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Mansard Roofs: All Hail the Second Empire!

Image courtesy of GeorgetownMetropolitan.com.

Welcome to CIRCA School, in which Amanda uncovers the fascinating facts behind everyone’s favorite old house details. We’re taking a field trip to Paris for today’s lesson on mansard roofs!
On my trip to Paris last month I was surrounded by boulevards of beautiful buildings capped with mansard roofs — or, as I once heard someone call them, “French hats!” Better still, I stayed in a hotel topped with a mansard. With views of the Left Bank out my dormer window, a big part of the room’s allure was the sloped ceiling formed by this roof’s charming shape. But what exactly is a mansard roof?

circle I gave a clue when describing my hotel room, but essentially it’s a high-pitched roof with two slopes (the lower slope standing almost vertical and designed in a variety of straight or curvy shapes). Though he didn’t invent the mansard, French architect François Mansart used it so often in his 17th-century designs that it was eventually named after him.
In America, these sloped roofs first came into fashion in the mid-19th century with the arrival of the Second Empire style. Covered in patterned designs and visually supported by cornices and decorative brackets, it’s what I’d call the ultimate “statement” roof. From dormers with ornate window surrounds to iron cresting along the roofline and a centered or offset cupola — you name it, the mansard flaunts it!
The Second Empire style fell out of favor in the mid-1880s, but mansard roofs made a small comeback on certain Beaux-Arts style homes at the turn of the 20th century. Even so, it’s hard not to associate them with Second Empire homes. They were just meant for each other, weren’t they?
P.S. You can own a mansard-capped confection! Check out CIRCA’s curated listings for houses with French hats by clicking HERE.


Amanda is an historic preservationist living in New York City with a particular fondness for fixer-uppers. She can be spotted checking out quirky historic details here, there, and everywhere in her handmade dresses. Every time Amanda sees a cozy room with large windows and beautiful built-ins she can’t help but imagine her very own sewing nook with oldies music playing in the background.


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