The Nattukottai Chettiar traders followed the expansion of the British Empire into Southeast Asia for their business. They brought back Burmese teak and European tiles for their mansions, and were inspired by colonial and palace architecture. They also incorporated the wealth of wood sculpting and craftsmanship from local craftsmen in their homes.
Chettinad architecture stands out for its use of large spaces in halls and courtyards, ornate embellishments like Belgian glasswork, intricate woodwork, spectacular ceramic tiles, stone, iron and wooden pillars, together creating an indigenous amalgam of traditional Indian architecture and various European styles.
The basic floor plan of a Chettinad house consists of an outside verandah (thinnai) for guests, with a room for conducting business on one or both ends; an interior courtyard to be used in ceremonies, with a raised seating area at one or both ends; a series of small double rooms opening off the main courtyard, for storage, prayer and sleeping and a small courtyard behind for cooking and for the women to socialize.
The Chettinad houses were usually tile-roofed with a small two-storeyed tower at both ends of the front elevation. They later expanded vertically into two-storeyed structures, and horizontally through the addition of numerous halls and courtyards that could accommodate guests at marriages and other ceremonies.