Column terms

If you are intending to shop for columns, it is very useful to know some terminology. A column with its surroundings is a complex architectural structure. Without knowing the right words you will not even understand your contractor or manufacturers' product information.

Abacus: A slab on the top of the capital of a column.

Acanthus: Any of various perennial herbs or small shrubs of the genus Acanthus, native to the Mediterranean and having pinnately lobed basal leaves with spiny margins and showy spikes of white or purplish flowers. Also called bear's breech.

Apophyge: An outward curve, called congé or scape, connecting the shaft of a Classical column to the fillets over the base and under the astragal beneath the capital.

Astragal: A narrow convex molding often having the form of beading.

Base: The lowest part of a structure, such as a wall, considered as a separate unit: the base of a column.

Capital: the upper part of a column that supports the entablature.

Column: A supporting pillar consisting of a base, a cylindrical shaft, and a capital.

Conge: An Apophyge

Echinus: A convex molding just below the abacus of a Doric capital.

Egg and Dart: A decorative molding consisting of a series of egg-shaped figures alternating with dart-shaped, anchor-shaped, or tongue-shaped figures.

Fillet: A thin flat molding used as separation between or ornamentation for larger moldings.

Flute: A long, usually rounded groove incised as a decorative motif on the shaft of a column.

Load-bearing: A structural element that supports the weight of other construction elements.

Necking: A molding between the upper part of a column and the projecting part of the capital.

Pilaster: A vertical element projecting from a wall, with a base and capital.

Pillar: A vertical, noncircular masonry support.

Plinth: A block or slab on which column is placed

Post: A vertical element used to support a horizontal beam or lintel

Scotia: A hollow concave molding at or near the base of a column.

Shaft: The principal portion of a column, between the capital and the base.

Torus: A large convex molding, semicircular in cross section, located at the base of a classical column.

Volute: A spiral scroll-like ornament such as that used on an Ionic capital.

Decorative columns in the garden

If you really want to add columns to the number of design features you already have in your home, but there seems to be absolutely no aesthetic or structural justification for their use (it can happen!), take a look at your outside space. Garden columns are an old time favorite when it comes to dividing different areas in a park or simply providing some architectural interest. It is often that these columns do not perform any utilitarian function whatsoever. They can literally be freestanding, provided that their capitals are elaborate and visually appealing in their own right.

Still, it is much better if you can use your garden columns as planters or as support for hanging plants. Short columns that can be used as planter bases are often called pedestals. Such short columns can also look great in combination with sculptures, bird baths and solar lights.

You can even go for a ruin look that was very popular in Renaissance times and in Romantic gardens. Believe it or not, columns are actually manufactured to look broken and aged:

Columns in Windsor Guildhall: An architect's joke

Christopher Wren (1632 – 1723), a great English architect, at the client's request, installed four additional columns in the Windsor Guildhall. The client's concern was that the roof was lacking structural support and was in danger of collapsing. Wren, who was not at all convinced that his design was structurally unsound, probably mumbled to himself something about the fact that the clients always ruin everything. Nevertheless, he built the four columns that apparently satisfied his critics.

The problem is, of course, that these columns do not reach the ceiling, and in fact support absolutely nothing. Upon very close examination, they turn out to be completely decorative! Hundreds of years later, the building still stands, complete with an architect's joke.

Architectural column materials

The choice of architectural column materials these days boils fown to wood, polyurethane and composite materials. The age and style of your home may require that you use wood to achieve an authentic look. Otherwise, wood is difficult to maintain, it can shrink or swell and can be easily damaged by the elements. Polyurethane is cheaper, but also softer and less durable. Composite materials (cellular PVC, reinforced polymer) are great for achieving a period look without using expensive and high-maintenance wood columns.

On occasion, you will also find fiberglass, aluminum and plaster columns. Stone columns are rare these days and their look can be reproduced using composite materials.

See also:

Architectural column manufacturers

Architectural column manufacturers

Below is a fairly comprehensive list of architectural column manufacturers in America, conveniently gathered in one place!