Learning the Lingo: Everything You Need to Know About Balconies (2016)

Judging from all the Pinterest pages and online listing photos devoted to balconies these days—luxe ones, spare ones, absurdly tricked-out ones—the picturesque perches are hotter than ever these days for home buyers and sellers.

Of course there’s nothing new about these inherently romantic platforms: Prince William first publicly kissed his new bride, Kate Middleton, on one at Buckingham Palace, and Shakespeare‘s star-crossed lover Juliet pined for Romeo as she stood on hers.

Now the masses are swooning over this architectural element itself. Read this latest installment of Learning the Lingo to discover the many different types of balconies you might encounter as a home buyer—or consider adding on as a home owner.


Hoarding on the keep of the Château de Castelnaud, Aquitaine, France.


This ancient predecessor to the modern balcony reveals that these accoutrements actually trace their roots to war, not love. A hourd was a wooden scaffolding that originated as an “11th-century anti-siege device” on exterior castle walls. They were covered in animal skin or, um, manure to ward off climbing invaders and protect castle defenders as they dropped rocks (or yet more manure) on the insurgents below. Today’s balconies, of course, are constructed for much more genteel purposes—and significantly less manure.


Faux? Oui, c’est!


These balconies are actually no more than ornamentation in the form of a railing attached to a home’s facade. There is absolutely no outside space—no usable decking, nada—to put so much as a toe on. While some may argue faux balconies don’t provide any real use, you can’t discount the eye-candy factor.

From the outside, they give the illusion of a balcony while the not-so-faux railing made of anything from glass to wrought iron prevents you from falling out when you fling open a window. Think of faux balconies as flair for your exterior walls.


This false balcony in Lisbon is a real Portu-tease.


Yep, there is a difference between faux and false when it comes to balconies. A false balcony has a railing and a teeny deck, usually around 4 to 6 inches deep. Because these outcroppings—also called “balconettes”—are contained and don’t add any real square footage to a home, they can easily be installed on existing homes. And while the narrow deck can’t support a pair of smooching royals, it’s ideal for the likes of a fragrant herb garden to help bring a bit of the outdoors in.

These touches of whimsy run from $220 to over $4,000, depending on if you want aluminum or wrought iron.


Juliet balcony

Doug Coldwell/Wikipedia

Perhaps the most popular type of false balcony is the Juliet. Shakespeare makes no mention of the young Capulet standing on a balcony when Romeo asks, “What light through yonder window breaks?” However, traditional stagings of the play always have Juliet swooning on this small perch.

The Juliet moniker is generally trotted out to describe small, nonprotruding terraces, often consisting of a glazed door with a shallow railing outside it.


French balcony in France


Another popular false balcony style derives its moniker from the french doors that open onto a small deck and whatever scenery lies below. A famous example can be seen in Edouard Manet‘s “The Balcony” painting on display at Paris’ Musée d’Orsay.


A truly nice balcony

Astronaut Images/Getty Images

What do the pope and Evita have in common? A penchant for addressing the public from true balconies. For you and me, this is a balcony designed with a spacious deck to accommodate lounge chairs for watching sunsets while sipping wine.

As a true balcony usually extends from the second story of a building or higher, there’s usually a sweet view involved, too, like the south lawn as seen from the White House’s Truman Balcony.

These outdoor spaces are a fabulous way to blur a home’s interior and exterior. And one off a master suite is considered a swank upgrade, according to Remodeling Magazine.

While prices vary wildly depending on material and size, an average low-key, 4-foot wood one will run you at least $15 to $20 a square foot. Granted, it’s hard to translate the charm of a balcony into cold cash, but in New York at least, the addition can add thousands to an asking price.


Mezzanine balcony inside


Defined as a small floor between two main ones in a building, a mezzanine is also a type of balcony designed for the inside of a home. This usually features a large deck or landing that extends out from a wall surrounded by a protective railing.

What are essentially cozy loft areas serve also as popular places for home offices or nooks perfect for a small pullout guest couch. Groundbreaking designers Charles and Ray Eames added one to their custom home in California.The rest of us have been catching up ever since.



De Agostini / G. Andreini/Getty Images

While a loggia may look like a balcony at first glance, it’s actually a distinct architectural feature. Traditionally not on the ground floor, thus giving an illusion of a balcony, a loggia is set apart by its roof and support structure. A balcony is suspended off a building and has no overhead covering, while a loggia is part of the building and shares the roof.

For a stunning example, check out the Doge’s Palace in Venice, Italy.

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