Facade Plans Post 2 – A Cornice Vocabulary Primer

The first day of façade work is gonna be fun. I’ll triumphantly rip down the awnings, the capping around the windows, and the siding over the cornice. This will wait until after there is no danger of frost, probably next spring. All façade work including the brick and windows will then need to be done by fall so that the house is waterproof without the awnings.

IMG_9036

But let’s start at the top. The cornice is aesthetically important since it’s really the only decoration a flat-roofed rowhouse has, but it also has a function, partially protecting the façade from rain. At first I regretted having a wooden one, thinking the stamped metal ones would be easier to restore. Now I’ve thought better of it and feel much less intimidated by what I have under the ugly.

But today let’s take a very geeky look at how it’s put together.e. Though it has a distinctly Victorian look, my cornice has essentially the same parts as Classical architecture. And so I want to name them properly.

Cornice Detail

The drip edge is part of the roof. This is the roof’s highest point – there are no gutters and the downspout is on the back. I think the original would have been galvanized tin but now I have a modern aluminum one. I’ll probably dent it and call the roofer back to replace it. And today’s off-the-shelf aluminum drip edges are deeper than the traditional ones, so I’ll have to decide if I want a custom one, if I want to cheat the crown down, or if I’ll just let it partially obscure the crown and ignore it.

Then comes the crown. This part is where I most often see rot on other houses, so there’s a good chance I’ll be replacing it. Luckily it’s a standard molding.

Below the crown is the fascia, just a flat upright board. Behind the fascia is the soffit, a flat horizontal piece of wood. You can see that the fascia makes a drip edge, so I’m hoping most of the cornice is protected.

Below the soffit is the bed course, which is much bigger on my cornice than in Classical architecture, but it’s still the same thing. It’s mainly a big flat board with reeding cut into it, and I think I can count on that being in good shape. There are also 5 decorative brackets, 4 rosettes, and half round molding near the top and bottom. These fancy bits are often missing or damaged.

Below that is the frieze, which is technically not part of the cornice anymore. (Architecturally correct language would call all of it together an entablature – but I’ll avoid pretention and stick with cornice.) It’s also reeded and has 4 more rosettes that are smaller than the ones in the bed course. And below that is the foot molding, which is small enough that it might also be wrecked. Below all that there are 2 courses of brick set to look like dentils. I suppose we could call this the architrave.

So when it comes time to restore this, my fingers are crossed that the larger flat boards are all intact. I can use some Bondo if I need to. I’ll have new crown and foot moldings made out of good wood if I need to. Luckily I only need about 14 feet of each. This much of the job has to be done in Phase 2. The brackets and rosettes, not so much. If they’re in bad shape and I max out my budget again, they may have to stay down a while.

 

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16 thoughts on “Facade Plans Post 2 – A Cornice Vocabulary Primer

  1. Mary Elizabeth

    Thanks for the lesson! I never realized that the cornice had any function other than decorative. The classical architects must have taken a simply functional architectural feature and embellished it. (That would be similar to how columns simply hold up a porch roof, but the Greeks and Romans made them fancy and in different styles.)

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  2. John Feuchtenberger

    Chad, Bondo great stuff for patching last-legs cars, not so much for houses. Mineral-based, non-expanding, pops loose. (This from J.W.’s Bad Ideas Test Lab) But Abatron! Ah, that’s the ticket for rotten old house stuff. http://www.abatron.com/

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  3. Jo

    Don’t mind you sticking with “cornice” but why avoid pretention? Unless you think it pompous. As you know my sunroom is monikered “The Conservatory” which was very difficult for my contractor to get his mind around. He could barely say it without rolling his eyes. Jo @ Let’s Face the Music

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    1. Chad's Crooked House Post author

      “Cornice” would be universally understood. I saw the word entabulature in a diagram that’s probably 100 years old teaching Classical architecture. I’ve never heard anyone use it and no one would know what I was talking about. Your contractor may roll his eyes at “Conservatory” but I’d say it’s tied with “Sunroom” for being recognizable and to the point. I hate the term “Florida room” and if you use that I’ll hold a grudge. The only other word I’ve heard used is “porch.” But your conservatory is not an enclosed porch, nor does it look like one. You should get a couple of palms to live up to the name though!

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      1. Mary S.

        Late to the party, but just wanted to comment entablature is still taught in classes today. I had an architectural nomenclature class and we had to memorize all the parts of it, not that I remember all of them 🤣. Although I agree if not for that class I’d have no idea what it is.

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  4. Mary Elizabeth

    Speaking of contractors and their avoidance of fancy-schmancy terms, I have found that gardeners and even people who own greenhouses and nurseries cannot abide my pronunciation of Arborvitae. It is a Latin name, so I pronounce it like Latin–Ar-bor-VEE-tie. They always correct me, saying it should be pronounced Ar-ber-VIE-tee. And if I ask for a “tree of life” plant, they give me blank looks. “What’s that? Never heard of it.”

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    1. Mary Elizabeth

      Mary, if you put it on your American walls before paint, it’s PRY-mer, but if you read from it in a first-grade classroom, it’s PRIM-er. Not sure about British and Canadian English, though! They might put PRIM-er on their walls.

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  5. Pingback: 4 Year Anniversary Tour – The Exterior | Chad's Crooked House

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