If you’re interested in the historic architectural styles of single-family homes, Virginia McAlester’s 1984 book, “A Field Guide to American Houses: The Definitive Guide to Identifying and Understanding America’s Domestic Architecture” isn’t just a good place to start — it’s the only place, really. This acclaimed 880-page guidebook to the design language of nearly every permutation of single-family home you’re likely to see in the neighborhoods of American cities is considered the definitive tome on the subject, with an updated and expanded edition released back in 2015 that includes additional information on several more modern styles, including the contemporary home designs of the 21st century.
The name of our site being what it is, single-family homes aren’t always at the forefront of our interests, but this book still provides some fascinating insights you can use to identify the architectural influences of many homes around Austin. Keeping that in mind, we’ll be deep-diving different architectural styles from this book every few weeks, using homes from around Austin to illustrate their various associated design features.
This week, we’re looking at the American Tudor Revival style — also commonly known as simply “Tudor,” as this book calls it. According to the guide, Tudor-style homes were a popular choice for new constructions in American suburbs between about 1900 and the end of World War II, with roughly 25 percent of houses built during the 1920s using at least some elements of the style. In Austin, you’ll find Tudor homes in many of the city’s prewar neighborhoods, including Old West Austin, Travis Heights, Hancock, and Hyde Park — with a particular concentration located in Hyde Park’s Shadow Lawn Historic District.
But if you’d like to learn about Tudor architecture in a particularly entertaining way, go sink a few pints at the Tavern, a bar located in a 1916 Tudor-styled building at 922 West 12th Street — to be fair, it’s actually a former grocery store, not a home, but the style is the same. Plus, it’s air conditioned!
“The popular name for this style is historically imprecise, since relatively few examples closely mimic the architectural characteristics of Tudor (16th-century) England. Instead, this style is loosely adapted from a variety of late Medieval and early Renaissance English prototypes, ranging from thatch-roofed folk cottages to grand manors.”
— A Field Guide to American Houses, Page 450
Here are two homes from around Austin with Tudor-style features we’ve identified — one more humble, and one fairly ostentatious. Let’s start with the less ornamented, more typical example:
This 1935 home on Lindell Avenue, just across South Congress Avenue from the Tudor-heavy Travis Heights neighborhood, has several identifyable Tudor features of its own. The house’s subtype, as identified in the book, is “Single Dominant Mid-Facade Gable:”
“About 20 percent of Tudor homes are side-gabled or hipped form with a single front-facing gable added in the middle as a dominant facade element. This gable is rarely centered and generally includes the entry composition.”
— A Field Guide to American Houses, Page 449
As you can see from the placement of the building’s single gable over the entry porch, which is also slightly off-center, the subtype description above actually describes the home pretty accurately. The arch over the entry porch is another classic Tudor feature, and actually repeats twice over two sides of the adjacent porch section, to the left of the entrance from the perspective of our photo.
The home has a relatively steeply-pitched, side-gabled roof, along with an extremely prominent chimney, which in the Tudor style includes elaborations including arch-patterned brickwork and two separate shafts, which according to the book is intended to evoke the notion of the chimney including flues from several different fireplaces — though it goes on to explain that this is usually fake. Decorated chimney pots at the top are also a common feature, but this particular example is a bit more austere than that. The home also doesn’t include the elaborate casement windows, often with diamond-shaped panes, that you’ll find on so much Tudor architecture, but if you look closely, you’ll see diamond shapes both on the window of the front door and a smaller window on the left side of the house.
According to the book, only a third of Tudor homes include the half-timbering so iconic to most people when they think of this architectural style — so it’s kind of funny to see that this home only seems to feature it, or at least a design meant to evoke the look of it, on the doors of its rear garage.
The home above, known as the Edgar H. Perry Jr. House, is our grander example of Tudor architecture — so much so, in fact, it’s included in the National Register of Historic Places. Completed in 1929 and located at 801 Park Boulevard in the Hancock neighborhood, it’s a dead ringer for some of the more elaborate features we didn’t see on the previous home, and falls into the “multiple-facade gables” subtype described in the book:
“This picturesque subtype is found in about 15 percent of Tudor houses. It has two or more dominant cross gables placed randomly on the front facade and often includes gabled wall or roof dormers.”
— A Field Guide to American Houses, Page 450
The sweeping roofline of the eave on the left side of these photos is typical for Tudor architecture, along with the prominent arches over the windows and doors. You can also see some diamond-shaped windowpanes peeking out near the front door — although this look is often faked by simply placing diamond-shaped wooden frames over a single pane of glass. It’s unclear if that’s the case here.
But the elephant in the room, and undoubtedly the most defining element of the entire home, is its turret that contains the front door — a feature perhaps more medieval-looking than any other:
Although the Perry House shares some of these Tudor Revival characteristics with other houses in the same style, it is distinguished from them because of its unique architectural decoration and elements. The most salient of these is the entrance, which is defined strongly by a round conical turret entrance. The stucco-clad turret contrasts with the stone veneer cladding of the rest of the façade, and emphasizes the round arch entry. The turret’s diagonally-placed windows, which mimic and imply an internal spiral stair, add a sense of overall whimsy to the design. The pointed arch lancet windows are another rare feature in Tudor revival style.
— National Register of Historic Places
In fact, according to its description from the National Register, the Perry house might just be one of the finest examples of the Tudor style in the city.
This is only a brief look at common Tudor design features, but once you start looking, you’ll see them everywhere in Austin’s older neighborhoods. But seriously, you should think about buying this book — it’ll get you interested in this stuff whether you think you care or not.