We were probably right to abandon many hallmarks of yesterday’s home, but maybe we should reconsider these 9 once-popular features for their practicality.
Popular with the 18th-century Dutch settlers of New York and New Jersey. Dutchdoors are split horizontally in the middle; open just the top to keep out animals while letting in light and air. Making your own is straightforward. Saw any wood door in half, then attach each half to the door frame with two hinges apiece. A simple sliding bolt joins the top and bottom as a single, solid panel.
Sleeping porches became popular in the 20th century, when they were advocated by health professionals who believed that the fresh air they provided bolstered immune systems. Such porches were already popular in the South and West, where sleeping outdoors was cooler and more comfortable.
Transom windows are those panels of glass you see above doors in older homes, especially those built in the Mission or Arts and Crafts styles. They admitted natural light to front hallways and interior rooms before the advent of electricity, and circulated air even when doors were closed for privacy. Transoms serve both purposes just as well today, and of course, the if they are crafted with stained glass they are a timeless beauty.
If your bedroom is two floors up from the washer and dryer, you might want to resurrect another nearly forgotten feature of older homes: the laundry chute. If you’d like to construct your own, to ensure that your clothes are funneled smoothly, weld sheet metal together to create a ramp, or use lengths of extra-large PVC pipe to form a tube that ends in your laundry room. No matter your approach, adding a laundry chute injects low-tech convenience into one of life’s never-ending chores.
Intercom systems may remind you of The Brady Bunch, but these 1970s-era devices can be useful even if you don’t have six kids, a dog, and an Alice. Systems consist of a base station and several remote modules, and the newest intercoms are capable piping music throughout your home. If you’d prefer to avoid any hard wiring, opt instead for a phone system with built-in intercom functionality.
Northeast homes of the 18th and 19th century had walls of exceptional thickness (as they were often made of brick), providing a deep window jamb whose embrasures, or pockets, could contain an entire interior shutter. It’s high time these clever architectural details made a comeback, because interior shutters provide not only privacy, but also insulation or shade when the elements really start to bear down.
Back when telephones were large and unwieldy, homes often had a special nook to accommodate the bulky devices. Although the size of these cumbersome antiques is what necessitated their having their own hole in the wall, designating a dedicated space for a telephone doesn’t seem like such a bad idea, even today. After all, most of us spend the last five minutes before leaving the house screaming, “Where’s my cell phone?!”
They’re lovely to look at and provide a deeper soak than most modern tubs. So if you have enough space in your bathroom, consider adding the luxury of a claw-foot tub to your life. Or, get whimsical and put one outside in your garden or on a patio so you can bathe under the stars. You can find many claw foots inexpensively at salvage yards that, with a little TLC (and maybe some porcelain paint) will look as good as new. Or rather, old.
Henry David Thoreau once counted his Rumford fireplace as a modern convenience that was often overlooked by his contemporaries. Common in the early to mid-1800’s Rumford fireplaces are tall and not very deep, which allows them to reflect most of the heat generated by burning wood back into the room. With escalating fuel costs, this old design is becoming popular again as way to save some real money in the modern era.