Pilasters: Exterior Trim Finesse

One of the things I loved about my first home, a townhouse, was that the entryway into each unit was framed with pilasters capped by an elliptical arch.  This added charm to an otherwise plain brick face, and it visually unified the neighborhood.  It was a strong feature of the curb appeal that made me want to buy a home in that community.

Exterior Door Pilaster

Exterior Door Pilasters

Pilasters are essentially a flat column applied to a wall.  They give the appearance of an embedded column which protrudes a few inches from the wall.  Like a column, they generally have a base and a cap.  They can be fluted, flat, or have a recessed center panel.  Sometimes the pilaster supports an arch, pediment, or cornice which serves as the cap.  Today, they are most often a part of a façade rather than an actual structural support, as was the case in my neighborhood.

There are many ways to use pilasters to create aesthetic appeal.  Pilasters can be used to add interest around doors and windows.  Sometimes they are used to break up a large, plain wall.  They can also be used in conjunction with columns.  Placing a row of pilasters on the face of a building immediately behind a row of columns adds texture and interest to the building façade.  It provides symmetry through placement and style—a fluted column echoed by a fluted pilaster behind it—while still allowing for the round column and the flat pilaster to create a slight contrast.  Pilasters can also be used at corners of buildings, protecting them and adding interest.

Unfortunately, the developer of my neighborhood had elected you use cheap plastic pilasters that clipped onto the brick.  Within a few years of moving into the neighborhood, we started noticing that some of these pilasters had discolored and become brittle.  They had reached the end of their usable life after only 15 years.  They began to crack and break.  The homeowners had trouble finding replacement pieces for them, which meant that a feature which had once visually unified the neighborhood started to make the neighborhood look shabby.  At the time of construction, plastic may have been the only cost-effective choice.  Fortunately, the homeowners’ association was able to find a solution.

Pilaster Rendering

Cement Coated, Fiberglass Reinforced Styrofoam Pilaster

A little research helped the HOA find a newer technology that saved homeowners both money and hassle.  Instead of replacing the clip-on pilasters with new plastic ones, the HOA recommended that homeowners instead purchase stucco pilasters which were permanently applied to the brick face and then painted white.  These stucco pilasters were made from expanded polystyrene reinforced with fiberglass, and then coated with an acrylic-modified cement.  These were lightweight, so they were inexpensive to ship and easy to install.  They were also very durable, and once they were painted, they were low maintenance.  With just a little effort, the curb appeal of our neighborhood was restored, and we knew that these pilasters would last as long as the brick itself.