Living Like Shakespeare: A Tudor Tutorial

Tudor architecture is a style of building that originated in England more than 500 years ago. This style's popularity coincided with the reign of the Tudors, an era when homes were entirely timber framed. Today, Tudor Revivals, also known as mock Tudors, can be found throughout the United Kingdom as well as in the United States, Canada, and Australia. The distinctive features of a Tudor-style home include a half-timber exterior (or its modern-day replacement, stucco with faux-timber trim), steep rooflines, gables, leaded-glass casement windows, ornate chimneys, and jetties (portions of an upper story that project beyond the floor below). Thatched roofs, commonplace early in the Tudor era, were eventually replaced by hardier slate or tile. Many mock Tudors feature brick or stone exteriors, or infilling between timbers. Modern-day homeowners are often drawn to the old-world charm of these historic structures but sensibly choose to update their Tudor-style homes with low-maintenance replacement materials. Others find that blending some Tudor details with architectural styles of different eras can result in an eclectic yet classic look.

Hybrid House

Tudor Revival

While an authentic Tudor home was timber-framed for structural purposes and then infilled with wattle and daub, this Tudor Revival in Hertfordshire, England, boasts a hybrid exterior. The first floor was built of brick, and the second floor was stud-framed and then sided with faux half-timbering—a combination of stucco and decorative trim.

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Cross Gable

When two or more rooflines intersect, the result is called a cross gable. This mock Tudor cottage in Oakland, California, illustrates how a cross-gable roof can create a multidimensional facade that hints at a more interesting interior layout than a single-ridge roof would. The cost of a cross-gable roof is higher, due to the relative complexity of joining the two rooflines.

Hooked on Houses

Crank It!

Tudor Windows

Glass was very expensive in Tudor times, so it was crafted in small pieces. In order to create a full window, the diamond-shaped pieces were held together with metal and set into casement frames. Twentieth-century Tudor Revivals were outfitted with leaded-glass casement windows that simulated the old-world aesthetic, a look that's delightfully re-created in this Toronto, Ontario, home.

Related:  Bob Vila's Guide to Historic House Styles

Fill 'er Up

Andie McDowell House

One way that homeowners and architects have upgraded the Tudor Revival look is by infilling between the exterior timbers with brick or stone instead of stucco. Actress Andie MacDowell's Asheville, North Carolina, Tudor-style home is customized with stone and pebbledash walls.

Related:  10 Ways to Bring Historic Style Home

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Top It Off!

Thatched Roof

While most Tudor-style homes these days are topped with slate or tile roofs, some homeowners continue to embrace the age-old thatched roof that has proven so sturdy and durable. In fact, some thatched roofs can last up to 60 years. Skilled artisans known as thatchers still craft highly effective roofs of bundled reed and straw for mock Tudors like this one in Baltimore, Maryland.

Related:  Bob Vila's Guide to Historic Paint Colors

Graceful Lines

Graceful Lines

The Tudor arch, also known as a depressed arch or a four-center arch, was a dramatic departure from its predecessor, the pointed Gothic arch. It is low and wide with a center point, and was used extensively in Tudor times in the design of doorways, mantel pieces, and window frames. The entrance to this gracious country club home perfectly illustrates the depressed arch style.

Related:  What's Your House Style?


Chim Chim Cher-ee

Tudor Chimney

Prior to the introduction of chimneys, heating and cooking relied on an open hearth in the center of a main hall or large room, with a hole in the ceiling to draw out the smoke. Once chimneys became commonplace in Tudor homes, the wealthier homeowners added ornate stacks made of brick to their roofs, like this one on a 19th-century stable in Pennsylvania.

Related: Pro Tips: Wood-Burning Fireplaces


Beam Me Up!

Timber-Framed Ceilings

Authentic Tudor homes often had ceilings of exposed beams, painted dark with tar to prevent rot. This living room features decorative wood beams that have been stained dark brown to match the paneling. Other Tudor touches in the room include the depressed arch on the mantelpiece and the diagonal mullions on the windows.

Jetty, Set, Go!

Mock Tudor

A common characteristic of both authentic and mock Tudor homes is the jetty, an overhang of the second floor above the first. This feature is well illustrated by the Swan Hotel in Lavenham, England, which comprises three early-15th-century private homes that were eventually combined. Jetties have their roots in tax history: Because taxes were based on ground-floor square footage, the upstairs level could be built a little larger without incurring higher taxes—resulting in more floor space as well as the birth of a new architectural detail!

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