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A house with dark wood beams and white plaster

A half-timbered house in Toulouse, France

In the Middle Ages, many people in northern Europe (northern France, Germany, and England) built their houses in this half-timbered way. This was because wood for building was expensive. Most people couldn’t afford to build their whole house out of wood.
Instead, they built just a frame of wood. Then they filled in the frame with lath and plaster. Lath is made of smaller sticks, too small to hold any weight. Over the lath you smear on plaster made from lime.

At first people just did half-timbering to save money on wood. But soon they realized that you could make attractive patterns with the dark wood and the white plaster.

In the Middle Ages, people didn’t have just one family living in such a big house. If the family was rich, they lived in a house like this along with many of their servants and employees. If the family was poor, they might live as servants or employees. Or the whole family lived in one room of the house, and other families lived in the other rooms, like small apartments today.

Learn by doing: draw a half-timbered house
More about houses

Bibliography and further reading about medieval houses:

More medieval architecture
Chinese houses
More about the Middle Ages home