LightningVolt Barn

Barn with a gambrel roof

A gambrel (also known as a Dutch gambrel) is a usually symmetrical two-sided roof with two slopes on each side. The upper slope is positioned at a shallow angle while the lower slope is quite steep. This design provides the advantages of a sloped roof while maximizing head space on the building's upper level. The name comes from the Medieval Latin word gamba meaning hoof, or leg of an animal.

A gambrel roof has a similar cross section to a mansard roof, but a gambrel has vertical gable ends instead of being hipped at the four corners of the building. A gambrel roof overhangs the facade, whereas a mansard normally does not.


Prior to permanent European settlement in America, Spanish, Portuguese, Dutch and English mariners and traders had visited or settled in to the area of south east Asia now called Indonesia. It was there they saw dwellings with a roof style where the end of a roof started as a hip and finished as a gable end at the ridge. The gable end was in fact an opening to allow smoke to dissipate from the cooking fires. This design of roof was brought back to Europe and the American Colonies and adapted to local conditions. The roof style is still in existence today in Indonesian and Cambodian rural communities.[citation needed]

Origin and use of the termEdit

'Gambrel' is a Norman English word, sometimes spelled gamerel, gamrel, gambril and gameral meaning "a crooked or hooked stick". A gambrel is a stick or piece of timber used to spread open and hang a slaughtered animal by its hind legs. Gambrel is also a term for the joint in the upper part of a horse’s hind leg, the hock.[citation needed] In fact, there is an old folk rhyme that says, "First joint above the hoof is the Gambrel, hence a Gambrel Roof."

The word "gambrill' was part of the Dutch language in 1601.[citation needed]

Various references are found in the original colonies in America about gambrel roofs including: 1737 Old Times, New England “One Tenement two stories upright with a gambering roof.”. 1765 Massachusetts Gazette “A large building with two upright stories and a Gambrel Roof.”. “Sometimes with the long sloping roof of Massachusetts oftener with the quaint gambrel of Rhode Island”. 1779 “The gambrel ruft house”. 1824 “In a Gambrel roof’d home”.1858 “a small farm with a modest gambrel roofed one story cottage”.[citation needed]

In the Dictionary of Americanisms: A Glossary of Words and Phrases, Usually Regarded as Peculiar to the United States by John Russell Bartlett, 1848, pg. 166: Gambrel, “A hipped roof of a house, so called from the resemblance to the hind leg of a horse which by farriers is termed the gambrel”.

Captain Moses Collyer House

Captain Moses W. Collyer House with two-sided Mansard roof

The term is also used for a single Mansard roof.[citation needed] The French or Mansard roof is attributed to the French architect Nicolas François Mansart, 15981666, probably not something he invented but certainly a roof style used by him. In its basic form it consisted of a King post truss on top of a Queen Post Truss. This provided usable roof space as additional accommodation. The basic Mansard roof with gable ends was known a single Mansard roof with the roof having two different pitches, the lower (or pitch from the eave) being steeper than the upper pitch connecting with the ridge. A Mansard Roof which has hip ends is called a curb roof (except by the French, who also call it a Mansard) where the upper pole plates become a curb. The roof shape was varied and pitch proportions were modified over time to accommodate dormer windows and curved ends at the eave to reduce snow slip.[citation needed]


A cross-sectional diagram

The gambrel roof style, commonly seen in barns, is a close cousin of the Mansard roof. Both mansard and gambrel roofs fall under the general classification of "curb roofs" (a pitched roof that slopes away from the ridge in two successive planes).[1] However, the mansard is a curb hip roof, with slopes on all sides of the building, and the gambrel is a curb gable roof, with slopes on only two sides. (The curb is a horizontal heavy timber directly under the intersection of the two roof surfaces. See cross-sectional diagram.)

In France and Germany, no distinction is made between gambrels and mansards – they are both called "mansards".

See also Edit


  1. Dictionary of Architecture & Construction, C.M. Harris.
  • Corkhill, Thomas; Peter R. Smith, José Carlos Damski (1982). "gambrel roof". The Complete dictionary of Wood. Scarborough Books. pp. 211. ISBN 0-8128-6142-6. 
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