When my wife and I bought our 1850s farmhouse, it had none of the typical details I would expect to see on a home of the Greek Revival period — wide corner boards, built-out rakes, a heavy frieze, boxed cornice returns. So I set out to learn how to re-create those trim elements, using my place as a test case.

I started by studying my neighbors’ houses, then hit the bookstores and libraries. Although 18th- and 19th-century American builders borrowed many details from Greek and Roman architecture, construction references from the period are hard to come by. Probably the most helpful are the books by Asher Benjamin, who in the early 1800s wrote and...

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