How to Give a Modern Home More ‘Character’

carved wood trimWhen building and selling brand new homes, there is a common complaint: lack of ‘character’, that special je ne sais quois that comes with sprawling Victorians or diminutive Craftsman homes. So what special touches can be included in modern homes to give buyers that ‘character’ they crave?

Crown Molding

It’s the little details, sometimes. Modern crown molding painted a clean white, or vintage molding with classic wood carving designs add a lot of warmth and character to a new home. It’s so popular that many home buyers look for molding pre-installed so they don’t have to do it themselves. In fact, about 62% of people rate crown moldings as the third most essential decorative feature in the home according to an NAHB survey. Those simple strips of wood, third most important!

Molding can fit any aesthetic, too. Going for a modern, painted look? Try inexpensive, durable resin crown molding instead of wood so you’re not as guilty painting over it. Not sure what aesthetic the home will end up with when fully furnished? Get egg and dart molding for your home, a versatile staple in modern and classic architecture.

Unique, but Inoffensive, Custom Features

Buyers looking for that elusive ‘character’ will notice the tiniest unique details you put into a home. A custom-cut window? Odd but beautiful banisters? Having custom features anywhere in the home is very appealing to choosy buyers. To keep the choosiest of buyers interested in the home, don’t add anything too outlandish. A snake motif included in carved wood trim or angels looking down from corbels will delight some, but completely turn off others.

Use Rich Woods When Possible

It’s rare that a home buyer or building will want a completely industrial or ultra-modern aesthetic free of any natural woods. As a general rule, hardwood floors, in particular, add much-needed warmth and appeal to any home. Choose flooring carefully if you’re planning on having wooden fixtures like carved wood trim or wooden fireplace corbels in the rest of the home’s architecture. If you choose a peculiar cut or color of flooring, it can be a pain to match other wooden fixtures in the house.

Perhaps there is a rule of thumb we can use here: be sneaky! Think of adding character like trying to hide special details in plain site. Especially if the home in question is not a custom-built home for a specific customer, you want ‘character’ pieces to be subtle.

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Corbels: Holding Up Good Design Since Architecture Was Born

large corbels

Simple question: What is a corbel?

You’ve definitely seen traditional corbels before, even if you didn’t know the proper name for these architectural structures at the time. Corbels are decorative architectural accents placed on the exterior of a wall. They are shaped like a right triangle and are used to support windows, doorframes, shelves, and more. You’ll find them anywhere there’s a 90-degree angle that needs some support or ornamentation.

Large corbels made of stone and decorated with carved angels, scrolls, and leaves can be seen supporting many Late Gothic style cathedrals. Corbels in the classical style are often featured on towering old stone architecture in cities like Washington, D.C. or Boston. Small corbels that are plainly designed are often featured in the doorways and fireplaces of modern homes.

Modern corbels are often made of wood, although corbels that were plain or featured wood carving designs have existed for quite a while as well. Wood carving is one of the oldest types of art, likely older than stone carving, dating back over 400,000 years as far as we can tell.

But wait — there are different names for corbels?

If you’ve never heard the term “corbel” before, maybe you’ve heard of one its synonyms, “tassels” or “braggers”. These two terms typically refer to wooden corbels and are more popular in usage in the United Kingdom. The name ‘corbel’ comes from the Latin word corbellus, or “little crow” (crow being corvus in Latin), a reference to the beak-like appearance of the typical plain corbel.

Like most architectural features, corbels, tassels, and braggers started out as practical supports for material jutting out from walls. People have been using corbel-like structures in their building plans since Neolithic times. As beautifying homes, businesses, and places of worship became priorities in society, people found ways to ‘dress up’ these structural pieces. Hence, the angels and scrollwork.

Large corbels on the outside of homes can provide a lot of stately character. Inside the home, many people enjoy rustic wooden corbels to finish off tall doorways or add some composed flair to the underside of bar tops. Decorative corbels supporting an otherwise understated fireplace mantle is a beautiful example of using the most simple of architectural pieces to your aesthetic advantage.

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Choosing A Prime-Stock Wood Species For Your Home Design

egg and dart moldingSome woods are more highly prized than others for carving and home design. These ones are not recommended for dramatic stains or coats of paint! Take a look at three options that are popular in America for high-quality, luxury design.

Black Walnut

While this particular species of walnut tree is, in fact, native to North America, it’s also been prime stock since colonial days. This wood is incredibly sturdy, making it historically a popular option for everything from rifle stocks to family heirloom furniture pieces. While the wood sometimes leans grey, the deep, moody, purple-brown of finer heartwood cuts is highly prized. Imagine that beautiful color on your simple egg and dart molding or architectural wood carvings. Lovely and statement-making. Anything but a clear stain is discouraged for this unique wood.


Ah, tropical mahogany, conjuring images of graceful fireplace corbel designs, intricately carved wood trim, and richly colored vintage molding. Fun fact: Mahogany is generally thought of as a hardwood, but most species of mahogany actually have a midrange Janka rating. What is the Janka rating, you ask? The Janka system is a way of determining the relative hardness of woods by driving a .444 inch steel ball into the wood sample until half the diameter of the ball is embedded and then calculating the force required to do so. White Oak, for example, has a higher Janka rating than most mahogany species. Even so, mahogany is a coveted classic hardwood due to its reddish hue, rarity, and relative strength.

White Oak

White Oak has a finer texture than its cousin, the red oak, and is harvested far less often. Originally used for majestic colonial and British ships and favored by coopers for barrel-making, white oaks are relatively rare today compared to 450 years ago. They picked up popularity as home design material when the Victorians stained and polished it, marketing it as Golden Oak. Its wood errs more on the tan side than white, but its pale color and fine grain make it a beautiful choice for everything from wood onlays to dainty egg and dart molding.

Although we don’t typically have these three options on hand, our experts and artisans at Enkeboll are happy to order one for your special project. Call or email to discuss making your creation out of one of these prized exotic cuts.

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