Selecting from the many different architectural capitals that are available to crown the top of your porch columns or interior decorative columns can be daunting. Column caps are actually called column capitals. Aptly named, the word capital comes from the Latin word caput meaning ‘head’. A Column cap is made up of two or three parts; the molded part called the echinus and the flat slab above it know as the abacus, and sometimes a neck.
The capital is used to distinguish the classical order of the column. There are five recognized orders of classic architecture: Doric, Ionic, Corinthian, Tuscan and Composite. Tuscan and Composite actually originated from Doric, Ionic and Corinthian. Over the years many different styles of capitals have developed into sub-categories. Names for these styles or categories may vary according to the individual manufacturers.
Being able to identify the most appropriate capital for your architectural columns style can give you a greater appreciation for the architecture all around you, and add to, rather than detract from a home’s value. It’s much easier than it seems. Below is a guide to the three main styles column capitals:
Doric Capitals: The Dorian Greeks developed the Doric capital. It is the oldest in the three main orders of classical Greek architecture and its derivatives. Doric capitals tend to be simple, short and saucer-shaped capitals, with no base. Most often used to top heavily fluted or plain columns, the Doric capital consists of three parts: a simple neck, a convex echinus and a square abacus.
Ionic Capitals: The Ionic style came from eastern Greece is slightly more decorative than the Doric. Ionic capitals usually top tall slender columns with large bases that often look like a set of stacked rings. The distinguishing characteristic of Ionic capitals is the use of two opposed decorative scrolls above the shaft. The echinus itself is decorated in an egg-and-dart motif.
Corinthian Capitals: The Corinthian order is the most decorative of the Greek orders and is the preferred style today. It features slender fluted columns with strikingly ornate inverted bell-shaped capitals bearing two rows of carved flowers and leaves with four small scrolls.
More on column styles and the five orders of architecture.