Architectural Elements and Features
For Your Home

Architectural elements have the ability of giving a plain room some incredible detail and personality. Reclaimed architectural pieces, available through building salvage and restoration warehouses, are "hot ticket" items. Put some of these reclaimed relics to use in your designs to add some customized drama.

Architectural features can be implemented in existing rooms, added during renovations or included in the initial design stages of your home. Authentic, reclaimed items can get pricey yet there are many ways to replicate these features from "yester-year" while still giving your home the custom details you desire.

Vintage Solid Oak Door

Architectural elements can be amazingly simple. Many we take for granted and already have in our homes. Chair rail and crown moulding are often standard features in new construction. But what about "amping-up" a fireplace with a reclaimed mantel or creating a grand entry with a 19th century door?

An easy way to add some instant charm from the past is through the use of antique architectural lighting or hardware. Also consider suspending a unique piece of stained glass or a framed, leaded-glass window in your existing picture window. Look for cut-glass door knobs. Just be sure to take measurements beforehand in regard to spindle size if you plan on using them as functioning knobs.

Look for salvaged columns or pillars either from the interior or exterior of salvaged buildings. Some porch columns can make a neat presence as a free-standing piece leaning in the corner of a room. Or better yet, buy a pair and use them to create an archway to divide a large room or to define an area with class. If you can't find any tall enough for your space, build a half wall to make up the difference. If you are really handy or want to hire a carpenter, have one cut in half, lengthwise, and attached to the sides of built-in bookshelf or to the sides of an entry to make a grand statement.

In the images below you will see some architectural elements replicated to save money and some actual salvaged pieces put back to use.

I'm no carpenter, so hire a professional to implement some of these ideas into your own home as I had to do.

Columns, Pillars and Beams

Custom Wood Pillar

A decorative pillar "builds out" a corner in a living/dining combo and meets an upper support beam.
A hollow crossbeam adds some architectural style
and interest in this vaulted room.

Tip: Decorative pillars can be used in basements to hide unsightly,
load-bearing, support columns.

Custom Architectural Elements
Another view of the beams and pillars.
All of these beams are hollow, boxed planks of wood.

Decorative Crossbeam
This decorative crossbeam (top of image) hides
an overhang for the load-bearing floor joist above.

Tip: Decorative beams can be used to "box in" and hide floor joists
or bulkheads where ceiling heights change (seen above).

Ceiling Beam
Faux support beams like this one are simple to make. In addition to giving rooms extra visual interest, they can hide electrical wiring, surround-sound and even ductwork.

Fun Fact: Columns are considered functional supports
while pillars are their "decorative" equivalent.


Arched Doorway

A custom, curved archway creates a dramatic entry from the main living areas to the sleeping quarters.

Note how the "arch shape" is repeated with the hall closet and then inverted in the slope of the stair rail.

Custom Woodwork

The arch of the hall closet also includes a keystone which is another architectural element used in structure; in this case, decoratively.

This view also shows a secondary archway which leads to a triangular shaped "landing" where two opposing door entries are set at 45 degree angles (seen below).

Angled Entryway
The custom woodwork continues with the door casings.

Wall Paneling and Wainscoting

The "well-known" wainscoting is a feature that dates back to the 16th century. Although it does not provide structural support typical of architecture, it is still categorized as an architectural element.

Wainscoting originally was developed to mask dampness that would often absorb in the lower portions of walls. It also assisted as an insulating buffer. Today, as homes are better built to combat such destructive forces as dampness and moisture, wainscoting is employed primarily as a decorative embellishment. Besides being decorative, it is an excellent solution for "hiding" cosmetically defective walls or for retro-fitting older homes with upgraded electric.

I use wainscoting often in my interior design renovations and have it in all the first level rooms of my home.

Frugal Tip Use beadboard to create wainscoting. Choose pine or primed MDF options if you are going to paint it. You can get 8 ft. x 4 ft. sheets for under $20.00.

Consider other, less-expensive alternatives in the beadboard family such as pine v-groove paneling or pine pickwick plank paneling. Stain it for a rustic look or go classier by painting it a gloss or semi-gloss white for a more contemporary feel.

Wainscoting Used In A Dining Room
A rich stained chair rail and baseboard really
"set off" this wainscoting accent color.

Wide Plank Wainscoting
An eat-in kitchen's wainscoting uses wider width planks.

Custom Plank Wall
This wainscoting is comprised of individual planks.

Wainscoting Used In A Bathroom
Substantial character in this bathroom.

Custom Church Paneling
A more unique approach, this wainscoting consists of thin panels of wood detailed with vertical slats of moulding to replicate decorative church paneling. A very rich look.


Besides using salvaged stained glass or leaded-glass windows as decorative features as mentioned earlier, consider adding them as a functional element in your home during design renovations or initial building stages.

Architectural Curved Arch Window
A reclaimed, hinged window was incorporated
during a bathroom renovation.

Functional Hinged Window
This functional window makes an impressive statement in this shower surround and provides adequate ventilation.

Consider purchasing salvaged pieces, such as the window above,
to incorporate as architectural elements in your home.


Don't forget your ceilings. There are many neat tricks you can do to really dress them up and give them some architectural detail. Crown moulding is an easy addition to quickly add drama to a space, giving it a more formal feel. Layer two different styles on top of each other for even more detail. Unify the look with a solid paint color. White trim is classy and timeless.

Coffered ceilings are just cool and can be easily made with strips of moulding. Create a grid pattern directly over your previously painted ceiling. If you know your cuts will fit properly when adhered or attached to the ceiling, you can pre-paint them to save you some time from masking everything off. Paint them a shade darker than your ceiling so the recessed panels (the actual ceiling) develops an illusion of more depth. Or paint them the same color but in a semi-gloss or gloss paint for a more subtle yet sophisticated look.

Rather than spanning the coffered ceiling from wall to wall, you can create an inset rectangle or square shape in the middle of your ceiling while leaving some border around the perimeter. Only "coffer" this inset area. Create the grid so that a chandelier or light fixture hangs directly in the center most recess.

Create or purchase a central ceiling medallion for your ceiling mounted lighting. This looks especially good with a decorative chandelier, creating more formality. The pre-made ones are a quick and easy architectural addition.

Frugal Tip Many of the architectural features discussed can be replicated to look or mimic the real thing. Although creating your own relinquishes the authentic charm of an original piece, the cost savings are often worth it.

If you'd like to learn more about architectural elements, features
and terminology, this Architectural Dictionary is a great resource
of excellent photo examples and pronunciations.

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