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CIRCA School: Board + Batten

by Jon Valalik (photo of Cocke-Morris House by Universal Pops )

In CIRCA School, we uncover the fascinating facts behind everyone’s favorite old house details. Today we’re looking at board and batten, that very vertical way of laying wooden siding found on Carpenter Gothic homes!
The humble beginnings of the board and batten technique in American architecture illustrates the middle class craving for high style that’s found throughout history and extends to the present. It’s a common theme in most societies. This practice is only one example of one period in one corner of the world, but it’s a pretty neat one.

In recent decades, board and batten siding has become a popular wall treatment inside American homes. But many people may not be aware of its utilitarian history and connection with European architectural expression. The term “board and batten” describes a siding technique in which wide boards are laid side-by-side across the face of a building, and skinnier boards (battens) are placed above the seam where the wide boards meet. The technique plays an important functional role, in that the battens help to seal the gap between the boards, aiding in insulating the interior and preventing leaks and cracking that can occur when the larger boards expand and contract in different types of weather.
The popularity of board and batten siding thrived in the mid 19th century with the popularity of the American Carpenter Gothic style, which was based on European precedents but suited for more humble buildings. Employers of the Carpenter Gothic style used traditional Gothic elements to emulate their European counterparts, one of which was the implied sense of verticality. Vertical battens became a simple method of representing this aesthetic.

The board and batten Rose Cottage, built from an Andrew Jackson Downing sketch and located in Louisa, Virginia, is for sale for $369,000. Listing HERE.

Not only does the system of vertical boards and battens present a uniquely American way of showcasing the verticality of Gothic architecture, but it gives a distinctive and unobtrusive texture and rhythm to the façade of both modest and more extravagant structures. The board and batten system is a fine example of the Vitruvian virtues of strength, beauty, and utility; something any architecture lover can appreciate.

This board and batten home is Oakland, Maryland is for sale for $139,900. Listing HERE.



Jon grew up in South Carolina and studied Historic Preservation and Community Planning at the College of Charleston. His time in Charleston sowed a deep appreciation for both classical and vernacular styles and the importance of their conservation. He is currently working in Charlotte, North Carolina and hopes to break into the field of architectural preservation soon.


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