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