House History - Fun Facts and Practical Perspectives


Front lawn of suburban house

Photo: Getty Images

Homes always co-evolve with the lives and circumstances of the people living in them.

Understanding where homes come from frees us to honor the past without being trapped in it.

Understanding history allows us to move beyond the Pot Roast Story.

The Hall

“Open Concept” was how it all began … before privacy was invented the Hall was a central roofed space where everyone would eat, work, and sleep. The original multipurpose room.

The Withdrawing Room

Eventually shortened to the Drawing Room. An early sign of wealth was a home that included a chamber separated from the Hall where a private conversation could be had. The French called the Drawing Room a Parlour, from parley - a conversation.

Don’t get stuck in your house’s story. Houses were what they had to be only until they could be something else.

A good home is always a balance between community and privacy. So … open and insulate!

Hearth

The hearth—stones upon which a fire burns—was in the middle of the hall with its smoke rising through the room to a smoke hole in the roof. Later, the hearth was moved to the side of the room and the air was cleared with a chimney.

We still say phrases like, “hearth and home,” and “keep the home fires burning.”

Home is a place where we circle the wagons around what we need most—warmth, food, community, stories.

Ask yourself, where is and what is your hearth? In the early 20th century was it the “wireless” (radio)? Now is it the flat screen? The second screen?

The Chairman of the Board

The first dining tables were simply planks of wood—boards—propped up on supports. Sitting at the board is what you did to eat and became synonymous with meals. Any place where you could sleep and eat was a place with Room and Board.

Seating around the board was on simple benches that were used for other work, unless you were the guy in charge. The Chieftain or Lord sat at the end of the board in an actual chair of his own. To find the most important person in the room look for the chair man of the board.

Some dining sets still have armchairs at the end and armless on the sides.

Architecture is a playing out of a culture story and some stories may need to stop being told.

Other stories, like Grandma’s hardwood floor aversion, come from deeper places.

Basset hound dog staring out the window waiting at home

Photo: Getty Images

Windows

‘The history of architecture is the history of the struggle for light'.  Le Corbusier the father of modern architecture

The origin of ‘window’: Old Norse vindauga, from vindr ‘wind’ + auga ‘eye.’ A German language saying is that the windows are the ‘eyes of the house’.

Windows have always been about letting light and a little fresh air in. But every hole in the wall weakened the wall and let in lots of things other than light and air. A pain in the butt, and not very necessary for people who spent nearly all their time outside. So, windows were minimized.

Even when glass was introduced, the way plate glass was made didn’t allow individual pieces to be very large. Hence the divided lite window wasn’t so much a design choice as it was a necessity.

Plate glass v. Float glass

  • Crown glass was blown into a "crown" or hollow globe. This was then flattened by spinning the bowl-shaped piece into a flat disk by centrifugal force, up to 5 or 6 feet in diameter.
  • The thinnest clearest glass was at the edge of the disk, with the glass becoming thicker and more opaque toward the center. Known as a bullseye, the thicker center area was used for less expensive windows. “Bullseye” windows look like bottle bottoms and aren’t easy to see through.

Making Your Bed

In the hall—before there were bed-rooms—when it was time to sleep you simply tried to find a warm dry spot to literally make a bed for yourself for the night. In the morning it would be used for some other purpose so every night everyone would have to make their bed.


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