How to Design Modern Traditional Trim
Is it possible to design great looking modern traditional trim using classical proportions and guidelines? The short answer is yes. As it turns out, the long answer will take several posts.(As I prepared this post it became clear I could create so much content in response to my question I needed to write several posts on the topic. Thus, this post is the first in a series of posts on designing modern traditional trim.) In this post I will only be examining cornice moulding. In later posts, I will be playing with its component parts and exploring the relationship of crown moulding to the other component parts of trim in a room. After all, we’re designing an environment – a visual story – and the goal is it be coherent.
Shall we begin?
Many of our traditional clients admire the level of detail we designed in this project.
However, most of them are asking for an updated look. While tipping their hats to classicism’s heritage – not so heavy, cleaner and fresh are examples of the descriptive words they use. A tall order perhaps?
Fellow interior designer Scott Koehler and I touched on the question as we collaborated on the creation of a crown moulding profile for a kitchen he is currently designing. With 10’ high ceilings and Shaker style cabinet doors, we created a clean, refined crown moulding. So the answer is yes – clean, simple, updated classically inspired trim is possible.
Let’s take the question a step further. Let’s see what’s possible.
MODERN TRADITIONAL TRIM: BASE LINE DESIGN CRITERIA
First, let’s establish the design criteria.
- Ceiling height: 9’ – 0”
- Classical Orders: Tuscan and Doric.
- Entablature: 21 5/8” (Ceiling height divided by 5.)
- Column Diameter: Tuscan – 12, Doric – 10 ¾”
- Cornice: Tuscan – 9 ¼”, Doric – 8”
Here are examples of classic Tuscan and Doric entablatures.
WHAT’S THE BASE LINE LOOK LIKE?
Using the above numbers, below is a traditional elevation with a full 21 5/8” Tuscan entablature. The room sits “low” visually – heavy. We can easily eliminate this one for reinterpretation as modern traditional moulding.
How about just the Tuscan cornice. Better… Simplicity is there. Visually, still feels slightly heavy to me. This post offered an overview of proper trim proportion.
By today’s standards, the traditional Doric entablature and cornice are too fussy, so we won’t go there.
MANIPULATING THE THE ENTABLATURE SIZE
As I mentioned above, in a room with a 9’ – 0” ceiling, the typical order entablature/cornice sizes may make a room do what I call “sit heavy”, with the ceiling feeling lower that it’s true height. While what we’re actually looking for is detailing that give “lift” to a room.
Let’s stop and think about this for a moment. Why might that be? Here’s my theory. The Classical Orders original proportions were intended for building exteriors. Think of the scale of the Parthenon… Think of it’s building materials…
I associate The Order’s typical proportions with large rooms and high ceilings, such as this stair landing in the Carnavalet Museum in Paris.
Or this large room in the Louvre.
What if the Orders were scaled down to fit smaller spaces with lower ceilings? It seems others had similar thoughts, recommending entablatures be 1/6th – 1/8th of the overall height of an interior room. For example, this is an 18th Century room in Paris’s Carnavalet Museum, whose entablature falls within these ratios. It feels much more appropriate to the scale of the room.
Using the 1/6 scale proportions, let’s see what can be done with a Tuscan cornice. Sometimes all it takes is a slight change in profiles to change a piece of trim’s appearance, such as the example on the left below. On the right, the profiles have been compressed vertically and stretched on to the ceiling. The use of ellipses to form the curves makes the moulding feel more dynamic. Nothing dramatic, but enough to draw you eye and make you notice.
As it turns out, the Ionic cornice quickly becomes very interesting. So, it’s back in the game… Here’s what it looks like in it’s classic form.
Replacing the arcs with ellipse sections, the Doric cornice isn’t looking quite so stuffy. It’s beginning to reach into the room. Subtle, but significant. There’s more energy.
Let’s push the envelope by compressing and stretching. Voila! Modern traditional trim!
I know, it’s not completely modern, right? Let’s get rid of the curves. Straight lines only. I can easily see this cornice in an edgy contemporary space.
Modern traditional trim: WRAPPING it UP
What have we learned so far?
- Compress and stretch has potential.
- Ellipsoidal shapes provide more visual energy than arcs.
- Breaking a room’s height into 6 or 8 equal parts and working within the top 1/6 or 1/8 helps scale the classical orders the size of the room.
- from our previous post, we learned to break the cornice into 8 equal parts. Scroll almost to the bottom of the post.
What about that edgy contemporary space? As I noted at the beginning of the post, I realized there was so much content, I needed to break everything down into manageable pieces. So you’re going to have to wait. It’s scheduled for another post. Other topics in the works are “Interior Trim is the Backbone of the Your Interior Environment”, “How to Give Lift to a Room”, “What Kind of Story Does your Room Tell?” Or perhaps. “Every Home has a Story. What’s Yours?” I hope you will enjoy the journey with me.
In the meantime, here’s a teaser clip of a few noodles and doodles while working on ideas for the upcoming posts.
Til next time…
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