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If you grew up in an American suburb, you’re probably familiar with the Tudor architectural style, typified by homes with a stucco exterior accented with dark brown trim and topped with a steeply pitched gabled roof. What you may not know, however, is that, charming as they are, those 20th-century homes are simply “mock” Tudors, or Tudor Revivals, inspired by timber-framed cottages built 400 to 500 years earlier, during the reign of the Tudor dynasty in England.
While the gentry of that post-medieval period built impressive brick or stone manor homes replete with hundreds of casement windows and ornate chimney stacks, the commoners developed a more modest architectural style. Back then, an ordinary village home or farmhouse was first framed entirely of timber. The builder would then insert woven sticks known as wattle between the timbers. Using daub (a mixture of clay, sand, and dung), he would infill the spaces around the wattle and seal the wall. Once the wall was dry, the daub was often painted white with limewash and the structural timbers were sealed with tar to protect them from rot. This building technique, known as half-timber, created the familiar brown-and-white exteriors we associate with Tudor-style homes today. In a variation on this construction method, the more well-to-do commoners often integrated sections of brick between timbers and added windows made up of small panes of glass held together by metal or wood.
By the 16th century, fireplaces with chimneys became commonplace in ordinary homes, and the interiors consequently became more complex. Rather than relying on one large room with a central fire pit for heat and cooking, Tudor homes could now have multiple rooms that served different purposes, each with its own fireplace as a heat source. Often, large fireplaces included inglenooks where people could sit to keep warm. And now that smoke could be channeled out through chimneys rather than up through a hole in the roof, these structures could include second stories, and with them staircases made of hand-hewn timbers. These upper-story rooms—usually bed chambers—generally had ceilings with exposed beams.
Other architectural details that were integrated into Tudor homes included depressed arches—flattened arches with a slight central point—in doorways and on mantels; elaborate masonry chimneys on rooftops; steeply pitched roofs of thatch or tile; and jetties. A jetty is formed when the second floor extends beyond the dimensions of the first, creating an overhang. This feature enjoyed particular popularity in cities where the first-floor footprint was limited by the street outside.
At the turn of the 20th century, Americans embraced the Tudor style, building new homes that blended some of the old-world design elements with modern home-building techniques. Cousins of the Stick-style house, Tudor Revivals eschewed authentic half-timber construction and often featured brick or stone walls on the first story, and upper floors that were stud-framed and covered with a veneer of stucco and decorative faux timbers. Cross gables were commonly included in the plans, as were typically Tudor features like steep rooflines and gabled windows with leaded-glass mullions. The traditional thatched roof, however, was replaced by slate. Interiors incorporated such Tudor-style elements as decorative beamed ceilings, arched doorways, plaster walls, and detailed wooden staircases.
REMODELER’S NOTES: Tudor Revivals continue to be a popular architectural choice today, especially for homeowners seeking an historic aesthetic. They can, however, be expensive to maintain due to some of their most compelling elements, namely slate roofs, plaster walls, and highly inefficient leaded-glass windows. Advances in building techniques and materials have led some homeowners to turn to synthetic wood and stucco substitutes when updating a half-timber structure, and to replace the interior plaster walls with drywall.