Learn the Lingo: Vintage Features of Historic Homes

Real Estate Broker/Owner with MBA Broker Consultants CalBRE Broker #00983670

Article as published in The San Diego Realtor® magazine, pages 20-21.

by Regina P. Brown

Historic homes, often built over a century ago, capture the essence of a significant time period in history, or were inhabited by famous people.  Vintage homes are revered for their character, charm, and unique style.  Buyers seeking to purchase historic homes are searching for buildings that whet their architectural, scenic, cultural, or visual appeal.

Historically designated buildings, whether occupied or vacant, are carefully preserved and thoughtfully restored to the original carpentry.  Architectural styles include Georgian, Colonial, Victorian, Early California, Romanesque Revival, old world Spanish, Federal, and Greek Revival.

Following are some of the features to look for in historic homes.


Historic homes are visually attractive because of their unique hand-crafted exteriors.  Here’s a few things to look for:



Metal or wooden supports which appear to support the roof.  Often carved with ornate scrollwork or characteristic designs.




A set of thick, tornado-proof doors that open into a cellar underneath the home.



Triangular wall supports made of brick or stone, unique to Gothic styles architecture.





Exterior siding on a building, comprised of narrow slats of wood which overlap downwards.  Weatherboard is similar to clapboard, but the boards are wider.




Wall caps that serve as weather protection, but also designed to enhance the home’s architectural style.




A tall spike, common to the Gothic period, at the top of a roof, metal gate bars, cupola, or spire.






the panel directly below a cornice, and resting on the columns or piers.  It is often decorated with unique medallions or dentil designs.



A decorative metal or wood pieces that hangs under a porch, ornamental bracket, or cornice.




a small front porch stoop with support columns and a small pitched roof.




Stone, wood, or brick rectangles which overlap the corners of a wall to enhance the style.





Vintage homes may be recognized by their unique roof styles and vintage era towers:



Edge of the roof, finished with ornaments, or decorated with medallions, brackets, or dentil features.





Decorative wrought iron trim installed at the top or border of a roof.  Popular in Mansard architecture.




A roof-opening window in the attic.  Styles include Gabled dormer, Shed dormer, and Eyelid dormer.





A roof or porch top constructed of brick or stone walls, with some areas that rise above the flat areas.  Battlements are the sections that are lower than the tall sections.  A Crenalated parapet means that it has regular breaks.






Small porch slanted roof facing towards the front of a building, and popular in Classical Revival architecture.



Pent Roof

On a multi-story building, a slanted roof piece attached to the wall, above the lower story, often wrapping around the entire building.






Round, tall room with a pointed top.  A Tourelle is a smaller tower with corbel trim.  A Turret is a corner tower.  A Cupola is a square or octagon shaped tower at the top of a roof, often with a decorative weathervane on top.





Historic homes often feature columns on porches, exteriors, and interiors.



Are round support pillars, with classic architectural detailing.




Refers to the bottom portion of a column, often a thick base which is slightly decorative, and matches the architectural style of the capital at the top.




Is the decorative finish with vertical grooves.





Refer to the decorative caps at the top of the columns.  Capital architectural styles include Roman, Green, Corinthian, and Ionic.





Are narrow columns attached to a wall, which appear to be free-standing columns.



Pillar Columns

Are known simply as pillars.






Historic homes are recognized by their unique window styles.  Below are a few types of windows to watch out for.


Rounded or segmental arches that highlight a window or a door.




A half-circle shaped non-opening window placed above a doorway.  Decorative styles reflect the time period of the construction.




A 3-sided bay window with decorative support brackets.




A tall arched window with 2 side windows, popular in Colonial and Georgian homes.





Curved window with a pointed arch at the top.  Decorative metal designs highlight this Gothic style architecture.





A non-opening window placed above a door to bring light in the room, often multi-paned for visual effect.






Once you get inside the home, you and your buyers can admire the many unique characteristics of a historic home:


Chair Rail

Wooden strip of molding that is tacked horizontally mid-way up the side of a wall.  The purpose is to protect the wall from chair backs and to give a decorative, uniform finish.





A stone or wooden bracket / dentil, placed on a wall and having the appearance of holding up a roof, mantle, or shelf.





A wooden strip or panel placed flush against the top of a wall and ceiling.  Also seen on windows, walls, doors, and columns as a decorative feature known as a crown.




A small cubby hole inset in a wall, either square or arched, to display art.




Tudor Arch

An arched doorway or window that comes to a point at the top.  Common in Tudor Revival style architecture, also known as a 4-centered arch.





Wooden panel on the lower half of a wall, often with a chair rail above.  Panels may have trim or decorative patterns.





When you view a historic home, take a careful look at its unique features.  Perhaps the house is even listed on the “National Register of Historic Places”, which is quite an honor.  Even if only designated as a local landmark, it contributes aesthetic benefits to the local neighborhood.

With this handy guide, you will now be able to advise your home buyers who are seeking vintage charm and old-world character.  You may even want to specialize in selling historic homes in San Diego!


Read more in our "Learn the Lingo" series:

1) Backyard & Outdoor Structures: Learn the Lingo
2) View From the Windows: Learn the Lingo
3) Architectural Styles: Learn the Lingo - Part 1
4) Architectural Styles: Learn the Lingo - Part 2
5) Learn the Lingo: Luxury Bathrooms
6) Learn the Lingo: Fences & Gates
7) Learn the Lingo: Vintage Features of Historic Homes
8) The Kitchen: The Heart of the Home Can Be Gourmet
9) The Gourmet Kitchen: Everything and the Kitchen Sink
10) Open the Door of Possibilities (Exterior Doors)
11) The Difference a Good Door Makes (Interior Doors)
12) Tiles
13) Sustainable and Eco-Conscious Home Features (Part 1)
14) Sustainable and Eco-Conscious Home Features (Part 2)
15) Sustainable and Eco-Conscious Home Features (Part 3)
16) Roof Architecture – Don’t Let it Go ‘Over Your Head’
17) Let There Be Light Fixtures ... And There Are Many!
18) A Discussion of Ceilings Will Have You Looking Up
19) Fireplaces: Literally the Hearth of the Home
20) Learn the Lingo of Walls
21) Apply Your Knowledge to Major Appliances
22) Don't Be Floored By this Topic: It's Right Under Your Feet
23) HVAC / Mechanical Lingo
24) Rural Properties - A Sustainable Life "Off the Grid"
25) Land Usage, and Showing & Selling Rural Properties
26) The Dramatic Effect of Stairs and Staircases - A Flight of Fancy?
27) Electrical Components - Get Wired for Understanding
28) Learn the Lingo: Plumbing Fixtures (Part 1 of 2)
29) Learn the Lingo: Plumbing Fixtures (Part 2 of 2)
30) Swimming Pool and Spa Lingo


Posted by

Regina P. Brown
Broker, Realtor®, M.B.A., e-Pro, GREEN
California DRE # 00983670


Text copyright © 2011-2018 R.P. Brown, All Rights Reserved

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Comments (2)

Karen Fiddler, Broker/Owner
Karen Parsons-Fiddler, Broker 949-510-2395 - Mission Viejo, CA
Orange County & Lake Arrowhead, CA (949)510-2395

Great list of definitions. I think this is a very interesting blog post. Thanks. (I'm going to "like" as a "suggestion") 

Nov 05, 2014 02:12 AM
Inna Ivchenko
Barcode Properties - Encino, CA
Realtor® • GRI • HAFA • PSC Calabasas CA

I probably need to learn more of those. It is true, most of us probably have no idea what is fanlight or wainscot:)

Nov 05, 2014 05:01 AM