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Victorian Ornamentation Glossary

The Victorian era marked the pinnacle of exterior ornamentation. Here are 10 of the most common decorations you'll see on houses of this period. By Clare M. Alexander

    Bargeboard or vergeboard

    Bargeboard

    Also known as a vergeboard, this is the board that runs along the projecting edges of a gable. Bargeboards generally have either decorative carving or lacy cutouts, and were most popular on Gothic Revival cottages, though they’re commonly found on Stick Style and Queen Anne houses, too.

    Brackets on an Italianate cornice and window

    Bracket

    Broadly speaking, a bracket is any small structural member that bridges the right angle between a horizontal and a vertical element. Most Victorian brackets are purely decorative; they’re commonly found along the cornices of Italianates, and in the corners of porch posts on gingerbread-laden Queen Anne, Stick Style, Gothic Revival, and Folk Victorian houses.

    Roof cresting on a Second Empire house

    Cresting

    Cresting refers to the cast iron line of ornamentation that runs along the ridge or around the perimeter of a roof in a repeating pattern. Cresting is most frequently found on Second Empire houses, where the flat-topped mansard roof provides the ideal showcase for this linear element.

    Finials on a Gothic Revival house

    Finial

    A finial is any ornament (typically pointed) that decorates the apex of an object. On Victorian exteriors, finials are commonly found on the gable points of Gothic Revival houses (as at left), on Italianate cupolas, or on Queen Anne turrets.

    Imbrication

    Imbrication

    This is the technical term for the textured shingle patterns used to clad the exterior walls of Queen Anne houses. The technique combined multiple decorative shingle cuts—including square, round, fish-scale, acorn, and diamond—to produce eye-catching patterns often highlighted by contrasting paint colors.

    Spandrel on a Victorian porch

    Spandrel

    In exterior millwork terms, a spandrel is the decorative panel that spans the opening between the tops of two columns, often with rounded corners that create an arch shape. Spindlework or jigsawn spandrels are often found on the porches of Carpenter Gothic, Stick Style, Queen Anne, and Folk Victorian houses.

    Spindlework on a Folk Victorian cottage

    Spindlework

    Also referred to as “gingerbread,” spindlework is the lace-like and lathe-turned woodwork often used to decorate Stick Style, Queen Anne, and Folk Victorian houses. Recognizable by a series of thin columns interrupted by bead-like circular elements, spindlework is typically found in porch details such as balustrades, posts, and brackets.

    Stickwork on the Emlen Physick House

    Stickwork

    This term refers to the flat, linear ornament applied—usually in intersecting vertical, horizontal, or diagonal patterns—to the exterior walls of a building. As its name suggests, stickwork is primarily found on Stick Style houses (though it sometimes bears a resemblance to the half-timbering found on Tudor Revivals and early Queen Annes).

    Italianate window crown

    Window Crown

    Also known as a hood, this is the decorative trim that covers the top of a window. Most commonly found on Italianates and Second Empires, window crowns can take many forms—arched, square, pedimented—and are often embellished with decorative flourishes like brackets and pendants.

    Published in: Old-House Journal December/January 2013



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