a roof over your head

June 5th 2014 Comments: 13 Topics: , , ,

“How often have I lain beneath rain on a strange roof, thinking of home.” – William Faulkner
Years ago, I was working with a client and the topic of roof material arose.  I started talking about all the options appropriate for her new house and she exclaimed “Before this discussion, I don’t think I’ve ever even looked at a roof before!”  I was shocked. I then realized most normal (read: non-designers) don’t notice these kinds of things.  Roofs are more than just mere shelter, the material that covers them is an important selection in the architectural process.  And in this world of a million choices, my job is often editor.   Roof coverings come in a variety of  materials; choosing the correct one is based almost entirely on the style of the house.  Of course, budget is always a consideration, too.  The following are roof materials we most often use and reasonings behind their selection.  The materials are listed from least expensive to most:

As a rule, we don’t use a lot of asphalt shingles as we tend to lean toward more natural materials. This diamond shaped shingle, however, is a good economical solution for camp type structures like lake and mountain houses. And it beautifully recalls the WPA structures popular in National Parks.
Metal roofing, which is a sheet material, works well on beach houses and farm structures. We do a lot of rustic galvanized installations as the silver coloration ages well over time settling into a muted, gray tone.

Cedar shingles are very versatile in terms of style. They work well on a humble English country house (emulating the look of more expensive thatch) and are equally at home on formal European inspired homes. Wood shingles come in two types – hand split (pictured above) and machine sawn. The machine sawn are better used on edgier, transitional houses. Cedar provides a splendid textural appearance and, given the two shingle types, can go from shaggy dog to clean and tailored.
182 Alys rooftop
Lately, we’ve been using flat concrete shingles on a lot of coastal houses. If you coat the shingles in a colored elastomeric coating, it duplicates the appearance of the stunning stepped stone roofs found in Bermuda. Writer and photographer Lynn Nesmith (credited with the picture above) said the roof had a “very polite profile” silhouetted against the teal Gulf.
Slate shingles are the first rung on the economic ladder of a “permanent roof”. They are available in lovely natural colors ranging from dark gray to purplish green and come in varying thicknesses and exposures. With these color and texture ranges, they are best used on European-inspired and traditional American style houses. They also work equally well on contemporary structures.
Clay barrel tile
Newly manufactured clay tile roof shingles come in lots of shapes and colors but we rarely use these as they always look too monochromatic and just scream “beach condo.” We like to use reclaimed tiles as they already have years of age built in. It’s impossible to duplicate this patina with a new tile roof. The house pictured above has a roof that was salvaged from a demolished 1920s government building in California. There are a number of architectural salvage companies who specialize in obtaining these antique roofs. Any Mediterranean style home welcomes these shingles.
Thatch has been used in Europe for centuries but is pretty uncommon stateside. We began using it a few years ago by importing craftsmen and material from Ireland. Due to our increased use, a few brilliant installers have immigrated to our shore and now work in the US. Its pastoral, romantic beauty cannot be duplicated by any available product. Thatch is perfect for all things English, tropical or anything exotic. As of this writing, it seems to be holding up well in a number of our domestic climates but does require maintenance as birds occasionally raid the reeds for their nests.


English clay tile
These small shingles from England are handmade – they literally have the maker’s handprint embedded on the backside. They come in a few colors but this “topsoil” colored shingle is our favorite. They are used mainly in Europe for restorations but are fabulous for new French and English houses. Incomparable in their field, they instantly age a newly built house. They also come complete with beautifully integrated ridge and hip caps.

After our meeting, my aforementioned client was well versed in the world of roof materials.  I hope this inspires you to occasionally look up and behold what blankets the roofs over our heads.

Greg Tankersley for McAlpine Tankersley


  1. And I thought that, after 33 years in residential real estate with a focus on older and historic homes, I knew roofing. Not! Thank you for educating me.

  2. Allan Satterfield says:

    As someone who has dedicated a large portion of my life to beautiful roofs, I really enjoyed seeing this. I actually installed one of the roofs pictured and managed the install of another. Great post!

  3. Suzanne Wilson says:

    A roof can make such a difference in a home……..thanks for the post!

  4. I love my roof designed by Bobby McAlpine and Scott Torode./Users/richardjahnle/Pictures/iPhoto Library.photolibrary/Masters/2014/05/25/20140525-174404/DSC_1057.JPG

  5. Phyllis says:

    Excellent, informative post. Thank you.

  6. Emily says:

    I have been unable to source the green diamond shaped asphault shingles. Would you mind sharing that information?

  7. Stuart says:

    Can you share your source for the diamond asphalt shingles? I saw that house published several years ago and loved them but I’ve been unable to locate a source. I’m in North Carolina and used to see them on modest houses of the 1920’s – 1940’s but haven’t seen them in a long time.

  8. Love the architects design!

  9. Soy Sofiane says:

    Great design! How I can do the same with my roof?
    Please email me with details

  10. Soy Sofiane says:

    Do you guys provide roofing service in Florida? I’m waiting for some interesting roofing opportunity for my roof. I want to make re-roofing of my house this summer. What can you tell me about my roof???

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