We know we aren’t alone in our love for the arch. But is an arch right for every house? Are there some homes or rooms that an arch just shouldn’t live in? (For the sake of ease and fun “Arch” is both a noun and a verb in this post). Who can “arch” and who shouldn’t? Is every arch made equal? 2018 was “The Year of the Arch” and when we first started seeing it pop up into so many amazing designs. But three years later while we still love it, we do want to explore whether or not every house should “arch” or what exactly are the parameters around the hottest way to design a doorway in 2021 and beyond.
Let’s go ahead and recognize that the arch is not new in architecture, just ask the Roman Coliseum, The Great Wall of China, and the Roman Aqueduct. It started with an architectural purpose: when spanning great lengths, an arch is stronger than a squared-off beam because there isn’t only one weak point in the middle, there is a sort of diagonal compression that makes it stronger (don’t quote me, but based on my research you get it). That’s why bridges are arched instead of flat. The original arch builders definitely didn’t add arches to garner Instagram likes, they had a purpose.
Like most things, an architectural element with a function can also become decorative and start infiltrating areas where strength doesn’t matter – the arch just looked good. While I did love deep-diving into the history of the arch, let’s fast forward to well, NOW. Why would you put in an arch in 2021 if it’s not for structural reasons?
Reasons To Add An Arch:
- To bring in architectural interest through a contrasting shape – A soft circle to all those hard lines. A house is typically full of 90-degree angles and often can feel like a box what with the floor/ceiling/wall/wall formula. An arch adds a softer shape that makes it feel more interesting.
- To create a nook – An unexpected moment of coziness that you feel like you step into.
- A way to make pass-through spaces special – The transitions between rooms – are more interesting and feel like they have some sort of identity.
- To simply make a space feel more interesting – Adds more architectural interest.
Types Of Arches
- The semi-circle (or half circle) arch – The ‘arch du jour/decade’ is an exact semi-circle at the top. We love how simple it is and feels just as good in a really contemporary space.
- The Gothic arch – Think church archways that meet at a point. This can be trickier in many architectural styles, but if you are into churches then go for it.
- The soft archway – This one is less continuous, it goes up straight then has a lower and more elongated arch. I think this looks so pretty in Georgian or colonial-style homes.
Don’t Do a “Random Arch”
An arch would ideally be an architectural feature that you bring in consistently throughout your home. Like most architectural elements, it’s best to have it be a part of the story of your home, regardless of your home’s style, to make your home look and feel cohesive. Take Sarah Sherman Samuel – she can arch like no one else.
Consider Your Architectural Style
While we always want to promote all forms of creativity, we also want to help you avoid falling into expensive trend mistakes when renovating. While arches (or versions of an arch) exist very organically in Mediterranean, Spanish, and Moroccan style homes (and dope new builds), the semi-circle arch is less architecturally relevant in some newer, more American style homes – think Craftsmen, Georgians, and Tudors. But other types of arches could totally work in those, too. That doesn’t mean that you can’t do something interesting where you would arch. Just do some research and then do it consistently. Like at our Tudor it had this version of an arch:
If You “Arch” Into A Room You Have To Arch Out Of It (Don’t Mix Doorway Styles)
There are of course exceptions to this, but if you are using the arch as your doorway, don’t mix different shaped doorways and all of a sudden have a normal square. It might look like you are just trying to put an arch into your house because you like them, not that it should exist there.
Also, be careful not to add an arch to make your house look like a Tuscan or Italian villa – generally trying to go old-world, and copying an architectural style that originated on a different continent in NEWer construction is dangerous. It can look very Real Housewives/McMansion-y. There are so many in, of course, California Mediterannean bungalows, but I’d say if you are building new be careful about trying to replicate an older style (and instead just do something fresh).
So then with these rules and guidelines, I’m looking at the past projects I’ve done and wanted to see if there was an appropriate opportunity to put in an arch? Did I miss an arch moment??
The Mid-Century Modern Glendale Home – Now you might think that this mid-century couldn’t handle an arch, then you look at Sara Shermans Samuel’s house and my goodness it’s just awesome. But for this particular house, I probably wouldn’t have because it really would have mainly been the hallway doors.
The LA Tudor – As seen in the graphic earlier in the post, it would be a for sure no for me.
The Portland Project – I suppose the office/living room/dining could have had soft arches instead. So a total option. But also I really love how it turned out.
The Mountain House – I guess I could have but not sure with that big A-frame. However, it could have 100% worked but so happy with what we did.
So there you have it. My three big guidelines I think everyone should consider before arching. Renos with no regrets is what I hope to help everyone with (which is why I’m writing a book about it:)) Ok now let’s talk about arches. See you in the comments. xx
Opening Image Credits: Photo by Sara Ligorria-Tramp | From: Living Room Update – Again
The Parthenon is an Athenian temple! It is so beautiful and so worth the trek up the Acropolis but known for its romanesque arches…nope, not even ones that might look good in a contemporary setting! Why? Because it doesn’t have any!!!
Read it and went down in the comments just to say that!
Like, arches were THE Roman innovation that allowed them to build bridges and aqueducts that are still standing to this day…
(plus opus caementicium and all the engineering, of course. Still, it was the cornerstone — ah! — of their architecture)
And the empire’s reach was so extensive that you don’t even have to go to Italy to see the best of its architecture. France and Croatia have some stunning examples – the city of Nîmes (where denim hails from) is a roman wonder and the (relatively) nearby Pont du Gard is a stunning viaduct, and then Pula in Croatia has an almost complete Colosseum that, to me, seemed even more impressive than Rome.
Probably because the one in Pula wasn’t used as a stone quarry, cattle barn, or workshop throughout the middle ages and up to the Eighteenth century.
But yeah, Europe is positively chock full of Roman arched remains.
If there’s a bridge with ‘devil’ in its name, 9 out 10 it’s a Roman bridge whose arch later people thought was so unbelievably sturdy and graceful that the devil himself must have built it.
I actually live in Italy, albeit in a city that doesn’t have much Roman heritage (Milan). The nearest amphitheatre is the Arena in Verona, and we still use that for the opera…
So true! I think also because Rome is so hustle-bustle (y’know for the tourist who doesn’t think of themselves as a ‘tourist’!) and Pula is so laid back it just seemed more accessible too. But Milan has the Duomo, that’s beyond impressive. I lived in Brussels for years and also Germany, and travel on mainland Europe is so accessible. Living now in my little part of West Cork my old haunts seem very far away.
Em must have been thinking of something else! All edited!
Presumably the Pantheon in Rome, with its oculus in the dome…
This makes me think of all the Richardsonian Romanesque buildings that are all over Boston – works great for the vernacular of the area, but probably weird somewhere else. And covered in stone archways.
If you love arches like I do, but adding one architecturally isn’t appropriate to your home or just not feasible, there are lots of ways to add that shape to your space! Cabinets, shelves, or furniture, folding screen, mirrors, oversized art (architecture, doorway, etc) featuring the shape, paint a faux one…
That would be a great addendum to the post!!! Shelves, bookcases, cabinets etc that could bring those arches in …..
To me, this is kind of like adding fake beams on a ceiling. I guess some things like beams and arches look cool to people who don’t know better, but if you know better, it makes you cringe. I can go along with using an arch for interest, but it’s tricky. I think it’s smarter to go an architect who knows the styles and what is appropriate, rather than trying to figure it out for oneself.
Yes, the fake beams! Definitely get a 😬 reaction from me.
I’m adding faux beams in my reno/addition. It was too expensive to do it structurally. You’ve got to work within your budget. They don’t always look tacky.
It’s not that they’re tacky- because they can look very nice. It’s that they are fake- not needed for structure.
Yeah, I get that. I have a thing against materials that try to mimic another material(tiles/vinyl/whatever meant to look like wood. Quartz countertops tying to be marble, barn doors, etc.) And putting in faux beams is essentially the same thing. I guess it’s just frustrating that it feels like that unless you find an old gem of a house, you have to have $$$ to build and enjoy that kind of authenticity. Adding beams for interest is just personal preference, but I totally get where you’re coming from.
Yes, agreed! Also pretty much the same thing as adding a barn door completely outside of its natural setting…
We just moved out of a 1939 home that had an arch story through the downstairs original living area. We love, love, loved them. In our current renovation we planned on incorporating them in an ode to that special place, but it’s never felt right. We couldn’t find ways to do it that made sense. THIS explained why 100%. Thank you for that peace of mind.
I would love to see pics of an original Crafstman with arches. That seems anti Craftsman? But maybe there is a difference between Midwest and West Coast influence???
Sarah, my house is (it’s long, but technically correct 😹)an:
Australian, SpanishInfluence, Arts & Crafts, Pre-Californian Bungalow, Craftsman! And … it has arches outside.
It has a biggish front verandah with two large arches at the front and two smaller ones on each end, in bullnosed red brick.
The walls are rendered. Under the walls (about 2 1/2 feet) are puffy limestone blocks that continue below-ground and form the foundations throughout the house (no basements in Australia).
All of the red bricks (also bullnosed along bottom of windows) are tuckpointed.
My favourite brick (yes, one!) has a eucalyptus leaf imorint from when it was handmade, nearly 100 years ago.🍃
Ooooh, how I adore my little house! 🤗
Lol love the style description. So are they soft arches or do they come to a point?
Soft. Very open-rounded.
Rusty, what does make your house “correct” in style and form? I mean, who designed it? Has it received an educated critique, has it been acclaimed at the time and later ? Or was it some random housewife deciding what goes in? Was it top of the line or an average build? How do other houses of that era compare? How well did it solve needs, e.g., providing comfort, light and safety? Does it still do that? You always speak so highly of your home. I hope you truely like it, and it’s not causing you discomfort.
Ouch. Why the hostility? Sounds to me like she appreciates its quirks and charms, even if it doesn’t fit one category or style.
Maybe they got excited and word-vomited, not realizing how it would come across?? (hoping so anyway…I cringed on their behalf) I, too, was taken aback at Lane’s comment, but Rusty has answered with grace and kindness, a good example to us all.
Wow! Bullet-proof vest on to answer:
William Hardy Wilson designed a huge house next door for a British General.
That house was built by the man that owned this block, and built from this block. I’ve kept the original tin shed used by the builder, rusty as and rather decrepit!
The builder then ‘stole’ some of the features and elements and used them in his own home. Naughty, but back in day no-one cared.
I’m the 3rd owner, ever.
The current owner of the fancy house is President of the local Historical Society and helped with the research.
Hope that answered your questions. 😊
Random housewife? So self-important and condescending. Try a little kindness in the future.
I have a 1904 home that’s got a ton of arches and I feel like it works? But it’s also not really a craftsman, we’re pretty sure it the whole house was originally a single room – so all our “architectural detail” including interior walls have been added over the years. But it totally arches in and out the way you say!
That sounds like a really interesting building!
I guess I suffer from arch envy because my home and all the architectural elements in it are all squares but my furniture choices wherever possible are rounded like I have an oval dining table, a round kitchen table, sideboards with rounded edges instead of square edges, etc. To your point, rounded arches in my home’s story don’t make sense but since I like the shape I’ve added a few sentences to the story of the home that incorporate the arch.
We bought a 1935 Mediterranean in SF that has arches galore. We’re about to renovate and the question is, do we add more? And if so, where? Right now, we have 3 huge arched windows in the living room, and two arched doorways between the foyer and dining room and living room. Oddly, the dining room doors to the foyer and kitchen aren’t arched, but the doorway between the kitchen and hallway is. None of the bedroom or bathroom doors are arched. We’re going to convert the two dining room doors to arches, so it’ll be an arch party in the living/dining/kitchen, but do we arch the bedroom/bathroom doors too or is that overkill?
Agreed. Arches in new construction or new-er construction never feel right to me. I do love an arch though and my favorites are in Spanish Colonial and Tudors. Or maybe those are just my favorite houses.
I, too, have an older Tudor-style house that had one rounded arch that stuck out like a sore thumb. We changed three openings to the angled archway similar to the one pictured on the left of Emily’s Silver Lake living room, that also matched the angled living room ceiling, and the house feels so much more architecturally cohesive now.
This post peered deep into a hidden corner of my soul (through an arched hallway, perhaps? 🙂 and awakened the deep love for arches I’ve never consciously realized I had. I have no house or renos on the horizon, but I’m bookmarking this wonderful guidance. “If you arch into a room, you should arch out of it” – such sound advice I would never have thought of on my own!
Oh, god, how I wish I had the funds to de-arch my house!!
Looks like this won’t be a popular opinion, but in my defense, this house isn’t some vintage architectural gem…it’s a 2009 Texas house, which means brick/stone exterior (that I don’t hate, but that looks like every other house on the block), arched doorways and awful half-moon arched windows (how the heck does one disguise these things? Long roman shade is my best plan…cover them up!), oak kitchen cabinets with *shudder* cathedral arch doors, Austin stone fireplace… *sigh* So. Much. Brown.
I long for squared off doorways, windows, and cabinet door insets. Paint will only do so much, & this isn’t a forever home, so even if I had the $$$, I wouldn’t spend it to change what so many people around here seem to love, anyway.
Oh, well. It came with a pool, which helps offset the pain of all these awful arches a bit.