Ashlar masonry: Ashlar masonry consists of uniform, rectangular blocks of stone with parallel faces, as were commonly used in the construction of classical Greek and Roman buildings. The word “ashlar” shares a common Latin root with “axis,” probably relating to the fact that uniform stone blocks can be laid in courses having a straight horizontal axis. In high-style American 18th- and 19th-century wood-frame house construction, we sometimes see plank siding grooved in imitation of ashlar masonry.
Balloon framing: Balloon framing is a system of wood-frame construction, first used in the 19th century, in which the studs are continuous from the foundation sill to the top wall plate. Floor structures (one, two, or more) are hung from the studs. Balloon framing, which replaced post-and-beam construction, was made possible by the availability of structural lumber sawed to uniform sizes. A balloon frame, which is held together entirely by nails, could be erected faster than a post-and-beam frame, with the use of less-skilled labor; and the end result was stronger and more apt to be square and plumb. Balloon frames have one serious drawback: unless firestops are installed at the level of every floor, the stud spaces form what are essentially chimneys from cellar to attic, greatly accelerating the spread of fire. (Compare: platform framing; post-and-beam.)
Baluster: A baluster is any one of a series of usually closely-spaced, ornamental supports for a railing. (See: balustrade.)
Balustrade: A balustrade is a low, ornamental railing used on the roofs of Georgian, Federal and some other 18th- and 19th-century houses. In the Georgian period, balustrades were most commonly used to surround a flattened central area of a low-pitched hipped roof, forming what’s often referred to as a “widow’s walk” (from which seacaptains’ wives were supposed to have watched for their husbands’ ships). Balustrades on Federal houses are usually found above the exterior walls.
Bay window: A window placed in a projection of an exterior wall of a building is called a bay window when the wall projection extends all the way down to a corresponding projection of the foundation. In plan view, the wall projection may be rectangular, polygonal or segmental (curved). (Compare: oriel window.)
Bracket: A bracket is a horizontally projecting support, typically ornamental and attached to a wall, for an overhanging structure. The brackets most often seen in residential architecture are those beneath the roof overhang of Italianate houses, of which they are a distinguishing feature.
Clapboard: Clapboards are thin, narrow boards of tapering cross-section applied horizontally as siding on wood-frame houses. Each clapboard overlaps the one below, so that no joints are exposed to the weather. Aluminum and vinyl siding in use today typically imitate clapboards.
Column: A column is a pillar, usually of round cross-section but sometimes square or octagonal, used to support the roof of a building, porch, or portico. Parts of a column are (bottom to top): base, shaft and capital. Columns are important design elements in Classical Revival and Neoclassical house styles. The most traditional columns follow the “Greek” and “Roman” orders (e.g., Doric, Ionic, Corinthian, Tuscan, etc., varying primarily in details of the capital) as documented by Andrea Palladio and other architects of the Italian Renaissance (14th-17th centuries). Excavations of Pompeii and Herculaneum in the 18th century revealed much more variation in the design of ancient columns than previously suspected.
Conservatory: A conservatory is a greenhouse attached to a house. In the 18th and 19th centuries, the collecting of exotic plants and the production under glass of out-of-season flowers and fruits were popular pastimes among those who could afford this kind of luxury. Grapes and oranges, as well as orchids and other tropical flowers, were among the products of upper-class conservatories. The most elaborate conservatories were warmed by wood- or coal-heated air introduced through under-floor ducts.
Corner-entry: The corner-entry house, a common substyle of Greek Revival, has an asymmetrical facade in which the main entry door is located at one end, adjacent to a front corner of the building.
Cornice: A cornice is an ornamental molding, or composition of two or more moldings, located at the exterior wall-roof junction of a building, beneath the eaves, and/or beneath the sloping ends of a gable roof.
Cornice return: Cornice returns are horizontal moldings extending inward (toward the vertical centerline of the wall) from the lower ends of a gable-roof cornice. Gable-roof Greek Revival houses use prominent cornice returns as a design element.
Craftsman: The Craftsman style (1905-1930) is named for Gustav Stickley’s magazine The Craftsman. It is the architectural facet of the Arts and Crafts movement of that period. It was a fundamental tenet of Arts and Crafts advocates that form should follow function; good design and hand craftsmanship should supplant useless ornamentation and shoddy “industrial” workmanship. Accordingly, Craftsman houses feature strong architectural details (like rafters exposed at the eaves) and “natural” materials: wood (stained, not painted), stone, ceramic and clay tiles, hammered copper. Stickley published a book of his designs in 1909, and encouraged readers to build their own houses. Many surviving Craftsman houses are thus copies or adaptations of designs developed by Stickley and his architects.
Cupola: A cupola is a short windowed tower, or dome, typically located in the center of a flat or low-slope roof. Many Italianate houses have cupolas.
Demilune window: A demilune (“half-moon”) window is semicircular, or in the shape of some lesser segment of a circle, normally oriented with the segmental shape on top and the straight edge horizontal on the bottom.
Dentils: Dentils are tooth-like (hence the name) ornaments used in the cornice compositions of main and porch roofs and gables. They occur most frequently on high-style Georgian houses but are also seen on Federal and Early Classical Revival houses.
Dormer: A dormer is a window housed in a gable or similar structure affixed to the sloping part of a roof, providing natural light and ventilation to the rooms beneath the roof. Since such attic or garret rooms have traditionally been used for sleeping, the dormer gets its name from the French verb dormer: to sleep.
Double-hung window: Double-hung windows have two sashes which, when both are closed, are positioned one immediately above the other. Both sashes can be slid up and down in tracks, but are kept from dropping to the sill by counterweights attached by cords or chains and concealed in the window casing. By the nature of their design, double-hung windows can be opened to a maximum of 50% of the area of the window opening. Double-hung windows have been the most common American residential window design since the 18th century. (Compare: triple-hung window.)
Early Classical Revival: The Early Classical Revival style (1770-1830) can be considered a transitional style between the Federal and Greek Revival styles. In common with Georgian and Federal houses, an Early Classical Revival house usually has its long axis parallel with the street and a symmetrical facade; but the front facade usually features a portico or entrance porch supported by columns of Greek or Roman design, and the rooms are often arranged less symmetrically than in Georgian and Federal houses.
Eave: Usually eaves: this term refers to that part of a roof which overhangs the exterior walls.
Elevation: The elevation of a house is a flat (without perspective) drawing of one side of the house as seen when standing facing it squarely. Four elevations are needed to describe completely the vertical aspects of a rectangular house: front (showing the front facade or principal elevation), rear, and the two ends.
Entablature: Entablature is the name given to a horizontal member supported by the columns of a building of Classical style, e.g., Greek Revival. Traditionally, the entablature is deep (measured top to bottom) and represents the massive stone beam which topped the columns of ancient Greek and Roman buildings. In a wood-frame building, the entablature may be purely ornamental. When an entablature is present, the cornice is located above it.
Facade: In its most general sense, a facade is an elevation of a building: what you see when standing before one side of the building. Under this usage, a house may have two or more facades: a front facade facing the street, a garden facade facing the back yard, etc. The front facade or principal elevation of a building is sometimes referred to as “the facade.”
Fanlight: A fanlight is a fixed (non-opening), ornamental window of semicircular or segmental shape, typically found above the main entry door of Federal houses. (“Light” is a traditional synonym for “window.”)
Federal: The Federal style (1780-1820) is named for the American Federal Period (i.e., after independence was declared on July 4, 1776). Federal is thus considered an American style, as distinct from the (Colonial) Georgian style which preceded it. Federal houses resemble English “Adam” houses (named for the brothers Adam, Scottish architects and designers of interiors and furniture) from which they are stylistically descended. Federal houses resemble Georgian houses superficially, but feature more delicate detailing and incorporate such innovations as fanlights and sidelights in the entry-door composition.
Gable: A gable is that part of an exterior wall, above the level of the eaves, which conforms to the inverted-V configuration of the roof rafters. (See: Gable roof.)
Gable front and wing: This term refers to an L- or T-shaped house plan in which a gable end of the main block faces the street, and a wing is attached at a ninety-degree angle to the rear portion of the main block. The gable-front-and-wing vernacular Greek Revival house was perhaps the most frequently built design of the late 19th century in New England, New York and the upper Midwest, particularly in rural areas.
Gable roof: A roof in which two opposite sides are supported by sloping rafters, the walls of the other two sides being extended upward in an inverted-V shape conforming to the slope of the rafters, is known as a gable roof. The majority of American houses have gable roofs. (Compare: Hip roof.)
Georgian: The Georgian style (1700-1780) is named for the English kings of the 17th and 18th centuries (Georges I, II, III and IV). The earliest Georgian houses in the U.S. were built during the Colonial period, so it’s considered a Colonial style. Classical Georgian houses are characterized by having: (1)their long axis parallel to the street; (2)a symmetrical front facade with a central entry and usually two windows on either side, echoed in two-story examples by a row of five windows above; and (3) either a massive central chimney (most common in the North) or a pair of chimneys, one at each end of the house (most common in the South). Georgian-style houses have been built in the U.S. for over 200 years, and are still being build today. Early examples are of post-and-beam construction; later ones are balloon-framed (late 19th – early 20th centuries) or platform-framed (late 20th century). The Georgian style can be subdivided into Early and Late Georgian. Early Georgian houses are simpler, and often have gable roofs (frequently dormered) and floor-to-ceiling wood paneling in some of the rooms. Late Georgian houses are more complex and ornate, often having hipped roofs and one-third-height paneling.
Greek Revival: The Greek Revival style (1825-1860) came into being as a result of the first organized excavations of ancient buildings in Greece. Greek Revival houses were designed to resemble classical Greek temples. Accordingly, they were often built with a gable end facing the street (a 90-degree rotation from earlier practice), and feature a front facade that includes, below the low-slope gabled roof, a deep entablature (representing a heavy stone lintel) supported by classical columns. High-style examples often incorporate full-height (e.g., two-story), free-standing columns of classical Greek design supporting a portico. Vernacular (builder-designed) houses are simpler, usually having pilasters applied to the corners of the front facade, “supporting” the characteristic deep entablature that tops the walls. Some vernacular Greek Revival houses are oriented with a gable end facing the street, with the front entrance at one end of the facade (known as a “corner entrance”). Others are oriented with the long axis parallel to the street and have symmetrical facades.
Hip roof: A roof in which all four sides are supported by rafters which slope down to the top plates of the walls is known as a hip (or hipped) roof. Hip roofs are common on Georgian and Federal houses, particularly high-style examples.
Italian Villa: The Italian Villa house differs from other Italianate houses by having a tower, typically of square cross-section, as the tallest part of the house. (The Italian Villa tower, unlike the more common Italianate cupola, arises from the ground as opposed to being supported by a roof.) Most often the tower is either centered on the facade, incorporating the main entry, or located in the internal angle of an L-shaped plan.
Italianate: The Italianate style (1840-1885)is characterized by a wide-overhanging, low-pitched roof with ornamental brackets (often in pairs) beneath; tall, segmentally-arched windows; and (usually) front porches supported by columns of square cross-section with beveled corners. Many Italianate houses are cube-shaped and topped by a cupola. Entry doors are often double, with large glazed panels. Italianate was the dominant American house style of the Civil War period.
Joist: Joists are horizontal or near-horizontal structural members of smaller dimensions than beams. Floor joists are the principal element of a wooden floor; the flooring is nailed to the top of the joists and, if the room below has a finished ceiling, the ceiling material is nailed to the bottoms of the joists. Flat and very low-slope roofs have roof joists in place of rafters.
Keystone: In unit-masonry (e.g., stone block or brick) construction, the keystone is the central stone which completes the construction of an arch and permits it to carry vertical loads. The keystone is wider at the top than at the bottom, so that it acts like a wedge which uses the weight placed on it to force the other blocks forming the arch together, thus preventing them from falling.
Lintel: In masonry construction, a lintel is a long, rectangular stone block which spans a door or window opening to support the weight of the structure above. Stone lintels are normally visible from the exterior. In wood-frame construction, such a structural member is a wooden beam usually termed a “header,” and is concealed inside the wall.
Neoclassical: (1) “Neoclassical,” as contrasted with Renaissance Classical (which see), is approximately synonymous with Romantic (which see), and refers to those early-19th-century architectural styles inspired by the first scientific archaeological excavations of ancient ruins (Pompeii and Herculaneum). The Early Classical Revival style (which see) can be considered a transitional style between Renaissance Classicism and Neoclassicism. Neoclassical styles exhibit less symmetry and greater variety in the design of columns and other “classical” elements. (2) “Neoclassical” also refers to a revival of the earlier Neoclassical styles which began in the 1890’s and continued well into the 20th century. These later Neoclassical houses exhibit a mixture of motives derived from Greek Revival and other Romantic styles.
Oriel window: A window placed in a projection of an exterior wall of a building is called an oriel window when the wall projection does not extend all the way to the foundation. In plan view, the wall projection may be rectangular, polygonal or segmental (curved). (Compare: bay window.)
Palladian window: Common in high-style Georgian and Federal houses, the classical Palladian window (named for Italian Renaissance architect Andrea Palladio, 1508-1580) is composed of a major tall, rectangular sash surmounted by a semicircular sash of equal width and flanked by two smaller rectangular sashes. In modified form (typically, without the semicircular sash) it is also seen in Greek Revival and later styles. A typical location for a Palladian window is above the entry door, where it lights a central upstairs hall or stair landing.
Pediment: A pediment is an architectural embellishment used at the top of door- and window-surround compositions. Pediments can take many forms: triangular (peaked like a gable), segmental, scrolled, etc.
Pilaster: Pilasters are two-dimensional (flat) ornaments which represent columns. They occur very commonly in 18th- and 19th-century door surrounds. Giant pilasters rising the full height of the facade (usually, but not always, at the corners) are a major feature of many Georgian, Federal and Greek revival houses.
Plan view: The plan view of a house is the flat (without perspective) view looking down from above at a horizontal plane located in a position of interest. For instance, a foundation plan shows what you would see from above with only the foundation in place; a first-floor plan shows the shape of the first-floor platform and the position of external and internal walls, stairways, door and window openings, etc.; all as seen from directly above. (Compare: elevation.)
Platform framing: Platform framing has been the most common system of wood-frame house construction since the middle of the 20th century. In platform framing, the first structure built on top of the foundation is the first floor. The builders then use this floor as a platform on which to fabricate the first tier of stud walls. These are then erected and the next floor platform built on top of them, and so on, until finally the roof joists and rafters are put in place atop the final tier of walls. Advantages of this system over the earlier balloon-framing system are: smaller and cheaper pieces of lumber can be used in the walls; there is always something solid on which to stand while erecting the next higher part of the building; the walls can be fabricated down on the platform, which increases safety and reduces labor cost; and no added fire-stopping is necessary because each floor platform encloses the stud spaces above and below. (Compare: balloon framing.)
Portico: A portico (Latin) is a roofed area, open to the air on one or more sides, typically supported on one side by the facade of a building and on the remaining sides by columns or arches. Porticos are common on Federal, Early Classical Revival, Greek Revival, and other houses of the 18th and 19th centuries. The English word porch is derived from portico, and is approximately synonymous.
Post-and-beam: Post-and-beam framing is a traditional system of wood-frame construction, in common use into the 19th century, in which the skeleton of the house is formed from heavy posts (vertical members) and beams (horizontal members). Because suitable metal fasteners were not available, early post-and-beam frames were held together by mortise-and-tenon joints chiseled out of the ends of the massive structural members. Failure of these joints is generally what brings down an old post-and-beam structure. Today, much stronger post-and-beam frames can be built using various types of nailed or bolted metal connectors.
Pyramidal roof: A pyramidal roof is a hipped roof which lacks a ridge, the four isosceles-triangular planes of the roof meeting at a common apex. As the name suggests, it resembles a pyramid. Low-slope pyramidal roofs are not uncommon on Greek Revival houses.
Queen Anne: The Queen Anne style of house named (unaccountably) for the English monarch of the 18th century is often referred to as “Victorian,” since it dates from the reign of Queen Victoria (1837-1901). The Queen Anne house is characterized by elaborateness and asymmetry, both inside and out. Exteriors feature bay and oriel windows, ornamental brackets, siding a mixture of clapboards and wooden shingles applied in fancy patterns, elaborate porches, and turrets of various designs. Interiors tend to have many rooms of varying size and shape, and a lot of dark wood. It’s not unusual to find houses of earlier styles that have been “updated” to superficially resemble Queen Anne houses by the addition of turrets, porches, etc.
Quoin: Quoins are ornamental features used at the corners of Georgian (also, less frequently, Federal and Greek Revival) houses. In a brick house, the quoins usually consist of granite blocks, but may also be formed from bricks and painted in the trim color. Quoins on wooden houses were made from short lengths of plank, to resemble stone quoins.
Rafter: Rafters are the structural members that support the roof sheathing to which the outer covering of the roof (shingles, etc.) is attached. Typically, rafters slope down from a central ridge or peak to the top plates of either two (gable roof) or all four (hip roof) of the exterior walls. When the lower ends of the rafters project beyond the exterior walls, they form the roof overhang, or eaves (which see).
Renaissance Classicism: This school of architecture is based on the dictates of 16th-century Italian Renaissance architects who codified what they believed were the “correct” designs and proportions for classical columns and other design elements. Renaissance Classicism is formal and symmetrical, and appealed primarily to the intellect and reason of the 18th-century architects (and homeowners) who embraced it. Georgian and Federal are Renaissance Classical styles. When the excavation of ancient ruins in the late 18th century began to reveal a great deal of variety in Greek and Roman architecture, the popularity of Renaissance Classicism waned in favor of the Neoclassical or Romantic styles (which see).
Romantic: The early 19th century Neoclassical (which see) architectural styles are referred to as “Romantic” because, unlike the preceding Renaissance Classical (which see) styles which appealed to the intellect, they appealed primarily to the emotions. The various 19th-century Revival styles (Greek, Gothic, Egyptian, etc.), as well as the Italianate and Italian Villa styles, are considered Romantic.
Sheathing: Boards, plywood or other materials used to “close in” the walls and roof of a house are referred to as sheathing. Sheathing is nailed to the outside of the structural members (rafters, studs). Roof sheathing has to be sufficiently strong to carry snow loads (etc.) without breaking or deflecting enough to cause roof leaks. Wall sheathing today is commonly designed to provide resistance of the house structure to horizontal forces (e.g., wind), by preventing the studs from moving from a vertical position. In a completed house, all the sheathing is normally covered by some kind of finish material: shingles, clapboards, etc.
Shingle Style: Shingle Style houses (1880-1900) originated in the upper-class summer resort communities of New England. These large examples are rambling, asymmetrical structures with various gables, porches, towers, etc.; all covered with wooden shingles. John Calvin Stevens of Portland, Maine and the firm of McKim, Mead and White of New York City were prominent designers of Shingle Style houses. Bob Vila’s Cambridge house, the restoration and remodeling of which was shown on his TV show last year, is a classic Shingle Style house.
Sidelight: A sidelight is a window (actually, usually a series of small fixed panes arranged vertically) found on either side of the main entry door of many Federal, Greek Revival and other late-18th- to mid-19th-century houses. (“Light” is a traditional synonym for “window.”)
Sill: (1) In a wood-frame house, the sill is a wooden member that rests on top of the foundation (and, per today’s building codes, is anchored to it by bolts). In post-and-beam construction, the bottom ends of posts rest on the sill; in a balloon frame, the bottom ends of studs and the ends of floor joists; in a platform frame, the ends of floor joists only. (2) The fixed horizontal member of a window frame, below the sash, is also called a sill.
Stud: In balloon-framing and platform-framing systems of wood construction, studs are the vertical structural members in the walls. The studs transmit vertical forces (loads) from the roof and/or floor above to, ultimately, the foundation of the house. The studs also provide something to which to attach the exterior wall sheathing and interior wall finish (e.g., lath and plaster or sheetrock).
Transom: Originally “transom” was used to denote a horizontal crossbar in a window. It later came to mean a window positioned above such a crossbar. Today the term is most commonly used for a shallow, rectangular window sash (fixed, or hinged at top or bottom) located immediately above a door.
Triple-hung window: A triple-hung window is constructed and operates like a double-hung window (which see), but is taller by virtue of having three sashes, one above the other, instead of two. Triple-hung windows are frequently seen on the ground floor of Greek Revival houses.
Vernacular: This term describes an architectural style or design of house derived primarily from popular taste. Vernacular styles usually stem from some more formal or academic style, with simplifications and adaptations; but their origins are still recognizable. Vernacular Georgian, Federal and Greek Revival houses are common in New England.
Wall plate: In wood-frame construction involving wall studs, the studs (which see) are nailed at the top end to a top plate and at the bottom end to a bottom plate. These plates are made from lumber of the same dimensions (e.g., 2×4, 2×6) as the studs. The top plate is normally of double thickness for added strength.
Westwind Design, http://www.westwinddesign.com. Last accessed March 2, 2004.