Raised Panel Column Proportions

Laying out wall paneling that is practical, but pleasing. June 26, 2009

I am doing a few columns with raised panels. Are there any architectural guidelines when laying out the panel proportions? The columns are 10" square and 8' tall. Should I use the golden mean to determine panel heights?

Forum Responses
(Architectural Woodworking Forum)
From contributor K:
I used to build these for a builder in Illinois before I moved. I would set them up so there was a chair rail moulding over a midrail in the panels at 36" to the top of the chair rail. I remember once having created an additional small panel at the top about as tall as it was wide. I have never worked with the "golden rule" but I'm not sure how it would work here since the height is dramatically different from the width. I believe it relies on creating certain proportions.

From contributor R:
I agree for the most part with KCR although personally I would keep the low panel (chair rail) about 1/3 of the column height 30 to 32". Draw them to scale and see what pleases you or more importantly the customer. If you are interested, pick up a copy of Chippendale's directory. The first section is devoted to classical proportions or the Orders of Architecture. It is easy to understand and well worth the effort.

From Gary Katz, forum technical advisor:
Using the golden mean to determine panel sizes is a complete myth. The height of panels is usually limited by the chair rail height of the column height, and the width can only accommodate the height in a limited way. Besides, the most attractive panel layouts I've seen are asymmetrical - narrow panels flanking doorways, wider panels beneath windows, irregular panel layout and pop-out panels across long walls, etc.

Placing the chair rail height, with a collar molding, anywhere from 30-36 in. from the floor is good, but that also depends on the height of the column. For shorter columns, the chair will be lower; for taller ones, you'll want to raise the chair height, same as you would on the wall of a room. What you do at the top of the column will also affect the panel layout. If you're using a crown and astragal molding it could squeeze the top panel down some, which means you may have to lower the chair.

As contributor K said, draw the columns to scale first. I'd use Sketchup so you can see the whole room to scale. Besides, that drawing will provide you with allL the measurements you'll need to make your story-pole for layout on the jobsite.

From contributor J:
Since you've mentioned raised panels, I assume you're talking about pilasters and not columns (which are round). Pilasters are often designed according to the same classical column proportions of the various architectural orders. There are proportional rules governing every aspect of their design and construction and even the molding details and embellishments. This represents a branch of architectural study that use to be basic knowledge but now is mostly forgotten. I think a lot of our building projects today suffer from a lack of any basic proportional guidelines.

From Gary Katz, forum technical advisor:
For a quick peek at what this is all about, try this:

Hints on Proportion