Columns today are not used in quite the same way as they were used by the Greeks and Romans, but we do persist in trying to replicate these symbols of their civilizations. Perhaps this is because they represent values we appreciate. We should also appreciate their fine sense of proportion and scale when incorporating columns into our structures. Here are a few simple rules to keep in mind whether placing columns on a building, on kitchen cabinets, or even in the glamour bath.
ENTASIS RULES — THE BODY The slight convex curvature of a classical column, which diminishes in diameter as it rises — entasis — keeps the column from looking too thin or too fat. These techniques are still important to make our columns “look right.”
BASICS OF THE BASE Usually (but not always) the column has a molding or trim around its base and sits atop a low square plinth.
ORDERS Most of these rules have minor variations depending upon the “order” of the column or building façade. “Order” refers to the complete assembly of the column and beam in an organized fashion. This usually relates to a historical or classical system of proportion, the rules of which were refined by ancient generations of architects and builders. These days most home builders use the Tuscan Order (shown) for columns because it is simple, dignified, and widely available — with the correct proportions.
From Vitruvius to Palladio to others, books about this stuff have been written for thousands of years, but, with a little discernment, modern builders can satisfy even the most demanding of homeowning Caesars.
—Dick Kawalek, a registered architect for more than 30 years, is founder of Kawalek Architects, Cleveland; email@example.com.