Muntins & Mullions, Pilasters & Quoins: Every Part of Your House, No Matter How Obscure, Has a Name

House-Parts-Phelan-1931 copy.jpg
U.S. Department of Commerce, 1931, via the invaluable inspectapedia.com

Preservationists, architects and old-house experts often seem to be speaking a foreign language. They’re full of observations about fascia, frieze boards, fanlighs, and other things the rest of us have trouble even spelling, much less remembering and looking up later. Don’t feel bad — experts use such words every day, while the rest of us don’t even know that the things they describe have names.

But they do have names, and there’s no better example of the infinite capacity of the English language to create or absorb words than than the innumerable parts of houses, especially old ones. Thanks to the internet and its infinite capacity to store obscure information, we can all learn what those words mean.

The Online Resources page now includes links to a number of sources providing glossaries, dictionaries and other lists of terms. Specifically:

There are at least 15 types of roofs, including gambrel, cross hipped and jerkinhead. Old House Online has a page on doors with a dozen terms for parts and styles of doors (and doesn’t even mention barn doors, which are popular now, French doors* or pocket doors). We all know what porches are, but what about arbors, gazebos, patios, pavilions and pergolas? We could talk all day about siding terminology.

Just about any old-house term you can remember to look up will be found in at least one of these links. Or try Wikipedia, also very helpful (and deserving of your financial support, by the way — somebody has to pay for all those servers or routers or whatever they are).

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* The French term for “French door” is “porte-fenêtre” — door-window. It’s too bad all these terms can’t be so self-explanatory.