When looking at houses that have very distinct architectural styles, sometimes the way they are interpreted by builders and architects can be somewhat bewildering. Our house with its mansard roof is the perfect example. While going through the agonizing decision of whether or not to buy the house and put on a different roof, I studied everything I could about the mansard roof to see how something that could be so good could go so horribly wrong. Here’s what I think distinguishes the good from the bad and ugly.
1. Proportion – A good mansard roof doesn’t overwhelm the house and extend too far beyond the windows. A good mansard knows its place and doesn’t try to take over the house. The roof on our house extended all the day down to nearly the top of the first floor windows.
2. Dormers – The dormers on our house are recessed back into the roof. I’ve seen this on some nice mansard roofs, but the prettier mansards tend to have the dormers protruding out from the roof, like a good dormer should. While on the subject of dormers, it should have a classic shape instead of an angular shape that dates it to a particular bell-bottomed era while shall remain nameless. Another side note about windows recessed back into the roof is that it’s extremely noisy when it rains. The rain will hit the very large window sill and it can sound like you’re sleeping under a tin roof.
3. Shape – There appear to be two primary shapes with the mansard roof: boxy and flared. As you can probably imagine, boxy is not good. It’s the hallmark of a mansard build in the 70s and doesn’t have the grace of what the original designers of the mansard roof had in mind.
You don’t see too many mansard roof houses going up these days. It seems to be a pretty dated trend that reached its peak in the 70s. If you do see a mansard roof, it’s more likely to be on a newly built Victorian where the mansard is relegated to a small part of the house instead of dominating the entire roof. The mansard is a French invention and in areas where French Country architectural styles are popular, instead of a mansard you’ll more likely see a hip roof like in this photo: