An Excerpt from Federal Style Patterns 1780-1820:

Cornices

Period pattern books and measured drawings of historic homes establish that these cornice moldings can be grouped into three Types based on height and projection. Type A cornices are of nearly equal length in height and projection (Figs. 2, 20, and 25 are exceptions that are due to the large ornament), Type B cornices have a shorter projection length in comparison to their height, and Type C cornices have a longer projection length in comparison to their height. These Types produce strikingly different visual effects, provide a great variety of design choices, and are firmly rooted in neoclassic design. Cornice Plus is a group of cornice designs with added frieze and architrave elements. The Cornice Plus is considered by many to be the most elegant and decorative of all the cornice treatments in the American Federal Style and emulates the highest form of the Adam Style. The drawings in the Palace of Diocletian section call attention to an ancient Italian source of the Federal Style. The ruins of this palace were a major inspiration for Robert Adam in the formation of the neoclassic style bearing his name. The Adam Style, in turn, was the inspiration for the Federal Style.

Type A Cornices

Type A cornices have been proportionally rescaled from the original drawings for an 8’ room height and presented at half size with full size dimensions. According to Benjamin’s pattern books, the height of Type A cornices may be determined by dividing the room height into 22, 24, 26, or, occasionally, 20 parts, with one part taken for the cornice height. An 8’ room height yields the following: 20 = 4 13/16”, 22 = 4 3/8”, 24 = 4”, and 26 = 3 11/16”. The projection is of approximately equal length and calculated from wall line, frieze line, or front face of the bottom molding. When the original measured drawing was unclear or did not furnish a room height dimension, we chose the pattern books’ guides. Height dimensions differing from Benjamin’s guides were taken from measured drawings clearly indicating room height. To rescale to any room height, refer to the instructions contained in the About the Drawings section (p. 5).

Fairly equal height and projection dimensions produce a cornice face angle of approximately 45&Mac176;. This condition is basic to the classic orders of architecture, except in instances in which ornaments project outside this 45 degree angle (see Figs. 2, 20, and 25). The Type B and Type C cornices that follow are neoclassic variations of the classic orders based on a reexamination of the ruins of ancient Italy. These variations dramatically alter the height-to-width relationship of classic architecture.

Type B Cornices

The height of Type B cornices is also determined in the manner used in Type A cornices, but the shortened projection compared to height was determined by the original designer and can be understood by applying Golden Section ratios. The length of the projection can be calculated by dividing the height of the cornice by one of the following ratios: .539, 1.272, 1.618, 1.414, 2.236, or .809. The projection dimensions are calculated from wall line, frieze line, or front face of the bottom molding. When the original measured drawing was unclear or did not furnish a room height dimension, we chose the pattern books’ guides. Height dimensions differing from Benjamin’s guides were taken from measured drawings clearly indicating room height. To rescale to any room height, refer to the instructions contained in the About the Drawings section (p.5). Reducing the projection of several Benjamin Type A designs to Type B designs created “contemporary” cornices. We provide the ratio for the “contemporary” cornices and also indicate the Golden Section ratio to understand the projection reduction for each of the other Type B designs. Type B cornices have been proportionally rescaled for an 8’ room height and presented at half size with full size dimensions.

Excerpted from Federal Style Patterns 1780-1820. Published and copyrighted by John Wiley & Sons.

View a Sample Drawing:

Cornice Type A and B

Mantel

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