Classical descriptions of the traditional culture of the Belarussians date back to the second half of the nineteenth and beginning of the twentieth centuries. At this time peasants constituted almost 90 percent of the total population of Belarus, and their life-style remained relatively unchanged under the influence of the urbanized culture. Typical rural settlements were small household villages (5 to 100 households) and villages whose distinctive features were a church, school, or local administration. They were of several types: nonsystematic (the oldest), linear, and street. Also widespread were settlements of the hamlet type, called okolitsi (neighborhoods) where the land-starved nobility ( shl'akhta ) lived; folvarki (a complex consisting of a mansion and several peasant households) and peasant hamlets as such existed.
The traditional peasant household included a house ( khata ) and numerous household constructions: for the cattle ( khlev ) and for the storage of grain (klet'), food ( puna), vegetables ( istopka), and agricultural tools ( povet'). Apart from the house there was a place for threshing grain ( gumno ) and a bathhouse ( bana ). Two types of household plan became common: a wreathlike plan (in the north and northeast), in which all the buildings were located along the perimeter of the household, creating a closed space, and a straplike plan (in the west), in which all the buildings were constructed in one or two rows under one roof. A free-plan type also existed, with the buildings 10-15 meters from the house. The traditional Belarussian dwelling was a two-or three-room log cabin built of pine or spruce logs. Usually the house was raised off the ground with stones or wooden blocks. Up to the middle of the nineteenth century small houses with two rooms with an earthen or clay floor, arched beam ceiling, and a stove with no chimney were prevalent. Later on there appeared chimneys, hardwood floors, and flat, board roofs with one or two longitudinal beams. The roofs were two-or four-pitched, most frequently of a rafter construction; they were covered with rye or reed thatches, more rarely by shingles or boards.
The traditional architectural decor was noted for its conservatism. It was exemplified by carved window panels and artistic pediments of thin planking ( shalevka ). A characteristic feature of the interior of a peasant home was its compositional integrity throughout the whole ethnic territory of the Belarussians. The stove, made of brick, was in the right or left corner by the entrance, and its orifice was turned toward the side wall with windows. A wooden floor for sleeping was built by the stove along the blank wall with no windows. In the "red" corner—the one diagonally across from the stove—there was a table and above it an icon; next to it there were wide benches. Hanging shelves for kitchenware were attached to the walls. Clothes and linen were kept in wooden trunks. In winter the krosni (a loom) was put in the house and, if necessary, a hanging wooden cradle. The house was lit with a splinter that was fixed on a wooden or metal stand, a suspended metal frame that had its own chimney.