Ancestral Roofs

"In Praise of Older Buildings"

Friday, November 16, 2012

Tip of the Hat


This little fellow is in some trouble. The machine parked against his west wall is disconcerting; the blasted tree seems full of foreboding. The chimneys have succumbed to the freeze/thaw cycle, exposed as they are atop the little hat roof.

This is an unusual house. I've passed it many times on Highway 2 west of Brighton. Last spring I felt a sense of urgency to record its image and its lineage.

I wonder if it's still there today?

Anthony Adamson illustrated the evolution of the Ontario cottage plan in the seminal book on Ontario architecture The Ancestral Roof (1963)*. It was a fruitful collaboration. I love what author Marion Macrea wrote on the frontispiece: "by Marion Macrae in constant consultation with, and sometimes in spite of Anthony Adamson, who wrote the first word and the last word and made the drawings."

Northumberland County - a house with a beanie
The Ontario cottage, a single or one-and-a-bit storey  house with a hip roof has long been with us. Gussied up with verandahs and treillage, it's called a Regency cottage. Adaptable, the Ontario cottage could be accessorized with different types of chimneys, porches, verandahs, doorways.

This odd little square house is particularly tall, to allow for headroom upstairs I expect. I wonder if earlier dormers, or a belvedere or some such handy way to get air and light to the upper floor were removed when a new roof was installed? It has a nice door-case with half-sidelights and a transom, symmetrically placed sash windows, and looks to be white stucco.

Adamson's drawings depict a house quite similar to this one, with wider eaves overhangs. He calls it "a house with a hat" and writes that  the style is quite common in Durham and Northumberland counties. His drawing portrays a c.1838 example on King Street in Cobourg. That one (hope to drop by and make its acquaintance one day) has a 'nun's coif dormer'.

There may be lots of houses with hats in Northumberland, but this is the first little guy I ever noticed. Maybe not big enough for a hat...maybe a beanie?

*Readers will recognize my tribute to this wonderful book in the choice of a name for the blog.


  1. It is really unusual, but I think the people who built this house wanted to have a higher ceiling for a more comfortable atmosphere. They kinda disregarded the aesthetic aspect on that part, which I think is better sometimes as the main thing in choosing a house design is for the comfort, and what other people’s impressions are about it, only comes next.

  2. Is the place still standing, do you know?