Drive along the backroads of tobacco country and you will see untended fields, collapsed tobacco barns, and centuries of hard-used Tidewater houses, some occupied and some standing against time with just a rusting memory to hold plank to stud.  The Tidewater style has survived revolution, railroads, war, depression, technology, recession, and the death of a way of living because it perfectly accommodates coastal conditions from northern Florida to southern Maryland.

The Tidewater house is adaptable.  You will notice by the overlay of board or plank that many of these farmhouses began as simple one-room structures with stone-end chimneys.  You might guess that the rearward shed-roof extension was added when the farmer took a wife, that the front shed-roofed porch was added for comfort of a growing family, and if you guessed so, you might well be correct.  Too, in traveling west (through Virginia to Kentucky, the Carolinas to Tennessee, Georgia to Louisiana) you might notice that these plank houses on stone foundations become well-kempt log cabins, square-hewn or round.  Sometimes you will find a new Tidewater, its vintage truck, old tractor, comfy rockers, patch of tobacco or tomato–the proud inheritor of an American tradition.


Tidewater House Plan, M. Curtis

Tidewater House Plan, 104 Elev & Truss, M. Curtis, des.


Extending from gabled, gambrel, or hipped roof, the defining characteristic of the Tidewater house is the porch, front, front & back, or wraparound.  Shaded, breezy in summer, covered and comfortable in winter, the Tidewater porch extends the living room and sometimes the bedrooms.  The XVII and XVIII Century Tidewater was most often a tight vernacular box, a sheltered hall & parlor with centered door and balanced windows.  In time the house learned from necessity, the homeowners from experience.  The Tidewater house grew from English habit to American tradition, that friendliness of porch swing and rocker, polite neighborliness and semiprivate courtship, father and mother at ease in conversational intimacy, with wick, oil lamp, or moon to illuminate faces.  You can picture this wiser, better time.


Tidewater House Plan, architectural drawing

Tidewater House Plan, 105 Sec & Details, M. Curtis, des.



A modesty in size and scale, except for a prominent stone-end chimney or two.  As the house grew with family and activity, thin small chimneys were added where needed.  The hall & parlor side gable with shed roof or catslide (alike the saltbox but sloping as in a curved slide) is common (17th into the 20th Century).  Most Tidewaters ascend from the Georgian tradition, its bilateral symmetry and central hall (when sufficiently large to include a stair and second floor) within a modest massed plan.  Large, expansive Tidewaters in the Adam style and small postmedieval Tidewaters seldom survive, the first for maintenance expense, the latter because dark and cramped.

Roof Features
“V” or standing-seam metal roofs in many variations: Notice the roof pitch change where gable turns to shed.  Sometimes, a house with hipped or pyramidal roof will feature a wraparound porch, a form tight and aesthetically pleasing.  Gambrel is common south and southwest.


Structure and Materials
Unadorned horizontal boards, sometimes vertical board and batten, occasionally log.  Sometimes the house will be brick (if a brickyard is nearby and the bricks affordable), and these will have timber additions faced with weatherboard.  Log when westward.  Stone foundation and piers are the rule.  I’ve not found a stonewall Tidewater with long porches attached.  The raised on piers Tidewater is most often found because most easily maintained.


Tidewater House Plan, Rendering

Tidewater House Plan, Rendering Framed, M. Curtis, des.


Space and Floor Plan
Breezy, full-length front porches (usually south facing) are a universal pleasure in the humid South: too, covered porches allow farmhands in without letting them in.  Along the Eastern Seaboard you will find most every English floorplan style (one room, linear, massed).  Along the seaboard and west, the Tidewater is an unpretentious house, a house of families indifferent to social climbing, disinterested in social status and citified pretense.  Along the Gulf Coast, French styles, as in plantations of the Caribbean with their massed, stacked layers of pretty porches, or in the simple, almost English, Creole and Cajun cottages, homes suitable to the indentured, the slave, the honest farmer.  Should mention, the Creole and Cajun when unmixed with the English is a unique style.

The porch.

Minimal, though columns and piers make appearances in high-style, Ordered examples, and occasionally a house might be prettified in Italianate or Queen Anne fancywork.

Once, the tobacco or cotton farm, or expansive garden if in the mountains or hills.  These days, all too often, yards of rusted machines and decades if not centuries of throwaways piled or scattered.  Best, happiest examples are tidy, especially when modified with conditioning (an easy fix because most examples are elevated on piers).

Georgia and west, a Tidewater might be fashioned in the Huguenot style (one room deep with full-length front or front & back piazza).  Westward Tidewaters will be of log, wood being plentiful in Kentucky, Tennessee, and North Carolina (Virginia and Ohio forests had mostly been cleared by Indian burnings).  The Florida “Cracker” (named for the whip-crack … no, not of slaves but of cattle and horse) is a style almost Tidewater in-exact, as Florida 1850 through 1930 was settled by Eastern Seaboard southerners (Florida was admitted to the Union in 1845).  Florida then and now is agrarian, hos epi to polu.




Wrap-around windows allow cool breezes from the pond.  Although not necessary, I suggest a pond with an expansive dock and a rowboat to catch fish you’ve stocked, or the typical fish brought by eggs from the webs of geese and ducks.  The partially screened shady porch features an expansive pass-through from the country kitchen.  This spacious kitchen opens to the dining table of the great room, and here you might find the hideaway television cabinet and game store.  Too, notice the large fireplace that keeps your home cozy and tight, and see the fieldstone floor expanding beyond the fireplace … this to protect carpets from sand, lake, twig, snow and popping embers.  There are two bedrooms and two baths (the master bath is extensive) and there is a refreshing outdoor shower for people, pups, and other critters.  You might notice the ample pantry-storage room, convenient for canned goods and extended seclusion.  You are unlikely to notice the basement escape-safe room (entered through the master bedroom floor).  This Tidewater house plan is cozy, charming, rustic, convenient, friendly and fun.  It features low stone walls, a dog-run, a dock for sunning, fishing, parties, and romantic boating excursions, and there are also plans for firepits, picnic tables, benches, camp stoves, fish houses and other structures typical of a woodland retreat.


Tidewater House Plan M. CurtisPlan and Elevation Illustration 1

Tidewater House Plan, Plan and Elevation, M. Curtis, des.


19’-0”                           Height
37’-4”                           Width
37’4”                            Depth
1,394                           Square Feet
15’-6”                          Main Ceiling
2                                   Bedrooms
2                                   Bathrooms
1                                   Laundry
board and batten

Room Size
Family Room                 17’-11” x 15’-9”
Kitchen                          17’-11” x 15’-9
Master Bedroom         14’-2” x 12’-4”
Master Bath                 14’-2” x 6’-5”
Bedroom                       10’-0” x 12’-4”

open floor plan
economical to build
kitchen island
main floor bed & bath
main floor laundry
covered front porch
wheelchair adaptable
outdoor shower

Upon request, plans for outbuildings and rustic amenities.


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Featured image: Tidewater House Plan, The Franklinton, Front Elevation, M. Curtis, des.

For more on the Tidewater style, visit The Beautiful Home.

Tidewater in context.


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