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What is a Tudor House?

John M. Dixon|November 6, 2020

Houses in the style widely known as Tudor appeared in the US beginning around 1900 and dominated whole neighborhoods in the 1920s and 1930s. Examples ranged in size from row-houses to grand mansions. Tudor’s popularity recalled the previous century’s enthusiasm for picturesque styles evoking rural Europe. In this case the historic architecture referred to was that of England in the years of the Tudor monarchy (1485-1603), which included King Henry VIII and his even more famous daughter Queen Elizabeth.

​​​​​​​Characteristic Tudor houses have exterior walls with half-timbering, that is, wood framing defining rectangular and triangular areas of stucco. All of the wood that formed these bold geometries was originally painted or stained a dark brown, but in recent years it has often been refinished in shades of beige or gray-green, making the patterns on the walls more muted.

Depending on how accurately the historic style is reproduced, Tudor houses will exhibit these characteristics:

•    Irregular, asymmetrical massing – sometimes actual, sometimes implied by gables and wall treatments overlaid on simple underlying house shapes.
•    Wood-and-stucco half-timbering on exterior walls – often on the upper portions above brick or stone first-floor walls.
•    Prominent roof gables, typically at different heights and scales, seen on the house’s front. 
•    Windows in a wide variety of sizes and proportions, often casement types, which open out, rather than the prevailing double-hung types. Ideally these respond to the varied needs of rooms inside.
•    Wood trim sometimes carved with patterns suggesting folk craftsmanship.
•    Prominent chimneys, often irregular in shapes, built of stone or brick – sometimes both in the same chimney.
​​​​​​​•    Irregular, asymmetrical massing – sometimes actual, sometimes implied by gables and wall treatments overlaid on simple underlying house shapes.
•    Wood-and-stucco half-timbering on exterior walls – often on the upper portions above brick or stone first-floor walls.
•    Prominent roof gables, typically at different heights and scales, seen on the house’s front. 
•    Windows in a wide variety of sizes and proportions, often casement types, which open out, rather than the prevailing double-hung types. Ideally these respond to the varied needs of rooms inside.
•    Wood trim sometimes carved with patterns suggesting folk craftsmanship.
•    Prominent chimneys, often irregular in shapes, built of stone or brick – sometimes both in the same chimney.

Closely related styles

Cotswold Cottage: Inspired by the folk architecture of England’s scenic Cotswold district, houses in this style typically have stucco walls, without half-timbering, often interspersed with areas of rough stone. They are generally more cottage-like than the more stately Tudor, with lower eaves, and shed dormers rather than gabled ones.
​​​​​​​
French Rural: Based on farmhouses of Normandy and surrounding areas, these houses typically have tall hipped roofs, with that same roof shape repeated on their dormers and wings. An entrance might be through a circular projection with a conical roof. Their typically stucco walls may have discrete areas of half-timber or rough stone. Fences, gates, and various brackets are often of wrought iron, rather than wood.

Good, Better, Best

If you are a typical buyer, you may be a bit overwhelmed by the house-hunting process.  It may be easy to decide, for instance, what town you want to live in, but determining whether a house is “good” for you may be elusive if you do not have experience or knowledge in design or construction. Once you find a place you’re excited about, you may want to consider bringing in an architect or decorator to help you assess a home from the standpoint of function and design.  A building inspector and/or contractor can evaluate the quality and condition of construction, mechanical systems, roof, windows, and other aspects.

Some areas for you to think about as you look at a Tudor house:

1.    Relationship of the house to its environment: How is the house situated in relationship to the street or road? Are the distinctive Tudor design qualities apparent to the public? If other sides of the house are visible from the street – as on a corner property – do they maintain the Tudor image?  Do other features of the house’s site – as well as adjoining houses and properties -- relate well to it?
2.    Approach and arrival: Is the entry route clear for visitors, and does it present a pleasing prospect to them? Once inside, is there a good space to greet them? And how about alternative entrances for family, supplies, etc.?
3.    Interior spaces: Will the layout of rooms suit your lifestyle or can it be readily altered to do so – without compromising the Tudor exterior?  Given the characteristic variety of Tudor windows, how is the quality of natural light in the rooms? Do the spaces lend themselves to good furniture layout? (A decorator’s judgment might be helpful here.) In cases where rooms are tucked under sloping roofs, are the spaces adequate? And do the dormers in such rooms offer sufficient light and view?
4.    Materials and workmanship: Are materials, indoors and out, in good condition? Are the details characteristic of Tudor style – outside and inside – in good condition? If not, could they be readily refinished or replaced. If key Tudor design features have been inappropriately altered, would you want to correct them – and would that be difficult? 
5.    Landscape: Does planting on the site have the picturesque irregularity appropriate for a Tudor house? Has it become overgrown, possibly hiding too much of the house or limiting daylight – and could that be easily corrected?  Do the house and site allow for additional outdoor spaces such as the pool or particular gardens you might want?

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