Winchester House, San Jose, California
Living in San Jose, California and being interested in all things Victorian, it would be impossible for me to ignore the largest Victorian house in the United States, the house built by Sarah Winchester. A recent article on the always interesting Atlas Obscura website which details some of the history of the Winchester House got me thinking about this architectural marvel.
The house, which is gaining some newfound notoriety because of the recently released movie, Winchester, starring Helen Mirren, was Sarah Winchester’s home from 1884 until her death in 1922. She moved west from New Haven, Connecticut a few years after the death of her husband John, one of the owners of the Winchester Repeating Arms Company. As her husband’s heir, she received a generous inheritance, as well as a major share of the company. She moved into a small farmhouse surrounded by orchards, and started adding on, building a home more suitable to her fortune and social standing. Continue reading
Ceiling medallions, those ornate plaster castings from which chandeliers seem to hang, are unique to vintage buildings. A recent Facebook post from a friend who is restoring his Victorian house about his gorgeously painted ceiling medallion ended with the question, “Do you know what the purpose of ceiling medallions were?” The general consensus, and the answer most commonly found on the Internet, is that they served to prevent the soot from candles and gas lamps from spreading out over the entire ceiling.
I had heard that story before and as I thought about it, realized that it seemed a bit off. After a bit of research, I think I can confidently say that there’s no evidence to support it. As described succinctly on the History Myths Debunked blog (which is a veritable cornucopia of such things), although widely distributed and often retold by historic house docents, this answer can be disproved by a little bit of research and moreover, if you think about it, makes no sense.
In a blog post on Steampunk Architecture that I wrote almost three years ago (and which has consistently been one of my more popular posts), I included a picture of the Armour Steiner House in upstate New York which has the distinction of having an octagonal floor plan. Prompted by a post in the always interesting website Atlas Obscura, I looked around for more examples of these unusually shaped buildings. And it turns out there’s an interesting story behind them.
Armour-Stiner House, Irvington, New York. Source: JMReidy on panoramio.com
A few years ago, I had the chance to tour the Newport Mansions in Rhode Island, the “summer cottages” of the Gilded Age wealthy. While the mansions are over-the-top gorgeous (and literally built to impress), I found the kitchens, sculleries, and butlers’ pantries more interesting. Maybe because I could actually picture the people who worked there. I’m not sure how much if anything I have in common with the social set of Newport. The photo below shows the amazing kitchen and two story butler’s pantry at The Breakers, one of the more splendid “cottages” in Newport.
Gavin Ashworth and The Preservation Society of Newport County
This link connects to a site that shows the evolution of the kitchen from the 1870s to the 1970s. It’s a little click-baity, but the illustrations and photographs of vintage kitchens more than make up for a.
And it’s a good reminder of why those of us who live in vintage houses, generally don’t have kitchens from the period. I like my refrigerator and microwave, and wouldn’t really enjoy keeping the stove stoked and the ice box full of ice.
Not so much an Old House Idiosyncrasy, than an idiosyncratic old house–The Trinity House is a house style from the colonial period that is unique to Philadelphia. These houses were invented to solve the problem of what to do with the center of a large squarish city block: fill it up with alleyways and tiny houses!
Here’s a great exploration of these homes from the always interesting website Atlas Obscura.
The Front Porch of the Grand Victorian Bed and Breakfast in Ontario, Canada. This is exactly the type of front porch that we don’t have on our house. Photo Source: Tripadvisor.
I got back from a trip to Banff, Alberta, Canada a week or so ago, where it had snowed on us three times (yes! In August!). We arrived at San Francisco International and could feel the heat as soon as I stepped onto the jetway. Our very temperate week was ending in a tropical weekend.
Now, I grew up in Boston, so I’m used to hot and humid summers, and at least the summers in the Bay Area aren’t too sticky. But I live in a Victorian house, and staying even somewhat comfortable when the mercury pushes into the triple digits takes a bit of work.
A recent article describes “10 Ways Victorians Managed to Stay Cool Without A/C”. Reading through it though, I think it should more accurately be entitled “How Victorians Managed not to Die of Heat Exhaustion” as several of the methods don’t sound particularly effective. Continue reading
An item from the always interesting History Myths Debunked blog brings up the notion of the Coffin Corner.
In many old houses, at least in many that have steep winding stairs, at the bend in the stairs, there will be a sort of niche in the wall, typically housing a vase with some dried flowers, or maybe even a marble bust, if the house is fancy enough. These little niches are sometimes called “coffin corners”, and were purportedly built into the wall to allow a bit more room to navigate a coffin around the bend in the staircase.