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Common Design Terms
Abacus - the slab of stone or marble or wood placed on the top of classical orders
Acanthus - a stylized leaf decoration largely identified with classic architecture
Analogous Color colors that are close or adjacent in their position in the spectrum or on the color wheel
Architrave - the lowest part of the entablature
Atrium - the passage that leads from the front door to a court, originally the hall of a classical or Roman house. In current usage, the term refers to a open space usually covered with glass.
Balustrade - a series of balusters (banisters) supporting a rail
Baroque Art - the period of Western art from (approximately) 1580-1720 (or late Renaissance), developed in Italy (Rome). Characteristics of this period include dynamic movement, theatrical effects, and elaborate ornamentation. For artists of this period, the outstanding achievement was the mastery of combining their skills of architecture, sculpture, and painting into an elaborate total work of art. Most famous places are the Vatican (not just the Sistine Chapel ceiling but the whole place), and other churches as the Catholic Church sought to build potent symbols of their power to pronounce their rule over the Protestants.
Basilica - the building type originally from the Romans that became the basis for the Christian church
Brick - a building material manufactured from natural clay and silica, with small amounts of lime and iron oxide. Red bricks are manufactured by burning in a kiln the iron, which converts to red oxide.
Capital - the distinguishing feature at the top of a column that identifies the order
Cartouche - an ornamental frame designed to contain a decoration, an inscription, or coat of arms. Can be painted, sculpted, engraved, or printed.
Casement - a hinged window frame that allows a window to open out or up
Cement - a building material manufactured by mixing lime and clay with water then dried in a furnace and ground into a fine powder.
Chair Rail - a wall molding originally designed to prevent the damage caused by chairs being pushed against the wall. Also a decorative feature located just above the dado.
Chiaroscuro - the treatment of light and shade originally attributed to 16th century Italian (especially the Florentines like Fra Angelico) painters. This is the contrast technique often used in fresco painting.
Coffered (ceiling) - the use of beams and cross beams that form a pattern of many sided sunken panels, which are often molded, decorated or carved
Color Wheel - a circular arrangement of hues in their "rainbow" or spectrum order of red, orange, yellow, green, blue, and violet
Column - the part of the classical order consisting of the base, shaft and capital
Complementary colors - colors on the opposite sides of the color wheel.
Composite Order - the first order used by the Romans, which incorporates the Ionic scroll and the Corinthian acanthus
Concrete - First used by the Romans, this material is a mixture of cement with broken brick or stone.
Conservatory - a room enclosed in glass, for growing and showing flowers and other plants
Corbel - a projecting timber or block usually supporting a horizontal member such as a beam
Corinthian Order - the Greek order distinguished by the stylized acanthus leaf on its capital
Cornice - a projected molding mounted where the ceiling and wall meet, or the top of the entablature
Crown Molding - an interchangeable term for cornice molding
Cupola - a small dome topping a turret or roof
Dado - the wall surface from the chair rail down to the molding or baseboard
Decorative Arts - a catch-all term for such art forms as ceramics, pottery, porcelain, furniture, glass, ivory, various decorative stone works, metalwork, textiles, most generally in interior decoration
Diaperwork - an overall pattern of small motifs, usually geometric shapes like square or diamond
Doric Order - often called the Greek order and distinguished by the projecting capital from the top of the shaft in a curving convex curve to the underside of the abacus. This is the plainest and sturdiest. Often the shaft is largest at the bottom and without a decorative base.
Dormer - a projection located in the slope of roof that usually contains a window
Egg and Dart - a decorative type of design primarily in moldings distinguished by a series of "v" shapes and ovals.
Elements - the parts of a room that make up the whole. Think of elements as architectural components. These are structural items as well and include floors, stairs, ceilings, window frames, doors, etc.
English Bond - A bricklaying technique in which the headers and stretchers alternate on each row
Entablature - the complete area of the architrave, frieze and cornice area that is supported by the column in a classical order
Fanlight - a transom-type window usually located over a door, shaped like a fan
Finial - an ornament on top of a spire, pinnacle, gable, etc.
Flemish Bond - a bricklaying technique in which the headers and stretchers alternate every other row
Floorcloth - a floor covering originally made of canvas that was often used to cover a large floor space for heavy traffic. They were painted primarily in geometric shapes and later in more elaborate motifs such as vines, acanthus, florals, and diaper.
Fresco the painting on moist lime plaster with water based pigments. Technique developed in Ancient Egypt and most often attributed to Florentine Renaissance painters.
Frieze - the middle element of the classical entablature between the architrave and cornice
Granite - a crystalline stone that is often used on the exterior because of its hard weathering characteristics.
Headers - the short side or face of the brick
Hip roof - a roof type with four sloped sides
Hue - the characteristics that describe and identify a color. The name of a color
Interior design - the planning, layout, and design of the interior spaces within a building
Intensity - the degree of purity or saturation of a color
Ionic order - the order developed by the Greeks, which has a capital and four distinctive volutes (scrolls)
Keystone - the center stone in an arch
Marble - A more rare and expensive form of limestone that is hard enough to retain a polish.
Marquetry - inlaid decorative technique on furniture, doors and floors using various colored woods or other materials
Materials - These are the fabrics and finishes, the furniture and drapery, decorative resources, hardware, etc.
Marbleizing - a decorative technique of painting or staining to resemble marble
Medallion Panel - a molded decorative feature on a plaster ceiling from which a light is suspended
Medium - the physical material with which a work of art is made - oil, paint, clay marble, ink, wood, concrete, glass, etc
Modillion - the series of brackets used under the cornice for building support
Molding - the ornamental strip of woodwork or stonework either recessed or in relief
Monochromatic colors - colors of a single hue
Palladian - the term used to describe the style of architecture made popular by Andrea Palladio, characterized by symmetrical staircases, porticoes, podiums, and piano nobile. His style has been in vogue since its inception in the 16th century. These designs hail from the ruins of ancient Rome and the writings of Vitruvius.
Palmette - ornament motif based on a palm leaf
Patera - a small oval or round ornament in classical architecture often decorated by flowers or leaves. The Patera symbolizes openness.
Pediment - a triangular decorative element usually located over a door, window, or fireplace. Often supported by columns
Piano Nobile - The floor of the main room in a large house that is usually above the ground floor
Pigment - mineral or organic colored matter that is mixed with a material that will bind and suspend it to create paint or ink
Pilaster - an upright, flat architectural element attached to a wall
Portico - a roofed entrance porch often supported by columns
Primary colors - the group of colors from which all other colors may be generated, but ones which cannot be generated from mixing
Proportion - the relationship between parts of a composition
Renaissance - the period spanning about 200 years from approximately 1300 to 1500 that started in Florence and spread throughout Europe. The movement spawned renewed interest in science, art and architecture and sparked far-reaching innovations in all of these fields
Roundel - a round ornament or a type of small window
Rustication - he effect of tooling building stones to give an exaggerated rough surface, commonly among the joints
Saturation - the vividness of a hue
Scale - size of something in relation to some known standard or recognized constant
Secondary color - the color that results from mixing two primary colors
Sfumato - a painting technique often attributed to Leonardo, recognizable by the gradual shading of tones. Think of blending, not sharply defined contours.
Shaft - the part of the column between the capital and the base
Skirting Boards - baseboards
Strapwork - a decoration of interlaced straps either carved in or applied to wood, stone or plaster
Spectrum - the visible bands of color produced when light passes through a prism, comprising red, orange, yellow, green, blue, indigo, and violet
Stretchers - the long side or face of the brick
Stucco - a smooth mixture of sand and limestone often used on exterior and interior walls
Terra Cotta - unglazed fired clay used for ornament, tiles, garden pots and dishes
Terrazzo - marble or stone chips set in mortar, then finished with a polish
Tetrad Color - a color scheme using four hues equally spaced on the color wheel
Tint - a form of color made lighter by mixing with white or light gray
Triad Color - a color scheme using three hues equally spaced on a color wheel
Tondo - a circular painting or medallion
Tracery - the ornamental treatment of intersecting ribwork, forming a pierced pattern. Often found on upper parts of a window in medieval or gothic styles of architecture
Trompe L'Oeil - a decorative effect that gives the illusion of an architectural detail, vista, or three-dimensional reality
Tuscan Order - a Roman order distinguished by plain (not fluted) shaft with a Doric-type capital
Valance - a short drapery that can conceal the tops of curtains. Also a decorative trim, board, or drapery that hangs from an edge
Value - the degree of lightness or darkness of a color in relation to white and black
Vault - an arched ceiling or roof
Vista - the view seen from a long narrow passage of trees or architectural elements
Vitruvian Scroll - an ornament made up of wavelike scrolls
Volutes - ascroll-like decoration.
Wainscot - the decoration of simple paneling on a wall of half or full height