Creating Something From Nothing – A Tale of Two Trim Designs
Creating something from nothing…
That’s what I’ve been doing these past few weeks.
About a year ago, I wrote a blog post about a Houston family for whom I did a one time on line design consultation for the great room that ran across the back of the new house that was being designed for them. They had concerns about window size and placement, ceiling height and could they add beams to the ceiling. How do you bring cabinets to a 10′ – 11′ high ceiling? Etc.
WKD was retained to design all the interior trim for the foyer, study, sitting room and great room (living area, dining area and kitchen). Basically all the public rooms on the first floor.
something from nothing – where to begin
When you start to create something from nothing, it’s important to have a baseline. You need to define the parameters/challenges of the problem. Conceive a concept. Fortunately, that was the easy part. During our one time consultation, we had a long conversation about architectural styles. It was apparent what appealed to them by which images we looked at resonated with them. From WKD’s work, an 1804 Federal we helped a client renovate held strong appeal.
The other was an Antique Colonial we worked on.
Additionally, they liked interiors designed by Patrick Ahearn and Minnie Peters. Their common thread was simple clear details which brought a friendly/inviting charm/character to the home. Informal. Casually elegant would be an appropriate descriptor.
I had my visuals and a design direction.
Where to begin – the room hierarchy
In my very first post in the series, I illustrated a home’s trim hierarchy and progression of detail. Typically, the level of detail becomes less complex as “formal” public rooms transition to “less formal” rooms intended for family use. Here, the progression was (1)foyer, (2)study, (3A)sitting room and (3B)great room. Per our agreement, I was to prepare two options (A & B) for each room.
Because we had previously discussed the great room, I had a pretty good idea where it’s design needed to end up, but solutions had to be in the context of the overall designs of Options A & B. In the other three rooms, I would be starting from scratch. Creating something from nothing.
Knowing our client liked clean and simple, using the Doric order as a basic design tool made perfect sense. Option A would stick to The Orders proportions. Option B would be a more casual spin on The Order’s proportions, drawing from the work of Salem architect/ builder, Samuel McIntire. Using his smaller, more delicate proportions, I felt I could have some fun with the trim, creating a clear second option.
Creating something from Nothing: Determining proportions
When designing interior trim and details, it’s best to start with the most complex and work your way toward simplification. Because it is the statement space, I started with the foyer. The other rooms would be simplified extensions of its design.
With 11′ – 0″ high ceilings, I first wanted to determine if the scale of a full entablature would be too heavy for the foyer. In addition, I needed to make a judgement as to whether a full entablature would be too formal for this particular client.
Sometimes, simple math will tell you what you can and cannot do. Breaking the 11′ high ceiling (132″) into 5, 6 and 8 unit columns, as I discussed in my post “How to Design Modern Traditional Trim”, I learned that with a 9′ high door and a 5″ – 6″ jamb, the only full entablature that would fit between the top of the door jamb and the ceiling was the 8 unit column, at 16 ½”.
Although the entablature fit, it felt too heavy and cramped in the long narrow space.
I next looked at cornice assemblies, based on 5, 6 and 8 unit columns. At 11 ½” deep, the 5 unit cornice was too heavy and formal – looming into the space. However, the cornices based on 6 and 8 unit format had potential. The 9 ½” cornice of the 6 unit column gave the foyer presence, while not being overbearing. The 7″ cornice from the 8 unit column assembly was delightfully understated. Perfect for a welcoming and casual architectural statement in the foyer.
The foyer: Design Options
I now had a beginning – a baseline upon which to build. Option A would be built around a more formal/classically derived 9 ½” cornice. Option B would be a less formal McIntire riff of a 7″ cornice.
A wainscot adds a degree of formality to the foyer, while not going over the top. Option A’s panel trim has a more complex profile and decorative , complimenting the formal cornice. Option B’s simpler, more casual design statement readily relates to the McIntire inspired cornice.
WIth a simplified cornice, just a chair rail and no wainscot, the study steps down a notch.
the sitting room
The sitting room is even more casual, having just a simple crown moulding.
It is here where it’s easy to see the difference in level of detail off the door/window jamb trim. Option A’s trim profiles are fancy. Option B’s are simple.
the great room
Ceiling treatment plays a major role in a room whose dimensions are 21′ wide x 51′ long. Particularly when the room’s ceiling height is 11 feet. Without texture or pattern, the ceiling becomes a wasteland. Adding boxed beams to the ceiling, I broke up the ceiling into four equal bays. Happily each bay fell over a different seating group or the kitchen area.
A room of this size can easily handle ceiling trim that echos cornice moulding dimensions. The challenge is in the trim’s detail. Very plain details and profiles making up these large multi-piece mouldings convey a casual, comfortable air.
In keeping with the theme of Option A being heavier, we wrapped the room with a 10 ¾” deep cornice. A portion of which becomes a wide boxed beam. The beam width matches the width of an “invisible” column below.
Option B’s smaller McIntiresque cornice has fewer parts, conveying a lighter feel. The boxed beam is the “experiment” in the project. I wanted to see the effect of how a beam meets the wall when it is not contained or met by piece of trim. The jury is still out. And the detail is easily changed.
SOMETHING from nothing – A summary
Let’s wrap up with a brief summary.
- Establish the hierarchy of spaces you will be designing.
- Start your design with the most formal space.
- The remaining spaces spin off the most formal space.
- Find trim elements that can be repeated. They do not have to be exactly the same, but do need to reinforce your design intent.
- Less formal does not always translate into smaller, for example, the Great Room’s trim is dimensionally large, but their components are simple. The trim assemblies are straight forward and honest.
Well, there you have it. This little effort culminates my series of blog posts about interior trim, which I started over two years ago. You gotta get the bones of a home right. Otherwise, you’re spending good money bad.
Sally and I are retiring
Yes, that’s right. Including schooling/college, we each have been in the ” business of design” for just over 50 years. With two grandkids nearby and the travel world starting to open up again, it’s time for us the close this chapter of our lives, turn the page and start writing a new chapter. We’re both looking to filling its blank pages.
It’s been a true pleasure writing these posts over the years. I’ve loved the conversations we’ve had. Honestly, I don’t know whether I’ll continue writing blog posts. I suspect if I do, they will contain a different kind of content.
I’ll continue to post on the social media platforms below. I’m sure these will evolve as well.
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