Design Dilemma: Structural Columns
Whether renovating your basement, striving for an open concept main floor or living in a newly built condo, structural columns are a common frustration among my clients. No one likes the unsightly look of an obstructive column and to be fair, they have a tendency of being located in the worst possible place from a design perspective.
Here are a few suggestions on how to turn these structural necessities into architectural opportunities or, at the very least, a design element that’s both functional and aesthetically pleasing:
MAIN FLOOR - If your architect or designer tells you a column is necessary, due to the weight of your home, the span from one room to the next or the sheer cost of an expensive structural beam, I’m afraid resistance is futile. Instead of seeing a column as an unsightly disaster sent to ruin your otherwise perfect aesthetic, try and see it as an opportunity to think outside the box. This is the exact type of challenge I love as a designer - not only can embracing a column save you money, it can also add a unique design element.
By adding a second, third or dare I say even a fourth column for symmetry you’re embracing what could have looked like a mistake by giving it substance and purpose. Now consider strategically placing your kitchen island between these columns. By incorporating a column or two into your kitchen design it’s no longer alone and awkward in the middle of your otherwise open concept space. You may also want to change the shape or material of the column to make it more architecturally interesting and aesthetically pleasing. Adding weight to achieve the right scale, using decorative trim to make it more textured and visually interesting or using a natural material such as salvaged wood or stone makes what was once an unsightly, awkward column almost art-like. When done properly, you’ll wonder why you didn’t embrace it all along!
BASEMENT - Consider adding an additional column or columns during a basement reno as well for improved symmetry. Instead of a kitchen island, add a wet bar that will surely come in handy when entertaining guests, as the perfect area for children’s’ art projects or simply more storage. Double sided fireplaces are another great addition to any space – especially a basement – and the proper installer can help you hide the unsightly column(s) within its structure.
Basements tend to be large, expansive rooms with little obvious natural division. Structural columns are a great way to divide a large open space into different functional areas. Whether it’s a games room, media space, playroom, entertainment area, office or a combination of all the above, what once had little privacy or division can have better function and separation. The space between columns can also double as a bookcase with open or closed shelves, a cabinet for storage or even a decorative wine rack for a personal cellar. Just because it’s weight bearing doesn’t mean your column has to be unattractive. Consider using different materials like glass, marble, custom cabinetry, salvaged wood or mixed metals to play up the decorative aspect and camouflage the heavy lifting occurring underneath.
CONDO – Large columns are a common element in modern condos with floor to ceiling windows. Whether one column or several, its important to make create a decorative feature and not an eyesore by embracing them in the overall design of your space. A new restaurant downtown Toronto called Montecito went so far as adding a bold, floral wallpaper to highlight and draw attention to their structural columns thus making them a primary focal point. Another option, if you dislike the cold, modern look of concrete, is to drywall and paint the column either the same colour as your walls or something bolder for contrast.
There are other products on the market that help turn unsightly columns into more neutral and natural looking works of art. While at last years IDS13 show, I came across several innovative products that accomplished this difficult task. Ranging from wall sized murals that look like different materials – including cement if your column has already been dry walled – to more natural products like slate, marble and wood that through technology can be bent or adhered to surround a columns circular surface. Photography and artwork is another great option if an image you love can be printed on adhesive paper and wrapped around a column to make what was once unsightly decorative and unique. Many photographers and artists are exploring new mediums for their artwork so it becomes a main feature that further differentiates your space.
When working with columns the important thing is to incorporate them as part of your design. Pretending they aren’t there or working around them never turns out as you’d hoped. It’s important to know when to push their prevalence and when to draw them into the background. Ideally a column of the right size, weight, scale, material and pattern can add to the design of any room and not distract or take away from its overall effect.