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Share to PinterestBuilt-in Features in Old Houses That Are Confusing Today
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Built-in Features in Old Houses That Are Confusing Today

By Paula Ramirez
Share to PinterestBuilt-in Features in Old Houses That Are Confusing Today

Modern homes include handy built-in features to make everyday tasks less of a hassle. But if you live in an older home, there might be some features you can't quite make sense of. Whether it's a mysterious nook or a tiny door that leads to nowhere, older homes can have all kinds of strange built-in features. Of course — in their time — these were much the same as the conveniences of today.


Milk chute

Back in the day, houses all had a milk chute. These chutes were usually next to the side door and accessible from the landing of the basement stairs. Despite the name, milk chutes facilitated deliveries of many products, including eggs, bread, and veggies. The delivery of perishables faded in the late '60s, but many homes still have their original milk chutes today.

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Phone nook

A phone nook was a modern convenience of its time — a simple shelf designed to hold the telephone and phone book. Of course, today, a phone nook is an unnecessary feature: a lot of people don't even have a landline anymore. They served a purpose when phones were clunky beasts that needed a flat surface to sit on. The placement of many phone nooks implies everyone stood while speaking on the phone — it's unlikely they carried on hours-long conversations!

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Window shutters

Shutters were once a practical household feature, but you rarely see them in modern homes. Interior shutters helped to cool your home without using any energy. The concept was to keep the shutters closed in any room not in use, especially on hot and sunny days. These window coverings helped to keep your home private and made for a charming alternative to other drapery.

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Butlers' pantry

In the past, most homes had a built-in butlers' pantry. These pantries historically sat between the dining room and kitchen, serving as a place to prepare food during gatherings. Of course, today, people rarely have butlers, but that's not to say you can't make use of the extra space if your home happens to have one.

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Transoms are windows above an entry door. They performed a practical purpose of cooling the home and were both efficient and inexpensive. The idea fell out of favor, though, and windows became a popular alternative. Many older homes may still have a functioning transom, and some owners like the unique aesthetic.

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Dutch doors

Opening only half your door might sound a little funny, but it's quite practical. Historically, dutch doors were standard in homes. They let parents deal with deliveries and visitors without the toddlers toddling out the open door, and kept the farm animals out while still allowing air circulation to cool hot homes on summer days.



Dumbwaiters were once a novelty, then became commonplace in many homes. Like tiny elevators, they consisted of a simple box inside a vertical wall shaft that could raise or lower using a rope and pulley. Kitchen staff or household members could send food from the basement kitchen up to the dining or other rooms without having to carry the items themselves.


Angled Ceilings and Oddly Shaped Rooms

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Modern homes consist of square-shaped rooms, whereas old houses often had angular areas. Slanted walls and oddly-shaped doors helped make the place feel exciting and unique instead of the typical floor plans we see today. These arched hideaways weren't always in attics either; they could be found in any part of the home.


Strange separate rooms

As evidenced by angled roofs and oddly-shaped rooms, older homes often had different floor plans than what you see today. Rather than the open concept of modern homes, older houses had separate rooms entirely. While this might seem strange, there was some practicality to the design — like added privacy. Closing doors between rooms helped to heat and cool smaller, more often-used areas of the home without wasting energy in places you weren't using.

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Boot scrapers

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Back in the 1700 and 1800s, the lack of paved roads and good drainage systems meant muddy boots were a more common sight. In order to save the nice, clean kitchen and entry-way floors, a lot of homes had boot scrapers installed in the side of the home or embedded in the ground near the walk.  This novelty is all but forgotten in modern homes, though some rural homes have plastic or wood variations with brushes.

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