Architectural Styles: Structural Elements

Every house has a unique architectural style, and sometimes it has two or more. Renovations and new, eclectic mixes make fitting a home into one specific category daunting or even impossible. Thankfully, there’s no need to memorize complicated architectural terminology. REALTOR® Magazine has compiled a guide to common residential structural elements. Read about the details that give a home character, history, and romance.

Also see: Architectural Styles: Residential

Jump to: Arches | Columns | Dormers | Moldings | Roofs | Windows




Flat arches are either level or have a slightly curved arch. This arch has supportive voussoirs, which are wedge-shaped stones or bricks.


Gothic arches, also called pointed arches, are narrow and pointed at the top. They were seen during the Gothic period in Europe from about middle 12th century to the 16th century. In the late 19th and early 20th centuries in America, a Gothic Revival style incorporated these pointed arches into homes and buildings.


Moorish arches, also called Horseshoe Arches, have an exotic shape. They're most likely to be seen on commercial buildings such as theaters. A Moorish Revival style of the early 20th century in America reintroduced this arch style into the architecture scene.


Roman arches are semi-circular and were first used widely by Roman engineers. Using arches and concrete, the Romans were able to build on a previously unseen scale. This rounded arch style is seen today in the Spanish Colonial architectural style and the Richardsonian Romanesque style, as well as others based on Classical Roman architecture.


Segmental arches have a partial curve, like an eyebrow. One of the earliest examples of a segmental arch in the West is the Ponte Vecchio Bridge in Florence, Italy, which was built in the 14th century.


Tudor arches have a low point and are seen mostly on Tudor Revival and Gothic Revival styles of architecture, both popular in the late 19th and early 20th centuries in America. These arches are based on the architecture of the English Tudor period of the 16th century.



Corinthian columns have capitals with two rows of carved acanthus leaves and four spirals sprouting over the leaves. This style of column was originally Greek but was more widely used by the Romans.



Doric columns are used in the Doric order of Architecture, one of the three widely-seen Classical orders of architecture originating from ancient Greece. Doric columns have capitals with a simple curved molding. They were more typical of ancient Greek architecture than of Roman architecture.


Egyptian columns often have a lotus motif on the capital. Originally used during Ancient Egyptian times, this style re-appeared during the Egyptian Revival style seen during the late 18th and 19th centuries as well as in the Art Deco style in the early to mid 20th century. They became particularly fashionable, along with all things Egyptian, in the years following Howard Carter's discovery of King Tutankhamen's tomb in 1922.


Ionic columns have a capital with two spirals, called volutes, and relatively slender shafts. The Ionic Order of architecture was seen during both ancient Greek and Roman civilizations though in Greek architecture the shafts are more likely to be fluted and in Roman architecture they are more likely to be plain.


Romanesque columns were originally seen in the Romanesque style of architecture in Western Europe from the 9th century to the 12th century. Romanesque, also known as "Norman" in France and England, had a revival in the 1800s where the columns typical of the style, with simple curved moldings, were fashionable. The American architect Henry Hobson Richardson (1838-1886) put his own spin on the Romanesque style in what is called Richardsonian Romanesque; this was quite popular in the 19th century.



Eyebrow dormers have a low upward curve, with no distinct vertical sides, allowing for a curved window that looks much like an eye behind sleepy eyelids. Eyebrow dormers are often seen in shingled roofs, particularly in the Shingle style of architecture popular in the late 19th century.


Gable dormers have a gabled roof, with two sloping planes that meet at a central ridge. During the English Tudor period in the 16th century, dormers with gable roofs were typical.


Hipped dormers have a hipped roof with three sloping planes that meet at the top. Prairie Style and Craftsman houses will sometimes have hipped dormers, as will most homes with a hipped roof.


Inset dormers are also called recessed dormers. Unlike most other dormers, which extend out from a roof, this style is set back into the roof, creating a much different look.


Shed dormers have a roof with a single sloping plane that extends over the window. This style of dormer is seen in a wide variety of architectural styles, including Arts & Crafts and Colonial Revival.



Cavetto is a concave molding that is a quarter-round. It is used for crown molding as a transition from wall to ceiling planes.

Cyma Recta

Cyma recta has a concave curve over a convex curve. It is essentially a cavetto over an ovolo and was traditionally used in Classical architecture in the cornice and architrave.

Cyma Reversa

Cyma reversa, also called an Ogee, is the opposite of cyma recta; it has a convex curve over a concave curve. Like Cyma Recta, it was used in Classical architecture in the cornice or architrave of a building.


Hood molding is the projection from a wall over an arch. This type of molding, seen typically in Gothic architecture, was used to protect the archway from rainwater. It also serves as a decorative frame for the top of an arch.


Label molding is a horizontal projection over a window or doorway that drops vertically to about a third of the way down the sides of the opening. This type of molding, like hood molding, is used to divert rainwater away from a doorway or window. Label molding was used in Gothic and Tudor architecture.


Ovolo is a convex molding that is a quarter-round. It is a Classical molding that is often seen with decorative motif on it.


Scotia is a concave molding that curves to a half-round, creating a semi-circle or half an ellipse. It was typically used in Classical architecture at the base of a column.


Cross Gable

Cross gable roofs have two or more gable rooflines that intersect. A house with a basic gable roof will have a rectangular shape, but a house with a cross gable roof can have a more complex shape and therefore a more complex layout.

Front Gabled

Front-gabled houses have a gable roof and the front door is under the gable. The gable is the area at the front and back of the house beneath the pitched roof that follows the roofline. It is typically triangular. A gable roof is very common and has two sloping planes that meet in a central ridge.

Gambrel Roof


Gambrel roofs have a shallow slope over a steep slope. This roof is typical of the Dutch colonial architectural style and is also frequently seen on barns.


Hipped roofs slope in four directions. The "hip" is the angle formed where two sloped sides meet. This roof is used with many different architectural styles and is said to stand up to hurricane winds better than a gable roof.


Mansard roofs have four sloping sides, like a hipped roof, and each side has a shallow slope over a steep slope, similar to a gambrel roof. There are almost always dormers in a mansard roof. Mansard is named after the French architect Francois Mansart (1598-1666), who was known to use this style of roof. This roof style was particularly popular in the latter half of the 19th century, and is often seen on Victorian row houses.

Pavilion Hipped

Pavilion Hipped

Pavilion-hipped roofs have four sloping planes that meet in a single point. They are sometimes also called pyramid-hipped roofs and are typically used on smaller buildings, such as garages or pool houses.


Saltbox roofs are typical of colonial architecture in New England. A saltbox house is two stories high in the front and has a low sloping roofline in the back of the house. It is named after its resemblance to saltboxes used in colonial times.

Side Gabled

Side gabled is descriptive word for a house with its front door under the side of a gabled roof. Examples can be seen in many residential styles, from ranch houses to Georgians.



Bay windows project from the side of a house, adding light and extra square footage to a room. The area inside a bay window creates a cozy nook, well-suited for a window seat or a dining area.


Bow windows project from the side of a building like bay windows, only with a curved shape. It's typically more expensive to build a bow window than a bay window.

Box Bay

Box bay windows project from the side of a house. They have a square shape with 90-degree angles at the corners. The shape of the window creates a shelf that's ideal for added space in front of a kitchen sink or a desk.


Casement windows hinge on one side of the window frame so they open like a door. These are widely used in both traditional and contemporary design. Casement windows are typical of the Tudor style of architecture and are particularly convenient over a kitchen sink where it's easier to open a window with a hand crank than to lean over a countertop and push up.


Double-hung windows have two sashes that slide up and down vertically. Early double hung windows had many panes of glass per sash and were called "12 over 12," meaning 12 panes per sash. This is a common type of window that is quite versatile, as you can open it a little or a lot from either the top or the bottom.


Oriel windows project from the side of a building, like a bay window, but are located on the second floor or higher and supported by brackets or columns. Oriel windows bring added light and space into a room and have been used in many styles of architecture.


Paired windows are two windows next to each other, oftentimes under an arch. The support between the windows is called a mullion.


Palladian windows are named after the 16th century Italian architect Andrea Palladio, who used this window design in developing what is known as the Palladian style of architecture. This window will be a focal point in a room and has been widely used in a variety of traditional architectural styles.


Ribbon windows are a row of windows separated by vertical posts, called mullions. Ribbon windows can be used high on a wall to bring added light to a room. Ribbon windows installed near the ceiling are called clerestory windows.