Four-centered arches are most often found in Victorian homes for a simple reason: Victorian architecture is a blend of neo-classical styles and Gothic designs. And there is no better example of Gothic revival architecture than a four-centered arch.
Today, few homes lend themselves to such extravagant design, so the four-centered arch has largely been abandoned, except for high-end Tudor or Tudor Revival homes, which makes sense: the four-centered arch is often called a ‘Tudor Arch’ because of it’s origin in Jacobean architecture.
|These bookcases are framed with four-centered arches. Though the entablature looks a little busy, this design might easily fit in a ‘library’ today. (Note: Click any image to enlarge.)
|Four-centered arches were once found only in Gothic or Gothic revival homes, like Lyndhurst, in the Hudson River Valley.|
The mirror in the Lyndhurst dining room over-mantle (see photo, above) is framed with a four-centered arch featuring finial-like tracery. This Gothic theme is continued in the flanking two-centered arches. A closer look also reveals a depressed four-centered arched doorway on the left.
The four-centered arch is not seen very often in modern homes, but when the style dictates, it can make a very dramatic statement. The compound curves of this type of arch can offer a regal feel to the space.
|The Gothic style is often described as the ‘Gothic order,’ as opposed to the classical orders—which explains why this entablature is included in an 18th century pattern book Gothic Architecture, by Batty Langley. Notice the pointed 4-centered ‘ogee’ arches decorating the frieze.|
|Pattern books often included proportional drawings and instructions on layout, like this four-centered doorway. Following the instructions isn’t always a simple task.|
The Pseudo Four-Center
A variation of the four-centered arch is the ‘pseudo four-centered arch.’ This type of arch is often used on openings with a short rise. In this variation, the larger arcs that create the pointed top are replaced with straight lines that are tangent to the outer circular arcs.
The pseudo four-centered arch framing the fire box of the mantelpiece below is subtle, but its Gothic influence makes a definite statement.
|This inglenook at the Frederick Holland Day home in Norwood, MA is an extreme example of a pseudo four-centered arch.|
As you can see from the examples above, the four-centered arch can be used in a variety of ways—not only to decorate a passageway or doorway. Certainly, elliptical and three-centered arches are more common than four-centered arches—most homes in America are based, in one way or another, on classical designs, not Gothic designs, which explains why four-centered arches are rarely used today—but they should be. And one of the reasons they aren’t used is because few carpenters know how to lay them out—especially when the arch proportions must be adjusted to fit an existing opening. Here are some Quick Reference Guides to help you.
The Classic Four-Centered Arch
This example uses only the width of the arch to determine proportion. The relationships between the four centers in this example are not the only ones possible, but are the most commonly used.
|Download the Quick Reference Guide for The Classic Four-Centered Arch
Four-Centered Arches with a Known Height & Width
The following steps will help you lay out a four-centered arch when you know the required height and width of the opening.
|Download the Quick Reference Guide for Four-Centered Arches with a Known Height & Width
Pseudo Four-Centered Arches
The following procedure can be used for drawing out a pseudo four-centered arch. This variation is often used on openings with a very short rise. Trying to fit a traditional four-centered arch within these constraints can require radii that are very large and difficult to work with. Replacing the larger arcs with straight lines is much easier and creates a different feel.
|Download the Quick Reference Guide for Pseudo Four-Centered Arches