Back in the pre-911 days I took a backpacking trip in Glacier Park with my brother and his wife. We spent four blissful days hiking from the west edge of the park up over Boulder Pass and came out at Waterton Lake. Along the way I think we touched the border of heaven in a campsite called hole in the wall. It was a hanging cirque perched on side of a mountain ringed by a necklace of waterfalls, and a stillness I still carry with me.
I’ve been working on another upcoming article for my “Designs Matters” column for Popular Woodworking Magazine about border elements. Often when a design looks clunky or weak it can be traced back to the way borders or framing elements are laid in. Proportionally borders fall under something called punctuation. I covered punctuation in detail in my first video “Unlocking the Secrets of Traditional Design.” Unlike the ratios used to rough in a simple shape such as 1:2, 3:4, 2:3 etc, when we punctuate or create a border we use ratios like 1:5, 1:6, 1:7. Borders can have a profound visual impact on how a form or shape comes across to our eye. On one end of the spectrum we can totally forgo a border. Sometimes in a grand house, a doorway was blended into a wall space with no borders to provide a discrete way for someone to pass unnoticed from one room to another. At the other end of the spectrum an important doorway could be elevated with the addition of border elements and ornament. On furniture, for elements like drawer fronts, if we forego borders altogether we achieve a sleek look that won’t compete with the overall form. We can add a bead like I discussed last week to give a subtle outline to each opening. Or we can add a border with inlay, marquetry, or even a molded edge. Sizing these border elements is important and will have a profound effect on how it comes across to your eye. Many times a border is the same width all the way around the perimeter.
This is often the case for drawer fronts or on panels set in doorframes. If the element has a horizontal emphasis like a drawer front, the border is proportioned from the height of the drawer opening. If the element is more vertical like a door panel, then the border is proportioned off the opening width. Andrea Palladio wrote about sizing the molding to frame in a door opening. He suggested dividing the width of the opening into six parts and using one sixth as the width for the border around the doorway. I take that as the upper end of how wide a border should be. If you start with one sixth of the opening you will get a strong architectural feel. That may hit it right for your eye. I always want to step back and look at it from across the room. It may be too bold; I personally don’t want a zebra waving at me. Feel free to tone it back from that one sixth proportion but it’s a good place to begin.
George R. Walker