Guest Blog By Brent Hull
A few years ago, I wrote an article for the on-line magazine, This is Carpentry, called ”The Misplaced Chair Rail”. The article created a huge controversy among craftsmen and designers because of my wild claim that the chair rail should never be placed at 36” above the floor. The blog post filled up with comments like, “everybody knows that the purpose of the chair rail is to protect the wall from the back of the chair”. “There are no set rules,” claimed another. I spent the next few months defending my position, and years later, I still get emails about the article. Why? Sadly, over the last 60 years we have forgotten the rules of classical architecture and moldings, and architectural elements in the interior are largely misunderstood and misplaced.
I discovered these rules serendipitously two ways. First, while working on my second book, Traditional American Rooms, that highlights roughly 40 historic rooms from the Winterthur Museum in Delaware. Working with my friend and designer Christine Franck, I discovered that historically, rooms were organized, built and designed around ancient rules of scale and proportion. These rules have been largely lost and ignored in today’s architecture. It is amazing to me as I give talks around the country that many people don’t know about the five orders of architecture. The five orders of architecture are foundational rules of scale and proportion passed down from the Greeks and Romans; these rules were understood and practiced regularly until 1940. Historically, any design education that ignored this classical system was really no education at all. The reason is that all the moldings and all the interior elements that were used to design a room came from the classical method; to ignore it would be to take the key elements and key methods for establishing proper proportion and scale. Sadly, over the last 60 years it has become very common to overlook these rules. There is only one school in the country, Notre Dame, that teaches the classical system. This is a lost art of building and design that we need to remember in order to design great spaces, whether modern or classical.
The second way I discovered these rules was when my company began to reproduce historic interiors for new homes, and it became clear that the magic of ancient and historic interiors is tied up in the organization and use of moldings. The size, shape and placement of moldings are key to the overall success of a room. I discovered that the chair rail should never be at 36” above the floor unless your room is 12’-15’ tall. The chair rail corresponds to the height of the pedestal cap in a classical order. It is proportional to the room, and if it is too high, the proportions of the room are compromised. Look around, you will find that most people place the chair rail too high. This simple and effective rule can change the feel and overall correctness of a room’s aesthetic.
The truth is, the classical system of building and design is not some archaic method of construction that no longer works. Instead it is made up of rules of scale and proportion based on the proportions of the human body. Because it is based on and scaled against a human model, there is a human scale in the composition of the orders. This human scale causes us to feel innately better in these rooms. If you want to create spaces with magic, spaces your clients love, then you must understand the classical method of building.
To learn more about the five orders of architecture, attend one of my Lunch & Learn lectures. For details contact: Kelseylyon@brenthull.com Or visit www.brenthull.com.
About Brent Hull
Brent Hull, owner and president of Hull Historical, is a nationally recognized authority on historic design, architecturally correct moldings and millwork. Trained in the art of museum quality preservation at the prestigious North Bennett Street School in Boston, Brent is the exclusive licensee for the architectural interiors of the Winterthur Museum and Country Estate in Wilmington, Delaware, the original home of H.F. du Pont. The home boasts the finest collection of American antiques in the world.
Brent is also the author of two books, Traditional American Rooms —celebrating style, craftsmanship and historic woodwork with a forward by Barbra Streisand, and Historic Millwork —a guide to restoring and recreating doors, windows and moldings from the late 19th Century to the early 20th Century. He is the recipient of three John Staub Awards for classical architecture in craftsmanship and historic restoration.
A lifelong passion with a commitment to the design of architectural millwork where every design is handcrafted with emphasis on historical accuracy, led Brent to share his knowledge and educate others. A dynamic and popular speaker, Brent draws enthusiastic audiences of architects, designers and homebuilders to his keynote addresses and presentations. Much of Brent’s research is gathered from an astounding wealth of knowledge from books in a personal library of over 2000 historic and trade pattern volumes. His work and writings have been featured in numerous publications, interior design books and blogs.Click images to view at full-size.