Have you ever noticed those masonry blocks that appear on some buildings’ corners? We see them a lot, especially with some older, more stately places that we work on. Those block things actually have a name—they’re called quoins, which is pronounced coins. Quoin is a French word that just means corner. Sounds fancy though!
There was a time when those blocks were functional and provided walls with strength and stability. They were also used as decorative features that could add some panache to a corner or give the illusion of strength. Building technology has improved to the point that they’re no longer necessary for the structural support. Today quoins are pretty much used as a way to add visual emphasis or contrast. Quoins are usually uniformly cut blocks (or imitation blocks that are cast) that alternate evenly between long and short lengths, though sometimes they’re all square or some other variation.
Quoins were originally popular in Europe in various incarnations. They can be seen in ancient European buildings, including in windows to add strength, and was especially favorable in the 1600s England and France—so the French term makes sense. The look found its way to the United States in the 1800s when we were a new country and our architectural styles were heavily influenced by Europe. We still see them today, especially with European-style houses that are popular these days.