Classic Types of Architectural Columns
Classical Greek and Roman architects developed and utilized five core column styles in their designs. These types of columns remain the core architectural reference for today's modern designs. From Colonial and Cottage to Craftsman and Georgian, homes across the country can be found with these timeless and beautiful architectural columns.
- Doric. Developed by ancient Greek architects, Doric columns are round, slightly tapered and almost squat. They are characterized by a simple necking, a convex echinus and a square abacus. The style was later adapted and tweaked by the Romans.
- Iconic. Ionic columns were also created by the ancient Greeks and are more slender than Doric columns. These architectural columns feature a larger base with scrolled capitals or volutes.
- Corinthian. The third and final classic column designed by the ancient Greeks is that of the Corinthian column. This style is slender and marked by fluted columns with elaborate carvings of subtle scrolls and leaves.
- Tuscan. A Roman adaptation of the Doric column, the more simplistic Tuscan style has an unfluted shaft with a more minimalistic base and capital.
- Composite. Composite columns are a unique mixture of Ionic and Corinthian styles. Each column includes more prominent scrolls and leaf decorations.
The Components of a Column
An architectural column is, very simply, a vertical element with a rounded, squared or polygonal shaft, a capital and a base. Columns typically serve as a means of support, but can also act as strictly a design feature.
While Doric columns are usually placed directly on the floor, most columns include a base (the lowest part of the structure). Designs can range from simplistic to intricate based on the style and historical reference. Ionic columns are unique in that their bases are marked by decorative moldings and fillets (a thin band with a vertical face).
With some designs, the base may sit on an even more elaborate pedestal, with a plinth beneath it to help distribute the weight. When a pedestal is used, a die will typically be placed between the column and the base.
The shaft of a column is the long portion between the base and the capital (the top portion). It is constructed using drums, which are individual circular sections. Doric shafts are stout, while Ionic and Corinthian versions are slender and fluted. Tuscan columns are simple, unfluted and unadorned.
The capital includes all of the upper elements of a column. These include three core components with various decorative elements in between.
- Necking. The necking is the section below the capital. It's a continuation of the shaft but typically stands out visually due to one or more narrow grooves
- Echinus. This decorative molding is set between the abacus and the necking. It's a circular block that bulges somewhat outward to support the abacus.
- Abacus. This supportive square slab sits directly on top of the capital. Its main function is to broaden the support of the column.
Column Design Details
When shopping for your new interior or porch columns, you'll be able to choose from many design details to create custom architectural columns that work for your home. Some design details will be chosen based on necessity and your home's layout, whereas other details will be based on personal preference.
- Squared vs. Round. While the choice of square vs. round columns is completely up to you, there are some design standards that you can work off of. For example, Arts & Crafts style homes typically utilize square columns, whereas round columns are usually found on Roman or Victorian-style homes. Square columns are extremely versatile and perfect for a more traditional or contemporary look. Round columns provide an appearance of grandeur and are ideal if you're going for a more classic design.
- Tapered vs. Non-Tapered.Tapered columns are typically taller and perfect for a more streamlined look. Tapering creates an interesting silhouette that is usually found on classical columns. Non-tapered columns are simpler and create a more subtle look.
- Flutes vs. Non-Fluted.Fluted columns feature a series of vertical grooves or channels that run the entire length of the column. Non-fluted options omit this Doric-style design detail for a cleaner look.
- Load Bearing vs. Decorative Columns. Architectural columns can be either load-bearing or simply decorative. Decorative columns are not built to withstand the weight of a porch roof, overhang or ceiling. If you can see the foundation beneath your present column or your existing interior column appears to be supporting your roof, it is most likely a load-bearing structural column and should be replaced with appropriate material.
- Adjustable vs. Non-Adjustable. If you require one height for all of your columns, non-adjustable will work just fine. If you will need different column heights along your front porch or entryway, you'll need adjustable columns that are fluted. Adjustable single-piece PVC columns are typically the product of choice in this situation.
Both decorative and structural columns can be made from various materials, each with their own unique benefits and aesthetics. Whether you're replacing your existing columns or are building a new porch from scratch, there are quite a few materials to choose from that will meet your required level of maintenance and style preferences.
Aluminum porch columns are strong, lightweight and typically come in prefinished, uniform white. These virtually maintenance-free columns are factory powder coated with a baked-on coating to protect against oxidation and discoloration.
Fiberglass columns are made of a composite material engineered to replicate specific mechanical and aesthetic properties. Cast from a proprietary fiber-reinforced polymer composite, HB&G fiberglass columns are durable and incredibly strong, as well as rot-proof, weather-proof and insect-proof.
Polymer stone columns are molded to simulate your more traditional stone front porch columns. The material is nearly half the weight of real stone and is often used in restorations or to enhance more contemporary homes.
PVC column wraps are made from cellular PVC and are a durable choice as they're moisture, pest and rot-resistant. This column material is available in a variety of styles and is often the preferred material for custom designs. The predesigned PVC column wraps have the thickness, ease of use and overall workability of real wood — plus, they're easy to install on already-existing structural posts.
Wood columns are available in a variety of styles, orientations, applications and wood species, from pine to cedar. Wood exterior and interior columns are ideal for those purists who are looking for a historically authentic architectural element in their home.
While these are all good things to keep in mind when making your purchase decision, be sure to reach out to our HB&G architectural department experts with help in finding your perfect interior or porch columns.