In Part I of this series on the history of the roof and the roofing trade, we primarily examined the materials used for roofing — from branches and mud to bricks and tiles. In today’s post, we turn to the history of roof design. Design is of course going to be strongly determined by the material restraints of an epoch — like what materials are available and its qualities.

There are a lot of factors that contribute to the design of a roof. When we speak of roof design, we are talking about the components or elements of a structure, and how those components work together with space to create a coherent, functional structure. Design implies some degree of planning and a vision for a space.

If you are in Nashville and are looking for a simple or complex roof design, Tim Leeper Roofing has the experience and knowledge to help. For a roofing company with an unmatched reputation for excellence, reach out to us today and get a Speedy Fast Quote.


The evolution of roofing design can be traced as far back as 3,000 BCE, when the Chinese started using clay roof tiles. By the time of the Greeks, slate and tile roofs began to be more common, due in large part to their fire-resistance and a new attitude towards building with an eye towards monumental longevity over and above pure pragmatism. Picking up from the Greeks, the Romans popularized slate and tile roofing all around Europe. However, by the 8th century, the most common type of roof was the thatched roof. By the 11th century, wooden shingles would become the most common.

In the 12th century, a major advancement in roofing design occurred in parts of Europe. Both legislation in Holland as well as legislation passed by King John in England was created, commanding citizens to replace thatched roofs with clay roofs. The reason for doing this was to try and prevent fires in the overcrowded wooden cities of the time. 600 years later, the first mass-produced clay tiles began to be produced. 100 years later, after the invention of concrete, concrete roofing tiles began to be used.

Roofing design here in America originated in large part as a continuation of European styles. The earliest settlements from Europe used whatever materials were available for their homes, which is primarily what led them to choose one design over another. One can drive around New England today and still see many of those simple designs that were originally implemented, due to how New Englanders to this day cherish their building traditions and like to remain loyal to those classic designs.


Focusing on the emergence of different styles of roofs in American history, the logical starting point is New England, where the early settlements were located. One distinctive style of roof common during these times was the Cape Cod, a simple, boxy single-story building with a low ceiling and a steeply pitched roof with gabled sides and narrow roof overhangs. This style led to the development of the slightly more complex style — the Saltbox Colonial.

Brought to the New World primarily through Dutch influence was the gambrel roof — a two-sided roof with slopes on each side. The top part of these roofs were shallower while the lower parts were steeper. The value of this design was more of a way to show you were upper class, during the 18th century.

Another popular style of roof in America in the 18th century was the hip roof, where all sides gently slide downwards with a gentle slope, meeting together at a pointed tip. The inward slope of the four sides makes the hip roof a more stable option than the Colonial or Cape Cod roofs — so for regions with high levels of wind or snow, a hip roof became a more preferable option. The shape of hip roofs also provided early Americans with a bit of extra space on the top floors of their homes, which led to its popularity. Just like homeowners today, early-Americans desired roof designs that were attractive, inexpensive, low-maintenance, and that would last a long time.


Today, roof designs are still significantly influenced by the local climate, availability of materials, cultural preferences, and other factors. However, unlike even 100 years ago, homeowners today are able to choose from a wide variety of materials and styles, to fit their aesthetic preferences and pragmatic goals and requirements. Ancient roof designs are still around today, but there have also been some new designs due to the availability of things like metal roofing and the ease of material transportation.

Today’s roofs are designed with greater choice for the homeowners, as well as greater strength and versatility. Roof designs that had before been reserved for only the most wealthy are now available for the general public. Whatever roofing design you want implemented on your home, be aware that there is likely a long history of human ingenuity, craftsmanship, and hard work behind it.

That is why we here at Tim Leeper Roofing in Nashville are so proud to be roofers. This long tradition combines practical necessity with artistry, a combination we strive to uphold as much as possible. The tradition of home building is long and fascinating. Today’s post was just a dip of the toe in the deep end of roofing design history. If you want to start reaping the benefits of the long history of roofing, schedule an inspection or get a Speedy Fast Quote from Tim Leeper Roofing to get started today.

In our final part of this three-part series, we will be looking at the main developments of roofing in the 20th century, concluding by looking at the future of roofing in the 21st century. Read part III here.