Historic Kentucky House Plans: The T-Plan

I enjoy words – and the field of architectural history provides a plethora of interesting terminology and vocabulary to tickle my fancy.  Although there are some terms that are set in stone (the classical order of columns, for example), there are so many regional variations – not  the least being house types, forms, and plans. If I mention a “T-plan house” to someone not familiar with Kentucky architecture and nomenclature, I may get a very puzzled look in return. For all of the confusion about what to call this type of house, it is very common in our towns and countryside.

A 1.5 story T-plan in rural Franklin County, Kentucky.

A T-plan refers to a dwelling that in plan (if you were to look down on it from above) looks like the letter “T” set on its side, with the cross bar of the T being a gable fronted wing. There is almost always a porch joining the  two wings of the house, and entry into the dwelling is from that porch – sometimes with one entry door, sometimes with two. And to make matters more confusing – T-plans come in a variety of house plans.

A late-19th century brick T-plan in Mt. Sterling, Kentucky.

T-plan houses can be built in any material, and range from one story in height to 2.5 stories. In Kentucky, the house type developed after the Civil War, and appears to have trickled into urban areas from surrounding farmland.

The typical plan of a rural T-plan, or any T-plan with a large enough lot to accommodate a central passage.

The rural T-plan (above) is essentially a variation on the central passage plan (see below), with one of the  rooms located along the central hall moved forward, resulting in an irregular facade. This allowed the rooms in the ell to be accessed by the central passage.

Central passage plan, drawn by William J. Macintire.

The rural T-plan often usually had an ell, and over the years, might develop a rambling footprint, with enclosed porches, and open porches, and various additions for kitchens and bathrooms and the like. Many T-plans built in the last quarter of the 19th century feature polygonal bay windows on the facade, and ornamentation like brackets at the cornice, and porches with spindles and decorative “gingerbread.”

A rural T-plan farmhouse, Bath County, Kentucky.

A circa 1893 rural T-plan in Casey County, Kentucky.

I’m not sure how the type developed and changed over time, but what is clear is that many urban T-plan houses did away with hallway or central passage.

A plan of an urban T-plan, drawn by Kris Nonn of the North Limestone Community Development Corporation (NoLi CDC).

These T-plan dwellings instead have the two front rooms (one projecting in front of the other) side-by-side. This was likely an adaptation to narrow city lots.

The urban T-plan captured in the above plan. Image courtesy of Kris Nonn.

Urban T-plans present the “T” shape, but more often than not, are smaller than their rural counterparts.

A T-plan in Lexington, Kentucky.

Room function varies in the T-plan houses that do not incorporate a central hall. Often, an exterior door provides access to both of the front rooms.

A T-plan with two entry doors (marked by white arrows). Lexington, Kentucky.

This allowed one of the front rooms to be used as a “public” space, or living room, while the other front room could be utilized as a bedroom.

A T-plan with the two front entry doors, plus another door on the side at the rear of the house (and a partially enclosed porch). Paintsville, Johnson County, Kentucky.

T-plan houses were popular not just in Kentucky, but in most places with substantial late 19th and early 20th century residential development.  In Washington state, the type is called an “upright-and-wing.” North Carolinians refer to the type as a “gable and wing.”

A small rural T-plan in Crittenden County, Kentucky.

The T-plan persisted in popularity from the late 19th century well into the 20th century. I’ve surveyed examples from the 1940s!  No matter what name it goes by, the key to recognizing the type is looking for that projecting front gable on the facade. Often, you’ll also be treated to a profusion of chimneys, differing roof lines, and multiple porches. The T-plan is one of my favorite house types in Kentucky, because of the myriad of ways in which the form is interpreted and constructed – that’s the beauty and magic of vernacular architecture.


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  1. Joberta Wells says:

    I love them! I recognize the Casey County house. That sweet little rundown house breaks my heart!

  2. Berle Clay says:

    A very nice synthesis…..thanks!

  3. Annie Jaech says:

    I loved this! I was raised in Fulton, MO where in the 1840s, Kentucky sent many of her elite. They brought the T-Plan. It was introduced in their grand homes and mansions. The Kerr family came to establish the Missouri School for the Deaf. William Dabney Kerr of Danville & Centre College built a red brick Italianate, two stories. As you said, it had glass galleries all about and an enormous and brilliant stained glass window in the central hall that was nearly floor to ceiling. Off this hall and next to the kitchen was a bathroom with a water closet and tub! In 1848! The galvanized tank was supported by the bathroom walls and water was regularly pumped into it. The Kerr family built three variations of this house. One stands today.
    The Rice-Henderson family, headed by Rev. Nathan Rice of Paris of Paris came to establish the Presbyterian Westminster College. Early on, the ell of one of their several houses burned. Porches and galleries were hurled at the remaining structure, some with stained glass. It is an oddity, still standing today.
    Cottages of this style were built after the 1860s. As a response to the first homes of the Kentuckians, it was unusual for them to be plain. More than a dozen grande dames remain in this small town, and dozens of cottages. When I was young, most all were chastely white. Now they carry all colors, mostly suitable. The town still celebrates its Kentucky roots.

  4. Rogers Barde says:

    I loved this T-plan article. Perfect with drawings and illustrations of actual houses. Thank you.
    I am looking forward to an article on central passage plans – which is what my 1868 house is, along with its three neighbors on Vine St in Paris.

  5. Thanks for another great article. This one was of particular interest because my little house was referred to as a T plan and I didn’t see it but now I do. Thanks for clearing up a mystery. You didn’t mention the wrap around porch my house has but I guess that is just another variation.

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