Home Building – Columns & Millwork
Whether you use columns as an aesthetic design element or give it a supporting role—your home will be greatly enhanced by fitting columns into your architectural plans. Since ancient times columns have graced private homes as both decorative and structural—supporting a wall or roof.
Although the classical designs of ancient Greek and Roman columns are as popular today as ever, don’t feel bound to build the expected, since manufacturers of pre-made interior and exterior columns offer homeowners many different shapes, styles and sizes to choose from. In addition to a plethora of off-the-shelf designs, you can have your columns custom made.
There are three classic orders—think styles—of columns: Doric, Ionic and Corinthian. The Doric order was the earliest of the Greek columns and are the heaviest and thickest. Ionic columns are known for their ram horn capitals and they were the first to use decorative bases. The most complex column is the Corinthian order, which are slender (most architects refer to them as the “female” column), topped with an ornate decorative capital and entablature. They also have a base and plinth, which is basically a tapered ledge that meets the floor. Keep in mind all orders can by custom changed to architectural specifications.
Wood columns are a wonderful architectural addition to any home because they add a sense of class and distinction to your home’s overall appearance both inside and out. They are easy to install and can be carved in any shape or style and painted to match or stand out from your home’s decor.
Wood columns should be made of only the finest woods like mahogany, poplar, cherry, pine, oak, maple, and redwood. Most wood column suppliers and manufacturers can carve both round and square columns in sizes consistent with classic proportions, as well as custom shaft diameters for special projects. Wood columns can also be smooth surfaced or fluted with ridges—whatever suits your artistic vision.
If you use hollow wooden columns, they must be vented to prevent built-up moisture from condensing on the inside and rotting the wood. Proper ventilation requires an opening at both top and bottom. To determine the amount of ventilation you will need, divide the column’s diameter (or width) in half and convert to square inches. For example, a 10-inch-diameter column needs five square inches of vent opening at the base and another five square inches at the capital. To keep insects and small critters from making a home, your vents should be blocked with copper screens.
The preferred material by builders and architects for columns is fiberglass because it offers an attractive look that is more impact-resistant than wood. Like wood they are available in both a round and square shape with a choice of smooth or fluted surfaces. Today’s fiberglass columns are manufactured not only to aesthetically replicate the classic column forms but they are also strong enough to serve as structural, load-bearing columns.
There are so many manufacturers to choose from when it comes to fiberglass that it is important for you understand a bit about how fiberglass is made so you can find a reputable column provider. Fiberglass is actually little glass threads which are spun into thin strands that can be woven into a strong, durable material which is impervious to heat, rust and many other extreme elements. Fiberglass columns are not only made of fiberglass but a compound made by combining fiberglass and plastic. These two materials are heated and then molded into the desired column shape. Basically the plastic provides the structure and the fiberglass provides the strength and durability.
The benefits of fiberglass columns are:
* They can be shaped and painted to give any desired look
* They are weatherproof.
* Insect and critter proof.
* More impact resistant than wood.
* Usually come with a lifetime warranty—check with your manufacturer.
* Easy installation.
* Impervious to moisture, which is great if you live in an area that experiences high humidity.
* Load bearing fiberglass columns can support up to 30,000 pounds.
* Lightweight and require very little maintenance.
Precast Stone Columns
The tradition of classic beauty in architecture is carried on today through pre-cast stone columns rather than natural stone columns. New technology allows builders to create pre-cast stone columns that have the look and strength of ancient Roman columns but without the drawbacks of using natural stone columns. The biggest difference between pre-cast stone columns and natural stone columns is cost. It is much cheaper to pour a stone column into a cast than it is to chisel it out of a giant stone slab.
Another benefit to pre-cast is you don’t have to worry about hidden cracks and crevices. However, if you don’t want a smooth looking column you can have your column designed with a weathered look. Pre-cast stone columns can be manufactured in one piece shafts or in halves and sections to surround steel supports.
Interior Architectural Columns
While the Ancient Greeks and Romans used columns first for support and second for aesthetics, today’s builders and designers have the luxury of using columns solely for the purpose of decoration. Modern construction materials can now support the weight of a roof without placing a column every six feet. Now you can have columns placed anywhere you please. If you want to give the illusion of a bigger space, the careful placement of interior architectural columns can achieve that look. Conversely you can divide a large room by having your designer create two separate spaces without closing off the room with a wall. This is a great idea if you want to divide your living areas but don’t want to break up the grandness of such a large living room.
The price of adding columns to your home will depend on the size and material of the column, its load-bearing capacity and the amount of detailing. A plain, eight-inch-diameter, eight-foot-long wooden column in pine, hemlock, or fir costs about $160. Double that price for one made of redwood or cedar. A comparable column in fiberglass starts around $200 or more for a plain, round eight-footer. Installation will add to the price, but it’s worth every penny to give your home, porch or entryway the grand look of a Greek temple.
Architectural millwork is the easiest and most affordable way to give your home a unique look. Millwork is traditionally defined as woodwork, such as doors, window casings, and baseboards that are ready-made by a lumber mill. Today, millwork refers to many other prefabricated architectural products, particularly those made from polyurethane and fiberglass to create unique columns, balustrades, arbors, crown molding or any other design element you might want to create or recreate. Millwork allows you to duplicate a home from your favorite period – say Victorian, Greek Revival, Colonial or how about recreating a room from “Gone With the Wind.” Whatever you can imagine, you’ll be sure to find a millwork product on the market today that will turn your vision into a reality.
If you really want to give a room a new look or add to your exterior, then you’ll want to check out corbels. With their growing popularity, more and more designs are available for you to choose from. Corbels are available in solid wood, polyurethane and stone. The preferred material is wood, because it’s hand carved and can be painted, stained or glazed to add to your home’s decor. Most manufactures have their own line of corbels to choose from, but you can always have one custom designed. Corbels can be used almost anywhere, but generally you’ll find them used as stand alone on cabinets, furniture, pilasters, door panels or over doors or as support for shelves and mantels.
Ceiling medallions are a popular way to add class and sophistication to any formal room. Unlike ceiling domes, which are larger and recessed, a medallion is smaller and usually edged with intricate patters that resemble moldings and capitals. Medallions are available in fiberglass, plaster or wood, however fiberglass is fast becoming the preferred material because it easily mimics the look of wood or plaster, but without the worry about it cracking or splitting. Because it is lightweight it doesn’t require extra reinforcement in your ceiling structure like wood and plaster may. While you may love the grand look of a medallion, be sure your home can handle such an extravagant piece.
Moldings are one of the details that can really add to the exterior and interior look of your home. The majority of moldings are made from either polyurethane synthetics or simple wood. Most home designers are choosing polyurethane over wood because it is almost impossible to differentiate between polyurethane millwork molding from painted wood molding. The long term benefits of using this material is that it won’t split, rot or peel like wood will. When it comes to base moldings, it is very durable and can handle daily wear and tear. Despite all the benefits of polyurethane, many people still hold their aesthetic allegiance to wood over synthetics and will take on the added burden of maintaining wood moldings. If you’re a wood purist, be sure that you use high quality wood and have it treated to help prevent rot and insect damage especially on your exterior. When it comes to size and shape there is no limit to the amount of choices available in molding. A good rule of thumb when choosing crown molding, base molding, or window casing is to stay with a pattern, no matter how tempting other selections may be, that matches the architectural style of your home. If you find yourself overwhelmed by all your options, call up your designer for guidance.
Tammy Crosby-Editor, Dream Designs