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House Charm 101: 5 Ways to Use Design Motifs

Want to add some house charm? First, think about this question:

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. Likewise, I’ve developed logos, icons, and style guides to help tell the stories of all sorts of businesses. As a result, it got me thinking…

  1. What story is my home telling?
  2. Does my home have unique details that are personal to me and that share who I am?
  3. Did I design my home in a meaningful way that supports my daily rituals and makes me smile?

Mary’s house

To help me explore the answers to those questions, I’ve considered the findings of my genealogy research from the last three years, mostly through ancestry.com. For example, there is fascinating information about my heritage and Jaga’s heritage that give clues to the stories told through our ancestor’s homes. Most noteworthy, is this picture that another user had posted of Jaga’s great-great-grandmother Mary Agnes from Austria who settled in Minnesota.


In this photo from the early 1950s, Mary Agnes is in her nineties here (she lived to 94). I instantly recognized the fireplace in the background. I’m familiar with this house and learned a few things about it just before someone tore it down a few years back (to make way for a parking lot – sigh). I adore the fact that someone spelled “Mary” in the brick above the fireplace.

Edit: As I was drafting up this post I learned that this house is actually not her house, but her daughter’s; also Mary. The mother is the one in the photo. Mary Agnes’ husband was the stone mason who built the home and fireplace for their daughter and son-in-law! I love that they branded the home, and in such a perfect place: the hearth-place, which is the heart of the home. (Seriously, how sweet is that?)

Motifs at the Biltmore Estate

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. Motifs 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.

It seems homeowners have been branding their houses with heraldic plaques and family crests for centuries as well as many other symbols like egg-and-dart moulding, animals, and greek keys motifs.

However, 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 to add that bit of house charm in your abode.

House Charm Tip 1. Feature a simple cutout shape

First, you can apply a simple shape to almost any flat wood panel with relative ease. This is an instant way to add house charm.

Where to apply shapes:

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

House Charm Tip 2. Personalize with tile and mosaic patterns

Source

Secondly, 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.

House Charm Tip 3. Make your mark with a monogram or family name

Third, consider putting a name or your initials somewhere. (Like Mary!) We all love those industrial metal letters for home decor. What about taking it a step further and inserting letters into an architectural feature?

Places for initials or name:

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

House Charm Tip 4. Display your love for animals, insects, and nature

Additionally, animals and nature have always been a source of inspiration. For example, you might be a horticulturist or have a spirit animal. Similarly, Napoleon used a french bee motif in his residences to represent industriousness and prestige (source). In short, using nature is a great way to bring the outdoors in. Here are some ideas for places you could display a favorite woodland friend.

Ideas for animal motifs:

  • 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

House Charm Tip 5. Put a modern spin on ancient symbols and patterns

Finally, using geometric shapes, patterns, and symbols can really add dimension and texture to your home.

Where to apply symbols:

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

Free Guide: Meaningful Motifs

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

Need some more help or inspiration for adding house charm? To get you brainstorming, I’ve created this free guide that has over 100 ideas for using design motifs and symbols in your home. Additionally, this guide 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.

In conclusion, your home’s “logo” is around the corner? So, just click below to get the guide emailed to you.

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

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