Traditional homes take their design ideas from classical architecture. A prime example is the table or beam—the entablature—that goes across the columns and holds up the roof. That bit of depth above the window head provides visual reassurance that the roof is sufficiently supported. Entablature is one of those subliminal cues that says, “This house is solid, authentic, and built to last.”
No, a house won’t fall down if lacks entablature. Prospective buyers won’t say, “I almost bought that house, but the window heads seemed to be crowding the roofline.” Buyers might not have the words to say so, but they’ll get that something is off and will move on.
But in many production houses, entablature gets short shrift. Rafters and trusses are set in relation to the top plate so that the eave returns back to the face of the house—close to the top of the window, with just a 1-by-4 or 1-by-6 between the roofline and window heads. Those hunkered-down eaves are a dead giveaway that the house was a budget job. In combination with a pork chop eave return, improperly sized shutters that never could close if they were real, windows without casings, and flimsy columns, lack of entablature demonstrates lack of care and awareness.
If you’re building full-on traditional style—Greek Revival, Georgian, Federal, Colonial—you’ll want to do full-on entablature with all three pieces (architrave, frieze, and cornice). But even if you don’t include steps, brackets, and bed moldings below the roofline, a little depth above the window heads helps a house look and feel better. A buyer’s intuition will pick up on your decisions and whether you got it right, which has a direct effect on sales.
In this conventionally trussed roof with normal eave depth, the soffit returns too close to the window head. Depending on the eave depth, there may be no room for a frieze board. On classical style homes, the result can feel thin and cheap.
In stick-framed roofs, having the rafters bear on oversized ceiling joists and using an additional bearing plate above can gain more than a foot of headroom for the frieze and allow enough dimension for an embellished overall architrave.
Where stick-built roofs aren’t desired, a “raised-heel” truss can add some room for a proper frieze. Although a bit more expensive than a conventional truss, it allows a proportion that most people prefer, even if they’re not aware of it.
In prefab building, module size is subject to shipping laws, but adding an architrave can sometimes work. With cozy, cottage-scale homes, lower the window heads to nonstandard heights to add a proper frieze.
No Care There A lack of entablature isn’t a fatal flaw, but it can send the message of ‘shoddy,’ ‘careless,’ and ‘flimsy.’ These three basic solutions can add substance and integrity.