Types & Styles of Roofs on Historic Houses

How many types, or styles, of roofs can you name?   (And how many times can you say “roofs” without thinking it is a really weird word?  Maybe it’s just me.).  Anyway, there are a lot of combinations of roof styles, shapes, & sizes, but there are not many basic roof shapes if you want to learn the basics.  Watch for future posts that will go into more detail and include more illustrations of each roof style.  But in the meantime, here is a quick primer on the basics:

gable3Gable (or Pitched)

This is what many would picture as the classic, and most common, and perhaps even the most simple, roof style in America.  It is a triangular-shaped roof, resembling the letter A.  Depending on the weather conditions of the area, these roofs can have a gradual slope or a very steep slope, allowing for rain and snow to run off easily. This roof style is common for lots of different architectural styles & were popular during most phases of American architecture.  Even this large, impressive Colonial, with a large pediment in the front, has a basic gable roof.

(Click Here for Index of 100+ articles here at Historic House Blog!!)


This is the same as a gable roof, except that there is more than one section or angle.  The cross-gable roof usually forms a 90 degree angle, common on houses that have different sections & form an “L” shape or “T” shape.  This roof shape is very common with Greek Revival and Victorian styles such as Gothic and Queen Anne.


As the name suggests, this roof is, well,  flat.  However, it might have a slight angle to allow some water runoff.  This style is not really practical for areas that experience heavy snowfall (it originated in sunny Italy & other similar regions), but you’ll find them throughout the United States.  This type of roof is inexpensive, easy to build and uses few materials, and was especially popular during the Italianate period (late 1800s).


Often (but not always) a low pitched roof, sloping upward from all sides of the building, but with the sides stopping short of meeting at the middle (lending the appearance of a pyramid that is chopped off at the top).  Allows for large eaves on buildings, and was popular with the Prairie and Craftsman styles in the early 1900s. Here is an example of a “hipped” roof on a Mediterranean home from the 1930s.


A hipped roof, except where all sides continue to a single point, which forms a a pyramid shape (thus the name, pyramidal).  This style of roof was popular during several eras, and is very common on American Foursquare homes (1900-1920s).


A gambrel roof features two different roof slopes on the front and back, with gables on the sides.  This roof style was used as early as the 1600s by the Dutch settling in the Hudson region, and this style of roof is thus sometimes referred to as the “Dutch style.”  It is also the style of roof that is often used with large barns.  The gambrel roof may or may not have dormers, like the house pictured on the left.  Another example here is a 1790s Gambrel, though it had a porch added during the Victorian era.


A mansard roof has two slopes on each of the four sides. The lower slope is steeper than the upper slope, and is sometimes curved inward (concave) or outward (convex).  Dormers are often set in the lower slope.  The upper slope is usually not visible from the ground.  The term “mansard” originates from the French architect François Mansart (1598-1666) of the Beaux Arts School of Architecture in Paris, France.  Mansard roofs were considered especially practical because they allowed usable living quarters to be placed in the attic.  As such, older buildings in the United States were often remodeled with mansard roofs.  The Second Empire — or Mansard —  syle was a Victorian style, popular from the 1860s through the 1880s.  Here is an example of a Mansard froof combined with a Gable roof.

As mentioned, I will be posting a bit more history & architectural information about several of these roof styles over the next couple of months, so check back often!


  1. by Historic House Blog » Houses We Love: Unique Gambrel in Willington, CT, on 03.06.09 @ 6:39 PM


    […] you probably notice is the very unique roofline, which is the result of someone altering an old gambrel (”Dutch”) roof & adding an ell to the back of the house (”Saltboxing” it, a bit).  But the […]

  2. by Historic House Blog » Historic Style Spotlight: Georgian Architecture, on 05.28.11 @ 9:32 PM


    […] architects created trademark Georgian houses, usually featuring a larger-than-normal scale, a gambrel roof, and a very elaborate, Baroque-inspired front door surround. These high-style examples – […]

Comment RSS · TrackBack URI