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Trend Alert: Architectural Arches with Deep Returns

I’m not a trend-chaser by any means, but I know an up-and-coming trend when I see one and I’m for sure seeing one now.

Recently, I’ve been picking up on a movement involving architectural arches / arched doorways with deep returns (that’s the inside lip of the arch) and the interesting uses of materials on the return.

Wood lined archways in a modern interior
Image via Onekindesign

I hate to even call this a trend because arches are so classic and chic, that they never really go out of style. That said, there’s definitely a marked increase in their use at the moment so in that sense, these arches are trending.

Considering just about every new interior design product coming out–from sofas to cabinets to beds–feature curves, the rising popularity of arches isn’t at all surprising, but it’s definitely interesting.

To me, this trend of arches with deep returns is one of the coolest things ever and I wanted to explore it with you here.

A little bit of history

I promise I won’t bore you too much with this!

Arches first showed up in Mesopotamia in the 2nd millennium BC but later on, the Romans took the technology and improved it and the Greeks adopted it, as well. It was, of course, a major feat of engineering. In fact, it’s what first allowed us to build taller structures.

Even though arches have moved into more of a design detail as opposed to a structural element, they still can’t help but add a strong historical reference to any space they’re used in. It’s almost like bringing history into your home in a very subtle way.

Our brains like arches

It turns out, our brains may actually be hardwired to prefer curved shapes to linear ones. Some studies suggest that spheres, circles, and–you guessed it–arches signal a lack of threat. While straight lines and sharp corners appear to light up the amygdala (the part of the brain that processes fear), rounded shapes don’t set off those same alarms.

The fact that we see more rounded and curved shapes in nature–as opposed to relatively few naturally occurring perfectly straight lines–also means we process curves as being more organic, making us feel closer to nature when they’re in our interiors.

Of course, the softness curved shapes bring into our interiors is intrinsically feminine. There’s a connection to the maternal there which we often process as nurturing and warmly enveloping, like a loving mother’s hug.

I don’t know about you but I could use more of all of that right about now.

The current popularity of curves in our furnishings and interiors is a direct response to what's happening in the world right now. It’s a way to soften the edges of everything we're facing.

When it comes to arches specifically, I don’t think it’s a coincidence that we’re choosing to frame out doorways in our homes with these beautiful, significant archways at a time in our lives when we’re also longing to be able to cross over and leave behind some of the not-so-positive experiences we’ve dealt with recently and move into much brighter days ahead.

Whether consciously or unconsciously, I believe we’re expressing with this love of these big, gorgeous archways, a much deeper longing in our hearts–and, incidentally, something we’re actually in the process of making happen!

It’s all about that deep return

Archways throughout an interior hall repeat the shape of the arched front door
Image via

The return is the interior portion of the arch (while standing in the center of an arched doorway, it’s the bit of the arch that’s closest to your body). A ‘deep’ return means that the arch is constructed so this portion is extra wide.

At any rate, the deeper return serves to make the arch a more significant element in the space. There’s nothing skinny or offhanded about it–these arches are intentional and designed for maximum impact!

I especially love the idea of treating the return with a contrasting or complementary color, texture, or material. It becomes almost its own canvas that can be treated in a way that sets it off from the rest of the archway and makes the whole element incredibly special. This approach makes me think of a more luxurious, polished version of the thick archways often seen in Mission style homes.

Whether done in a subtle or rich texture, we’re seeing everything on these new arch returns from plaster detailing to beautiful woods and even various metals. The options are virtually endless, as long as the material can be formed into a curve that fits the arch.

Best of all, these arches can be designed to work beautifully in any style of interiors, from ultra-traditional to modern and everything in between. As long as it speaks to the rest of the architecture in the home and is done in congruence with the surrounding environment, it can be an amazing addition to the interior design.

When an arched doorway won’t work

Arch shapes repeat in the doorway, built-in bookcases, and fireplace mantle detail in a light, bright, modern living room.
Image via

I feel compelled to point out that as popular and versatile as they are, adding an archway to your home isn’t quite like adding a great paint color or a new mirror to your space.

Doorways have to be built as arches from the beginning or done in a tear down situation. They can’t just be added on top of what you already have without any major construction happening. Also, realize that when it comes to architecture, anything curved is going to be more expensive than squared edges. This is a luxury design element and not something that can be done and undone cheaply and flippantly.

Notably, sometimes archways won’t work due to inherent limitations of the home, even with a renovation.

Recently, I wanted to do an arched doorway in a client’s project but we learned the architecture wouldn’t support it. Not to be entirely deterred, I used the original inspiration to create an arched built-in niche with a deep return and shelving instead. It ended up being a very sophisticated moment in the home where the client could feature some of their collections.


I just can’t get enough of this archway ‘trend’! They have an ease about them that's refreshing and fun, and when you can have this element in your home, as long as it’s done in an intentional way that’s specifically suited to your home, it can be really impactful.

This isn’t to say that all crisp, clean edges should go away. I’m a huge believer in always using a mix of curves and sharp lines instead of going too far into one direction or the other. It's about creating a nice balance.

I am saying, though, that if you’re thinking your home could use more curved shapes and you’re looking to go beyond just adding an accessory or furniture piece, you might want to consider an arched doorway (with a fabulous deep return, of course!).

I can’t think of anything more simultaneously classic and current!

Got a project on the horizon and want to know how we can help you bring an archway detail and a whole lot of other design goodness into the mix? Let’s talk about it!


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