Other creative reuse projects include bisecting a small porch column to make legs for a fireplace mantel, and using chunks of columns and capitals as table bases and display pedestals. In new houses where a steel stanchion might otherwise be hidden in an awkward-looking drywall box, Lowe suggests slicing a large column in two and wrapping the halves around the framing member instead. Since most old wooden columns are hollow inside, their halves are easily glued back together, he explains. If you do decide to prop up your portico with salvaged columns, then in addition to getting the name of a good restorer, you might also bone up on your ­architectural history. That's because on house exteriors classical orders on proportion and style do matter. Columns used in both American residential and public architecture were, in fact, patterned after those on monuments such as the Parthenon in Athens. So to recreate a historically accurate look on your new classically inspired house, it's important to know a Greek Doric or Ionic column from a Corinthian.

The three most commonly used columns are easily distinguished by their capitals: Doric are simplest with smooth, stacked molding rings befitting the stripped-down look of a Greek Revival; more decorative Ionic capitals have scrolls called volutes; and Corinthian ones are crowned with layers of curling acanthus leaves that form an inverted bell shape. The latter two were most commonly used on more ornate Neoclassical-style houses.

When buying salvaged exterior columns, keep in mind that they are almost always coated with layers of paint—some of which likely contain toxic lead. Paint protected columns from the elements, and in many cases, wedded ¬≠wooden shafts with plaster or composite capitals. Lowe typically sells columns with their old crusty finish intact, but he'll also strip them for you: A pair of circa-1900 ¬≠fluted- pine models, for instance, are $350 as is, or $650 bare. Such turnkey service doesn't come cheap, but as with most salvage dealers, Lowe's expert advice about what to do with the columns once you get them home is always free.

The Cadillacs of Columns
Unlike paint-grade pine and poplar porch columns, salvaged interior columns were often carved from mahogany, oak, or chestnut and then stained to show off their distinctive grain patterns, says Evan Blum, owner of Demolition Depot in New York City. This fluted Ionic column salvaged from a demolished mansion on Long Island now supports a balcony in a SoHo loft. Such interior columns were initially used as both load-bearing members and decorative accents inside large, cased passages between parlors in late- Victorian-era houses. Paired with other millwork, such as bookshelves, benches, and curio cabinets, they also formed colonnades between dining and living rooms in Arts and Crafts bungalows. Treated for years like fine furniture with oil and polish, interior columns often need little or no restoration. Their stellar condition and the relative ease in retrofitting them for reuse, however, make them a hot commodity at salvage yards today.
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