Try out a Four-Leaf Layout That Spans the Ages

A quatrefoil is a decorative device that goes in the Middle Ages and Gothic architecture. Four overlapping circles form it. There are lots of thoughts on what these circles represent, by the four gospels of the Bible (Mark, Matthew, Luke and John) to the four cardinal geographical points (north, south, west and east) to the four elements (wind, water, soil and fire).

The Latin term quatrefoil appears as “four leaves,” another interpretation is that the quatrefoil signifies the infrequent four-leaf clover. If this is correct, the trefoil signifies the common three-leaf clover.

Perhaps the quatrefoil’s capability to become representative of numerous things is the reason for its enduring design heritage.

While a quatrefoil was utilized primarily in Gothic architecture and design since tracery, it’s come to be used in a lot of ways. From ceiling layouts to seat backs, from railings to background, the quatrefoil is still popping up everywhere.

Interior design, from furniture to background, has used the quatrefoil — shown here on the seat back as a design theme.

So it should not come as a surprise that the quatrefoil is a very adaptable and varied design component. It may be used in a house plan — say, as a landscape sheet or tile flooring layout; it may be utilized in a side view of a house — say, as a decorative shape on a window shutter or to get a window ; and it may be utilized on a ceiling — say as a decorative, controlling device.

Many traditionally motivated landscape elements, especially in a Mediterranean aesthetic, have a quatrefoil shape. It is quite common to see small water features, fountains and pools that have a quatrefoil as the basis for their own design.

Hugh Jefferson Randolph Architects

A quatrefoil may be utilized as only an accent point that introduces light to some space. If used this way, it’s similar to an ox-eye window, relieving the severity of merely a solid and unadorned wall.

Allison Cosmos

A barbed quatrefoil is one where a square is laid over the four overlapping circles. The resulting triangular “barb” between every circular part gives a more commanding and geometrically fixed shape to the quatrefoil.

Candace Cavanaugh Interiors

A nice feature of the quatrefoil as a decorative part is the shape’s capability to be quite small, such as when it’s used to get a background design, or quite large, such as when it’s placed on a ceiling as a controlling device for a room.

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