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Architectural Detail Experts | A Blog by Worthington Millwork

Architectural Columns: A Guide to Exterior and Interior Columns

Posted by Kyle Boatwright on 8/13/18 12:12 PM

As an essential element gracing the front entrance of many homes, architectural columns have traditionally served a dual role, adding both structural support to front porch overhangs and creating a distinctive architectural style. While columns can be viewed simply as an upright pillar used for decorative purposes, or on the exterior of a home to support a roof or within a home to support ceiling beams, there is no minimizing the visual effect that classical or contemporary architectural columns can add to a home's decor. Depending on the style of columns used, they can add either graceful elegance or visual power to a home's entrance or interior.

 

Types of Architectural Columns
 round porch columns
One architectural feature that will determine a home's style of construction is the type of posts or columns installed on the front porch. Through the years, five column styles have survived as strong architectural references from Roman and Greek antiquity. These architectural columns are still seen today on Colonial, Georgian, Rustic, Cottage, and Craftsman style homes throughout this country and are now being integrated with newer, more contemporary home styles for a fresh look that boasts classic beauty.

The 5 orders of architecture:

  • Doric - short, heavy pillars and a round capital 
  • Ionic - slender pillars, large base, with scrolled capitals
  • Corinthian - slender, fluted columns with elaborate carvings 
  • Tuscan - simple design, unfluted shaft with plain base/capital
  • Composite - a mixture of the Ionic and Corinthian styles 

Each of the above orders feature columns with a corresponding range of contours, thicknesses, heights and carvings, along with specific base and capital features. Traditionally, the style of a structure's front columns was a definitive way of identifying which classical order of architecture the home represents. Later, it became common architectural practice to add classical elements to contemporary homes to increase visual interest or create visual contrast.

Choosing an Architectural Column Material

Whether you are replacing the existing columns on your home or if your are renovating your home's front entrance, you will find a full selection of column materials that will meet your budget, level of maintenance, and style preferences. Many homeowners choose traditional stone or wood porch columns, while others opt for newer engineered materials such as fiberglass, PVC or polyurethane for their low maintenance and extended service life.

aluminum railing

Here are some pros and cons of several widely used architectural column materials:

  • PVC - is a durable, budget-friendly option for decorative porch columns, and they are moisture, pest, and rot resistant. PVC columns are available in many contours and is also the preferred material for custom-designed columns. PVC column pricing will usually include the entire assembly for one price and homeowners appreciate how very easy they are to install.
  • Aluminum - is an affordable, strong, yet lightweight material that can bear loads up to 43,000 pounds. Aluminum is a maintenance free column that is factory powder coated against surface oxidation/discoloration and are available in multiple factory-applied paint finishes. These columns have very few disadvantages and are manufactured for easy snap-together installation.
  • Polyurethane - this engineered material is also resistant to weather and pest infestation, but unlike PVC, high-density polyurethane architectural columns will feature an inner steel shaft making the column suitable for structural support. This extremely durable material is very rigid and can be cast in detailed molds to simulate the look of real wood grain. Polyurethane columns are an economical replacement for deteriorated wood columns.
  • Fiberglass - is a composite material that is engineered to achieve specific mechanical and aesthetic properties. FRP fiberglass impregnated columns exhibit superior stiffness and strength without additional bulk, and are available with Class A fire rating (see below).
  • Polymer Stone - these columns are molded to simulate traditional stone porch posts - with half the weight of real stone and without the cumbersome installation procedures. These synthetic stone columns are also load bearing and are crafted in beautiful, classic stone finishes. Polymer stone columns are used when restoring homes to its original architecture or for enhancement of contemporary home styles.
  • Wood - for purist who desire to maintain the historical integrity of the home, wood columns for both interior and exterior installation are available. Architectural grade paints and stains are applied to a choice of poplar or pine - both of which feature excellent grain and staining qualities. Homeowners often consider the maintenance of wood columns and lifecycle versus other materials.

When considering architectural columns for structural support and aesthetics, a solid fiberglass base is stronger than polyurethane foam base. If considerations for wind updraft are required within the column structure, then a hollow fiberglass base is a good choice.

Choosing Fire Rated Porch Columns

Fire resistant rated construction products are classified by their ability to slow down the growth of a fire and by how quickly the material will ignite. Columns manufactured with Class A resins perform better than general purpose materials at controlling the rate flames are spread. Always choose Class A rated assemblies for structural applications versus a general purpose resin which consists of a less dense core.

A simple flashlight test demonstrates what the naked eye is unable to see otherwise - a material that looks solid, yet has a less dense structure will ignite and burn faster during a fire. For interior and exterior columns that are used for structural support, a Class A (or Class 1) fire rating may reduce property damage, leaves more time for occupants to exit the structure, and allows first responders time to arrive as these materials will ignite and burn slower.

Interior and Exterior Column Applications

Choosing the Right Sizeinterior columns

For fiberglass, polyurethane, wood, and stone columns that also function as support for a porch overhang or part of the roofing system, choosing the right size column starts with determining how much weight is to be supported. A structural engineer may be needed to calculate the load bearing requirements, the spacing between posts, and to make sure the column base rests on a solid and level foundation.

When you partner with Worthington Millwork, we provide plenty of installation information and material specifications to make good design decisions concerning column applications. To ensure creative flexibility for your design options, we manufacture multiple size heights and diameters. Most structural columns will be available in heights from 7 to 10 diameters of the column to fit a wide range of installations. For decorative columns, most homeowners consider the home's front entrance square footage and style to help choose appropriate sized columns.

Benefits of Exterior Columns

Besides being a structural support replacement for deteriorated or unattractive front posts, exterior columns will also add a stunning visual effect to your home's front entrance or front porch. Many homeowners are seeing the value of remodeling the home's entrance, as a way of increasing curb appeal or establishing true architectural style. While the front porch has declined as a place of outdoor relaxation, it is still what gives a home its distinct character and makes a positive first impression upon visitors.

Homeowners are realizing a drastic and positive change in the home's stature when exterior columns are added. And with new materials such as fiberglass and polyurethane that are low maintenance and last a lifetime, you never have to worry about replacing damaged columns or repainting faded finishes. A good suggestion is to view the gallery of completed projects to get an idea of which column styles and materials are right for your home's front porch.

Choosing the Right Style

front porch columns

When you visit the Worthington Millworks website, you are able to choose from many detailed features to create your individually styled architectural columns. Choosing the right style is evident when you consider that a small architectural feature can make a huge difference in the home's appearance. For example, a simple, tapered square column that is perfect for a Craftsman style cottage would not have the same effect on a Neoclassical home which may be better suited for thick, fluted round columns and base.

Squared vs. Round - Choosing between a square versus round columns is totally subjective and depends on you design preferences. Square columns are frequently seen on Arts and Crafts style homes such as bungalows and Dutch Colonials.

Fluted vs. Non-fluted - Fluted columns will have a series of vertical grooves or narrow channels running the length of the column as an additional decorative touch. The Doric order of columns were frequently fluted, but many modern homes are opting for fluted columns with a plain base and capital.

Tapered vs. Non-Tapered - Classical columns are commonly round and tapered, meaning the diameter increases from top to the bottom creating an interesting profile. Tapering is an aesthetic quality that is useful on taller columns - by reducing the bulk at the top, you are creating a more streamlined appearance.

Adjustable vs. Non adjustable - When you require different column heights along your front porch or entrance way, adjustable columns that are fluted will take into account all height requirements, resulting in a series of properly aligned flute to base ratios. Adjustable single piece adjustable PVC columns are marked for precise cutting at standard increments.

Load Bearing vs. Decorative Columns - Decorative columns are available as wrap-around options for existing structural posts or as one piece columns that are not designed to bear the weight of the porch roof or overhang. If there is a visible foundation beneath your present columns, then they are likely to be load bearing and should be replaced with polyurethane, FRP fiberglass, or wood architectural columns.

Adding Grace to Home Interiors

Add a dramatic look to your home's entryway, living room, or dining room space with interior columns that span from floor to ceiling. When you have a spacious room, incorporating architectural columns can remove that cavernous feeling while adding a sense of elegance and Old World charm. Additionally, this creative use of columns will instill a sense of high-end exclusivity that adds value to your home. Consider these novel ideas for placing architectural columns throughout your home:

  • To provide a sense of separation between living areas within open floor plans
  • To add luxurious detail in the main foyer, master bath, or a spacious kitchen
  • As design elements in a formal dining room along with ceiling medallions
  • For structural support in the backyard outdoor living/entertainment area

Interior columns add a level of creativity that was impossible before the many newer, lightweight materials became available. And with today's highly accurate and detailed molds, homeowners can enjoy faux wood and polymer stone columns that are difficult to distinguish from natural materials.

Installing Architectural Columns

Entrance luxury house

The true beauty of today's lightweight yet strong architectural columns is that they are easy to handle compared to the weight of wood or stone columns, and are easy to install when used for non-structural decoration. For structural posts, after dropping a plumb line to establish a straight centerpoint for the base and capital placement, most column styles will only require a bit of trimming with an abrasive saw for an exact fit. The column mounting plates are then attached to a structural element and fastened at the top and bottom with L-brackets, followed by caulking to seal against moisture infiltration.

For installing decorative columns, either galvanized drywall screws and/or construction-grade adhesive is sufficient. Architectural column installations will require the same tools used for other projects, but care should be taken to avoid striking the posts with a hammer or installing columns in very cold temperatures. A two man team can install interior or exterior, non-load bearing columns in an afternoon.

Visit the Worthington Millwork’s architectural columns installation website to download detailed procedures for installing different column types and materials.

How to Paint and Maintain Your Columns

If you decide to repaint your architectural columns to match or contrast your home's appearance, first check with the manufacturer's instructions for any specific painting guidelines for the column material. Most columns can be easily painted by first cleaning the column and caulking any holes or gaps. Apply at least one coat of primer and let it dry thoroughly and sand before applying the appropriate exterior oil or latex paint. After drying, apply a second coat if needed.

The engineered materials that are used for Worthington Millworks architectural columns are virtually maintenance free. For exterior columns, an occasional hose down to remove dust or debris is all that is required. If you are installing wood columns, avoid drilling any holes in the bottom section to prevent water infiltration. By keeping your wood columns freshly painted with a high quality latex or oil based paint, you are adding a protective coating that increases the life span of wood posts.

Care should be taken during shipping and handling of architectural columns. They should be stored indoors, in their original shipping crate or stored standing in a safe and dry location. Avoid storing columns in temperatures below 40 degrees F to avoid material becoming brittle and easier to crack.

Contact us at Worthington Millworks for help on where to start. All of our materials are sourced from trusted millwork manufacturers and all our products are made in the U.S.A. We make sure your columns are properly crated for shipping, but it is also smart to add shipping insurance in case you have to confront the carrier with a freight claim for damage.

Architectural Columns

Topics: Wood Columns, Architectural Columns, Porch Columns, Fiberglass Porch Columns

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