Piecing Together the Puzzle

Wood MoldingI used to live in a 1920s bungalow. In its early years, the house accommodated a single family. But sometime after the Second World War the house was split into four apartments to welcome in more residents. (SPOILER ALERT: We’ll cover this in a future blog post!) Being the old house/architecture nerd that I am, I would sometimes just sit and think about the house’s original layout, getting clues from details around my apartment and my recollection of the other units. The setup of the kitchen and dining area was pretty easy to determine, but mystery features such as the extra closet within my bedroom closet was pretty puzzling. (Yes, my closet had a closet. Go ahead, be jealous.)

One evening I was lounging on the couch in the neighboring apartment, enjoying conversation. All the while I was trying to hide the fact that my mind was drifting again, trying to fit together the pieces of the puzzle. That’s when I noticed it, a large rectangular outline in the ceiling. Could it be…? YES! The original location of the staircase! One more question answered!

Our houses have this uncanny ability to give us clues – walls really can talk, if you listen closely. I’ve said before that homes are organic, living things, constantly growing and changing with our needs and values. Rooms can be added, expanded, remodeled, etc., and it’s all part of the story. Here’s a few things to look for:

  • Molding. If you find that the molding changes style (from decorative to plain), is not completely exposed, or of different materials, it may be an indication that there was an addition. Sometimes this may also give you an idea of when that change was made. In the case of my apartment, the design of the wood molding in the living room was the same on all four walls, but along one wall pine was used instead of oak. This can often indicate an era of economy, as well — oak, walnut, and other finer woods were usually preferred before softer woods such as pine. These details gave me clues that indicated that the wall was built to separate the two apartments on the main floor.
  • Building Materials. Perfect example of this is foundations, something we touched on a bit in the past. If you find multiple materials used as the foundation to your home – stone, brick, concrete block – it’s a good bet that an addition was made. You may also recognize that the bricks don’t match in color, size, or quality, another hint that construction was done in several stages. The same could be said for interior details, such as the wood floors throughout your home.
  • Outlines in the Walls. If walls are built or entrances closed, there’s usually a footprint left behind. Short of replacing the wall or strategically placing a large piece of furniture in front of it, it’s difficult to cover up this alteration. The same principle applies to the exterior, as well.
There once was a gracefully arched window here, now closed off and covered with brick.
There once was a gracefully arched window here, now closed off and covered with brick.

These little traces of evidence give us quite a bit of data about the house and its history, though it’s not always available. Homes that have been gutted and rehabbed lose much of this information, sometimes leaving us only with speculations about the house’s development.

Tracing the history of your home is what we do, and finding these details about the structure is part of the service we provide to our clients. We dig in to find these clues, and use documentation to find the proof to support them. Knowing these details are just as important about discovering the history of your home or property as the names and stories attached to them. For more information, or to get your own personal consultation, visit our website and contact us at past2presentresearch@gmail.com.

Liana Twente

Past to Present Research, LLC


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