A colleague is remodeling his house that was built in the late 80’s. It is on a spectacular river lot, but has some dead giveaways to its age. There are two things that have left him scratching his head – one on the inside and one on the outside. This week, we will focus on the outside.
His exterior dilemma are the quoins that grace (“infect” if you ask him) the corners of his home. You don’t see a lot of new homes using quoins on the corner - though recently I was surprised to have come across a brand new home with prominent use of them! This application has become dated.
Back in the 80’s, along with “big hair”, the prevailing architectural style in Florida is what we now call “banded” stucco – something that most of today’s builders avoid like the plague. These are homes with no discernable style, relying instead on a mish mash of gobblely gook from a variety of architectural styles. Another term might be blender-style. Buyers today gravitate towards true architectural styles with strong nostalgic roots and emotional pull. Quoins certainly had its hey-day, and some may look back fondly or not-so-fondly, but like big hair, it’s time to move on!
What are quoins anyways? A quick google search will reveal that quoins were a structural and decorative component for the corners of tall stone buildings. Think of medieval castle walls made of stones of various shapes and sizes and three, four or five feet thick. The large quoins were instrumental in giving strength and form to the corners.
Often, banded stucco houses from the 80's and 90's were looking for anything to add interest to the exteriors of homes that had been designed from the inside out – leaving the exteriors awkwardly playing second fiddle. This is especially true of houses with “snout” garages (garage forward, house back) as a way of attempting to distract your view of the protruding garage that threatened to visually overwhelm the house itself. Now when I see quoins, I see a misguided attempt to add style and interest to a home. There are better ways (color, for one) to go about this!
In the grand scheme of things, removing quoins is one of the simpler ways to freshen up a home’s exterior. As we know, most of the quoins used are not structural and are probably made of styrofoam. They can easily be removed, but would leave an ugly scar requiring the exterior to be re-stucco-ed. In some cases, the placement of windows could look strangely off balance if the quoins were oversized. My advice is use sleight of hand by planting large bushes in front of the quoins and shifting the focus to the front door with either an accent color or a front porch element.
One could argue that quoins do have a nostalgic origin, and I would agree – to the dark ages. In new home construction, let's leave them out!