We had the same problem using early releases of ICEfaces some years ago. It was a good idea to use pure HTML tables those days.
Meanwhile I tried a cleaner implementation with my ICEfaces book code. Today I would suggest to use panelGrid and panelGroup. This will help for maintenance. Our "old code" is full of HTML table tags and a bit too unclear. You already notice smells even after about 1-2 years.
Actually, I've changed my mind in recent times, myself. Although the lack of rowspan and colspan in the core datagrid components is a royal nuisance, overall I've found that the page is cleaner using pure JSF instead of HTML. Plus, of course, removing raw HTML gives more options for alternative rendering systems.
I just got done removing one of my last HTML holdouts just the other day.
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Many thanks to you both - I'll discard that line of thinking then and plow ahead with styling up my panelgroups and grids.
I must admit-my little experiement at resorting back to html markup was making the code look just downright ugly.