What's a Quoin? Corner Stones

A Defining Architectural Detail

detail of the corner of an ornate stone urban building
Traditional Florentine Architecture on Corner of San Giovanni and via De Martelli in Florence, Italy. Tim Graham/Getty Images (cropped)

Quite simply, a quoin is a corner. The word quoin is pronounced the same as the word coin (koin or koyn), which is an old French word meaning "corner" or "angle." Quoin has come to be known as the accentuation of a building's corner with short side header bricks or stone blocks and long side stretcher bricks or stone blocks that may or may not differ from the wall masonry in size, color, or texture.

Key Takeaways: Quoin

  • Quoin, which means "corner" in French, is a feature, usually decorative, found on the corner of a structure's exterior.
  • Quoins are "dressed" stone or wood, more finished or worked over to catch the eye.
  • Quoins are most common in Western architecture, particularly Georgian styles.

Quoins are very noticeable on buildings — as noticeable as a jerkinhead roof. Sometimes decorative quoins stick out more than their surrounding stone or brick, and very often they are a different color. The architectural detail we call the quoin or quoins of a structure is often used as decoration, defining space by visually outlining the geometry of a building. Quoins may have possible structural intent, also, to strengthen walls in order to add height. Quoins are also known as l'angle d'un mur or "the angle of a wall."

Architectural historian George Everard Kidder Smith has called them "Prominently beveled stones (or wood in imitation of stone) used to give emphasis to corners." Architect John Milnes Baker defines the quoin as "the dressed or finished stones at the corners of a masonry building. Sometimes faked in wooden or stucco buildings."

two-story stone house with jerkinhead roof, center door, white shutters, quoin decoration
Typical French House in Montmartin-Sur-Mer, Normandy, France. Tim Graham/Getty Images (cropped)

The various definitions of quoin emphasize two points — the corner location and the largely decorative function of the quoin. Like Baker's definition, "The Penguin Dictionary of Architecture" describes quoins as "dressed stones...usually laid so that their faces are alternately large and small." A "dressed" construction material, whether stone or wood, means that the piece has been worked to a particular shape or finish that is unlike but complementary to the adjoining materials.

The Trust for Architectural Easements points out that corners can be found in various parts of a structure, as quoins are usually "prominent" and may outline "windows, doorways, segments, and corners of buildings."

Quoins are most often found in European or Western-derived architecture, from ancient Rome, to 17th century France and England, and 19th and 20th century buildings in the United States.

Examining Uppark Mansion

Sometimes it takes multiple definitions to get a true sense of architectural details. Uppark Mansion, shown here in Sussex, England, can use all of the definitions above to describe its quoins — the corners of the building are emphasized, the stones are laid "alternately large and small" at the corners, the stones are finished or "dressed" and are a different color, and the "large, prominent masonry units" also outline the facade protrusion, acting like columns that rise to the Classical pediment.

Accentuated corners or quoins on a 17th century brick mansion in England, dormers, front pediment
Uppark Mansion in Sussex, England. Howard Morrow/Getty Images (cropped)

Built in approximately 1690, Uppark is a good example of how architectural details combine to form what becomes known as a style, which is really just a trend. Uppark's Classical elements of symmetry and proportion combine with medieval-era "stringcourse" — the horizontal band that seems to cut the building into upper and lower floors. The roof style invented by French architect François Mansart (1598-1666) is modified into the hipped slate roof with dormers we see here — all characteristics of what became known as 18th century Georgian architecture. Although used in ancient, Renaissance, and French provincial architecture, decorative quoins became a common feature of the Georgian style, after the rise of the line of British kings named George.

A National Trust property, Uppark House and Garden is remarkable to visit for another reason. In 1991, a fire gutted the mansion. The cause of the fire was workmen ignoring construction safety orders. Uppark is a fine example not only of quoins, but also of superior restoration and preservation of a historic manor house.

Sources

  • Baker, John Milnes. "American House Styles: A Concise Guide." Norton, 1994, p. 176
  • Editors of Encyclopaedia Britannica, quoin, https://www.britannica.com/technology/quoin
  • Fleming, John; Honour, Hugh; Pevsner, Nikolaus. "The Penguin Dictionary of Architecture, Third Edition." Penguin, 1980, p. 256
  • Smith, G. E. Kidder. "Source Book of American Architecture." Princeton Architectural Press, 1996, p. 646
  • The Trust for Architectural Easements. Glossary of Architectural Terms. http://architecturaltrust.org/outreach/education/glossary-of-architectural-terms/