Classical Interior Architecture, The Most Important Element



The other day, after the post about blue paint colors, Val wrote this comment concerning interior architecture:

I enjoy and appreciate posts about wall paint colors! But I have to say I wish more blog posts about interior architecture.


Of course, there are some informative ones on the blog already. But, there are more posts about wall colors than interior architecture blog posts. People still notice color commonly than architecture. Yes, you said this many times Laurel, but I beg you to write more about interior architecture! Please; pretty please!?!




Well, Val isn’t the only one who’s asked me about interior architecture. And, she’s right. It’s a very important topic. And, it’s one that I’ve said over and over is actually far more important than paint colors.

It’s also the most difficult one to change. Well, most of the time.


In fact, I feel that if I had to put in order the elements of a room in order of importance, it would be:


  • Architecture
  • Lighting
  • Furnishings, including all of the wonderful details that make the space
  • Color


It’s true. If you have a room with exquisite interior architecture, a lot can be forgiven if the other three are lacking.


Lighting, I have put in second place because if the lighting sucks, it doesn’t matter how beautiful everything else is. Poor lighting in a room is like a model with a really bad hair day. Sure, she’s still gorgeous, but not nearly as much as when her hair is looking great too.

Color, as you can see, is last on the list. And yet, it’s the one element that folks frequently consider first. And, it’s not that color is not essential. They are all critical. But, I have found that when everything else is in place, the wall color matters far less.


But, any one of these elements gone horribly awry can muck up a space.


The other day, a very nice reader sent me a photo of her home. However, I am not going to post it. The outside looked okay for the most part. But, the inside, IMO, was largely an architectural misstep.


  • Bad proportions
  • Overscale entry
  • strange pitched ceilings


Oh, I’m trying to be nice. It isn’t easy.


I feel strongly that there’s no excuse for this. It’s like a restaurant that serves lousy food. THAT is ALL they do. Shouldn’t it be good food?

She wanted to know what to do about the paint colors. As y’all know, I can’t give specific advice about stuff like that. The only thing I said was to paint all the walls, ceiling, angles – ONE COLOR.



Just paint it out. Don’t call attention to what’s wrong. And then focus later on the furnishings that will make the spaces beautiful.


But, this highlights a widespread problem.

If one has a home and the interior architecture is not so great. And, money is tight. What do you do?

Well, many times, some big improvements can be making some small interior architecture changes like adding mouldings. There are lots of posts about interior architectural mouldings. I am going to link all of them here throughout the post.

But first, I want to talk about the elements of interior architecture. And, when I say that, I am referring specifically to classical interior architecture.

You’ll also hear me bantering that word around a lot.

Classical. Specifically classical architecture.


To give better context, let’s do a short history of Classical Architecture.


And then, I think this will give better context on how we arrived at where we are today. We’ll also look at the work of some modern-day architectural classicists, who are thankfully keeping this oft-forgotten art alive.

Despite all of the commotion of modernism and that hideous post-modernism of the 19th century. Fortunately, there have been those that have quietly been working in the classical idiom.

So many exquisite examples of classical architecture were destroyed in the post-war period. But thankfully, enough people came to their senses in the last two decades of the 20th century and cried out.

Hey, just hang on a red-hot minute. These buildings are gorgeous! Why are we not just fixing them up instead of tearing them down?


Grand Central Terminal Friday December 7, 2018 3:16

Like this one of Grand Central Station taken by me last December.

And then, thankfully, the madness largely stopped.


Classical architecture, most of us know, had its beginnings in the advanced culture of Ancient Greece. This began around 900 BC.

Limestone, plentiful in the region, was used as the building material of choice for the important buildings of the day, such as temples and theatres.

Remember, this is the quick version. :]

At some point, the Romans got involved.


Between the two cultures, they created five classical orders.


What is an order? An order in classical architecture are the elements of the exterior building structure that are subject to a set of uniform established proportions. An order is basically the components of an elaborate post and lintel system.

What is a post and lintel?


Inja Pavlić on Unsplash - post and lintel construction - stonehenge

 Inja Jeki – Unsplash


Well, in its most basic form, seen here at Stonehenge. It’s a post and beam.

A BIG beam.

The Greeks refined this basic form of architecture, and the Romans further refined it into the five fundamental orders.

The five orders are as follows:

  • Tuscan
  • Doric
  • Ionic
  • Corinthian
  • Composite


Vitruvius was the Roman architect in the last 100 BC years who wrote about the five orders of architecture.


De_architectura - Vitruvius

De_architectura – Vitruvius – A 1521 Italian language edition of De architectura, translated and illustrated by Cesare Cesariano.


However, about 40 years later, around 1562, the artist Giacomo Barozzi da Vignola penned his version of the five classical orders of architecture.

As a matter of fact, this one below dates back to 1590 and is available on First Dibs for only $7,900.00!!!

Iacomo Barozzio Da Vignola

Iacomo Barozzio Da Vignola

I would definitely stay on his good side while he’s holding his compass!

"Canon of the Five Orders of Architecture" by Iacomo Barozzio Da Vignola“Canon of the Five Orders of Architecture” by Iacomo Barozzio Da Vignola


"Canon of the Five Orders of Architecture" by Iacomo Barozzio Da Vignola For Sale at 1stdibs

“Canon of the Five Orders of Architecture” by Iacomo Barozzio Da Vignola For Sale at 1stdibs

As you can see, each order consists of a base, column, capital, and an entablature.

Or, maybe you can’t see that. haha. It’s actually phenomenally complex.

Entablature_via Stephens College

via Stephens University


The entablature is probably the least well-known of these elements. And, this was the most simplistic illustration I could find. The entablature consists of a cornice, frieze, and architrave.

And then a bunch of other elements. But, this is not supposed to be a doctoral thesis on the five orders of classical architecture.


Okay. I know. I know. This is supposed to be about INTERIOR architecture.


Well, it all applies. We have these elements quite often inside, as well. And, of course, many more elements. But, since I haven’t discussed these elements this thoroughly before, except for this post which I very much recommend that you read. It ties in very nicely.

Thus, the classical architecture had a resurgence during the renaissance, especially in Italy.

And then again in the late 18th century into the middle of the 19th century. These are the neo-classical/Federal into Greek Revival styles and are the ones I talk about the most.


Greek Revival beauty porch with ionic columnsThis is a wonderful example of Greek Revival architecture in a home featured in this post from last year.

But, then there was yet another boon in classicism beginning at the end of the 19th century until about 1920 in the United States called Beaux-Arts.


Bronxville Beaux Arts home center hall - classical interior architectureAnd then, of course, is the oft-published Bronxville home built in the beaux-arts period, circa 1910, that was privileged to work on a few years ago.  The columns are in the ionic order. You can see more images of this architectural gem in my portfolio.


Laurel Bern Interiors-bronxville-dining-roomSeriously. I say this all of the time. Sure, you could muck this space up. But, it doesn’t take much to make these rooms show stoppers because they are inherently showstoppers with nothing in them!


However, classicism went by the wayside soon after.


The onset of the great depression and then World War II gave rise to the Bauhaus and Modern movements.

That is, until the latter part of the 20th century, but in the bastardized form of “post-modern classicism.” Not that it’s all bad. But, much of it is filled with poorly constructed, hideously proportioned buildings.


And, now, you’re coming to me asking what color you should paint it.


The problem is, you know it’s wrong. You know instinctively that it’s wrong because it’s like when you were a little girl, and you put on your mother’s clothes. They don’t fit right.

However, my solution for bad architecture is to paint the walls white.

If the architecture isn’t bad but lacking because the builder was too cheap to do it the right way, you can always add applied architectural mouldings.

We did that in our townhouse, and it made such a big difference that a couple of the neighbors went out and did the same thing!


But, Laurel, you haven’t given us much about classical interior architecture.


Well, actually, I don’t mean to contradict you, but I have.

You see, in every post that discusses a room’s architecture, 95% of the rooms feature elements of classical interior architecture.


Also, here is a list of posts that feature many elements that I think you’ll find helpful.

Boxy boring homes and how to make them look so much better

Ceilings and should include crown mouldings

All about wainscoting

Rooms with great bones – architectural mouldings

Wall paneling

16 tricks to make your small rooms look larger

Blue and white spaces with lovely mouldings


Those are just some of the posts I can think of.


The good news if you’re building now is that we are in the middle of yet another classical architectural period that is called “The New Classical Architecture.”

One of the proponents of keeping the art of classical architecture alive is the Institute of Classical Architecture and Art.

There are several branches throughout the US. And one of them is New York City. Last December, I attended a beautiful luncheon where I heard Charlotte Moss speaking and met Maura Endres, who I adore featuring.


In addition, the wonderful trip I took in the fall of 2017 to England was through the ICAA.


This will link to a terrific article with more info and images about classical architectural elements. And, it was precisely to see and study dozens of examples of exquisite classical architecture, both new and old.


Please enjoy the following posts with hi-lights of the incredible gardens and classically-styled architecture I saw in that one week. I was in heaven the entire time.


Here’s What the Classic Homes of Tomorrow Will Look Like

Fantastic Classical Gardens and Architecture in England

Best English Country Home of All

Ben Pentreath and the New Guard of Classical Architects

Timeless Interiors

A post about wall mirrors features some images from the trip.

The last part of this post will feature the new guard of classical architects.

You, classical musicians and enthusiasts, know that Haydn (nicknamed Papa Haydn) was the father of classical music and influenced other classical composers such as Mozart, Beethoven, Paganini, Rossini.

Well, the Papa Haydn of Classical Architecture is Quinlan Terry.

I was fortunate to meet Mr. Terry, but we were hosted to a wonderful evening in their exquisite home in England.


Quinlan Terry Home, photo taken by me - gorgeous classical interor architecture and furnishings

A classic vignette from their lovely living room. Photo by me.

And, another shot I took of Mr. Terry and his equally charming wife outside their home, Higham Hall in Suffolk, UK.

Hi, son Frances Terry worked with his father for about 20 years but has gone off on his own in recent years.

Frances Terry, Ben Pentreath, and George Saumarez Smith are discussed in this post as the new guard of classical architects in the UK.


In the US, we have many fabulous classical architects. Here are three of my favorites. And all three have the most exquisitely tasteful websites.


Peter Pennoyer

via @peterpennoyerarchitects on instagram - Regency jewel by H. Pleasants Pennington - Locust Valley, NY

Peter also has a fabulous Instagram account.


Gil Schafer

Gil Schafer - gorgeous classical interior architecture

Gil is such a fabulously talented architect. His collaborations with interior designers Miles Redd and Victoria Hagan are legendary.

Gil Schafer - Book A Place to Call Home - beautiful classical interior architecture

For more beauty from Gil Schafer, here’s a link to his beautiful book.


Timothy Bryant

tisch_Timothy Bryant Architect Beaux Arts restoration townhouse
Timothy Bryant is a new name to me in the realm of classical architecture. However, his work, I think, is stunning.

Simon Upton - portfolio.interiors.library- classical interior architecture

Beautiful library!


Timothy Bryant classical interior architecture - traditional living room

Another beauty by Timothy Bryant.

Well, I hope that between the words on this page and the links to other posts, that this will become a source to go back to when looking for info about interior architecture.

But, also, how it all came to be.

Thankfully, there is a renewed interest in that which is classical. I have always been drawn to the classical forms. I wish you could see my projects from design school from 1988-1991. But, since you can’t, you’ll just have to take my word for it.



PS: The Nordstrom Anniversary Sale is going gung ho. However, please don’t delay because items are starting to sell out! I made three widgets which you can see here for home, clothing, beauty.

In addition, Serena and Lily has put all of their gorgeous custom upholstery on sale, but only through 7/22 at 11:59 PM PT. There is much more to see on the hot sales pages!


  • Cathy Wells - August 15, 2019 - 4:43 PM

    Yes! The architect gave ours a bit of a “mission” look in keeping with the history of Texas… I love his pictures of the domes in progress. It’s really wonderful. <3ReplyCancel

  • Anne-Marie - August 14, 2019 - 10:22 AM

    Beautiful, Cathy! Your proposed church looks oddly familiar to me, because near us there is a large Roman Catholic church built in the Byzantine style. Interestingly, across the street from it is a large Ukrainian Catholic church (which, for readers unfamiliar with it, is theologically in union with Rome but whose liturgy and architecture are closer to Orthodoxy’s) whose style is contemporary.ReplyCancel

  • Cathy Wells - August 6, 2019 - 10:26 PM
  • Cathy Wells - August 6, 2019 - 10:24 PM

    Anne-Marie, I love the Western architecture of these Catholic churches. We are Eastern Orthodox and, while this is a totally differently style of architecture, it has a lot in common with Western Church style. Check out this modern American architect and the churches he designs. The “St. Maximus” one is our proposed parish building. 🙂ReplyCancel

  • Anne-Marie - August 6, 2019 - 10:05 AM

    James McCrery is another classical architect working now. I’ve been in two absolutely beautiful churches he designed, but he also does houses:

  • Sathish - August 5, 2019 - 1:47 AM

    Thank you Laurel in giving us a complete educative insight on interior designing and architecture through your words of experience. Your taste for colors and coordination is something I have always loved about your designs. Appreciate you also explaining in short about bad architecture and what harm it could do to the entire interior.ReplyCancel

  • Catherine Wells - July 28, 2019 - 10:04 PM


    I think you would be interested in this talk from Steven W. Semes, associate professor of architecture at Notre Dame, particularly the minute 21:33 mark where he talks about the classical order of an interior and then shows ornate sketches (in proportion) and “everyday home” sketches (in proportion). I have found this particularly helpful when educating the everyday homeowner on the subject.


    • Laurel Bern - July 28, 2019 - 11:58 PM

      OH, that’s a terrific talk! Thanks so much for sharing that Catherine!ReplyCancel

  • LAURA BOUCARD - July 23, 2019 - 11:43 AM

    Hi Nikki,

    Laurel had a post about someone’s living room with an angled ceiling:

  • Carolina VG - July 23, 2019 - 9:43 AM

    Thank you Laurel!
    I keep recommending and promoting your blog among my friends. There is so much to learn and you are so fun and interesting to read.
    Do you think it might be possible to add some classical style to a home in the mountains? Ha, ha…😬 Love fine art and architecture but find difficult to combine lots of wood and stone with mouldings and not look like a bad salad!
    I would love Paris in the Andes! Ha, ha!ReplyCancel

    • Laurel Bern - July 24, 2019 - 2:02 AM

      Hi Carolina,

      Thanks so much! I think that classical styling can absolutely exist in a mountain home. It’s not going to be as refined as a country Georgian, but yes, it’s possible.ReplyCancel

  • Gaye - July 23, 2019 - 1:02 AM

    You are a marvel. A pure marvel.ReplyCancel

  • Sherrie Pate Sehrt - July 22, 2019 - 2:01 PM

    Laurel…….. looking for a GREAT photo you posted….. I think it may have been from your trip to Europe/England??
    or maybe “classic architecture”…… It was a view of a Traditional Dining Room, blue (I looked at the great BM blue post and didn’t see it there) . There was a formal dining table and then a”banquet/window seat” with another smaller dining table ………. great moldings and architectural details. Was sure I had saved it, but guess not. Any help to locate would be greatly appreciatedReplyCancel

    • Laurel Bern - July 22, 2019 - 9:04 PM

      Hi Sherrie,

      Okay, I gave myself 10 minutes and I think I found what you are referring to in this post from 2014.

      If you are ever looking for something, please try using the search box, high up in the blog side bar. That’s how I found this post, by searching “dining room.”ReplyCancel

  • Amy M Holmes - July 22, 2019 - 12:09 PM

    Laurel, you are my favorite design blogger and your posts are so helpful. I think most people look to color bc paint is cheap, architecture isn’t. 🙂 I would have loved to have more moldings, chair rails, etc. when we built our forever home a few years ago, but it just wasn’t in the budget. I did get all wood floors, custom kitchen and built-ins, etc, but had to consider moldings something that could be added later. Unfortunately, while my husband is extremely handy and built a lot of our home, adding extra moldings is not something he enjoys doing (or more so sees as important) so he’s not all over it :). My question is… How does one go about adding it in increments to a home without it looking out of place? I have a semi-open main living area as well with a transition from 9′ to 12′ ceilings. While my first thought is to add crown, this makes it awkward and I don’t know where to start and stop. Can I add crown or other molding to certain areas and not others, or is it odd not having it throughout? We did just add some beams in the living room to cover up the holes from 12 (yes, 12!) removed can lights that my electrician husband over-jealously put in that we couldn’t stand to have on. 🙂 I think there are many like me who need to add on in increments, but wondering how to start without it looking out of place.ReplyCancel

    • Laurel Bern - July 22, 2019 - 8:51 PM

      Hi Amy,

      Actually, most mouldings are not at all expensive. It’s the labor that costs some. But even then, in the scheme of things, you get a lot of bang for you buck and it’s not super expensive. But, if he could do the work because he sees how happy it makes you, maybe that would encourage him?

      The rest I can’t answer because I can’t see what you’re talking about.ReplyCancel

  • celestial - July 22, 2019 - 11:39 AM

    Dear Laurel, I love your blog because I learn so much about the totally foreign (to me) world of design and decor. It would be really helpful for me (and maybe many others) if you could post about BAD architecture and design and why it is so. I know that I can “feel” awful interior work when I visit the homes of many newly built (and very expensive) houses, but I don’t know WHY. I live in a 100 year old farmhouse and it seems manageable in scope, while the mega mansions do not. You wouldn’t have to depict your readers’ homes, but those that just don’t “work” and why would clarify the points immensely.ReplyCancel

    • Laurel Bern - July 22, 2019 - 8:48 PM

      Hi Celestial,

      That’s actually a very good idea. I’ll see what I can do.ReplyCancel

  • Carole Marcotte - July 22, 2019 - 10:39 AM

    I LOVE this post. It is the single reason I bought my decripit 1925 Spanish Colonial. I walked in the front door which spills right into the living room and saw the plaster moldings and was smitten. 17 years later (and several renovations later $$) and the original architectural elements plus more that we’ve added to play up the Spanish motif are absolutely primary in the overall feel of the house. Great educational post and so relevant as the importance of architecture (or lack) is so often ignored.ReplyCancel

  • Parnassus - July 22, 2019 - 12:45 AM

    Hello Laurel, Classical proportions and ornament always seem to be best, but there were periods, such as the Gothic period or the mid 19th century, during which more attenuated forms and varied capitals often worked out as well. The greatest danger today, however, is a fattened or widened (“beefed up”) look to the classical orders, which is absolutely horrifying, especially in “builders” houses. Note that none of the designers you admire is ever guilty of this!
    p.s. You will probably yell at me when I tell you that I passed up a vintage marble Ionic column lamp because I had no place to put it.ReplyCancel

  • Amy S - July 21, 2019 - 11:35 PM

    The pictures you post make me feel so peaceful- I wish someday to live somewhere that gorgeous, but I seriously doubt it will ever be possible.

    You do have some wonderful advice for people with a budget (thanks!). I live in a ranch home (we call them ramblers in the Pacific Northwest). I do love your posts on how to dress up this particular style. I’m struggling with low ceilings and am trying to nudge the design over towards craftsman. I would love to add picture frame molding but… would that be pretentious? It’s a fairly humble house.ReplyCancel

    • Laurel Bern - July 22, 2019 - 12:22 AM

      Hi Amy,

      You mean picture frame moulding below a chair rail? I can’t see your home, so I can’t advice, but I don’t see why you can’t. But, if the ceilings are lower than 8 feet, then you’ll need to lower the chair rail, as well, most likely. There are lots of options. Perhaps try googling what you are looking to do.ReplyCancel

  • Elizabeth Scruggs - July 21, 2019 - 10:30 PM

    oh friend, I just want to sit at your feet and learn from you all day every day.
    thank you so much for always sharing your wisdom- it’s such a gift!

  • Diane Rasmussen - July 21, 2019 - 3:42 PM

    I especially loved reading this and all the links you posted. Being fairly new to your blog, I found past posts I had not already read. I’ve always loved historical homes but with my husband being a clutz with tools of any kind I knew this would not be a good fit for us. We built our dream home almost 24 years ago when skinny oak moldings, doors and kitchens were everywhere. What a surprise for our builder when I specified that I wanted all white trim and doors and I wanted them to be wide. I spent my whole cabinet budget just on the kitchen because no one in my state of SD did white painted cabinets. I ordered shaker cabinets from wood mode (they are still in beautiful condition), had a built in bench put under the windows and bead board paneling installed in the small eating area in the kitchen along with a built in China for my collection of blue and white dishes. I was fortunate my builder used to be a finish carpenter, he did all the finish work himself as well as building me a beautiful fireplace surround from a picture I gave him. I insisted on crown molding and we could afford to have them done in the public rooms and the master. I cut corners on other things like granite or stone counters because I knew we could upgrade later and I wanted wood floors in the kitchen, dining, living and foyer. I also cut corners on lighting fixtures but have replaced them as I could afford. Yes, we went over budget but it was worth it. We will be selling in a year or two to retire in a warmer climate. I’m tempted to use the same plans to build this same house without the walkout lower level. I love this home. Good bones make all the difference.ReplyCancel

  • Tsippi - July 21, 2019 - 2:50 PM

    I’m a huge Mies fan. I wrote a paper on one of his apartment buildings a few years ago, which is how I learned a lot of trivia about him. As you know, he paid attention to every little detail, even designing the entry phone stations and mail boxes. I once spent an hour in a federal courtroom he had designed, staring at the wall clock and wondering what about it made it so perfect.ReplyCancel

  • Nikki - July 21, 2019 - 1:55 PM

    Ok I live for your blog laurel, but what does one do if they live in an open concept house with sloped ceilings? Im talking one end being 8 ft high and the other 16 feet. I know you say to paint everything white, but does the ceiling molding follow the actual ceiling line or do I straighten it out and make it a uniform 8 ft high? The previous owners of my house have done the former and even though the molding itself is nice, I’m not quite sure about the angles. I guess what im trying to ask is if its a non-classical house do I try and make it classical if thats what I like? I have thought much too much about this :/ReplyCancel

    • Laurel Bern - July 21, 2019 - 4:28 PM

      Hi Nikki,

      Good questions! And thank you too, for your kind words!

      Usually, if it’s a contemporary home with a sloped ceiling, there isn’t any crown moulding at all. However, I can’t really say since I can’t see what you’re talking about. I don’t know if you saw the post where I feel the 20/80 rule applies. If a room/home is contemporary, it can be 80% contemporary and 20% trad. So, for instance, you could have more traditional elements such as simple but classic fireplace mantel. Maybe the baseboards are taller with a lip instead, of just the average low, straight thing.

      I may have talked about it in some other posts, but I’m too lazy to go and look for them.

      But, the important thing is using logic. If something is a non-traditional element such as a sloped ceiling, then it needs to be what it is– modern.

      Could you use the 80/20 rule for furnishing? Yes, the furniture could be more classic. Say, like the upholstery at Serena and Lily.

      But mixed with some modern/contemporary elements. This is the art of a good interior designer to get the mix right. Not that you can’t do it, as well. And, some designers don’t get it right either. It just depends on their background and talent for design.ReplyCancel

  • Kathy - July 21, 2019 - 12:41 PM

    There were many small homes with classical leanings built in the early 1900s to around 1965 or so. Maura Endres says her home is a 1940s Cape, as in Cape Cod.

    Unfortunately most have rather low ceilings, especially the ones built after 1930, but can have rather nice moldings and doors and built-ins, although after 1940 or so, moldings and columns tended to get skinnier and less proportional.

    I used to think that “Colonial” was dull, but from 1900 to about 1930 there was a lot of innovation and variety if you look closely, and not as much difference as you would think to other style interiors. Moldings became simplified after around 1910, with numerous interesting variations in windows and other details all through the 1920s, and some of that lived on in the higher end homes until the 1960s. Even other styles such as Craftsman and Tudor often have fairly classical interiors in many ways, especially if someone painted them white. It is really more a matter of proportion than detail.

    I agree with you, moldings became skimpier and details more “stuck on” in the 70s and beyond and then spaces got all cut up and awkward and mismatched. I think things have improved in the past 20 years or so, but you still have buildings that are a collection of parts rather than a cohesive whole.

    I really recommend the Old House Guy for understanding old house proportions, especially exteriors, and how new replacement materials, especially windows, are a poor substitute for the original. He comes off as a bit of curmudgeon but really knows his stuff.
    Old House Guy

    Get Your House Right is also a good source for dos and don’ts for traditional exteriors. ReplyCancel

  • Katie - July 21, 2019 - 12:37 PM

    So interesting! Just yesterday I was reading an online forum thread where someone was seeking help because he felt something was off with the portico of his newly built house. A couple of the architects contributing to the thread pointed out that the portico hadn’t been built according to the architect’s plans—the entablature was proportioned wrong and was missing components. So I guess what I mean is that even if most of us aren’t versed in classical architecture, but when things go amiss, sometimes we can just tell that something seems “off” but can’t put our finger on it.

    I was wondering your thoughts on chair rail/wainscot height (if you have any!) in relation to classical architecture. I’ve read that chair rails and wainscots historically have nothing to do with protecting the walls (except in kitchens and bathrooms), but are supposed to use classical proportions to resemble the pedestal of a column. So, most chair rails/wainscots now are installed disproportionately too high. When I read that, it really clicked for me in explaining why sometimes chair rails look lovely and why they sometimes just look wrong—like in my own home where the rail is at around 40” high. But maybe that’s overcomplicating things? I’d love to know your thoughts!ReplyCancel

    • Laurel Bern - July 21, 2019 - 4:13 PM

      Hi Katie,

      That’s a very good question. Please check out this post about wainscoting.

      We put it up in our townhouse with an 8-foot ceiling. The chair rail was at 35″ which I thought was a perfect proportion. So, yes if your ceiling height is also 8 feet, 40″ is going to feel too high. One time, I walked into a dining room. The chair rail was put exactly at the half-way point. So, @48″ AND – they put it on upside down. The home-owner inherited the room like this. She knew it was wrong. It was actually quite disconcerting.

      I didn’t end up doing any more than the consult, so I don’t know what she did.ReplyCancel

  • Gail Caryn - July 21, 2019 - 11:46 AM

    Tea and Laurel – my favourite Sunday morning. Fab post as always. I’m really just checking in with condolences for the terrible heat wave. We’ve been blessed with rain and cool temps here on the west coast after two years of drought and forest fires. I’m so grateful. Keep cool!ReplyCancel

    • Laurel Bern - July 21, 2019 - 4:07 PM

      Hi Gail,

      Thank you so much! It IS blisteringly hot, however, at least the wind is blowing. But, I’m back in the A.C. now.ReplyCancel

  • Tsippi - July 21, 2019 - 11:22 AM

    Beautiful post, Laurel!

    I miss having walls.

    The man probably most responsible for bringing Modern architecture to the masses in the U.S. — Mies van der Rohe — lived in a Beaux Arts apartment because he wanted wall space for his art. Open plan configurations with walls of glass are cheap to build and impressive when empty, but even Mies knew it was difficult to make them cozy, let alone personal.ReplyCancel

    • Laurel Bern - July 21, 2019 - 11:31 AM

      Hi Tsippi,

      I did not know that about Mies’ apartment. The irony is staggering. However, I bet his furniture looked stunning in that setting. And, the art too, of course. I should look it up. Of course, Mies’ modern architecture was elegant. That’s not what I’m talking about when I’m referring to bad architecture. ReplyCancel

  • Biodynamic Barb - July 21, 2019 - 10:44 AM

    All the examples you’ve shown are indeed beautiful, but they’re also huge and expensive! Are there no examples of small/normal mid-price houses, without 10+ feet high ceilings, stone balustrades, and curved glass walls? Or is classic architecture only an option if you’re mega-rich?
    I realize that even the mega-rich build mega-auwful homes, but surely the mega-poor have more options than architectural molding. Or, is architectural molding what makes ‘classic’ classic?ReplyCancel

  • Margaret Vant Erve - July 21, 2019 - 10:11 AM

    Hi Laurel,

    Hope you are surviving the heatwave. Even up here in Ottawa it has been deadly – I’m sure I’ve shed pounds of sweat this week. Love this post. My daughter returned to Canada recently and is now living in Montreal where she temporarily rented a condo what was an older building converted to condos – beautiful architecture – high ceilings with lots of gorgeous moulding but then they went and put in the ugliest string lighting, a horrible, cheap kitchen with badly painted over cupboards, completely inappropriate furniture that resembles some of the worst student stuff I’ve seen, yet he wants a high price. She stayed there for 3 months because it was convenient but He cant seem to find a new renter. So although I agree that architecture is important, the lighting and furnishing part for me is also almost of equal. I’ve see so much bad furnishings and decor and yet I have seen beautiful decor done in a ho hum architecturally blah space. So many factors and the reality is there is a lot of ho hum out there. That said, whenever I work in a house that has that horrible skinny 1.5” trim, I tell them to rip it out and put in proper trim and moulding. People often don’t realize what it is that makes their place blah. They think its the colour of their walls, but indeed its the lack of any architectural interest. Happy Sunday Laurel. Keep coolReplyCancel

    • Laurel Bern - July 21, 2019 - 10:29 AM

      Hi Margaret,

      Yeah, it’s a scorcher today, for sure and then it’s supposed to calm down some. I think what you say is true. But, it takes a lot more skill to make things look spectacular, especially if the architecture is misguided. Too bad about the bad taste. Even beautiful architecture can get mucked up.ReplyCancel

  • Connie Fowler - July 21, 2019 - 8:16 AM

    Hi Laurel,

    Last night we had some friends over for dinner. The male just bought a house, and apparently it needs fixing up. His words were, “It’s a dump.” Which is funny, since he has plenty of money. When his girlfriend said they were trying to decide how to fix it up, I mentioned your blog, (only yours!) your love for classical design, and how much I learn from you. So, along with the recipe for a classical French vinaigrette, I wrote down your website for her. Imagine my delight at this post this morning. I’m hoping she logs on tout de suite!ReplyCancel

    • Laurel Bern - July 21, 2019 - 10:18 AM

      Hi Connie,

      Merci Beaucoups! I really appreciate that. Years ago, I got a recipe for vinaigrette from my S-I-L. My older son liked it so much that when he had finished his salad, he’d pick up the bowl and drink the left-over dressing!ReplyCancel

  • Val - July 21, 2019 - 7:17 AM

    Thank you, Laurel!!! And thank you for correcting my grammar mistakes and everything else. A very thorough blog post and in-depth research. I enjoy it very much! Superb information.ReplyCancel

    • Laurel Bern - July 21, 2019 - 10:16 AM

      Hi Val,

      Oh, you’re welcome! Slight changes are because my wordpress editor complains if it sees certain things, like a repetition of words. And of course, being the dutiful child, lol, I don’t want to disappoint my authority figures. haha.ReplyCancel