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How High Should the Entablature or Overdoor Frieze Be?

craftsman overdoor frieze

My Craftsman/Art Deco hybrid door surround with Art Deco ornaments above the frieze.

[This is part of our How to Install Moldings series.]



Jay commented on Before & After: Will’s Bathroom and Window Trim, and asked a very simple question that I’m shamed to say I should have addressed long ago:

Can anyone tell me an easy way to find the correct proportion for the entablature?  I’ve tried to research this on the web, but it seems like most sites want to give a history lesson and I walk away not knowing anything more than when I started.

Ken’s Short Answer

About 4″.

Ken’s Long-Winded Answer

There you have it, Jay.  That’s the basic height I use for the frieze on most of my door and window entablatures, even long ones.  I may adjust up or down depending on what I want, but 4″ high is a good starting point.

Focus on the Frieze

I’m going to focus on the frieze height in this post, because the height of your entire entablature is ultimately dependent on the moldings you stack around it.

There are exact rules of scale and proportion that classical architectural historians can explain, but we want to avoid the history lesson for now and just focus on some general ideas and lots of examples that will get you going in the right direction.

After all, we’re not trying to create museum pieces here, just nice molding that don’t cost too much for our homes.

The picture below shows Will’s bathroom window trim, and it looks like he made it about 3″ tall, perhaps a little less.

overdoor frieze height

I strive on The Joy of Moldings to use the most accurate terms for moldings I can find.

For terms that I just can’t find a specific vocabulary for I make up my own, like I did with flying crown molding.

craftsman style entablature with frieze

I based the frieze height of this Craftsman entablature on a molding pattern book published in the mid-1920s.

But like you said, Jay, it can be hard to sift out the specifics when either too much information is given, not enough information, or, because this is the internet after all, just plain wrong information.

What’s that Thing Above the Door Called?

Entablature or Overdoor.

overdoor frieze with palmett appliques

One of my Greek Revival entablatures or overdoors with corbels and appliques on the frieze.

That’s what the whole buildup is called.  Classical architecture has specific words for each component that make up the entablature, and the portion you are asking about Jay is called the frieze.

You can see a more detailed breakdown of all parts of a door surround, top to bottom, here at our DOOR TRIM-114 page.

entablature french provincial decore

This is a swan’s neck entablature because of the graceful scalloped ends. I’m anxious to make more of these!

The entablature is often mistakenly called a pediment (Wikipedia link), which is a separate, unique treatment.

It is also mistakenly called a door header, which is a structural component of the framing.

How do I Calculate Frieze Height?

dining room moldings with frieze on archway

This, my favorite kind of entablature for large doorways or archways.  It sits on top of an eared architrave. The frieze is decorated with rosette, scroll and lions head woodworking appliques.

My 4″ starting point is based on what’s called the Golden Ratio (external link), also called the Golden Rectangle.

I deviate from it as I see fit, as have craftsman for the last few thousand years, but it is almost always my starting point.

Historic Molding-Watching

I know I’m being somewhat vague about how to come up with frieze dimensions.

That’s because I don’t have a formal education in any of this, so I don’t have a formal way of presenting the information.

I am an enthusiastic amateur at best, at worst just a copycat of what craftsman created in the past that we still love today.

neoclassical frieze entablature

A neoclassical entablature at the Detroit Institute of Arts.

This Neoclassical door surround at my beloved Detroit Institute of Arts partly inspired me to create the door surrounds in the picture below.

My original intent was to keep the frieze plain like the original, but we ended up making it highly ornate (See the ornaments in the final version all the way at the bottom of this post here).

how to build an overdoor or door header

A Neoclassical door surround that started out with this simple frieze, but ended up richly ornate.

Of course, this is one of the reasons I started this blog — to help sift out all of the good and bad information about decorating with moldings and distill it into something that makes sense that we can act on at home.

overdoor with no frieze

An example of an overdoor with no frieze at all.

entablature with no frieze

A simple, subordinate (dissolved) overdoor made from crown molding solved the issue of limited height avoiding bumping into the crown.

These two overdoors above and below were inspired by historic moldings I’ve seen in homes and public buildings all over the world.

crown molding over door trim

The crown molding over this door trim is wrapped around a core of 1/2″ thick mdf flat-stock.

But ultimately, I simply love the moldings in historic homes, and so have stared at them long enough that it helps me improvise when I create my molding patterns.

All of my moldings designs have to pass this test:

Does that look like it came out of a historic home?

If the answer is no, then I make an adjustment or start over.  I don’t always nail it — there are many patterns that I would never show you because I ultimately failed at what I was going for — but it is my ultimate goal.

how to install front door moldings with frieze

This design was inspired by an historic home in the charming town of Romeo, Michigan, where I used to live.

Above  This is a hooded entablature, meaning it has a soffit that projects above the frieze.  Look closely at the frieze.  Notice the molding has a convex profile?  That is called a pulvinate molding.  The center panel is painted in cameo, and the whole entablature rests on an eared architrave.

Victorian style overdoor with plain frieze

A simple Victorian entablature I installed in a new ranch house.

Victorian Friezes

A common trait of Victorian era entablatures (and other moldings in this period) is their height.  They tend to be taller than their Greek Revival or Neoclassical cousins.

Think of them as being stretched too tall.  The frieze on the Victorian style door surround I built in the picture below could have been another inch taller than this.

But I had a specific ornate applique in mind for it and so kept the frieze height lower to accommodate the rectangular rosette I eventually installed.

Victorian farmhouse overdoor with frieze

DOOR TRIM-114 is Victorian in style and very easy to make.

Below  I built this frieze with these appliques in mind, and so they had a part to play in determining the frieze height.

But don’t let the appliques completely rule, find a design that looks balanced.  Again, that’s where referring back to historic moldings helps so much.

archway moldings with ornate frieze

Since this archway was so large it could accommodate a much larger frieze.

how to install archway moldings with entablature

A corbel entablature with ornate frieze. This was a good solution given the limitations the staircase imposed.

Well there you have it Jay.  I hope this post will help you come up with a frieze height that you’re happy with.

When you’re all finished, how ’bout sending us a pic of what you came up with and we’ll add it to this post?

Good luck Jay!

4 Responses to How High Should the Entablature or Overdoor Frieze Be?

  1. Leo Lopez August 9, 2012 at 9:27 PM #

    At the end of the day, it’s not about history books but about proportion to the rest of the room. A large window in a large room will require a larger frieze and vice versa. Without knowing anything about classicism an average person can spot something out of proportion with an overworked frieze in a small room.

    • Ken August 10, 2012 at 8:05 AM #

      Leo, I like your term “overworked frieze.”

  2. Brian February 8, 2013 at 11:15 AM #

    Ken, these pictures are fantastic! They are a great source of ideas for someone like me, who has no background in trim carpentry. In looking at the wider entablature with the golden lion applique, my eye is drawn to the moldings you used at the bottom of the frieze. It looks like you have stacked PM-001 and PM-004 on top of each other. Am I seeing that correctly?

    • Ken February 8, 2013 at 3:58 PM #

      Hey Brian,

      That entablature is one of my all-time favorites, and it puzzles me that more people arn’t as taken by it as you and I!

      The architrave molding you are looking at is not a stack of two, but is a pre-primed mdf molding that’s stocked at most Lowes.

      But the exact molding is less important than the overall look for the arhitrave, so your suggested stack of PM-001 and PM-004 could work too.

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