My visit to Versailles many years ago confronted me with an alien concept of interior architecture: everything was a large hall, including the bedchambers, and getting to another part of the palace required passing through all these spaces that in a modern building would be rooms separated off of access hallways.

Wikipedia implies that the concept of separate rooms and halls as we know them didn't develop until sometime during or after the middle ages:

In a medieval building, the hall was where the fire was kept. With time, its functions as dormitory, kitchen, parlour and so on were divided off to separate rooms or, in the case of the kitchen, a separate building.

This is painfully vague though. When did it become normal in Europe for upper-class buildings' interior to be composed of separate rooms off a main hall instead of a single multi-function grand hall? Or, to state the question differently, when did the multi-function grand hall that served as dormitory, kitchen, reception hall become uncommon and antiquated? Accuracy to the century, or the span of transition centuries, is plenty for my purposes.

  • 5
    Cool question, I'd love to see floorplans for these old buildings. Also, cool to see you over here in history SevenSidedDie!
    – Canageek
    Jul 28, 2012 at 21:34
  • I'm voting to close this question as off-topic because the evolution of the medieval Hall house into the compartmentalised 18th/19thC house is a) a basic architectural history and b) too broad - oceans of ink spilt on it.
    – TheHonRose
    Oct 13, 2015 at 19:27
  • I don't believe basic-ness of a question is relevant to closure, just downvoting. As for (b), that's a more legitimate observation. However, I don't think it's too broad given the evidence of a short answer that acceptably answers the question. But as this isn't my regular Stack, I'll leave it to voters to decide that based on local standards. Oct 13, 2015 at 19:39

1 Answer 1


When the chimney became popular, 12C for castles and high status buildings, 15-16century for regular houses.

Without a chimney you have a central hearth and the smoke rises to vents in the eaves, so everybody who wants to be warm has to be in the large single room. Once chmineys are invented you need somewhere to build them. If you have a castle you can put them in the thick stone walls, if you have a house then you need to build a chimney from scratch out of stone. The obvious place to build it is where you have always had the fire, especially since the walls of the house are made of flammable wattle and daub, ie in the middle of the room.

Now you have a massive stone structure in the centre with a fireplace in both sides it makes sense to continue the walls to divide up the space and use the stonework as the support for upper floors.

  • 2
    Interesting answer. Do you have any references?
    – Luke_0
    Jul 28, 2012 at 22:52
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    @Luke. There was a nice series about this topic and many more on the BBC a few years ago. The name of this 4 parts documentary was If Walls Could Talk: An Intimate History of the Home. The video is hard to find but the book isn't. The author is Lucy Worsley. Recommended. I believe mgb's answer is part of the reasons. Adding to the fact that some privacy was appreciated once you had a second room in the house (Part 2/4). Jul 29, 2012 at 0:18
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    @Luke, sorry was on part 1 (here on youtube). Around minute 7/15. Jul 29, 2012 at 0:33
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    I've finally had a chance to watch that clip. The sheer size of that first chimney is amazing! I couldn't imagine how a "great hall" could be so thoroughly divided by a "mere" chimney until she walked into that house. Answer accepted! Sep 11, 2012 at 18:20

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