4 Surprising, Practical Reasons Behind Your Home’s Gorgeous Architectural Details

Design with function in mind. These old-world features weren’t created just for their good looks. Each was designed with a specific purpose in mind.

Well-organized mudroom with wainscoting
In high-traffic spaces like this mudroom, wainscoting protects the walls from dings and dents. Image: © 2014 Greg Perko

You see them on the most beautiful houses in the neighborhood -- they're romantic, fun, and add unmistakable character to a home. But while classic architectural details like dormers and bay windows look fantastic, they also add real value and functionality you might never have imagined.


Wainscoting in a home's mudroom

Wainscoting bestows textured detail and rich visual interest to an otherwise bland wall, but its origins are much more practical: adding insulation.

In 18th-century homes, pre-industrial stone walls tended to be cool and damp. Wood wainscoting absorbed heat and kept drafty rooms cozy. Today's modern insulation means wainscoting isn't necessary to warm up your room, but it does provides another benefit: protecting your plaster walls from dings and dents, especially in high-traffic areas like hallways, mudrooms, and tightly packed dining rooms.

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2. Bay Windows

Bay window in a breakfast room

Sure, bay windows transform an average room into a visual masterpiece. But their unique design also helps to modulate that room's temperature and airflow. Open the windows on all sides to ventilate your space with breezes from multiple directions -- ideal for airing out a stuffy winter bedroom or cooling down on a sticky summer day.

We'll even contend that bay windows can cheer you up: Their extra window surface area -- sometimes complete with a reading bench -- invites more sunlight into your home. And evidence indicates sunlight makes you happier.

Related: The Joys (Emotional and Financial) of Daylighting

3. Parapets

Parapet wall on a Spanish-style home
Image: Liz Foreman for HouseLogic

Originally designed to fend off intruders, parapets have found a new purpose in peaceful society: keeping a roof over your head in high winds. These small walls, commonly found bordering flat terraces or roofs, can prevent pressure from building up at your home's upper perimeter that possibly -- in the right (terrible) circumstances -- could "suck roofs off buildings," according to an article in "Building Science Insights."

So while you might think your parapet is just ornamental, it's actually preventing you from having a real-life "Wizard of Oz" moment. (Well, probably not -- but don't they look amazing paired with beautiful molding?)

4. Dormers

Dormer window on a house
Image: Liz Foreman for HouseLogic

The little windows sticking out from a roof are far from just decorative: Not only do they break up a flat expanse of shingles visually, but they also provide ventilation and light to an attic or upstairs living space. Best of all? Because they push out from a room, dormers drastically increase the livable space inside by forming an alcove or nook, potentially turning a drafty old attic into a sunny, cheerful bedroom.

Other options for adding space to your loft might involve raising the roof or lowering the ceiling height of your main floor, but dormers are a far more affordable -- and adorable -- solution to your small space problems.

Related: Classy Architectural Details for Your Home's Interior

Author photo of writer Jamie Wiebe
Jamie Wiebe

Jamie Wiebe is a writer and editor with a focus on home improvement and design. Previously, she worked as a web editor for "House Beautiful," "ELLE Decor," and "Veranda."