This column had been lying in the weeds of my head for months. Every now and then he jumps his head. Yesterday was one of those days my wife once again had to get out of our car before I could park it in the garage. Fortunately, it was not raining.
Galadriel, a character in JRR Tolkien’s ‘The Lord of the Rings’ trilogy, foreshadowed this column when she said, “And some things that shouldn’t have been forgotten have been lost.” History has become legend. The legend has become a myth. And for two and a half thousand years the ring passed out of all knowledge.
Too many amazing things about houses become myths. I do my best to keep alive much of the hard-earned knowledge discovered by ancient architects, builders and master craftsmen. You and I are the keepers of this information, and some of us have done a deplorable job preserving it for the next generation. Here are some of the features that we have let slip.
Large garages. Why should you get out of a car before it is parked in a garage? Simple. Most of the garages have become too tight. How can you expect to get out of a car when there is only 24 inches of space between the side of the car and the interior wall of the garage? At the very least, it should be 4 feet. Even then, you will find that there is not enough space when the objects are stored on that same wall.
Complete attics. Did you grow up in a house with an attic full of treasures and memories from your parents? Most architects and builders scrapped these features decades ago, when prefabricated timber trusses became the showpiece. Guess what? You can have a full attic with real steps leading up to it if you wish, all made possible by the same company that makes the roof trusses! This can eliminate the need to pay those monthly fees that many of us pay for offsite storage.
Roof overhangs. Do you remember those summer days at your grandparents’ house when you watched from an open window the raindrops from a summer shower dance in a puddle in the aisle? You stayed dry because of the generous roof overhang above the window. The builders of old discovered that overhangs kept a house dry, much like an umbrella works for your head. It is a shame that the roof overhangs are exceeded.
Large front porch. Perhaps you were lucky enough to grow up in a house with a large porch and a smaller one in the back. Part of the reason builders and architects designed every home this way 100 years ago was that it helped keep front doors dry. Relaxing in a gently swaying swing in front of the porch was a nice bonus.
Plumbing access. Do you have a faint memory of a secret sign in a bedroom closet? Did you have the courage to see what was behind it, only to find the tub faucet and the drains? It would definitely be handy to have this plumbing access panel available right now, even if it’s disguised as a bathroom mirror. Why did we let this feature be sidelined like so much jetsam?
Window seats. These simple design features were as common in older homes as ketchup at a barbecue. The best seats were like the one I had in my first house – it had a hinged lid, which created a nice storage space in addition to a place to look out the window.
Laundry scraps. Did you used to send plastic army men on a secret mission to these falls? Why would architects snuggle their noses at these wonderful features of multi-story homes? Yes, I know the laundry rooms have mostly moved to the ground floors of modern homes. But smart planning could still make laundry scraps a reality in new homes.
Converging retractable doors. These features of older homes could transform large adjoining rooms into two separate spaces when privacy was needed. I’m happy to report that you can still fit pocket doors and their hardware is better than the old one. The doors won’t pop off the track, and you can also add soft-close mechanisms that work like your kitchen drawers.
Secret spaces. While this isn’t a common feature in older homes, I’ve seen my share of small spaces created between rooms or back-to-back closets. Secret places had discreet access panels or small, well-concealed doors. They made inexpensive safes or squirrel places for some valuables.
Tim Carter has worked as a home improvement professional for over 30 years. To submit a question or to learn more, visit AsktheBuilder.com.