There's no question that a porch looks and feels best when
all of its components relate to the rest of the house's design.
In an earlier column, we focused on how porch guardrails can
complement a home (5/06); here, we'll talk about ways that
porch columns, posts, and piers can do the same. Proportion and
scale in particular are important when choosing vertical
Full- and Partial-Height Columns
The terms "column" and "post" are often used interchangeably,
but it helps to differentiate between the two. For the sake of
this piece, we'll define a column as a vertical support,
usually circular (but occasionally square) in plan, inspired by
classical architecture, with a base, shaft, and capital. And
we'll define a post as a timberlike vertical support that is
generally square or rectangular in plan.
Column examples , , and
are roughly based on the Doric classical
order. They are more formal and traditional than post examples
, , and
A is fairly massive and supports an appropriately massive
entablature. A column of this scale and detail is most
appropriate on a large-scale, authentic classical reproduction;
it would likely look overinflated and silly on most anything
As is typical of classical columns, the bottom third of the
shaft extends straight up from the base diameter and the upper
two-thirds of the shaft tapers, with a convex profile. This
tapering is called entasis.
Column is a square-plan version of Column
. It's a tad less formal but equally
Column is of a more moderate scale. Sitting
the 9-inch-diameter column atop a pedestal allows it to occupy
the same overall height as full-height columns A and B without
the girth. The entablature at is scaled down
to accommodate the smaller column.
Posts , , and
suit a wide variety of more eclectic
Posts and are somewhat
chunky and recall Arts and Crafts detailing. Post
is the dressier of the two; it's trimmed
with modest base and crown moldings that are pared-down
reminders of classical elements. It also features chamfered
corners located to recall the division of classical columns
into one-third and two-thirds portions.
Post discards the base and trim moldings and
instead uses the start and stop points of the chamfer to
suggest a base and cap. The entablatures on both
and have been downsized
in proportion to the post dimensions, and simplified in
relation to the post types.
F is the slenderest and thus has been made shorter. If it were
any taller, the 6x6 might appear overly skinny. Its entablature
is scaled back accordingly. Simple crown and necking trim
highlight the cap with minimal fanfare.
A pier differs from a column or a post in that it is usually
more substantial and wall-like. Example is a
shingled pier featuring a flared shingle base with a bed
molding. This pier supports a horizontal band of two full
shingle courses, frieze trim, and a cornice, which together
equal a quarter of the pier height. Pier is
comfortably proportioned for a generous porch or veranda.
Example , however, is an unconvincing pier.
Its slender dimension is more postlike. The narrow horizontal
band of two partial shingle courses, frieze trim, and cornice
is undersized. In general, is too anemic for
Paired Partial-Height Columns and Posts
On a porch that includes a typical 3-foot-tall guardrail,
pairing posts atop a 3-foot pedestal creates a lighter look
than a hefty full-height pier or massive full-height column
would. The paired traditional columns in example
sit on a fittingly formal paneled
The more informal smaller-scale posts in example
are better suited to the simple shingled
guardrail and shingled pier-style pedestal. The porch with the
posts is decidedly more casual than the one
with the columns.
Modest Partial-Height Posts
If the slender full-height post is too thin
for your taste, it may make sense to trim out the lower third,
as seen in example . This simple treatment
dresses up the post slightly while evoking the one-third-point
dimensional shift of a classical column.
Example , on the other hand, just doesn't
work. The shingled lower section isn't chunky enough to pull
off a pier-style shingle pedestal treatment. Also, the 3-foot
height of the shingled section feels too tall for a single post
with this overall support height; the post appears to be clad
in a gawky tube sock.
For a partial shingle treatment to work, it needs to be scaled
more like the shingled, pier-style pedestal in example
.Katie Hutchison is an architect and the
owner of Earthlight Design in Salem, Mass.