Skip to main content

Dressed Column | Restaurant


The execution of Dressed Column in restaurant interiors is almost always flamboyant or over-scaled. Multiple columns fill up spaces so that few other showcase elements are necessary.


The notion of a Dressed Column may originate with two contemporaneous 19th century architects, American architect Frank Furness (1839-1912), the designer of Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts, and Austrian architect Otto Wagner (1841-1918).

Furness achieved architectural character through varied forms, combinations of materials, and striking proportions that also expressed function, and he also believed in ornamentation in architecture. He regarded ornament as encompassing “another role, for it hints at the metaphors of creation central to every art.”1 His was influenced by American symbols, such as the railroad (the “magician’s rod” that transformed American culture), and from the natural environment, including Philadelphia’s rich botanical tradition. For example, Furness’ chimneys resemble the flaring smoke stacks of early locomotives; short columns appear from pistons of trains. Critics believe his architectural details were rooted in the forms of the railroad industry. Furness “changed the character of ornament subservient to composition, denoting structure and filling voids.” When Frank Lloyd Wright visited Philadelphia in the 1950s, it was Frank Furness’s work that he found of interest – proclaiming it the “work of an artist”.2

Architectural historian Vincent Scully characterized Furness’ columns in the Painting Gallery, Pennsylvania of Fine Arts (1872) as “driven like brass pistons into rupturing cylinders, screeching with heat.”3 The shaft of the column is composed of four small botanical-motif columns; the capital is heavily ornamented with a symbolic form of railroad’s clock and machine parts; and the base is dressed with the repeated form from the capital. Among the three different parts of a column, the capital is the most heavily dressed, whereas the shaft is minimally decorated. Furness’s columns, dressed with organic representations, effectively blur the line between man, nature, and machine, and celebrate the machine even more overtly.4

Like Furness, Austrian Otto Wagner defied a traditional vocabulary and created a “new, very personal architectural language.”5 Wagner, an architect of the Viennese late-historicism period, regarded architecture as art, and like Furness, he valued ornamentation which he employed economically. “The arts, of course, did not consist solely of the inclusion of ornamentation on facades for Otto Wagner, but included the whole theory of architecture and all its complexities in its entity.”6

One of Wagner’s most famous buildings, the Austrian Postal Savings Bank Postsparkasse (1906) illustrates his use of new materials such as metal and glass with new construction methods. The columns in the main hall on the first floor were revolutionary. Each column of polished steel sheets is fastened together by turned bolts, fabrication as ornament. (See the intype Rivet) Light fixtures, attached to each column’s shaft, also provide additional decoration. Wagner believed that “utter simplicity of conception and an energetic emphasis on construction and materials would predominate in the new art forms of the future.” He reinterpreted the traditional in a functionalist manner.7

In the 20th century and the early part of the 21st century, Dressed Columns became primary design features in restaurants, and they have been executed variously. In the 1960s Dressed Columns tended toward rectilinear shapes, and they were often dressed with frames and posters. In the 1970s, exaggerated-sized capitals were heavily ornamented with gold, and sometimes experimental materials, such as beads and fabrics that encased an entire column. However, a column’s capital was treated more often than the shaft or base.

In the 1980s and 1990s further experimentations took place, particularly of newly developed materials, such as cast concrete. Organic forms also emerged. For the restaurant LA Flamme d’Or (The Golden Flame) (1989) in Tokyo, Philippe Starck sculpted columns into huge flames: “It seems these columns refuse to perform their supporting function and, given the opportunity, would rather choose to be free-standing monuments, each with an individual personality.”8 (see the intype Exaggerate).

By installing lighting fixtures inside the column, a Dressed Column can become more dynamic. Animator’s Palate (1999), Disney Cruise Line’s restaurant, expressed columns as paint brushes; the capital of each column, the tip of a brush, changes its color with fiber optic filaments inside. Columns in this restaurant play an important role of the design concept of the restaurant.9

In the early part of the 21st century, lighting columns is emerging as an important feature. Different solutions have developed, such as down-lighting, up-lighting, and lighting fixtures inside a column, such as the Mikado Restaurant’s columns (see the intype Light Box). These lighting devices contribute to new and different spatial perceptions.10 For example, when Dressed Columns are up-lit on columns with textured materials, such as pieces of rough stones, the restaurant interior immediately becomes more rustic. And, in some cases columns are treated as display cases with light fixtures installed inside the column to light displayed artifacts.

The archetypical practice of Dressed Column for interiors had begun by the end of the 20th century, and it continues as a strong component of restaurant design. Its emergence in design trade magazines begins in the 1960s. In all cases, a Dressed Column is rarely singular; its transformative power lies in multiples. The chronological sequence illustrates fantastic, sometimes absurd, and usually astonishing columns that convert banal spaces into extraordinary ones.

end notes

  1. 1) George E. Thomas, Michael J. Lewis, and Jeffrey A Cohen, Frank Furness: The Complete Works (New York, N.Y.: Princeton Architectural Press, 1996), 44.
  2. 2) Thomas, Frank Furness, 45, 51.
  3. 3) Thomas, Frank Furness, 104.
  4. 4) Edward R. Bosley, University of Pennsylvania Library: Frank Furness (London: Phaidon, 1996), 21.
  5. 5) Walter Zednicek, Otto Wagner (Wien: Edition Tusch, 1994), 26.
  6. 6) Zednicek, Otto Wagner, 26.
  7. 7) Zednicek, Otto Wagner, 25.
  8. 8) Saitoh Hideo and Joao Rodolfo Stroeter, Interior Design in Cafes and Restaurants (Tokyo: Bijutsu Shuppansha, 1992), 14, 15, 18.
  9. 9) Elana Frankel, “Toon It Up,” Interior Design (1999 Nov.), 188.
  10. 10) Mikado’s Dining Room [2004] Jordan Mozer; Biloxi, Mississippi in Kelly Beamon, “Southern Comfort,” Hospitality Design (July 2004): 68.
  11. 11) Evidence for the use and the chronological sequence of Dressed Column as a restaurant archetype was developed from the following sources: 1900 South Entrance, Postsparkassenamt, [1906] Otto Wagner; Vienna, Austria in Walter Zednicek, Otto Wagner (Wien: Edition Tusch, 1994), 127 / 1970 The Ben Johnson Restaurant and Pub [1970] Ron Mann Architectural Coordination; San Francisco, CA in "The Ben Johnson Restaurant and Pub," Interior Design 41, no. 7 (July 1970): 112; PhotoCrd: Anonymous; Waldorf Astoria Hotel [1971] Ellen L. McCluskey; New York City in "Ellen L. McCluskey," Interior Design 42, no. 8 (Aug. 1971): 146; PhotoCrd: Anonymous; Valentine [1974] Warren Platner Associates Architects; Kansas City in "Warren Platner's Valentine to Kansas City," Interior Design 45, no. 6 (June 1974): 85; PhotoCrd: Alexandre Georges; Windows on the World [1976] Warren Platner Associates; New York City in "Windows on the World," Interior Design 47, no. 12 (Dec. 1976): 116; PhotoCrd: Alexandre Georges; Tuttles Restaurant [1979] Carson Bennett Wright, AIA; Miami, FL in "Tuttles Restaurant," Interior Design 50, no. 1 (Jan. 1979): 209; PhotoCrd: Bill Hedrich, Hedrich-Blessing / 1980 Winnetka Grill [1986] Cannon/Davis Interiors; Chicago, IL in Susan Colgan, ed., Restaurant Design: Ninety-Five Spaces that Work (New York : Whitney Library of Design, 1987), 57; PhotoCrd: David Clifton; Kiiroihana [1987] Amick Harrison Architects; San Francisco, CA in Susan Colgan, ed., Restaurant Design: Ninety-five Spaces, 145; PhotoCrd: Christopher Irion; La Flamme d'Or [1989] Philippe Starck; Tokyo, Japan in Saitoh Hideo and Joao Rodolfo Stroeter, Interior Design in Cafes and Restaurants (Tokyo: Bijutsu Shuppansha, 1992), 15; PhotoCrd: Nacasa and Partners Inc. / 1990 Vivere [1990] Jordan Mozer and Associates Ltd.; Chicago, IL in Judi Radice, Restaurant Design 3 (Glen Cove, NY: Architecture & Design Library, 1992), 214; PhotoCrd: David Clifton; Sheng Villa [1993] Edward Suzuki Architect; Shanghai, China in Shotenkenchiku-sha, International Restaurants and Bars: 46 Outstanding Restaurants, Cafes, Bars and Discos (Tokyo : Shotenkenchiku-sha, 1996), 77; ; PhotoCrd: Edward Suzuki; Restaurant and Bar Teatriz [1994] Philippe Starck; Madrid, Spain in Shotenkenchiku-sha, International Restaurants and Bars, 62; PhotoCrd: Yoichi Horimoto; Nobu Japanese Restaurant  [1995] David Rockwell; New York City in Shotenkenchiku-sha, International Restaurants and Bars, 34; PhotoCrd: Paul Worchol; Cocteleria Zsa-Zsa [1997] Daniel Freixes and Vicente Miranda; Barcelona, Spain in Olivier Boissie`re, ed., Outstanding Bar and Restaurant Designs (Paris: Telleri, 1998), 111; PhotoCrd: Heinz Schmolger; Red Sea Star [1999] Ayala Serfaty; Eilat, Israel in Edie Cohen, "Under the Sea," Interior Design 70, no. 9 (July 1999): 147; PhotoCrd: Albi Serfaty; Animator's Palate [1999] Rockwell Group; Disney Cruise Line in Elana Frankel, "Toon It Up," Interior Design 70, no. 14 (Nov. 1999): 188; PhotoCrd: Mary Nichols / 2000 St. Martins Lane [2000] Philippe Starck and Anda Andrei; London, UK in Melissa Barrett Rhodes, "Room with a Hue," Interior Design 71, no. 1 (Jan. 2000): 131; PhotoCrd: Todd Eberle; Nectar [2003] Jordan Mozer Associates; Chicago, IL in: Martin M. Pegler, Contemporary Restaurants and Bars (New York: Visual Reference Publications, 2004), 116; PhotoCrd: Paul Warchol; Dragonfly [2003] Core, Washington DC; Harrisburg, PA in Pegler, Contemporary Restaurants and Bars, 161; PhotoCrd: Paul Warchol; Le Meridien [2003] Yabu Pushelburg; Minneapolis in Kendell Cronstrom, "Wonder Twin Power," Interior Design 74, no. 12 (Oct. 2003): 244; PhotoCrd: David Joseph; Opaline [2004] Nicholas.Budd.Dutton; Los Angeles, CA in Kathryn Harris, "Shine On," Interior Design 75, no. 2 (Feb. 2004): 169; PhotoCrd: Eric Laignel; Crustacean Restaurant/Prana Lounge [2004] Holt Hinshaw Architects; Las Vegas, NV in David Kaufman, "Light Fare," Hospitality Design 26, no. 2 (Mar. 2004): 51; PhotoCrd: Troy Hornung; Mikado's Dining Room [2004] Jordan Mozer; Biloxi, MS in Kelly Beamon, "Southern Comfort," Hospitality Design 26, no. 6 (July 2004): 68; PhotoCrd: Doug Snower; Coconut Groove [2006] Bender Design; Miami, FL in Joachim Fischer and Martin Nicholas Kunz, eds., Café and Restaurant Design (Stuttgart, Germany: Daab Press, 2004), 93; Friedrich Busam; Blackstone [2008] David Collins; Prague, Czech in David Sokol, "Forged Czech," Metropolis 139, no. 4 (Apr. 2008): 56.

bibliographic citations

1) The Interior Archetypes Research and Teaching Project, Cornell University, (accessed month & date, year).

2) Cho, Jasmin. “Theory Studies: Archetypical Practices of Contemporary Restaurant Design.” MA Thesis, Cornell University, 2009, 46-56.