The Beauty & Grandeur Of Classical Architecture In Greensboro

Posted on | June 20, 2014 | No Comments

There is something truly beautiful and captivating about classical architecture. A classical home interior offers such a sense of grandeur and elegance, but still imparts such warmth and familiarity. Greensboro and New York-based architect and historic preservationist Jim Collins couldn’t agree more. As the principal of James S. Collins Architect, Jim’s passion for classical and traditional architecture is the hallmark of his work, and he combines his well-versed knowledge with his discerning eye to create some truly wonderful homes. Jim is a frequent guest lecturer for the Institute of Classic Arts and Architecture, speaking about designing the classical interior. North Carolina Design caught up with him to find out what he could tell us about classical architecture, and how it keeps its timeless quality in modern home interiors.

Images Courtesy of James S. Collins Architect ©

Many traditional homes in the United States actually have elements of classical architecture. “Classical architecture comes from two places,” Jim explains. “The ancient Greeks had one approach, which the Romans translated into their own slightly different approach. In the 1700’s, the English began copying the classical architecture style they came across in Italy. They eventually began building the same style homes in America – what we know of as Georgian or Colonial style.”

Classical architecture was not Jim’s passion at first. “When I was in college, we only studied modern architecture,” he affirms. “When I graduated, I wanted to be a modern architect. Then I moved to Philadelphia. It was an incredible city with an incredible array of buildings, which I found so much more interesting to look at than modern buildings. I began studying the architectural style, and I found that there was a rich and fascinating system of buildings behind them that I really appreciated.”

Jim truly enjoys many aspects of creating classical homes. “I find that they are a lot more fun to build than modern homes, and you don’t need a large budget to build them,” he notes. “There’s also a bit more leeway. Modern architecture is very unforgiving — you have to be very exact, because everything has to fit together perfectly. In classical architecture, moulding on the base boards and cornices covers up the joints, so you can have a slight variation between the ceiling and the wall.”

Classical home interiors are noted for their dramatic artistry and their symmetry. “A high-style classical interior would have columns on the sides, with pilasters at the top and entablatures running horizontally,” Jim explains. “The focal point of a classical interior is the fireplace, which is flanked on either side by windows or doors. Vertically, the room is divided into three parts from floor to ceiling. You have the chair rail, then the mid third, which is blank, and then the cornice. Every part of the room is created using standard rules of proportion and scale.”

Proportion and scale play an enormous and sometimes surprising role in the look and feel of a classical interior. “You may have walked into a traditional home and wondered why it looked so right, and felt so comfortable,” Jim notes. “The answer is in the classical architectural system. All of the proportions have been carefully calculated to create a sense of harmony and balance. The proportions are actually based on the human body and the human scale, so it feels organic and looks comfortable. Also, because of the symmetry and balance, there’s a sense of order that immediately puts the eye at rest as it travels around the space. “

Of course, homes today are not what they were in Colonial times. “Adjacencies have changed,” Jim affirms. “People don’t use their houses in the same way. The bathrooms are much larger, and we use our kitchens differently. In Georgian times the mouldings were more beefy and thick. Nowadays people want a look that’s slender and more graceful.”

Jim maintains that while the size, function and aesthetics of homes may change, the principles of classical architecture don’t. “If the home is bigger, you change the scale of things, but not the proportions. The proportions can adapt to any space, as they have for thousands of years. Classical architecture truly is designed to have a timeless, enduring appeal.”

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