Elaborating A Tudor

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Bruce Wentworth, AIA, is a practicing architect whose
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“My home is Tudor, built in the late 1920’s. The house features a steeply pitched roof with the signature stucco and wood-frame effect called “half-timbering” along the second floor of the front facade. I’d like to add a first level den on one side that would be visible from the street. What can you tell me about the style that’s relevant to my plans?”

- PF, McLean, VA


There are many classic Tudors homes in northern Virginia. Country Club Hills along the east side of Glebe Road, as well as several older neighborhoods in McLean, Alexandria and Fairfax, derive much of their character from their exceptional Tudors. You should also know about the Newlands/Corby Mansion in Chevy Chase. This textbook example is a showcase of the relevant dormer styles, window types, and richly decorated chimneys. It features uncoursed stone; half-timbering; wide, decorated verge boards; and a stone porte cochere. Architectural scholars swoon over it!

By way of background, Tudor was regarded as an admixture of late Medieval and early Renaissance influences in the period from 1890 when most of the American examples were built. Still, along with Colonial Revival, it was the style-of-choice in the 1920s and 1930s.

Often built for wealthier homeowners, Tudor houses were constructed of solid masonry with elaborate decorative stone and brickwork. They were sometimes called “Stockbroker Tudors” because their financially successful owners had frequently made their wealth in the booming 1920s stock market.

Hence, the style fell out of popularity in the more populist post World War II-era when a resurgence of patriotism demanded a more American home style: Colonial Revival. Of course, the fact that Tudor architecture was also expensive to build, not easily replicated and prone to maintenance issues may have been a factor.

So What’s the Style All About?

Tudors are characterized by their steeply pitched gable roofs, playfully elaborate masonry chimneys (often with chimney pots), embellished doorways, groupings of windows and decorative “half-timbering”, this last being an exposed wood framework with the spaces between the timbers filled with masonry or stucco.

Some guidelines you will clearly want to consider when elaborating a Tudor are:

Materials: There are several easily identifiable features of American Tudors, the first being stucco walls with or without decorative wood half-timbering. A few houses of this style have weatherboard or shingled walls with stucco and half- timbered gables. Other Tudor-style homes have stone clad walls, often trimmed with a decorative stone. Historically, the most prevalent building material for American Tudors was brick, however, frequently laid out in an elaborate pattern on the first story and presenting a second story of stucco, or wood and false half-timbering, in a decorative pattern.

Roof: A distinguishing feature of the Tudor house is, of course, the steep gabled roof– often punctuated with small dormers and clad with slate. The main gable frequently has a secondary side or cross gable. Gable ends are often decorated with verge boards whose decoration ranges from simple to highly carved. One variant is the gable with parapets, which is an English detail.

Windows: Tudor-style houses usually have casement windows grouped in rows of three or more and framed in either wood or metal. Double-hung windows are less common. Windows are often divided into six or eight panes, sometimes made up of rectangles or (in some cases) arranged in a diamond pattern. Windows are usually positioned symmetrically in the main gable

Entrance: The entrance is part of an asymmetrical assemblage of architectural elements, some decorative and some meant (in the late medieval period) to provide protection from intruders. Added security accrued from the thick masonry wall that allowed the door to be recessed, as well as from a projecting bay window or small roof over the door. Renaissance embellishments included arched openings, board and batten doors, luxurious black metal door hardware and tabs of cut stone set into the brick wall lend a quoin-like effect.

Read more tips on how to update Tudor style homes »

Bruce Wentworth, AIA is the principal of Wentworth Inc., a metro area residential architecture, construction and interior design practice. Questions on residential and architectural styles can be sent to www.wentworthstudio.com or by calling 240-395-0705.