Recently a reader emailed to ask me, “how hard is it to change from three columns to two columns?”

The answer is, it’s simple — depending on your theme.

Some themes offer only two columns, some offer three, some offer both. Some themes will offer options on the home page that aren’t available on the inside pages. If you’re not sure how many columns you want, pick a theme that gives you more options.

Once you’ve chosen a theme that offers either two or three columns, switching between the two is pretty simple.

Let’s use the Genesis framework from StudioPress as an example. (Elegant Themes, my other preferred designer, offers mostly two-column themes).

Go to your WordPress dashboard and click on the Genesis menu, then select Theme Settings.

page layout

You’ll see images of the various layouts — a single sidebar on the left or right, two sidebars on the left or right, a sidebar on each side and a full-width page.

Click on your preferred choice.

If your Genesis theme offers only a two-column layout, this is what you’ll see when you select Genesis / Theme Settings.

Genesis 2-column layout

With a theme that gives you the option to have either two or three columns, switching between them is simple.

Change from Three Columns to Two

Navigate to Appearance / Widgets and see how your sidebars are named. They might be primary and secondary, for example. Remember that when you eliminate a sidebar, you’ll also lose whatever widgets you’ve placed in it. Will you move them to the main sidebar, or will you eliminate them?

If you plan to move them, drag each widget to the Inactive Widgets area of the page for easy retrieval.

Then go back to Genesis / Theme Settings and click on the default layout of your choice.

Return to the widgets page and drag the widgets you want out of the Inactive Widgets area and onto your Primary widgets area.

Take a look at your new, two-column site. Does it look the way you envisioned?

Changing from Two Columns to Three

This is even simpler. Just change your default layout as described above, then navigate to your Widgets page and drag the widgets you want into the new third column.

Changing an Individual Page

Many themes also give you the option to change the layout on a specific post or page. You’ll likely find this on the right side of the editing page in the dashboard, or below the editing window. If you don’t see a choice anywhere, scroll up to the top of the page and click on Screen Options at the very top. Look for an item called Layout Settings or something similar, and make sure it’s checked, then look again.