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A Man Who Has Nothing In Particular To Recommend Him Discusses All Sorts of Subjects at Random as Though He Knew Everything

**Ring** Hobbit House Roofers. Peregrine Took Speaking

American house architecture was much more exuberant in the 1920s than since. I’ve worked on houses from the 17th century through the 21st, and the 1920s can lay a claim to being the most useful and practical without giving up anything in the style department. They’re generally smaller than a contemporary house, but that’s a feature, not a bug, if you ask me. Most contemporary houses are huge because they waste a lot of space, and waste it in multiples while the occupants try to find a corner of their caverns to actually live in. If the houses were designed better, they could be smaller. They aren’t, so they can’t.

They were, in the twenties. It’s important to remember that compared to the walk-up rented apartments and ramshackle shacks the twenties homebuyer was moving from, they weren’t all that small. But a 2012 female person takes one look at the modest closet, and the 2012 male person vainly searches for seven feet of blank wall for their TV, and are disconsolate.

One of the most exuberant style items afoot back then architecturally was the faux thatched roof. That’s what you’re looking at there. The Arts and Crafts retreat to rusticity was in full play. But hobbit house roofers are hard to find in the 21st century, and so the homeowners had to find someone willing and a little unusual to plan the necessary assault on their roof and their checkbook.

The roof is a very large visual element on a house. 90 percent of them are blah expanses of asphalt tab shingles. Back a hundred years ago, you might find asphalt shingles, of course –the house in the picture might have had them as original equipment — but you’d be just as likely find slate, or sawn cedar, or heavier split shakes, or metal. They’d be laid in interesting patterns and a wider palette of colors than now, too. “What color gray do you want” is all they ask you at the lumberyard now.

I’ve repaired curved roofs like this. I cheated. If you lay cedar shingles on the lawn in the early morning, the sunny side shrinks and the damp, grass side expands, and they “cup” a good deal. You can bend them the rest of the way by hand and nail them down if you’re in a hurry. The steam box in the video is a much better method, of course. Well, “better” until you get the bill, anyway.

You can see some more faux-thatched roof designs, among other wonders, inside Classic Houses of the Twenties (Dover Architecture)

9 Responses

  1. I used to play underfoot while dad and granddad split shakes. Nobody got away with all their fingers, but it was honest work. Hence my father's favorite joke:

    "That's funnier than losing a card game to a six-fingered sawyer."

  2. Every year I swear I am through with roofing. Every year it pulls me back in.

    I have a house with a hip roof now. I could break a hip, just sayin'…

  3. There is (was?) a nifty set of single-storey apartments in the Los Feliz area of L.A. that were built by Disney to look like the cottage of the 7 Dwarves. Curvey roof and all.

  4. There are lots of these in Carmel. Swing a dead cat…hobbit roof. Too cute by half after a while. Give me a mortared, copper wired spanish tile or slate roof and see ya in a hundred years.

  5. I could do that for you in copper. Standing seam or single but not in anything like 5 Weeks and you'd hate, hate the bill.

  6. I met a man—he was in his 70s then—who was a house painter. But he'd built his own house when he was a younger man (after the war). It was redwood, inside and out, with a slate shingle roof, on brick piers, with brick porches, and brick driveway. The patio and garden paths were flagstone. No concrete anywhere. He said he built it that way so he could repair it himself, when needed. It was the perfect house—no wasted space, and a place for everything.

    A lightening strike knocked off some of the shingles, but he had some spares, stored for fifty years. He was making the repairs to sell the house. It was more than my husband and I could afford, but to this day I think of it as the one that got away.

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