As expert exterior designers, our exterior design vocabulary is extensive. But even professionals like us can’t possibly know every exterior design term in existence. In fact, over the years, we’ve actually been introduced to several design words by our clients!
Keep reading to learn more about the design words we’ve learned about from our clients and expand your exterior design vocabulary.
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Think of a belly band as a belt for your home. This informal term refers to decorative cladding that runs horizontally around a house, usually at about the height of the first or second floor. A belly band, sometimes referred to as “midsection trim,” is frequently used to create visual separation between two cladding materials, such as lap siding and shake.
Windows & Roofing
Spandrel glass is an opaque glass solution that obscures or conceals structural building components, such as electrical wiring, plumbing, and HVAC systems. This type of glass helps keep these necessary — but often unsightly — elements hidden from view. Spandrel glass is frequently used on commercial properties, such as the office building above.
Trompe L‘oeil Shutters
Trompe l’oeil means “fools the eye,” and trompe l’oeil shutters do exactly that! They aren’t shutters at all; rather, they’re realistic murals painted on the exterior of buildings that look like shutters. Trompe l’oeil windows and doors are also quite common, mainly throughout Europe. These design elements are purely decorative and serve no functional or structural purpose.
Witch windows help homeowners make the most of awkward or otherwise unusable space. These windows are installed on a diagonal, with the long edge parallel to the slope of the home’s roof. Rotating them allows them to fit in narrow spaces where a regular window would be out of the question. If you’ve never seen a witch window before, that’s probably because they’re mainly found on farmhouses in the state of Vermont and aren’t typically used in new construction.
Gabled, shed, bonneted… the list of different types of dormers is seemingly endless. One that’s particularly fun is the eyebrow dormer, also known as a roof eyebrow or eyebrow window. Eyebrow dormers are wavy with a curved roof and no sides. They protrude through the slope of a roof and are low and wide. Eyebrow dormers add charm to a building and can help break up a long roofline.
Cat owners might want to consider adding a catio to their home. A catio, or cat patio, is an enclosed outdoor area that allows cats to safely enjoy time outside. Catios can be enclosures just large enough for your cat, or they can be big enough for humans to enjoy, too (see above). Think of a catio as an extension of your living space that the whole family — pets included — can use.
Just like eyebrow dormers, mustache lights are a fun design element that add instant charm to a space. As the name implies, these lights have a shape reminiscent of a mustache. They work particularly well in large areas where you want to fill some blank space or add a design flourish. We generally use this type of lighting above a garage door or entry door.
Dogtrot houses originated in the rural American south in the 1800s out of necessity. These homes — which feature a large, open breezeway that runs through the middle of the house — were designed to take advantage of cross breezes in the days before air conditioning or electricity. While dogtrot houses aren’t really necessary today, some homeowners still opt to draw inspiration from the style and incorporate elements of it into their house (see above).
Japandi — Japanese and Scandi — combines the rustic minimalism of Japanese design with the functionality of Scandinavian style. The Japandi aesthetic emphasizes simplicity, clean lines, natural elements, and light colors. Japandi design is a relatively new trend, but we’ve had an increasing number of clients reference it when sharing what exterior styles inspire them.
Friluftsliv is a Norwegian word that translates roughly to “open-air living.” Think homes with great indoor-outdoor flow and well-designed outdoor living spaces featuring functional, cozy decor. As with Japandi design, Friluftsliv-inspired designs often feature lots of natural elements.
Bonus Unique Design Words
In addition to the design words we’ve learned from our clients, we thought it’d be fun to share a few more terms that are lesser-known but equally interesting.
The main element of this architectural style is elaborately detailed embellishment, such as latticework and trim. In the design above, gingerbread trim adds character and charm to the Victorian home, which doubles as a flower shop. The trim also looks lovely with the feminine, playful siding colors — Sherwin Williams’ Plum Dandy and Fading Rose.
A cupola is a small dome-shaped structure on top of a building. Cupolas add dimension and visual interest to a building, as well as some extra space! In the design above, the cupola resembles a lighthouse to tie into the restaurant’s name.
Quoins are masonry blocks on the corner of a building. They’re often painted a different color or made from a different material than the rest of the wall to create visual interest, but, as demonstrated in the rendering above, they can also be painted the same color as the rest of a property’s exterior for a less dramatic look.
An oxeye is a small window, usually set in a dormer or second story, that’s round or oval-shaped. Oxeye windows are mainly decorative but may provide some natural light, too.
Unique Design Words That Excite and Inspire
We love working with clients to help bring their dream home to life — and learning from them along the way! We hope this roundup of design words provides you with some entertainment and gets you excited about your exterior design project.
If you want to grow your exterior design vocabulary even further, check out our exterior design dictionary.
From catios to covered patios, we’re here to help you visualize all sorts of design elements and updates for your home’s exterior before you start spending money on renovations. Get started on your exterior design project today.
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