Old Blueprints and Odd Features

One of the categories that I tend to look at on my Pinterest is old homes, especially their layouts. Quite a few of them come from archive.org and its copies of old home catalogs. I love looking at old homes and trying to figure out the purposes of different features based on the social context at the time. I will freely admit that there are some features that have no practical need for why they exist but it is very interesting to determine which features would survive in the modern day. This is true for homes from the Victorian or Edwardian eras as well as the 1950s and 60s.

If you were to look at old home designs, even in the late 20s, you should be aware of one very important feature. Bedrooms in many designs will be called chambers, though this becomes less common as we get to the 1950s and beyond. This seems very odd to us now since a bedroom is a bedroom. However in Victorian times, bedrooms were chambers with possibly a boudoir (i.e. dressing room) attached. The layout of bedrooms or chambers is very interesting to look at when considering modern homes. Often, especially in late 20s and previously, you will have multiple bedrooms to a single bathroom. Another feature of these bedrooms or chambers that changes with the era is the appearance or lack of closets. It is a wondrous feature and well advertised in some 1950s designs but completely missing in the older era layouts. Those that live in such houses don’t really need me to tell them this. However, Victorians and previous generations really didn’t see the point in having closets since they wasted valuable square footage. They would simply use armoirs and dressers instead to hold their clothes and linens. This allowed them to have moveable closets. This does still happen in other parts of the world outside of the US such as Spain.

Another room that can look cramped on a blueprint from the 20s or 50s or rather poorly located in the Victorian eras was the kitchen. In Victorian times, depending on the wealth of the household, the kitchen would either be located at the back of the house out of the way (possibly with an outdoor kitchen) or in the basement, also called cellar in some designs. I have seen many kitchens that are around 10-11 feet by about 9-10 feet. These kitchens can be considered small or possibly about what you’re used to in an apartment (depending on the location). The use of the kitchen is affected by various factors. It can be interesting to remember that sometimes sinks were free standing and therefore may take up more space in a design than they would in modern day as a part of the cabinetry. In many of the designs I have come across (depending on the architect and era) if there is a refrigerator, it may be kept slightly outside of the kitchen in a closet area or it may be closer to an icebox and would have more cabinetry on top of it in comparison to a modern refrigerator.  Of course, a Victorian home was more likely to have a pantry than a refrigerator.

Various other idiosyncrasies that occur in older blueprints are time specific or technology specific. For example, in a more modern home as the telephone became more popular, there may be a specific location or closet for this technological marvel. Something I find interesting is the appearance or marking of chimney flues in blueprints for multistory homes, especially the flue for a boiler or furnace. Rare though it may be, I have come across plans that include a sewing room. There are plans that exist that not only include a pantry/butler’s pantry but also include a grocery (in the fancier homes). I have to admit that I have no idea why you would need a pantry and a grocery or what a so-called grocery could be used for that a pantry couldn’t. My least favorite idiosyncrasy is often with the exterior of homes. Many plans are very simple in their interior layout and outer perimeter but make so little sense with exterior decoration. I have seen more than once, a roof line that is guaranteed to collect water and therefore destroy your roof far faster than it would with a simpler roof line. Sometimes, I don’t feel that the architect really thought about the longevity of the roof and face of the house. Have you come across some of these odd features in old blueprints or existing buildings? Have you wondered what the architect was thinking? Please comment below and thanks for reading.

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