, Photographer, Thrifter, and Furniture Restorer. Follow along for fun DIY projects creating a handmade home on a budget! Read more about me here→

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