Talking about the Tudor tradition


My home is a Tudor, built in the late 1920s. 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. Id 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 would help me make my plans?

PF, McLean
Northern Virginia boasts a kings ransom in Tudor homes. You can view them at Braddock Farms off Braddock Road in Clifton, in the Belle Haven area of Alexandria and at Foxhall Village off Foxhall Road in Washington, D.C.

In Chevy Chase, Md., the Newlands/Corby mansion is often regarded as a showcase of the style, with its characteristic dormers, windows and chimneys. It features uncoursed stone, half-timbering, wide, decorated verge boards and a stone porte cochere. Another elegant example was recently built in Vienna on Hunter Mill Road, near Hunter Valley Road.

The modern version of the Tudor style is a mixture of late Medieval and early Renaissance influences. It flourished between 1890 and the 1930s, when most of the American examples were built. More specifically, it took its name from the Tudor dynasty, which reigned from 1408 to 1603. Along with the Colonial Revival design, it was the style-of-choice in the 1920s and 1930s.

Often built for wealthy clients, 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 stock market. 

The style fell from favor when a resurgence of patriotism demanded a more American home style. This was the Colonial Revival design, which is still Northern Virginias favorite by far. 

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. Nevertheless, the Tudor style is having its own revival today, as shown by the fine home on Hunter Valley Drive. 

As a sure-fire attention-getter, it is often displayed by retail buildings like the Clock Tower Shopping Center on Centreville Road in Herndon. Shakespeares own Globe Theater has been restored in London, where it shows how little the style has changed since 1599.

Whatever their function, Tudors are characterized by their steeply pitched gable roofs, playfully elaborate masonry chimneys (often with chimney pots), embellished doorways, window groupings and decorative half-timbering. This last is an exposed wood framework with the spaces between the timbers filled with masonry or stucco, providing that once-upon-a-time appeal.

Some guidelines you will clearly want to consider when building, restoring or expanding a Tudor home 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. Others have stone clad walls, often trimmed with a decorative stone.

Historically, the most prevalent building material for American Tudors was brick, frequently laid out in an elaborate pattern on the first story, with a second floor 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, characteristic of 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 diamond patterns. They are usually positioned symmetrically in the main gable.

Entrance: The entrance is part of an asymmetrical assemblage of architectural elements, some decorative and some held over from the late Middle Ages, when they served to provide protection from intruders. Added security came 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 to lend a quoin-like effect.

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 answered at or (240) 395-0705