The timber frame houses

The half-timbered houses have long been a part of the urban landscape. Proof of medieval expertise, these buildings have threaded through the centuries, from the 14th to the 19th, when the technique was progressively abandoned.

Genuine wooden puzzles, these houses are today the pride of most Breton towns. Thanks to them, one can imagine Quimper in ducal times, when two powers competed, the Bishop in the walled town and the Dukes on the opposite bank of the Steir, on the Terre au Duc. Even today the greatest concentrations of half-timber buildings correspond to these two former centres and their main arteries. On one side, rue Keréon, extension of the cathedral’s alignment, and on the other Terre au Duc place.

In modern Quimper, 73 timber-frame houses have been preserved, from the first half of the 16th century to the 19th century. In their conception, these houses are the translation of urban organisation at the end of the Middle Ages, uniting intra-muros traffic and the distribution of shops and familial artisan’s workshops by guild. Most of the houses were built on a narrow parcel which allowed a greater number of owners to have a street view whilst reducing the lengths of wood necessary for the span of each floor.

The ground floor was reserved for shops. In most cases, the shop, separated from the kitchen by a partition, opened onto the street by means of turned down shutters forming stands where sale goods were displayed. The upstairs floors were occupied by a living room and bedrooms, the roof serving as an attic. As in stone houses, the architectural tastes, often a reflection of the owners, were shown in the exterior decoration (statuettes, engravings) and by the interior fitting out (spiral staircases, fireplaces, sinks and cupboards).

What is a timber frame?

The timber frame is always mounted on a rubblestone wall foundation or dressed stone base, whose height varies from 0.80m to the total height of the ground floor. This foundation work protects the wood from water splashes and rising damp. It is this base which receives the timber frame, made up of the framework (the wood framing making up the floors) and the half-timber (the entirety of the vertical and diagonal wood beams which strengthen the frame and allow filling-in).

In Quimper, the framework is always made up of short posts the height of one floor. This technique permits the erection of the greatest number of floors and makes the overhangs possible.

The filling of the wood frame – called « hourdis » - was in a cob made up of lime, clay, stone shards and straw. Aside from its ease of fabrication and low cost, it made an excellent thermal and sound insulation. Another characteristic, the party walls were always built in stone, particularly in the 17th century when their outline followed the overhangs. They sometimes carried the telling name of « fire break ».