Tudor-Style Homes: Characteristics, Design & Interiors

Instructor: Christopher Muscato

Chris has a master's degree in history and teaches at the University of Northern Colorado.

Architecture can be a great way to experience the past. In this lesson, we are going to check out the Tudor Revival in domestic architecture, and see what characterizes these unique homes.

Tudor-Style Homes

How can you transport yourself back in time, straight into a medieval English fairy tale? Sure, you could read a book, but there's another solution outside of literature: architecture! From roughly 1890-1940, there was a very popular architectural style known as the Tudor Revival. Focused on emulating late-medieval/early-modern English architecture of the 16th century, this style is romantic, nostalgic and, let's just admit it, totally adorable. But don't let that fool you- there is still some very serious architectural design going on here.

Overall Design

Tudor homes are designed to emulate modest English homes of the 16th century, but in a modernized way. It's a style that's focused on detail and craftsmanship, so there's a lot to talk about. Let's start by considering the overall design.

Tudor homes tend to be 1.5-2 stories tall. Single-story houses are uncommon, since that doesn't provide enough space to show off some of the telltale characteristics of the style. These structures also feature asymmetrical designs in both the façade and layout. 16th-century houses were often built piecemeal, with each generation adding something new. The result was an asymmetrical structure. However, what the 16th-century English did by accident, Tudor Revival architecture does by design.

A Tudor Revival home in Michigan
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Characteristics

Now let's get into the details of the Tudor home. We'll focus on the most important visual traits, starting with the roof. Tudor home roofs are steeply pitched, emulating the pitched, thatched roofs used to deal with the wet English climate. They are also gabled or cross-gabled, not hipped. If you take your hands, hold them straight and then angle them so that only your fingertips touch- that's a gable roof. If you have gable roofs opening in different directions that intersect at a right angle, they are cross-gabled. Finally, a large (and even over-sized) chimney is a must. You can even add two or three if you'd like.

From there, let's move to the walls. The first story of a Tudor home is generally made of brick or stone. However, your average medieval English homebuilder didn't have the tools to build multiple-storied stone structures, so the top story was made of something lighter, like stucco. The English commonly relied on half-timbering for the upper story, in which they built a wooden frame and filled it in with stucco, leaving the wooden posts exposed. Original Tudor houses had half-timbering as a building element; modern Tudor Revival homes use it decoratively.

Finally, let's talk windows. It's important to remember that things like glass were not readily available to many people in the 16th century, so their windows would likely have been wood panels that opened. This is where those modern updates come in. Tudor Revival homes used tall and narrow casement windows in groupings of 3 or more to emulate medieval buildings like Gothic churches, which did have glass windows. This is one of the more eclectic elements of Tudor Revival homes, but it serves to maintain the medieval aesthetic while still bringing natural light into the house.

How many traits of Tudor Revival architecture can you find in this house?
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Interiors

What's the point of going through all the trouble of emulating the exterior of a 16th-century English home, if you don't bring that into the interior? Tudor Revival architecture is distinct from many other revivalist styles of the 19th century in that it treats the interior and exterior of the home as extensions of each other. You aren't meant to walk up to a medieval-looking house and then see no influence of the 16th-century inside. As the 1928 Builder's Home Catalog put it: ''the exterior is a frank expression of the interior''.

So, what's the interior of a Tudor Revival home like? In a word: cozy. Irregularly shaped rooms capture the asymmetry of the layout, and create the sense of a building in which each room was built specifically for a purpose. Wood and stucco are common materials used to create a homey feel, and fireplaces are visual centerpieces of major rooms.

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