We sat down with our customer and, at her insistence and our pleasure, went through the entire catalog of compo ornaments from Decorator’s Supply in Chicago.  The catalog is comprised of hundreds of offerings representing about every period of architectural ornamentation.  Each of these compo ornaments are cast from an original master woodcarving carved over the nearly two hundred years Decorator’s Supply has been in business.  The artistry and level of detail is tremendous.  We determined her particular aesthetic in the process and chose elements that, along with our custom woodwork, would go together to create a pleasing composition.

Some notes about Compo from Decorator’s Supply, our supplier in Chicago, in business since 1833. Compo and Basswood Mantel side

Compo is a shorthand term for composition ornaments.  It is a fascinating product with an impressive pedigree. While the Decorators Supply Corp in Chicago has been producing compo (composition ornaments) for well over 100 years, early forms of compo can be traced backed to the Egyptians. Mark Reinberger gives a very nice introduction to the history of compo in his book entitled: “Utility and Beauty – Robert Wellford and Composition Ornaments in America” published by University Delaware Press in 2003. Reinberger credits British architect Robert Adam with propelling composition ornaments “into prominence as a widespread substitute for wood carvings”. Robert Adam, for whom the “Adam Style,” was named, is credited as being the leader of the first phase of the classical revival in England and Scotland from around 1760 until his death. While Adam apparently utilized compo in varied applications, it became a product of choice in the manufacture of the traditional English chimneypiece (fireplace surround), which was a center of hospitality and comfort in the cold and damp climate of England and the British Isles. See Decorators Supply Adam Mantel #15731 as one example of an Adam Style mantel: view product here.


Basswood and compo column roughed out

Compo can be shaped to follow irregular surfaces and blend seamlessly into your design.

Compo and Basswood mantel center head pieceAccording to Reinberger, composition ornament (“compo”) was first recorded in America in 1788 and “rapidly became an important, even vital, part of Federal period architecture….”. Among makers and suppliers of composition ornaments, Robert Wellford was the best known in his day and in the present. His works, utilizing composition ornaments, appear in the collections of major museums, including the Winterthur, the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Philadelphia Museum of Art and the Museum of Early Southern Decorative Arts. For those interested not only in composition ornaments but early Colonial American decorative arts, Utility and Beauty – Robert Wellford and Composition Ornaments in America is a good resource and interesting read. This book is complemented with 130 images or illustrations of composition ornamentation and its uses. It is of note that one of these 130 images is a catalog page from Decorators Supply’s current “compo” ornaments book – Catalog #124 – Ornaments for Woodwork/Furniture. Catalog #124 has been unchanged since the 1920’s.

We ground a custom shaper knife to profile the majority of the face of the columns.  We carved the transitions to the base plinth and up through the scroll to the acanthus compo onlay.  We do our own grinding of profile cutters so we can make them work just like we want and maintain our schedule without waiting for a tooling shop.

Jaime Oberg from Mt. Rainier Woodworking is a true master who installs much of our work.  If you’re looking for interior finish carpentry, you must give him a call.  Jaime and his crew have our complete confidence.

Basswood fireplace column on the bench

Compo elements in place....and we're happy it went so well!

Compo elements in place….and we’re happy it went so well!

Roughing out the columns

Jessi carving the basswood scrolls for the fireplace legs.

Compo and Basswood Mantel, full room

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