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House Charm 101: 5 Ways to Use Design Motifs

If your home was a brand, what would the logo be?

It’s an interesting question because brands tell stories and so do our homes.

Since I’ve put together branding packages for dozens of businesses over the years, I recognize the power of a good brand. I’ve developed logos, icons, and style guides to help tell the stories of all sorts of businesses and it got me thinking…

What story is my home telling?

Does my home have unique details that are personal to me and that share who I am?

Is my home designed in a meaningful way that supports my daily rituals and makes me smile?

Mary’s house

I’ve done a lot of genealogy research the last two years. I have found out a lot of fascinating information about my heritage and Jaga’s heritage, mostly through ancestry.com, and recently I got excited about this picture that another user had posted of Jaga’s great-great-grandmother Mary Agnes from Austria who settled in Minnesota.


I’m guessing Mary Agnes is in her nineties here (she lived to 94) and this photo was likely taken in the early 1950s. When I saw the image I instantly recognized the fireplace in the background. I’m familiar with this house, and just before it was torn down a few years back (to make way for a parking lot – sigh), I wanted to learn more about it. I adored the fact that Mary was spelled in the brick above the fireplace. As I was drafting up this post I learned that this house is actually not her house, but her daughter’s; and she is also named Mary. So this fireplace is likely designed for the daughter. Daughter Mary’s father was a stone mason, so I wonder if he did this work. Regardless, I love that the home was branded, and in such a perfect place: the hearth-place, which is the heart of the home. (Seriously, how sweet is that?)

A few months ago I was visiting the Biltmore Estate here in Asheville (a breathtaking Châteauesque-style mansion built by George Vanderbilt in 1895), and I noticed the symbolic motifs and architectural details that were literally everywhere throughout the 250-room house, such as linenfold carvings in the doors, quatrefoils, pineapples, fleur-de-lis, coat of arms, statues and more. Even the rooms started to take on their own names (or brand, if you will) based on the collections that were featured in there or the damasks that adorned the walls.

Houses have been branded with heraldic plaques and family crests for centuries as well as many other symbols like egg-and-dart moulding, animals, and greek keys motifs.

Homes today seem to have lost this idea of personification and homeowners aren’t making their mark like they used to. Perhaps it’s because folks aren’t really looking at their house as a long-term home.

But if you are interested in creating a house that is unique with special, meaningful details infused into the very bones of the architecture, I’ve got 5 ways you can use a design motif in your home.

1. Feature a simple cutout shape

A simple shape can be applied to almost any flat wood panel with relative ease. Here are some places to do it:

  • Cabinet Doors
  • Shutters
  • Gable trim
  • Brackets
  • Stair railings
  • Fences
  • Front Gate

2. Personalize with tile and mosaic patterns

Source

Tile is a great place to do something super unique and special. You could have tiles custom painted to tell your family story, or you could create a mosaic carpet in your front vestibule with a monogram or other motif of your choice.

3. Make your mark with a monogram or family name

We all love those industrial metal letters for home decor. What about taking it a step further and inserting letters into an architectural feature? Consider putting a name or your initials somewhere. (Like Mary!) Here are some places I thought of that could be good for this.

  • Stamped custom concrete
  • Door hardware
  • Textiles
  • Cabinet knobs
  • Entrance plaque
  • Brick fireplace surround 🙂

4. Display your love for animals, insects, and nature

Animals and nature have always been a source of inspiration. Perhaps you are a horticulturist, or maybe the symbolism is important to you. Napoleon used a french bee motif in his residences to represent industriousness and prestige (source). Using nature is a great way to bring the outdoors in. Here are some ideas for places you could display a favorite woodland friend.

  • Door knocker
  • Wallpaper
  • Curtain tie-back hardware and drapery rod finials
  • Mailbox
  • Turkish rugs
  • Bath accessories and hardware
  • Mirrors
  • Glassware
  • Window and door casing corner blocks
  • Tiles
  • Finials and carved stone sculptures on outdoor posts
  • Bookplate

5. Put a modern spin on ancient symbols and patterns

Using geometric shapes, patterns, and symbols can really add dimension and texture to your home. Here are some places you could apply them:

  • Fireplace surrounds
  • Stained glass windows
  • Moulding and trim
  • Carved doors
  • Door hardware
  • Air registers
  • Metal work (iron gate, railing, etc.)

There you have it. Branding is not just for business, folks.

Need some more help or inspiration? I’ve created this free guide that has over 100 ideas for using design motifs and symbols in your home. It includes questions to ask yourself, lists of dozens of motifs, and over 40 modern symbols that I’ve created that you can use as inspiration or steal for your home. What will your home’s logo be? Click below to get it emailed to you.

Let’s chat in the comments! What design motifs are important to you?

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