What is a cornice return and why do we care?

Have you ever looked at a house and haven’t been impressed, but not sure why?  Let’s talk about Cornice Returns. A cornice return is a continuation of a cornice that is wrapped around the gable end of a structure. This one detail can change the style of a house or remove style altogether.  I’ve driven around and taken pictures of samples of the different ways cornice returns are built.  There are five types, but only the last two are architecturally acceptable.

Snub CorniceBox cornice with abbreviated rake (aka Snub cornice return)

This screams “value engineering!”  and removes any hint of style or character.





Box cornice with overhanging rake (aka pork chop)    Pork chop cornice return

According to the book, Get Your House Right: Architectural Elements to Use & Avoid by Marianne Cusato, Ben Pentreath, Richard Sammons, Léon Krier, “The pork chop return, a boxed out eave with no distinction between the horizontal and angled elements, is one of the most common details in contemporary house construction. Never use it.  It does not belong in the traditional vocabulary.  It is an over-simplification of the box eave that will be out of scale with the house.”  This photo is of my house and I agree with this assessment.  It is just plain awful!

Cornice return terminating with a gableCornice return terminating with a gable end

This is also a popular cornice return. Although this is not architecturally accurate, I   personally don’t mind this one nearly as much as the pork chop.  It’s scale isn’t too far off and it adds an opportunity to add color and texture at the gable.


Traditional Gable Return


Traditional Gable Returns (aka Greek return or Queen Anne’s return) extend the soffit around the corner of building and covers it with a small hip roof.  The fascia is mitered at corners and follows edge of hip roof & dies into gable wall.  This is historically and architecturally accurate, and is beautiful when executed properly.




Full Cornice Return (aka Return Eave) run across a gable and creates a pediment look. Again, architecturally and historically very accurate.  This creates a very classical look.

Now when you’re looking at houses, you may have a better idea about why some don’t appeal to you and others do.

Happy architectural hunting!



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