At Atkey we champion the importance of architectural joinery in creating and enhancing the individuality and style of a property. We see mouldings as fundamental to one’s perceptions of a space, and they are vital component in creating the character of a building’s interior.
The interior of a property can be modest or grand, it can be restrained or opulent, traditional or contemporary. Yet once the furniture, soft furnishings and décor have been stripped away, what is left is a raw building – the wall finishes, flooring, windows and ceilings. However, unless it has been designed in a brutal minimalist style, it is likely also to have fixed elements of architectural joinery present – architraves, skirting boards, dado rails, doors and door surrounds, window surrounds and so on. Period properties in particular are often adorned with beautifully designed mouldings that help to create and amplify the character of each property.
Why do mouldings even exist?
It is worth pausing to consider why, as a nation, we are so accustomed to seeing mouldings in our properties. Skirting boards were originally designed to conceal the gap between a floor and a wall, just as architraves were first employed to conceal the gap where a doorway meets a wall. They are the result of a simple, practical need, where a basic timber baton would be sufficient to do the job. Yet throughout history, architects and designers have been intent on designing different profiles and sizes for their mouldings, embellishing their ‘crack concealers’ to often wondrous effect.
As a result, each period in history has seen variations in the styles of its mouldings. As cultural influences and fashions have changed, so too have the designs of architectural mouldings. A Georgian door is not the same as a Victorian door, just as an Art Deco skirting board is different from a Regency one. The interplay of light and shadow caused by the profile of a particular moulding is different – sometimes subtly and sometimes substantially – from the profile of a moulding designed within another architectural period. Within each period, there are also variations of design that reflect the task a given moulding may have been required to perform such as to demonstrate the wealth, status and good taste of a property’s owner, or maybe instead the modest humility of its serving staff.
Homogenous facsimiles of period designs
Today, DIY retailers and builder’s merchants generally stock a selection of timber doors, skirtings, architraves, dado rails and more. But these products are all-too-often homogenous facsimiles of the original designs they purport to represent. One retailer’s ‘Georgian’ door can often be another retailer’s ‘Victorian’ door, and ultimately there is such limited choice on offer that a single door design is expected to suit a multitude of different applications. Regardless of where the door is located within a property, or indeed where that property is located in the country, the sad truth is that modern retail and manufacturing doctrines mean a one-shape-fits-all solution is generally all that is available. This is plainly ridiculous and is not unlike a car restorer having to install the same headlight in any vehicle one might be restoring, regardless of the age or marque of the vehicle. There were scores of subtle differences in door and moulding designs within each of Britain’s great architectural periods, and at Atkey we believe Britain’s architects, interior designers and developers should not be expected to compromise their quest for authenticity.
So where do the designs of period mouldings originate from?
For many hundreds of years now, moulding design has been determined by two core concepts: proportion and profile. It has its roots in classic Greek and Roman architecture – often collectively referred to as ‘classical’ architecture – and was perhaps first discussed by Roman architect and military engineer Vitruvius, who referred to the notion of ‘perfect proportion’ in architecture. His ideas informed later Roman architecture, which borrowed also from earlier Greek architectural principles by which elegant proportions and the widespread use of columns underscored much of building design.
In slightly more modern times, the 16th century Italian Renaissance architect Palladio also supported the notion of perfect proportion and, in addition to lending his name to the ‘Palladian’ style of architecture, helped to set the scene for Britain’s Inigo Jones to refocus tastes on classical architecture the following century. Christopher Wren, designer of St. Paul’s Cathedral in London and responsible for many public commissions during the 17th Century, was a staunch advocate of the classical principles of proportion, and Colen Campbell, a leading advocate of the Palladian style, was an eminent proponent of perfect proportion during the early 18th century.
Figure1. The elegant proportions and design principles of a classical column are reflected in the proportions and design of Britain’s period architectural joinery.
Figure 1 illustrates how the relative proportions between a column’s Entablature, Column body and Pedestal elements can be seen, for example, not only in the embellished wall features of many 18th century British properties, but also in the door openings of those properties. In properties constructed in Britain, there have been innumerable variations in design both within each architectural period and between them, yet it is the striking similarities in proportion and profile that actually stand out.
Figure 2. The profiles of architectural mouldings mirror the geometry to be found in classical architecture, creating the same interplay of light and shade.
A period property deserves to be treated with respect
Atkey and Company has the widest range of accurate period moulding designs of any manufacturer in Britain. We have developed a unique library that contains hundreds of historic sections and salvaged examples, each of which is complemented by all the known details concerning its provenance – from which property it was salvaged, where, when, and by whom it was designed (where known). Our clients tend to be architects and interior designers who appreciate authenticity and rely on us to recommend and provide mouldings that suit their particular project. If we know the architect of a given period property, so much the better, as it can allow us to precisely match mouldings that would once have been present in a building. Our catalogue extends well beyond that visible on our website and allows our clients and their properties to have authentic, historically accurate moulding designs reinstated.
To a car restorer, it would be unthinkable to install the same headlight design in every vehicle one worked on. And it is the same with anyone working within period properties or those creating new classically designed properties. Historical accuracy is not something that can be compromised.