Do you play the Guitare?

Nope, that wasn’t a typo in the title- guitare, more often spelled guitarde, is a French word meaning ‘alcove’, and is a special carpentry term you won’t find readily in a French dictionary. Trust me, I’ve looked at a few.  If you do an image search for guitare you will find images of, guess what?: guitars. Even when looking for guitarde, lots of Fenders, etc., show up in the search results. Well, you might come across one or two guitardes which are not strung or played.

Most of the classic French 18th/19th century carpentry drawing books show an example or three of guitardes – they often associate to prow roofs on dormers, typically are found over the main entrance to a building, and are sometimes seen under balconies as well. I’ve got a few photos to share, just to give you an idea. You gotta hand it to the French traditional carpentry tradition – fascinating!

This first set of photos are by Compagnon Jonathon Lahaye.

The modern versions are often built with laminated material, with the older examples cut and joined from solid stock:

These next pictures associate to the Compannage Museum. A maquette with an imperiale roof over the guitarde:

Multiple guitardes form an intriguing vaulting:

The above example looks like a development from a structure featured in Delataille’s 19th century layout books:

Ah one:


And three – not really a guitarde, but neat all the same:

 They put them all together and installed them above the entry:

 The circular prow roofed dormer is a frequent candidate for the guitarde underpinnings:

Some places, like this one from a Chateau on Rue De La Gare (Station Street, Paris), get a little more, um, carried away:

This one is a little worse for wear and could use a rebuild:

Now I may be biased, but this is pretty damn neat:

A commune called La Veurdure in Alliers, France has some splendid examples on this building, photographed by Jean Beaubreuil:

If we saw more dormers like this, the world would surely be a better place, no?:


Not sure which way to turn?:

Another intriguing double dormer with intertwined guitardes, all atop a circular balcon with guitarde:

There is an example in Mazerolle’s book of a circular wall with circular balcony and guitarde. How crazy is that?

Chalon-sur-Saône is another commune having a guitarde dormer – I wonder what the connection (or attraction, perhaps?) with these structures and communes might be?:

Above photograph also by Jean Beaubreuil. This one too, same location:

Hope you enjoyed the tour. I look forward to working on the geometrical drawings for these sorts of structures one day.

Speaking of geometrical drawing, my friend Tim Moore has started a new blog (<- link) on stereotomy – I hope you'll check it out. I'm following it already and look forward to see where he goes. 

Thanks for coming by the Carpentry Way today. Hope you liked the pics, and if you visit France, take a look up from the sidewalk once in a while to see if you spot any more interesting constructions. These guitarde dormers are often 5 stories up. I’m always looking for more pictures!

4 Replies to “Do you play the Guitare?”

  1. You may know that there were several factions of compagnons that were not at all friendly (there are today too, but that's a different story).
    I've been told that the guitardes with compagnon symbols (like the compass) were an advertisement of the faction that was dominant in a particular town. When an aspirant doing his Tour arrived and saw the symbol of the rival faction, he knew to get out quick!

  2. My God this stuff is gorgeous! Looking at this kind of work drives home how profoundly impoverished 'modern' structures really are.

    As always your tenacity and single-mindedness to master different carpentry styles is inspiring (referring to your last couple of posts regarding the solving of the dormer problems)

    Now – enough web surfing for me I've got OCSG homework that's overdue!

    Warm regards


  3. Gentlemen,

    my apologies for the delay in responding.

    Tim, interesting account, and I think it supports one of my suspicions that the Mazerolle book may have deliberate errors in every drawing in case it fell into the hands of a competitor's school.


    your comment about the “profound impoverishment of modern structures” was thought-provoking and leads me to think about a post I could do on that very topic.


    you're most welcome!


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