Household terminology

When you have your own place it might be helpful to know some of the basic household terminologies, especially if you’re redecorating, or refurbishing a property. This guide is the very basics in building 101…

Skirting board:

It runs around the base of the wall and the floor and takes all the scuffs to protect the plaster on the walls

Architrave:

This is the name given a narrow, often fluted piece of wood that runs around the room at about waist height. Originally used to stop chair backs from marking the walls it’s also a great way of breaking up a tall room and allowing for a change in decoration

Dado (rail):

This is the name given a narrow, often fluted piece of wood that runs around the room at about waist height. Originally used to stop chair backs from marking the walls it’s also a great way of breaking up a tall room and allowing for a change in decoration

Cornice:

This is the molding between the top of the wall and the ceiling. It used to be made of plaster and typically still is but can also be made of polystyrene. It can be used to hide an imperfect joint between wall and ceiling

Guttering:

On the outside of a property, there will be guttering, this is what takes the rainwater away from the roof.

A blocked gutter can cause a damp patch inside.

The downpipes are the long pipes running down the wall connected to the gutter at the edge of the roof.

The gutter next to the roof is normally attached to the facia board and the soffit board, this is the board that faces the ground. These used to be made of wood and need painting but nowadays they are commonly made of plastic, so painting is not needed.

Picture rail:

Another piece of fluted or molded wood that normally runs along the walls of a room about 25-50cm from the ceiling, originally this was a rail to suspend pictures from, more commonly now it’s used to break up the flat wall surface, and above the rail is often painted in the same colour as the ceiling to increase the illusion of height and space.

Balustrade:

Normally this is the term for the columns and rails that make up the open side of a stairway, or the columns and rails on the side of a balcony or maybe the upstairs landing.

Technically the posts are called balusters and the rail is normally a handrail (sometimes a coping rail), and they are primarily used for safety, however, they can come in many very fancy and decorative styles and allow gentle sectioning of rooms and area’s to create privacy and phased transition.

Bay window:

A bay window is one that extends out from the wall line, creating an increased light surface and a small area inside (Alcove) that both extends the room area and creates a small extra light area. It’s that curve in the wall, that is filled with windows, essentially – the one that normally faces the road and that people have shutters on.

It’s the perfect place for plants, as a reading nook or perhaps a desk where additional light is important.

Often these are not structural, and only have a small flat roof, although in many Victorian designs they were made two-story and in those cases do carry some structural importance. 

Bead:

Usually a reference to a small semi-circular piece of wood (sometimes plaster or mdf), a bead is used to finish off a feature or pin one in. Like a small piece of wood used in old window frames to hold the panes of glass in or around a hole in a ceiling (like a loft access).

Chimney Breast:

Normally houses built before the 1970s would have included a chimney structure, where this protrudes into the main rooms, this would be referred to as a chimney breast. It’s easy to fill these in if not needed, but be careful they are often structurally important and therefore don’t attempt to take them out without professional advice, and if you are going to re-instate one, again make sure you get advice, as if they have not been used for some time, the plaster and cement will have degraded and you might get leaks of smoke and carbon monoxide, as well as the risk of chimney fires!

Casement:

Often refers to the woodwork around old windows, often containing some mechanism (usually pulleys and ropes) that facilitate the operation of sash (sliding) windows.

Fanlight:

Normally referred to the semi-circular window often sitting over a door, often having sash bars, like the ribs of a fan. (For this we are not referring to actual fanlights that you see in European or Caribbean homes, designed to cool you down).

Finial:

This is an ornamental piece on top of a spire often found on the ends of curtain rails, banisters or on the top of a bedpost.

French windows and doors:

This normally refers to a set of windows or doors that are floor to ceiling, usually opening out onto a patio or balcony.

Half Landing:

A short landing space halfway up a staircase, often used where a staircase is turning 90 degrees.

Niche:

A recess in a wall, often used for a small ornament or statue.

Pillar:

An upright structure often made of brick or stone that supports something structural, like a lintel (structure that spans an area, like a window or door way), or the second story of a house, or a roof.

Sill:

Normally refers to the horizontal woodwork (can be stone or PVC nowadays) that goes at the bottom of a window or door frame.

Skylight:

Usually refers to a window placed in a roof to provide light more then a view.

Pelmet:

A narrow border of wood or cloth that frames and covers the mechanism of a curtain or blind.