Architecture and Preservation Terms

Architecture and historic home preservation have a lot of buzz words. Following are definitions of some of the more commonly used terms in describing residential architecture.  I have taken these definitions from A Field Guide To American Houses by Virginia and Lee McAlester, What Style Is It by John C. Poppeliers and S. Allen Chambers Jr. and The Modern Architectural Dictionary & Quick Reference Guide by Robert Deith. If there is a term you think I should add, please let me know.


Arabesque  Intricate geometric pattern of stylized plants or forms of Arabic origin

Architrave  The lowest part of the lintel, which rests on the top of a column


Baluster  An upright, often vase-shaped, support for a rail

Balustrade  A series of balusters with a rail

Band windows  A horizontal series of uniform windows that appear to have little or no separation between them

Banister  An entire railing system, including newel posts, handrails, balusters, and bottom rail (when present) of a staircase or balcony rail

Bargeboard  A board, often ornately carved, attached to the projecting edges of a gabled roof

Bat and board  A style of wall cladding or siding, where equally spaced, vertical strips of wood are applied to cover joints and aesthetically break up a plain flat wall

Battlement  A parapet built with indentations for defense or decoration

Blind arch  An arch that does not contain an opening for a window or door but is set against or indented with in a wall

Brace  A diagonal stabilizing member of a building frame

Bracket  A support element under eaves, shelves or other overhangs, often more decorative than functional

Broken pediment  A classic Roman pediment characterized by a split in the center, often filled with an urn, cartouche or other ornament


Cabling  Ornamental molding resembling the twisted strands fo cable and rope aka cable molding/rope molding

Cartouche  An ornamental shield, tablet, scroll, or medallion usually inscribed, decorated or framed with elaborate wreaths, garlands and scroll-like carving

Casement  A window with a sash hung vertically and opening inward or outward

Castellated  Having battlements and turrets, like a medieval castle

Chimney pot  A pipe placed on top of a chimney, usually of earthenware, that functions as a continuation of the flue and improves the draft

Clapboard  A long, narrow board with one edge thicker than the other; overlapped to cover the outer walls of a frame structure

Clerestory  A window in the upper part of a wall or construction used for light and ventilation

Coffered ceiling  A ceiling with deeply recessed panels

Colonnade  A row of evenly spaced columns

Corbel  A bracket or block projecting from the face of a wall that generally supports a cornice, beam or arch

Cornice  Projecting ornamental molding along the top of a building

Crenellation  A battlement

Crown molding  Any molding that serves to form a crowning or finishing element, as at the top of a door or window or at the top of a wall or building

Cupola  A small structure, often a dome on the ridge of a roof, primarily for light, ventilation, and decoration, but formerly used as a lookout and defensive post


Dentil  A series of small tooth-like (square or rectangular) projecting blocks, usually found in crown molding

Dormer  A vertically set window on a sloping roof; the roofed structure holding such a window

  • Bonneted  - An arched roof dormer round in shape when views from the front
  • Eyebrow  - A low dormer in which the arched roof and no sides.  Instead the roof gradually curbs up and over the dormer
  • Flat - A single flat plane roof approximately horizontal to roof line
  • Gabled - A simple pitched roof of two slopping sides with a gable at the end
  • Hipped - A roof with three sloping planes analogous to a hipped roof
  • Nantucket -  A three-in-one structure composed of two gale dormers connects by a shed dormer in between.
  • Shed - A single flat plane roof sloped in the same direction as the principal roof
  • Wall - The face of the dormer is a continuation of the wall above the eaves

Double-hung sash window  A window with two sashes, one above the other, arranged to slide vertically past each other

Double portico  A projecting two-story porch with columns and a pediment


Eaves  The projecting overhang at the lower end of a roof

Egg and dart  A decorative arrangement of alternating egg and dart-like shapes, used as molding

Entablature  Formal name of the ceiling structure that is supported by columns in the Classical order of architecture.  It includes architrave, frieze and cornice.


Fanlight  A semicircular or fan-shaped window with radiating members or tracery set over a door or window

Fascia board  1. A board that runs across the face of a building or structure.  2. A board used to cover the ends of roof rafters

Fenestration  The arrangement of windows in a wall

Festoon  A carved, molded or painted garland of fruit, flowers or leaves suspended between two points in a curve

Finial  An ornament at the top of a spire, gable or pinnacle

Fretwork  Ornate ornamental trim, using small balusters, particularly used in Victorian styles

Frieze  1. A horizontal transitional element, for example, the top of the siding with with soffit of the cornice.  2. A horizontally flat surface decorated with carvings or ornaments 3. The middle (between the architrave and the cornice) part of classical Greek and Roman entablature.


Gable  A triangular wall segment at the end of a double-pitched or gabled roof

Gambrel  A ridged roof with two slopes on each side, the lower slope having the steeper pitch

Gingerbread  Decorative woodwork as found on richly decorated Victorian style house


Half-timbered  Wall construction in which the spaces between members of the timber frame are filled with brick, stone or other material

Hipped roof  A roof with four uniformly pitched sides

Hood molding  A large molding over a window, originally designed to direct water away from the wall; also called a drip molding


Inglenook  A nook or recessed area, particularly near a fireplace, that often contains shelves and/or seating


Keystone  The central, often embellished, wedge-shape stone of an arch



Lintel  A large, horizontal supporting beam, supported at each end, over a rough door, window, or fireplace opening to carry the weight of the structure above

Lozenge  A diamond-shaped decorative motif

Lunette  An object shaped the form of the crescent of half moon


Mansard roof  A roof that has two slopes on all four sides

Medallion   A decorative circular or oval plaque which is represented an object (figure, flower, etc) in relief

Modillion  An ornamental bracket used in a series under the cornice, usually of the Corinthian order, but others as well

Mullion  A vertical member separating (and often supporting) widows, doors or panels set in a series

Muntin  A secondary framing element used to hold panes of glass in a window or door


Newel cap  The trim (molding, turning or carving) at the top of a newel post

Newel post  A large post at the head or foot of a staircase that supports the handrail and into which the handrail terminates


Oriel window  A large polygonal recess in a building, such as a bay window, forming a protrusion on the outer wall and supported by brackets or corbels

Overmantel  Refers to mirror, paneling, etc. placed above a fireplace mantel


Palladian window  A tripartite window opening with a large arched central light and flanking rectangular side lights

Parapet  A low, solid, protective wall or railing along the edge of a roof or balcony

Pediment  A wide, low-pitched gable surmounting the facade of a building in the Classical style; any similar triangular crowning element used over doors, windows and niches

Pilaster  A shallow pier attached to a wall; often decorated to resemble a Classical column

Porte cochere  An attached covered portico projecting over a driveway to shelter passengers arriving in carriages or cars

Portico  1. A major porch, usually with a pedimented roof supported by Classical columns 2. an elaborate covered entrance to a building with columns


Quoin  Units of stone or brick used to accentuate the corners of a building


Rafter  One of a series of inclined structural lumber that runs from the ridge beam down to the wall upon which it rests and to which a roof covering is affixed

Rafter ends/tails  That portion of the rafter that overhangs the wall in which it rests

Reeded  Decoration of parallel convex moldings

Ridge beam  A longitudinal beam that supports the upper ends of the rafters, forming the apex of the roof


Saltbox  A gabled-roof house in which the rear slope is much longer than the front

Sash  A frame in which the panes of a window are set

Scroll pediment  A broken pediment with a reverse curve, instead of a straight roof-like structure

Segmented arch  A rounded arch that is less than a true semicircle

Sidelights  Refers generally to a pair of framed, fixed-glass windows along both sides of a door or window opening

Sill  The horizontal finish piece forming the bottom of a door or window, which is slightly sloped to allow water to fall away

Soffit  The exposed under surface of any architectural element of a building, such as the underside of a balcony

Spindle  A turned wooden element, often used in screens, stair railings and porch trim

Sunburst  An ornamental woodwork theme (gingerbread) resembling the rays of the sun

Swag  A festoon in which the object suspended resembles a piece of draped cloth


Transom window  1. A small hinged window above a door or another window, that can be opened for ventilation  2. A fanlight or sunburst window over the front door

Tudor arch  A low, wide, pointed arch common in the architecture of Tudor, England

Turret  A superimposed small slender tower emanating from the corner of a large building