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Colonnettes are small, slender columns commonly used in architecture to flank or subdivide windows or doors. Less commonly, they are used to support an arcade, gallery, or porch or to create what is known as a blind arcade — a trompe l'oeil relief giving the impression of looking out through an arcade, but which is on a long wall. Often, the opening the colonnettes are framing is arched. Generally, they are used for purely decorative purposes and are not depended upon to support any part of of a structure.
They are commonly fashioned from marble, plaster, iron, or wood, and are used both in interior spaces and on building exteriors. Colonnettes may appear singularly, or in rows or clusters known as piers. The word colonnette should not be confused with colonnade, which indicates a long row of standard-sized columns.
Colonnettes feature heavily in Romanesque and Gothic architecture, especially in cathedrals such as the one at Tours, France, whose facade features enormous columns, each made up of many smaller colonnettes. They continued to be used through the centuries, both on public buildings and private residences throughout Europe and the Middle East, and many examples are still extant today. In the US, they are commonly found on the entryways or verandas of large plantation-style homes in the South built during the Federal Period, as well as on early 20th century structures, such a theaters and apartment buildings, built in the flamboyant Spanish or Moorish style. One example of this kind of architecture is Chicago's Aragon Ballroom, built in in 1926, which features colonnettes on its outer windows and corners, as well as indoors supporting an arcade.
In private homes, especially in those of the Victorian period, wood colonnettes were often used indoors as part of a fireplace or mantel. A baluster is a type of colonnette used to support a stairway railing, while a balustrade serves the same function on a porch or balcony. Colonnettes are also sometimes used in interiors to create a separation of rooms without requiring an actual doorway.
Indoors or outdoors, colonnettes lend themselves better to large, traditional homes than to smaller, cottage-style homes or more contemporary dwellings. The Colonial Revival style of home almost always incorporates colonnettes, and they are even featured on smaller examples of the style, albeit in a properly scaled-down form. They also tend to give an air of formality which is something to consider when using them as a decorative element.
When I was in college, I was able to spend one semester studying overseas in France. This was like a dream come true. I spent a lot of my free time exploring the cities and the countryside.
There are a lot of old, beautiful cathedrals in France that have colonnettes as part of their architecture. I was able to see inside many of them, and often left with a feeling of awe.
None of them ever looked the same, and I never got tired of admiring them. Once in awhile you would also see them on personal homes.
These were usually in areas that appeared to be quite well off. These style of homes seemed to fit in perfectly with the romantic atmosphere of this country.
This was a semester I will never forget, and the rare times I see colonnettes on a building here, always remind me of the semester I spent in France.
@cloudel - I live in the South, and there are still a lot of older homes around here with colonnettes on the front. There is something about them that looks so inviting, yet somewhat intimidating at the same time.
Most of them are large plantation homes which really fit in with the style and decor of that lifestyle.
Sometimes you see them on smaller homes, but they aren't as big, and don't have quite the same appeal as the large mansions.
I love to drive by these stately homes and try to picture what life was like inside these homes years ago. Many of them are still occupied by family members as they have been passed down from
generation to generation.
I have never known anyone who lives inside one of these homes, so have not been able to see first hand what it is like.
The closest I have come is a couple tours that I have been through, and this at least gives you a glimpse into what these homes look like on the inside.
I have seen colonnettes on the porches of Southern mansions, and they are quite beautiful. They make the place look so regal, and you get the feeling that the home is an antique just by looking at these decorative posts.
Personally, I would love to have colonnettes on my front porch. However, I live in a small, two-bedroom, box-shaped home, and they just would not go with the look of the place.
If I ever have a house built, I want to include colonnettes in some part of the design. I love archways, and I would probably have a porch with at least one arch over the front entrance.
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