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CIRCA School: Quoins

In CIRCA School, Amanda uncovers the fascinating facts behind everyone’s favorite old house details. Today’s lesson is on quoins, those Tetris-like stacked “blocks” that line the corners of buildings.
When it came to my architectural history classes, I was one geeky undergrad (well, I was probably geeky in general, but that’s another story). I just loved it all! Besides being able to travel the world and go back in time without leaving the lecture hall, my professors gave me an appreciation for the many wonderful layers that make up old buildings. The transformation of many architectural features from structural to decorative was a topic that always fascinated me. And so on that note, I thought today we could chat about quoins. An unusual word, isn’t it?

quoins-circlePronounced “coins”, this Old World detail is much more than just a great word to have in your Scrabble vocabulary – beginning in the 18th century, they actually once structurally strengthened the corners of old houses. Kind of like the Hercules of old house details!
Made from quarried stone, these blocks, stacked one on top of another in an alternating pattern, provided a strong and smooth edge. Those irregularly-shaped rubble stones found in the field? All well and good for the walls, but when it came to keeping the corners nice and vertical (and less prone to water leaks), quoins came in to save the day. And as times changed, people couldn’t help but keep quoins around as a purely ornamental detail. They still give a house a sense of strength, wouldn’t you say?
From Georgian homes to 20th century eclectic styles, beautiful looks were created by contrasting brick facades with stone quoins, and vice versa. Brick homes also featured quoins made of painted, rubbed, or raised brick. Really great stuff. You know, for a detail that adds a lot of visual muscle to old homes, I have to say that quoins bring their fair share of elegance, too!


Amanda is an historic preservationist living in New York City with a particular fondness for fixer-uppers. She can be spotted checking out quirky historic details here, there, and everywhere in her handmade dresses. Every time Amanda sees a cozy room with large windows and beautiful built-ins she can’t help but imagine her very own sewing nook with oldies music playing in the background.


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