How to Build a Vernacular Style Home

While it is feasible to build a vernacular style home from scratch, there are also a handful of rules and regulations that will make the process easier. Building a vernacular style home properly will allow you to enjoy all the amenities and design features for many years to come. This type of home will withstand the tale of time, allowing you to get away with only slight alterations and additions in the future. Vernacular properties posses an organic feeling, from the material you choose to the overall design.


One of the most important aspects when building a vernacular home is to avoid using the wrong materials. What are wrong materials, you may be asking? To start, the use of brick, for example, should only be used with respect to the local surroundings. If you are building in the South, avoid using smooth, dark bricks common to the Midlands. Likewise stone cladding should resemble that used in old stone houses in the area, enabling you to keep the overall feel of the area while still building a vernacular style home.

Generally, traditional materials will withstand weather and natural elements better, and they also produce more interesting finishes. The best example of this is render. If you intend to use render, use lime. It keeps the elements away just as well as cement, it is more pliable than cement and – most important of all – it’s what would have been used traditionally in the past.

Another means of achieving the look of age without actually using old materials it by using reclaimed materials. Keep in mind that it is important to be careful here. Using reclaimed materials is coveted by many who are building a vernacular style home, however, the challenge is to use a combination of new and reclaimed materials tastefully to produce the effect you desire.

While you may desire a quick build, it is important to take your time and create a schedule that will allow for enough time to hunt for materials that look consistent with other, local vernacular-style homes. Building a vernacular style should not be rushed and should most definitely be approached with great care and consideration. Additionally, some natural materials require time to install. Take lime again — it’s not a material to be used hastily. Unlike Portland cement, it never really sets hard. It certainly shouldn’t be used externally during heavy frost, so your schedule needs to reflect this.

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The construction of a vernacular-type home also brings conflict from builders and materials alike. While it is desirable to use both new and reclaimed materials, this may be difficult and requires a lot of patience and knowledge. Building a home today typically does not require you to use materials found a few hundred yards away with lime that has been obtained locally.  When writers state that all vernacular buildings were built using entirely local materials, they usually fail to mention 19th century properties were roofed in slate that came from Wales and the glass used for the windows was probably brought in from some distance away.

There is usually some level of ‘fakery’ too when it comes to building a vernacular style home. Modern standards of comfort achieved by cavity walls or perhaps a system such as SIPs (structural insulated panels) will make this inevitable — not to mention complying with Building Regulations.

Vernacular-Style Design

Handmade roof tiles, oak framed porch, timber weatherboarding and lime help give a house an old traditional style

If you want a house that has the look and feel of a traditional cottage and that truly respects the character of the local surroundings, then you may have to come to the realization that you will not be able to enjoy all the benefits of modern living. For example, building a vernacular style home will not permit you to have expensive glazing, like you would if you had a cottage style home. That is not to say all this is impossible. The key lies in the design — and in having someone to mastermind the project who understands precisely what you are trying to achieve. If it is to look authentic your home should, within a few years of completion, look as if it has always been there. Quite a challenge!

Attention to detail is one of the most essential aspects when building a vernacular style home. While this may require more of your time, effort, and patience than a conventional build, it will be well worth it in the end.  The reasons for this are pretty obvious — more design input, more work by hand, more roof, less standardization, and (hopefully) more searching for interesting ‘traditional’ materials.

Lastly, you will have to pay much attention to the myriad of traditional details such as roof pitch, window and door openings, and overhangs and verges. These will stand out like a sore thumb if they are not just right. Details such as this do not necessarily cost a great deal more, but it is perfectly true that the devil is in the detail. It is the cumulative effect of all these details that makes all the difference.

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