A steel pole is as good as it gets when it comes to structural support. However, such a round steel column can be an eyesore when poised beneath a beautiful wooden patio cover made of square-edged wood trim.
Did you ever wonder what you were going to do with that ugly, round, unfinished tubular-beam-support that had to be plopped square in the middle of your soon-to-be finished basement?
Because a pole is steel doesn't mean it can't be interesting. Try using giant hose clamps (check out the plumbing supply store in your area for the really big ones) as hidden (or brightly painted and visible) hangers to mount or display various decorations. Sea horses, lanterns and thermometers are great for outdoors. And pegboard, pin boards and chalkboards are excellent inside additions.
If you want to disguise your steel pole to match surrounding architecture, there are many options. First, there are two basic procedures used to enclose them and then, on top of those, there are an infinite number of interesting finishes that can be applied. The beginning step is enclosure, or "how to build around a steel pole without filling it full of holes." If you are good at mitering corners (you'll probably need a good table saw), you might want to miter the two long edges of four wood planks and fit the miters together to create a four-sided box. There are a couple of important things to consider here. First, you must use kiln-dried wood. Any material with much moisture content will eventually dry out, shrink, twist and/or split, and end up looking terrible. Also, it is better if the material is a hardwood. Softer woods such as pine or cedar are easier to work with, but there is more strength in oak or ash.
The other method of enclosure involves the construction of two tiny walls... 2x material can be used on edge to build walls that are 1 1/2 inches thick. The walls are placed on opposite sides of the pole... you pick the sides... and blocks at the bottom and top hold the walls together and to the ceiling and floor. The length of the walls can be anything you want, and the length of the blocks that join them also can be any dimension.
With the wall frames built, paneling, plaster, wallboard or planking can be used to conceal the frame. This same enclosure can be used to conceal wiring for plugs or lights. You'll have a wall in the middle of the room with two or three or even four vertically mounted track light systems.
Finally, your new pole-cover can be decorated with texture, paint, wallpaper, mirrors, widgets or any combination thereof. We don't recommend drilling into the pole. If the pole is structural, drilling into it could be a serious problem. Some poles just hold weight from above, but others resist wind load or vertical stresses. If you are determined to drill holes into a metal support column, consult a structural engineer first.
A small housing isn't your only choice. A special cabinet can be designed to surround one or more poles. Room separators can be built, creating multiple areas. A lower cabinet with pole-supported open shelving can be beautiful. Install the lower cabinet with the pole at one end. Then install a look-alike pole at the other end, and mount glass shelves.
What about a cabinet or bookcase or entertainment center that goes from the pole in question to an adjacent wall? For outdoors, large walls can be built around poles to hold planters, swimming-pool accessories and more. The choice is yours.
James Carey and Morris Carey are nationally recognized experts on home building and renovation.