You don't have to be a design expert to spot a Tudor house. Their distinct appearance that makes them easily recognizable and unique among their more symmetrical, lighter colonial neighbors. These homes come in all sizes, and while smaller versions might have a quaint storybook appearance to them, larger Tudors more often embody the romantic ideal of an English country manor. That charming, old-world feel has appealed to many Americans over the last century and a half.
As an architectural trend, Tudor style homes originated in the United States in the mid-19th century and continued to grow in popularity until World War II. The Tudor style movement is technically a revival of "English domestic architecture, specifically Medieval and post-Medieval styles from 1600-1700," says Peter Pennoyer, FAIA, of Peter Pennoyer Architects. Because these homes mimicked a style designed to weather colder climates with lots of rain and snow, they were best suited for the northern half of the United States, though they're popular in other areas of the country as well.
So what exactly does a Tudor house include?
"These houses, with their myriad materials, solid masonry, elaborate forms, and decorations were expensive to build and mostly appeared in wealthy suburbs," Peter says. They were even nicknamed "Stockbroker's Tudors" in reference to owners who gained their wealth during the booming 1920s.
Tudor homes are recognizable by several distinguishable features: They have a steeply pitched roof, often with multiple overlapping, front-facing gables (the triangular portion of the roof) of varying heights. The majority of their exteriors are brick, but they're accented (often in those triangular gables) with decorative half-timbering: essentially a mock frame of thin boards with stucco or stone filling in the spaces between the boards.
The windows used in Tudor houses are also a unique nod to medieval architecture. Windows are tall and narrow with multiple panes—sometimes rectangular, sometimes diamond-shaped. Large groupings of windows are common, and occasionally there are picturesque floating bay windows called oriel windows on the first or second story. Though often not in the center of the house, the front door is still a significant architectural feature on Tudor homes. They typically have a round arch at the top and tend to be bordered by a contrasting stone that stands out against the brick walls. Finally, Tudor chimneys are another notable element where the details stand out: They often have decorative chimney pots, a stone or metal extension at the top of the brick chimney.
Why the style fizzled out after the 1940s
Tudor homes were typically designed with an interior that complemented the exterior in terms of design style. The asymmetry of the front facade of the house also enhanced the interior layout, Peter notes. It "offered great flexibility to the architect in terms of interior planning," he says. "The plan was not dictated by strict symmetry on the facades, allowing diversity in room heights, window placement, angled wings, etc." Interiors are often heavily accented in dark wood as well—from ceiling beams to intricate wall paneling, Tudor homes can feel as much like an English manor on the inside as they look on the outside.
According to Peter, innovative masonry veneer techniques developed in the early 1900s made brick and stone homes more affordable to build, but the intricacies of Tudors still were quite expensive for the average home builder. This led to the style fizzling out after World War II, when the country turned to focusing on new, affordable housing developments that could be built quickly. During the height of the colonial revival period (1910-1940), "this style comprised 25 percent of the suburban houses built," Peter says, so that's where you’ll primarily see Tudor style homes today. The unique style is still an appealing option for some buyers to own a historic home, though it isn't a common style among newly built homes.
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