What Is a Bargeboard? What Is a Vergeboard?

Victorian Choices to Decorate a Gable

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Craven, Jackie. "What Is a Bargeboard? What Is a Vergeboard?" ThoughtCo, Nov. 19, 2016, thoughtco.com/what-is-a-bargeboard-vergeboard-177500. Craven, Jackie. (2016, November 19). What Is a Bargeboard? What Is a Vergeboard? Retrieved from https://www.thoughtco.com/what-is-a-bargeboard-vergeboard-177500 Craven, Jackie. "What Is a Bargeboard? What Is a Vergeboard?" ThoughtCo. https://www.thoughtco.com/what-is-a-bargeboard-vergeboard-177500 (accessed October 20, 2017).
Detail of bargeboard trim on Martha's Vineyard house in Massachusetts
Detail of bargeboard trim on Martha's Vineyard house in Massachusetts. Photo by Gary D Ercole/Photolibrary Collection/Getty Images (cropped)

Bargeboard—also called vergeboard—is exterior house trim, usually ornate, along a gable. Originally, this trim was used to hide the ends of rafters. It hangs from the projecting end of a gable roof. Bargeboards are often elaborately carved and ornamented. Homes in the Carpenter Gothic style have highly ornamented bargeboards.

Definitions of Bargeboard:

"A board which hangs from the projecting end of a roof, covering the gables; often elaborately carved and ornamented in the Middle Ages."— Dictionary of Architecture and Construction, Cyril M. Harris, ed., McGraw-Hill, 1975, p. 40
"Projecting boards placed against the incline of the gable of a building and hiding the ends of the horizontal roof timbers; sometimes decorated."— The Penguin Dictionary of Architecture, 1980, p. 28

Bargeboards Attach To:

  • barge rafters
  • barge couples
  • fly rafters
  • gable rafters

Examples of Bargeboard:

  • Helen Hall House, West Dundee, Illinois, c. 1860, remodeled c. 1890 (view image)
    Photo ©Teemu008 on flickr.com, Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 2.0 Generic
  • Residence in Hudson, NY (view image)
    Photo by Barry Winiker/Photolibrary/Getty Images

Frequently Asked Questions:

Why is it called barge board? What's a barge?

Although barge can mean a type of boat, this "barge" comes from the Middle English word berge, meaning a sloping roof. In roof construction, a barge couple or barge rafter are the end rafters; a barge spike is a long spike used in timber construction; and a barge stone is the projecting stone when a gable is built of masonry.

Is bargeboard always placed up near the roof?

Yes, on the piece of roof that overhangs to form a gable. In revivals of Tudor and Gothic style architecture, the pitch of the roof can be very steep. Originally the end rafters—the barge rafters—would extend beyond the wall. These rafter ends could be hidden from view by attaching a bargeboard. The house could achieve greater decoration if the bargeboard was intricately carved. It was a functional architectural detail that has become purely ornamental and character defining.

Can I remove a rotten bargeboard?

The bargeboard is ornamental, and is not necessary. However, you'll change the look—even the character—of your home if you remove the bargeboard and do not replace it.

Do I have to replace a rotted bargeboard with the same style?

Not if you don't want to, but you'll have to check if you're in a historic district. Your local historic group will want to see what you're doing.

Can you buy bargeboard?

Yes, you can. Today it's sometimes called running trim or gable trim.

Should I buy plastic bargeboard made of PVC so it won't rot?

Well, you could, if your house is not in a historic district. However, because bargeboard is an architectural detail found on houses of certain historic eras, would you really want to use plastic? You're right that PVC may last longer than wood, and this trim area does have the potential for a lot of moisture runoff. But vinyl or aluminum that is sold as "virtually no maintenance" does require cleaning and repair, and it's likely to age differently (for example, the color) than the other materials on your house. Mixing wood or masonry with plastic may make your house look a bit artificial. Bargeboard is a decorative detail that gives a house character. Think hard about detracting from the natural character of your home by using a synthetic material.

Can I make my own bargeboard?

Yes, you can! Buy a book of historical designs and experiment with different patterns and lengths. Remember, though, that bargeboard will be easier to paint before you attach it to high places.

Other Names and Spellings for Bargeboard:

  • Barge Board
  • Gableboard
  • Vergeboard or Verge Board (verge being the end or edge of a thing)

Final Thoughts:

In older, Victorian-era homes, bargeboards may have already disintegrated, fallen off, and never replaced. Think about adding this detail to your home. Look at the many books that illustrate historic designs, and either make it yourself or contract out the job. Engage the local public school "shop" teacher to make your project into a student project. Ensure the proper permissions (e.g., historic commission, building code) before going ahead with any project that changes the look of your house.

Good luck!

  • The Victorian Design Book: A Complete Guide to Victorian House Trim, 1984
    Buy on Amazon
  • 200 Victorian Fretwork Designs: Borders, Panels, Medallions and Other Patterns, Dover Pictorial Archive, 2006
    Buy on Amazon
  • Roberts' Illustrated Millwork Catalog: A Sourcebook of Turn-of-the-Century Architectural Woodwork, Dover, 1988
    Buy on Amazon