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Stacy Conradt
The Quick 10: 10 Quirks of Old Houses
by Stacy Conradt - April 5, 2010 - 3:36 PM


I love old houses. We live in a 1923 Arts and Crafts with a lot of its original charms (see #1), so I might be slightly biased, but I really do think you get a lot of unique features you don’t often see in newer houses. Here are 10 quirky things you might discover if you’re house hunting for an oldie-but-goodie.

1. Mother In Law Bed. This is one of the weird things we found in our house. It’s not a Murphy Bed, which cranks out of the wall – it’s a bed that actually cranks out of the ceiling. I don’t think you’d actually want to sleep on it, but we got great use out of it when we cranked it down and used it as the bar for a party last summer. It’s kind of hard to tell in the picture, but if you look you can see the wires that crank it up into the ceiling and the exposed corner on the left that shows where you would insert the iron leg to keep the bed stable once you cranked it down to sleep on it.

2. Built-in-beehives. Don’t call an exterminator – these beehives are supposed to be there. These were actually installed on purpose for the convenience of the beekeeping homeowner. Pipes go through the walls and behind the walls were beehives. The bees could move about freely through the pipes and make honey. When someone in the kitchen downstairs wanted honey, they simply trekked up the stairs, removed the back of the hive and grabbed themselves a little syrup. If they had a lot of honey to take back downstairs, hopefully they had #3 on our list…

3. Dumbwaiters. Any little kid who read Harriet the Spy when they were young wanted a dumbwaiter in their house, right? Or maybe that was just me. Despite what Harriet used it for (spying, of course), dumbwaiters were not meant to carry people – they were most often used as kitchen help, to carry dishes and things when the kitchen and dining room were on different levels of the house. They’re still utilized in some restaurants today, and a more modern version can be found in libraries and large office buildings to ferry large amounts of books and files from floor to floor.

4. Coal chutes. This is another one we have in our house. It’s all sealed up and isn’t used, of course – we certainly don’t heat our house with coal these days – but there’s a big iron door visible on the outside of our house where shipments of coal would be shoveled in.

5. Servant staircases. Our house isn’t nearly grand enough to necessitate a servant staircase, but in really large old mansions that required a large household staff to keep it running, servants were expected to stay out of sight. You wouldn’t want your well-heeled guests running into the maid on the staircase, would you? How gauche. The solution was a separate staircase in the back just for servant use. If you’ve ever run across a kitchen or pantry that could be accessed by two staircases and wondered what on earth the purpose was, now you know. In modern times, I think a servant’s staircase would nicely serve a teenager trying to sneak out of the house at night.

6. Phone Niche. Not so long ago, landlines were essential to communication. And they weren’t the tiny little unintrusive devices we know today – they were big, heavy, cumbersome things that took up a fair amount of space. To try to keep them off of countertops and out of the way, home builders started making niches in walls. It seems as though a lot of people are repurposing the niches these days as a mail catch-all or a place to sit a plant or two. BoingBoing’s Mark Frauenfelder found one in his friend’s house (it was built for Jean Harlow!) and thought perhaps it was a place to store champagne or milk bottles; it was later concluded that the spot used to be a phone niche and was divided into a place to vertically store mail once the phone was no longer needed there.

7. Butler’s Pantry. I wish this was one of the things that came with our house – how nice would it be to have a giant pantry separate from your kitchen? Old houses usually have such tiny kitchens that it would be nice to store your food elsewhere. But actually, they didn’t all store food – some just contained extra counter space and sinks so the servants could do their thing out of sight (God forbid you should have to make eye contact with the help, right?). In Europe, the silver was often kept in the Butler’s Pantry and the butler would actually have to sleep in there to guard the silver.

8. Milk doors. It’s been a while since any of us had milk delivered to our back doors, I would think, but back when that was the norm, that feature was standard with a lot of houses. The milkman would open a tiny door on the side of the house, usually right next to the main door, and leave the milk in between the walls, basically. Then the homeowners could open the door on their side and remove the bottles. Voila! Fresh milk to go with your breakfast.

9. Root cellars. I have a grandma who still has a root cellar. I don’t think she uses it now, but it’s there! It looks just like the one in The Wizard of Oz – you have to go outside to access the cellar and it was the first place you’d go if you saw a twister off in the distance. As the name suggests, it was used to store veggies for long periods of time. My grandma used hers for canned goods – not tins of spaghetti sauce or Green Giant niblets, but veggies from her garden she canned in Mason jars (she still makes really awesome strawberry rhubarb jam from fruit she grows herself).

10. Cold closets. By the time I was born, my grandma (a different one than the one with the cellar) had owned an electric refrigerator and freezer combo for decades. But she still referred to the whole shebang as the “icebox.” The icebox was a free-standing piece of furniture that held a big block of ice near the top to keep the contents frozen. Icemen delivered new blocks of ice every day, just like the milkman. But a cold closet was built into the house and couldn’t actually keep things frozen, just cool – so while you could keep your veggies and cheese and meats cool, stocking ice cream in the cold closet would be a bad idea.

Do you have an old house with a quirk you love (or hate)? Do tell.




Comments (67)
  1. My parents’ house has both a telephone niche and a coal chute. It also has a mysterious control near the baseboard of my former room for controlling the damper (no longer hooked to anything) and a clever little panel in the main bedroom closet for getting at the back of the tub faucet for when it needs repair. That panel alone was a great idea so the wall doesn’t have to be cut when something goes out.

  2. I miss transoms. One of the dorms at my college had them. Open a window and the transom and you have a nice breeze while still having the privacy of keeping your door closed.

  3. In the Soda Shoppe where I got married, they used a dumbwaiter to haul the food up to the reception. Coolest catering ever! :)

    I’ve always wanted a root cellar. Especially when I lived in IL and the tornado alarms woudl go off. :P

  4. Having been in England for a few years I see some of these quirks on the buildings here. It’s like they never tear down a building, but if it’s still standing after hundreds of years, why not? Many a restaurant has been converted from an old house and the kitchen is housed in the basement. They use dumbwaiters a lot to get the food to the dining room. There are also little nooks in the front of some houses where the milk went (and still goes. I got milk delivered for a year when I first got here).

  5. I think you forgot “cracked walls” and “sagging floors.” My house, built in 1921, also has an “earthen basement” dugout of what used to be the crawl space. You might also add in “sump pump” to go with the earthen basement.

  6. The house I grew up in was built in 1919, and has beautiful dark trim throughout the whole house, it has large doorways between rooms with either a large pocket door or two beveled glass and wood doors. It also has a great clothes shoot that brings everything to within steps of the laundry room. My husband and I just bought our first house, a lovely renovated small Victorian. It has a turret! That is practically every little girl’s dream. All the doorways and windows have a carved block in each top corner. The previous owners completely redid the whole house, we didn’t have to do a thing when we moved in (besides painting the nursery, which is more of a personal choice). They took out a couple doors that I wish they had left in, but those are things we can do later on.

  7. A few years back while visiting LA, we toured an open house in Beverly Hills for fun. It was a mansion, of course, and it had one of those servant staircases in the back, but the shocking part was a cubicle-sized room in the back that they had staged as the servant’s quarters. I’m from Georgia, so to me it was very reminiscent of house slave quarters…disturbing. Even more disturbing is that they chose to stage it this way…bare walls and a cot-sized bed, while everything else was staged so lavishly.

  8. We live in a 100+ year old house, and have a phone niche (actually, a substantial corner shelf for a large phone) and a root cellar. We find new “quirks” about our old house all the time. As annoying as some are (like, no insulation, or solid-brick walls, or a too-shallow crawlspace), I love the “character” the house has!

  9. The mother in law bed sounds scary!

  10. Hey there was no recaptcha today!

  11. The house I’m living in was built in the early 1900s. It has a telephone niche built into the wall in the hallway. Now it just looks like a decorative place to set a candle…which I do.
    Our house is near a really old, massive cemetary. So, I must say I think a ghost (good ghost that is) is part of my house, too.

  12. My old house (built in the 1930s) has a built-in ironing board cabinet with a shelf for an iron–though not an electric one. It’s in the kitchen near the stove. However it is far too low to actually use (and I’m only 5′2″), except in ironing emergencies when it’s too much trouble to drag mine out of the closet and set it up.

  13. my grandmas 2 story had a clothes chute from the 2nd story to the basement that i found fascinating. i wished i could fit in it.

  14. When we were remodeling our bathroom (house was built in 1928) we removed the original medicine cabinet and found thousands of razor blades in the wall. Apparently there was a slot in the back of the cabinet so men could drop used blades in there safely. It is safe until you are remodeling and have to clean up thousands of rusty used razor blades!

  15. My cousins bought a house in Chicago awhile back (I don’t know what year it was built). Soon after moving in they realized there was an entrance to a secret room. In their basement is an old fashioned telephone booth. The back wall to the telephone booth opens as a door to reveal a secret room. They were pretty sure that room was equipped for illegal gambling because there are niches in the wall for slot machines as well as a bar in there. They found a lot of matchbooks and ashtrays in there too. It’s a pretty neat thing to take people on a tour of in your house!

  16. Wow, the beekeeping in the walls of your house thing is something I definitely have never heard of before. Thanks Stacy! P.S: An Arts and Crafts is my dream house–I’m so jealous you live in one!

  17. At my parents’ house we had a closet with an ironing board in it. (kida of like a murphy bed, except and ironing board). I was very confused when I moved out and found out this wasn’t the norm. The idea of buying an ironing board was weird to me…doesn’t everyone have one in the wall?!?

  18. I once lived in a bungalow built in the 40’s. The entire bathroom was done in PLASTIC tiles, and the bathtub had to stay or else we would be removing walls. For some reason there was also a fully functioning sash window in the bathtub. The former owners even stained the trim around the window to match the stained trim in the rest of the house. The window was placed perfectly so if you were to stand in the shower, your nakedness would be fully displayed to the back yard. Since the tiles were glued to the walls(they didn’t use grout or think of mold) you took your shower sitting in the tub with a hand-held unmounted shower hose. Weird.
    The “bathroom” in the basement was dubbed “Auschwitz” because it actually had painted concrete block shower walls, and a nasty drain in the floor complete with vintage asbestos tile. I actually preferred to sit in the tub.

  19. My parent’s house in Tulsa (built in the 1920’s) has a phone niche built into the heavy plaster walls… Right now, I think it is being used to house sleeping cats and occasionally mail under said cats. They also have some weird doors and trapdoors in the hallway and in the kitchen respectively that just don’t lead anywhere nor are they anywhere near exits to the house.

    However, I’d say the best thing about old houses are people that lived in them prior to you living in them. We moved into that house when I was 7 and found handprints in the cement around the garden and around the entrance to the basement of children that had lived there over most of the life of the house. That was my favorite part of growing up there.

  20. My old apartment in Charleston, SC was rigged up with earthquake bolts, which I guess are endemic to the area: http://www.ccpl.org/content.asp?id=15729&catID=6045&action=detail&parentID=5748

  21. excuse my asking but when are you having your baby?

  22. My parent’s house in Connecticut was built in the 1920s and had a few built-in features including a china cabinet as well as pocket doors (the doors would slide into the wall when not being used). We also had a butler’s pantry and a coal chute.

  23. Amy – I have multiple friends with old houses that have found the same pile of old razor blades in the bathroom wall. I always thought that was so strange.

  24. Our 1923 bungalow has small windows that do not open in the closests. I’m thinking it was meant to be a light source, but both the closets have lights too. Any ideas?

  25. Our house was built in 1954 but it “feels” older because of the plasterwork (rounded corners) and a very Art Deco faucet in the powder room-musta been some NOS that needed to be used up. We have a milk door too and our mail chute goes directly from the outside porch wall into the entry coat closet and the outside flap is zinc. Weird little closets in the basement just fitted under stairs or in skinny slices of wall; built-in cabinets, and there was once an incinerator-we found some cute little glass bottles in there (and lots of ashes!) Awful brown/brown tiles were used all over; no cool pastels (waaaughh!) so those had to go. Craftsmen houses rock! Great you found one so intact and hope you enjoy it for a long, long time!

  26. Stacy! What an awesome post! I love nerding out about this stuff.

    So in 1999, I spent the winter living in the former servant’s quarters of a large house in Charleston, West Virginia. The attic servant’s quarters (accessible via a separate staircase) had been slightly refurbished, including the addition of a full bathroom (previously there was just a toilet and sink in a tiny, tiny room) and something that could maybe be called a kitchen. It was actually a decent place to live. It was extremely dim though, owing to the tiny dormer windows and lack of skylights.

    Last year I bought a 1916 farmhouse in Portland. It has some quirks, including what is apparently the remnant of a milk door on the front (now turned into a mail slot that is not used by the mail carrier — they prefer the mailbox out by the road). It opens into a little cabinet inside, so presumably at one point you’d walk by and pick up your milk there.

    Also, the house is apparently in a typical Portland style, and age, that it wouldn’t have had an indoor bathroom. Now it has two, though they’re both in oddly sized rooms — the larger is probably a former bedroom.

    Anther, uh, “quirk” is the lack of upstairs heating. The furnace is new, but it only really heats the basement and ground floor. Given that upstairs is where the bedrooms and my office are, it’s kind of a bummer, but hey, I guess blankets are cheap.

    The most interesting thing is that there’s only one house of similar age anywhere nearby. Across the street and a few houses down there’s a former church, which has trees and a hedgerow that match mine. We suspect that at some point this must have been a big farm, with a little church and perhaps a few other buildings. Most of the other houses were built in the 50’s and 60’s.

  27. When I was little, my neighbors had an old house with a laundry chute, a root cellar, and a coal chute. One summer they tried to start a garden, but as they began to turn the ground over they kept coming up with clinkers left over from the coal heat. Needless to say, the garden plot was moved.

  28. My 1900 house has a back staircase, which I love. It’s big, but definitely not a mansion. I did find the wall full of razor blades here as well. The house is almost completely original, and strangely, nothing was ever removed over the years. They just kept layering. The roof had four layers of shingles over the original cedar shakes. The kitchen has three layers of flooring (about 3/4″ thick!), including the original Victorian linoleum. Oh, and every shred of wallpaper was still here! I’ll be removing it for decades.

  29. My house was built in 1908 and we’ve fixed some of the energy inefficient quirks – the horrible old windows and lack of actual insulation. Our house was obviously gutted at some point for the most part, but there are still some neat curved plaster walls in places.

    I *LOVE* how big the windows are in our house. They were ridiculously expensive to replace because of that, but the amount of light they let in is just amazing.

    I also love the transom above our front door :) It was drywalled over on the inside so the light doesn’t come in anymore, but I love the look on the outside at least.

    As annoying as they can be, I do love our old squeaky stairs :) If we ever have a teenager they’ll never be able to sneak in!

    Our bathrooms are both ridiculous sizes thanks to them being after-thoughts. We have a HUGE bathroom on the main floor – way too big to make sense. Then on the 2nd floor (where the bedrooms are) the bathroom is TINY. It also has the TINIEST bathtub ever – there is no way we can replace it because I don’t think that size exists anymore! But the bathroom is WAY too small for a bigger/normal sized bathtub! I would love to put a shower in upstairs, but unfortunately the 2nd floor is 3/4 storey, so the roofline comes down just above the bathtub. Sigh!

    The bedrooms are also VERY small with crappy closets. The one is likely original and wasn’t really meant to be a closet (just a storage area), then one was added in our bedroom, but it’s SMALL and crappy. The other bedroom just doesn’t have a closet and we can’t even put a wardrobe in there because the room is so freakin’ tiny.

    Anyway, we love our house :) I wish it had some of the original features inside still – but people loved ripping apart old things in the 1950s and 60s which is when an addition was added to my house so they likely just gutted away then!

  30. we have a root cellar, and its really unnerving to have to go outside when there’s a tornado warning to get to it.

  31. I have a 1950s ranch style home and would LOVE for some of the “quirks” you all have! We do laugh about the fact that it wasn’t built for 21st century technology, and each room is lucky if it has two wall outlets. We have the original tile and cabinets in the small, poorly designed galley kitchen, very 1940s style. Our only surprise so far has been that we can’t stain the cabinets as we had hoped. Can’t afford a full demo, so we decided to strip 50+ years of paint off the cabinets since every other house around us has wood, except ours. Under all the paint is some sort of primer that is not coming off. Nor did we luck out with hardwood floors under the carpet….but we have four bedrooms opposed to the three that everyone else has. I think I can live with that and some new paint in the kitchen!

  32. First house was a 1921 Craftsman we rebuilt from the inside out. Razorblades in the wall? Check. Transom over every door? Check. 2400 Square feet spread over 7 rooms? Check. Butler’s pantry? Oh, yeah…and the phone niche too…where we actually kept a vintage candlestick phone. I’m not sure why I ever moved!
    Second house was built in 1914, and that place needed something fixed every day…I remember why I moved away from there.

  33. My apartment has a milk door. It’s been plastered over, but I wish it was in use. That would be great.

  34. I just bought my first home, built 1914. It used to have separate entrances for the main part of the house and the basement. My favorite parts of the house so far are the windows that haven’t been replaced. beautiful 5 over 1 windows. too bad they leak cold air like a sieve. I also have a great piano window in the living room. I love having rounded archways rather than doorways and doors.

    one of the few negatives, no insulation and I can only get a full sized mattress up my stairs to my bedroom. and that we had to bring up the stairs diagonally.

    Oh and we have a “shed” on our property that it seems was servant’s quarters. There is a full bathroom, gas hook-up and a heater in it that the home inspector said he had never seen before. it was an oil heater that was sunk into the floor. My son called dibs on it for when he comes home for college :D

  35. Our house was built in 1876, and it has lots of great features – transom windows, french doors with beveled pane glass, glass door knobs. Cool old fashioned winding doorbell on the back door. Each new feature we came across sold us more and more until the very last room – we opened what we thought was a large closet and — Murphy bed. We knew as soon as we saw it that this place was ours.

  36. Really cool article! We see a lot of older homes here in New Zealand (most are not insulated). I don’t recall seeing any of those quirks, but my favourite part of all the houses are the closets in the bedrooms – they almost always have double doors above the closets with additional storage.

    The wood floors are amazing too -

  37. My last house had a ‘California cooler.’ This is a tall narrow cupboard like a broom closet, with shelves made of slats to let air thru, and open to the attic and the crawl space with chicken wire. This allowed air to flow thru and keep food items relatively cool. I’m told you would keep your onions’n taters there, or a fresh pie to cool.
    A cousin lived in an older house in Iowa that had specially carved egg drawers in the pantry.

  38. we had a root cellar in the house I grew up in…in NW Washington. It is rumored that one of the owner’s wife hung herself in the root cellar and after that the cellar was filled in. Our house was over 100 years old..It was in a row for foreman’s (miner) families. The house on either side of us was identical to ours!

  39. So we have this really terrific little house that was built in the early 30’s as low income housing so it has a chimney in the kitchen that I can only assume was used for cooking…directly across from it is the fold out ironing board with the original steel iron! It’s what sold me on the house.

    Also in the kitchen, as I’ve sanded everything to paint, I discovered that the WHOLE room was once bright orange and I can only hope at a separate time avocado green.

  40. My grandparents live in a 120 year old farmhouse in central Maine. It has a root cellar, with rounded brick archways, and every room, including the attic bedroom has a fireplace. The fireplace in the living has a dutch oven, in which my grandparents’ cat had her kittens, but is now used as a bookshelf. When they moved in (in 1986) the master bedroom still had the original handpainted wallpaper. The master bath was done in an art deco style pink and black ceramic tile and had the craziest/scariest wallpaper…*huge* pink overlapping butterflies!! I too, love old houses…I wish I lived in one…maybe someday!

  41. I have a phone niche in my house. I use it to display my Marilyn Monroe dolls.

  42. My parents had a house constructed for them in the early 1970s. It was designed by my dad and the builder. It had a laundry chute that started with a cabinet hinged on the bottom in the bathroom upstairs. In the laundry area, you opened a cabinet to retrieve the clothing.

    The house also had an active system for blowing hot air from the wall cavity around the fireplace.

    It’s not just old homes that are quirky. I know of a builder who had a customer request foot-thick concrete walls with slats at strategic intervals that could be used to fire a rifle, should the need arise.

  43. I used to live in a 3-story farm house. Man, that thing had character (and I miss it so!)

    We had laundry chutes (that we didn’t use T-T), a space built for the icebox, a pantry, I think four fireplaces, and these neat round- and triangle-shaped windows in the attic. We also had servants’ stairs to the kitchen, but of course, when you’ve got a giant double-door that only locks from the inside, using the back door (and thus, the servants’ stairs) becomes much more convenient than the ~*~grande staircase~*~.

  44. Just an fyi — my UK relations would have you know that milkmen are still very much alive and well, and door-to-door milk delivery a common practise.

  45. Pocket doors! They still show up in some modern houses, because they save space, but I’ve known several Victorian houses with pocket doors for discreetly closing off a parlor. They slide into the wall and out of sight when you don’t need them.

    The house I grew up in had a (sealed-up) coal chute, and in fact, the original furnace was a “converted coal” furnace. The servants’ staircase had been removed years before, but the gorgeous bronze hardware and heavy wood molding were all still in place.

  46. I’m jealous of the old houses everyone has! I would love to have an older house someday.

    I remember reading that the technical definition of a mansion is that it has a servants’ staircase. If the house doesn’t have two staircases, it doesn’t matter how large it is, it’s not technically a mansion.

  47. One room I don’t see mentioned was common in ordinary houses in England in the 50s, like the one my family lived (near Scotland) when I was a teenager. That is the Scullery (in the North generally called the Back Kitchen). A small room off the main kitchen with a large stone basin and attached draining board for washing up; also a large metal tub (the “Copper”) with a fire underneath to heat up water for the weekly wash (which would then be hung up outside). The floor was stone and sloped to a drain in the corner.
    Another common feature of British houses then (I don’t know about now) was a separate bathroom and toilet room. When we rebuilt our house in Canada we did that. With four girls within six years of each other it meant that if one spent forever in the shower the others could still use the toilet without having to go to the master bedroom. Most visitors find this very strange!

  48. The house I live in was built in 1905. I still put my canned goods in the cellar! The basement workshop used to be a clock shop. The main chimney has four fireplaces, and there is another chimney for the kitchen (it no longer has a fireplace). We have transoms, 12-inch baseboards, and a couple of pocket doors. The ceilings were once 12 feet high, later were lowered to 9 feet, but the light fixtures are original (converted from gas to electric), so they hang really low! The first owner built an attic with windows, but no floor, so it was over 100 years before anyone got around to using all that extra space. The bathrooms were tacked onto the outside of the house when plumbing was introduced, so they stick out strangely and one stays rather cold in the winter.

    My other house (now rented out) was built in 1923, starting with four rooms, and expanded eccentrically over the years. What was once the front of the house is now the back (a road was finally built “behind” it), and the bathroom and laundry room were built on what was once the front porch. We have a picture window looking from the dining room to the laundry room! There was also a razor disposal in the walls. We removed the medicine chest and closed up the walls -razors still inside. When I first bought that house, we had to repair several bullet holes.

  49. I would like to hear more about these built-in beehives, as I’ve never heard of such and I’m not finding anything on Google. Do you have a link or reference I could follow for more info?

  50. Wow, Miss C., you have all of the features of this post rolled into one house!

    @Allison – End of May, if she doesn’t decide to come early.

    I love reading everyone’s old house stories!

  51. Our house will be 100 next year! We have a welded-shut coal chute and what I think was an ice delivery box (like the milk box, but very well insulated).
    A friend of mine growing up had a mail chute at their front door. It was trimmed in oak and had a nice tray at the end to catch the mail.
    Nothing is better than plaster walls. Our house feels solid. The 12 inch thick cement foundation helps that, also!

  52. The last house I lived in was built in the early 1800’s. It had the transoms, and bathrooms that had once been bedrooms.
    The coal chute was still operational, so we placed a large heavy planter on the door out on the sidewalk to keep the neighbourhood kids from dropping rocks and trash into the basement.
    While doing some remodeling we found copper piping in the walls for the gas lamps the house had once been fitted with, razorblades in the wall, and the original lead pipes that somewhere in time had been bypassed.

  53. I grew up in a farmhouse built in 1911 and loved it! It had beautiful dark wood trim throughout, and a metal (iron?) fireplace. And there were two sliding wooden doors that closed to seperate the living room into two rooms. The only thing we could think was that it was either used as a study or another bedroom. We had a root cellar, which I always thought was pretty cool. There was also a small closet in my parent’s bedroom that had a small latch on one wall that was actually the door to the attic. I was always too scared to go up there.

  54. I think my aunt’s house has one of those phone niches, it certainly looks like one, and I don’t think it’s that old. You forgot the slave caller. It’s this button that you stepped on to summon the servants.

  55. I was in a historic home here in Minnesota with circular holes two feet in diameter in the centers of the ceiling, connect the first floor room to the room above. These holes were covered with ornate wrought iron grates both above and below. These were to allow warm air from the coal burning potbelly stove on the first floor to heat the bedrooms on the second floor. When I saw this a couple of things came to mind 1) could you imagine being a kid and dropping things on the unsuspecting passing below and 2) you had to be pretty quiet engaging in certain “activities” in the bedroom if the rest of the family was still up downstairs.

    In college I lived in an old home that had the furnace in the floor in the hallway that ran between the two beadrooms, the bathroom, and the living room. It was a large iron tank that had a gas heater under it which would fire up and warm the oil in the tank. There was a metal grate over this and the hot air simply rose from the heater, no fan. It was great for setting up a clothes rack and drying clothes over but you had to be really careful going to the bathroom at night. If it had been on and you walked across the grate barefoot, you could easily get first and second degree burns on the soles of your feet.

  56. Some of the 1920s houses in OKC have what our realtor refers to as “saddleback” stairs. They start as one staircase on the second floor, then make a “Y” with one end going to the kitchen, and the other to the living room. They are unlike the servant staircases mentioned above in that they are both fairly wide.

    Although not a family house, there is a 1917 school house in Eastern OK that has a third floor auditorium largely untouched by time. It’s “quirk” lies underneath the wooden, theater seats on one side of the aisle: metal hat racks for the men. I guess the genders sat separately.

  57. My great aunts house – I believe it was built in the 30s – had panels with about 20 red, translucent buttons each. They were used to control all the lights in the house and would light up when pushed. Turning off lights on unsuspecting septuagenarians was endless amusement!

    Of course remembering which button went with which light…

  58. My family used to live in a house in Salem, Ma that we still own. It was built in 1914, and in Salem that’s a brand new house. The only interesting quirk it has is a system of intercom TUBES in the walls so that people at the front door could talk to those in the apartments. The voices would actually travel through the tubes without technological help.
    The house my family lives in now has a root cellar that predates the house itself. We don’t know how old it is, but the floor is cement with a drain and the walls are brick. We don’t use it for anything since it’s hard to get to with all the weeds around. There’s also some sort of metal vent pipe sticking out of the ground above it. Once I found a hole in the wall somewhat blocked by a brick and I suspect something might be hidden in it but I couldn’t get into it without a crowbar.

  59. My grandparents house was built in 1928. They were the 2nd owners. The house had a mail box chute. Mail would be put into a door outside, it would go down, then there was a door inside. The house had doors to close off the kitchen and main entrance the bedrooms.

  60. My apartment (built in the 30’s), has many of these features too. I have a transom, a (now locked) milk door, and an ironing board in the kitchen. My sink is also one basin and green. It doesn’t match anything else in the kitchen and I love it!

    What sold me on living here though is that I have two built in china cabinets with leaded glass doors. I use them as book cases instead though.

    I also have large window sills, which I love, as they’re good for my plants.

  61. I’m about to move into a 1915ish house. It has the phone niche, very short closets, beautiful hardwood floors, and the weirdest kitchen island I’ve ever seen.
    It also has a full porch and is on a Mayberryesque street with some awesome neighbors. Oh and walking distance to downtown (and Brusters!!!)

  62. We have a house built in 1913 and are having fun discovering all sorts of features during our renos. We found connections for gas lighting (as well as all the knob & tube wiring) and a chimney in the kitchen (complete with soot!) for the kitchen stove. Our kitchen (pre-reno) was made up of two rooms – the wet kitchen (with sink) and the dry kitchen (with stove and fridge). We too have pocket doors to separate the living room from the dining room which has a beamed ceiling. Love the old houses!

  63. our house had the remnants of a central vacuuming system through out the walls of the house. we patched the last of the holes when we remodeled.

    similar to this but way antiquated!

  64. On my morning walk to the gym here in Glasgow, I see two bottles of milk on the porch for quite a few houses. It might be cream, but it just kills me that some dairies still not only deliver, but deliver in recycle-able glass bottles.

  65. I lived in an apartment building in Milwaukee a few years ago that was built in the 20’s. It was apparently an efficiency apartment and had a closet-like nook for what once was a murphy bed (not unusual for an industrial town). The more unique feature of the unit was a built in display cabinet that actually opened up to allow a table and 2 benches to fold out of the wall. AND behind one of the benches was a fold out ironing board. It was all pretty rickety by the time I lived there, so I never put it to use, but it was a great conversation piece!

    Great post by the way!

  66. I lived in a house with a laundry chute. It was in the wall of the hallway but it did not go to the laundry room. It went to a room in the basement that we used as an office. You had to carry the clothes to anther room to wash them.

    Our current house (built in 1910) has a large built in buffet in the dinning room with 7 frosted glass window panes above it. It sits in a recess. If you go outside you can see where the house juts out in that spot but doesn’t touch the ground.

    We also have a light switch that, as far as we can tell, does nothing. And our sunroom used to be a front porch. The window that would have been on the front of the house is still there, remodeled to be used as a bookcase that is accessible from 2 rooms. There is another window in a closet where they added the closet in after they made the room.

    About the razor blades in the wall, every medicine cabinet I saw growing up had a slot in the back for used razors.

  67. I have lived in or been to many old houses with all of these features but my favorite is back in the 70’s a friend of mine had a house in Binghamton N.Y. on a block long street that dead ended at the river. As you enter the front door into the living room the doorway to the kitchen was straight ahead. To the right was the archway into the dining room. Between them was a wall with what looked like a built in wooden bookcase with glass doors. But, if you hooked your fingernails into the right edge of the bookcase and pulled it opened to a steep staircase leading to a secret room in the basement. It was quite obviously used for the underground railroad as this was a well known stopover in those days. To stand in that dark tiny room for just a few minutes only gave me a slight idea of what the people endured to gain their freedom not knowing how many days they may have spent down there


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