St. Louis' Gingerbread Homes - Let's Tour the Outside! (Part 1)
Virginia & Lee McAlester’s A Field Guide to American Houses classifies homes like these as “eclectic Tudor”, which means they are derived from the Tudor style of architecture. This style was extremely popular all over the country in the 1920s and 1930s. Most of the homes shown here were built during this time period as well.
Nationally, decorative half-timbering on stucco walls is a prevalent feature of Tudor homes. An example of this would be this lovely Brentwood, Missouri home:
But in St. Louis, where it’s all about the brick, instead of wooden trim on stucco, decorative brick and stone dominates. This application of white stone around doorways and windows, along chimneys, and peppered between the bricks themselves, is the “icing” that gives these homes their distinctive character. It’s a style that has affectionately become known as “Gingerbread” to many St. Louisans. Another appropriate name for this style might well be “Tudorbread”. This artful and fairy-tale like mixture of stone and brick, which can be found nowhere else in the U.S. in such great quantity, provides St. Louis’ unique take on “eclectic Tudor”.
As we’ll see, St. Louis’ “Gingerbreads” exhibit a great variety of stylistic elements, but almost all still retain a very recognizable Tudor look. Some are large and some are small. But the one constant thread is that they are all beautiful. Even St. Louis’ smallest “Gingerbreads” or “Tudorbreads” have exquisite levels of detailing.
Gingerbreads can be found all over St. Louis City and its inner suburbs in many styles:
Princeton Heights (south St. Louis)
Lindenwood Park (south St. Louis)
Baden (north St. Louis)
North Pointe (north St. Louis)
Multiple exterior features make Tudor homes unique. First let’s point them out.
1) Nearly all Tudor homes have a steeply pitched roof, with large, wide prominent bargeboards fastened to the projecting gables of the roof. Many St. Louis homes offer a mix of front and side gables, and feature multiple roof lines of overlapping gables with eave lines of varying height. The front door is almost always accentuated with a front gable.
2) Tall and massive chimneys, almost always placed in a prominent location on or near the front of the house, are a dominant feature of St. Louis Gingerbreads, and work to further enhance the Tudor variable roofline. These chimneys are usually decorated with more complex brickwork or stone patterns. They may also be crowned by decorative chimney pots (if they have not been replaced). It may seem absurd to the more practical-minded, but in many cases these massive chimneys are quite out of proportion to their function. Many of these chimneys do not have, and never did have, a fireplace beneath them! Instead, they simply serve as a vehicle for the furnace flue pipe. But whether necessary or not, there’s no doubt these chimneys add greatly to the charm and beauty of St. Louis’ Gingerbread homes.
3) Tall, narrow windows grouped into strings of three or more are common in Tudor homes, and typically located below the main gable. In St. Louis’ Gingerbreads, stained art glass is typical if the original windows have not been replaced.
4) Perhaps one of the most impressive features of these homes are the doorways. Elegant round-arched doorways are prevalent. More traditional rectangular doorways are common too. Property owners with round top doors know the wisdom of maintaining them – replacing such “special order” doors can easily cost $6,000 or more. An amazing array of detailing and character can be found in these doorways.
Now let’s provide some examples of the above. If you’re a non-architect, non-construction person like me, you need lots of pictures to illustrate. And if you’ve read this far, you deserve them!
Let’s start with a small, but classic St. Louis Gingerbread home.
This is a front gable home. The roof is viewed from the side, not the front of the home. Because City lots tend to be narrow and deep, many Gingerbread homes tend to be front gabled.
A second front gable, at a different elevation and protruding from the main gable, highlights the doorway. Note the prominent white bargeboards along the roofline. If you look carefully, or enlarge the photo a bit, you will see decorative upside-down triangles on each gable where the bargeboards meet for that little extra touch of detail and character. Much more attractive that the common, straight, horizontal rooflines found on most buildings, don’t you think?
The massive chimney is a dominant feature, but it’s more than just large. At the base of the chimney, notice the detailing and craftsmanship exhibited in the arched brickwork pattern and decorative stone work. The top of the chimney features additional detailing with a vertical brick inset, and even more interesting, a Doric-like chimney column top, incredibly composed of brick!
Again, characteristic to the Tudor home, are the tall narrow windows grouped into sets of threes. The ground floor windows all feature beautiful art glass and stone trim along the top and corners. The attic three window set includes a decorative center arch window enhanced even further with arching brickwork.
The front doorway is emphasized with its own front gable, and by protruding forward from the rest of the home. It features a roundtop door and the entryway is further embellished with arched stonework that runs along the entire doorway.
As if all this beautiful detailing were not enough, texture-adding multi-colored bricks compose the primary exterior walls. This home is just over 1000 square feet. Imagine a home this small, and affordable, being built in modern times with such intricate detailing and craftsmanship. It doesn’t happen - this is not how homes are built today.
Let’s look at some more wonderful St. Louis Gingerbread homes.
Another classic St. Louis Gingerbread. A front gable home with a second front gable to highlight the entryway. Here again we see both a great quantity and mixture of detailing in this smaller home. Besides the obvious massive front chimney and standard three front window set with decorative stone (above) and brick trim (below), notice the vertical/horizontal brick patterns added near the base of the home and at the top of the front gables. Also the stonework that flares out at the base of the home on the right (left side hidden by bush) to give the home a more solid, robust, castle-like look. This is common. And finally there is the beautiful doorway, outlined in stone and, in a wonderful display of craftsmanship, four layers of curving overhead brick.
Front gabled with multi-colored brick. Primary features include the massive chimney, even more centered and prominent, and doorway with its own front gable. Note the decorative stonework at the base, base corners and chimney base, and around the doorway. The gingerbread peppering of stone throughout the front of this home adds even more to its beauty. Typically, front porch railings are built of metal or wood. But this is St. Louis, and so it is no surprise that it is built of of brick. Once again we see an incredible and beautiful amount of detailing in a small home.
A close-up of one of the many, many examples of exquisite brick craftmanship found on even St. Louis’ smallest Gingerbread homes. Here, the brick column above the doorway defies gravity as it expands outward and upward with each succeeding row (see close-up below), and is then topped by a beautifully detailed brick pattern.
This lovely home features steeply pitched roofs, a side gable and two front gables, multi-colored brick with stone accents, and a massive front chimney – all standard features of the St. Louis Tudor Gingerbread (or Tudorbread) style. This home adds to its character with its unusual arched front door that comes to a point, as in a more Gothic style, and a curious, perhaps whimsical, extremely narrow second story front above the front door.
Hard not to be blown away by this small, by today’s standards, yet stunning home. Side gabled with two front gables. Common to all St. Louis Gingerbreads, the steeply pitched roofs, multiple gables at different elevations, and mix of front and side gables, create a diverse and interesting roofline that instantly provides these homes with remarkable character. The prominent bargeboards and large front chimney seem to provide an exclamation point to the entire set up! This home features an extra bit of architectural detail with its additional wood trim where the bargeboards meet. Another multi-colored brick home, featuring a brownish mix rather than the more common red variety, with lots of “icing” stone trim work at the base, along the chimney, and around the doors and windows. Also note the brick work and decorative chimney pots at the top of the chimney. The layered and decorative brick work at the top creates a column-like effect, instead of just a standard chimney.
Like many of the homes featured on this site, nowhere in the outer suburbs would it be possible to find homes this beautifully detailed at two or even three times the cost and size of this gorgeous home.
This side gabled home features two front gables, with the left entryway bargeboard sweeping almost all the way down to the porch. Also features additional brick detailing at the porch level, around the windows, and on the chimney. This lovely home, along with many others on this site, are located in North St. Louis. So many in our region are quick to condemn all of north St. Louis as nothing but a bombed-out wasteland, a place that must be avoided. Yes, it’s true there are too many crumbling and dangerous areas here, but there are also many, many beautiful streets and neighborhoods on the City’s north side as well.
Plenty of icing on this Gingerbread beauty. Extremely steep pitched roof with multiple gables. Side gabled with two prominent front gables. An arched doorway, but not the more common semi-circle. Again features a massive chimney in front and 3 piece front window set. Note again the brick front porch railing. The extensive use of white stone detailing is the prize here, providing abundant character.
Here we have traditional Tudor styling with some St. Louis Gingerbread added for good measure. The second story features decorative timbering, steeply pitched roofs on its two front gables, and multiple sets of triple windows. This is all common to the Tudor style. But on the first floor we see the strongly composed, almost castle-like, broad stone base so common to St. Louis Gingerbreads, with a few “icing” stone accents added to the brick front.
This smaller home presents a different take on the Gingerbread home. Much less brick and far more icing. But other eclectic-Tudor features are easily recognizable. Again we see multiple gables - essentially a side-gabled home with two prominent front gables. The bargeboards have decorative triangles added at the apex. The arched front door is highlighted with its own front gable, with decorative brick trim around it and the French doors on the left. It’s a delightful home beautifully maintained.
Not a large home, but one of breathtaking beauty. This home has so much to love. The clay tile roof adds immeasurably to its charm. The two massive front gables are crowned at the top by decorative pieces. Multi-colored brick with stone accents around the door, above the windows, and base of the chimney – the stone accents appear to be further accented with a darker colored mortar that makes them pop even more favorably! Note all the cross-hatched stained glass windows. And don’t miss the beautiful brick arch on the right above the side walk (partly obscured by shade).
This larger Tudorbread earns special marks for its distinctive and attractive styling. Predominately multi-colored brick with scatterings of gingerbread icing like most of the homes featured here. But note its 3 triple window sets, and more traditional Tudor styling above the second story window. Of course, the real eye candy here is the beautiful entryway turret. I don’t know how it’s done, but I can certainly appreciate the craftmanship it must have taken to take a straight-lined rectangular object, a brick, and transform it to build, of all things, a circular structure! Look closely at the top of the turret and you will see additional brick detailing just below the roof line.
We close Part 1 of our study with another humble classic. Two front gables, large front chimney, with superb brick detailing above the front window trio. This home features a beautiful brick and stone alternating pattern at the front entrance. The arched entryway introduces the more conventional, but still handsome, rectangular front door with its art-glass speakeasy.
Take a break, and please come back when ready for Part 2!