Wednesday, January 14, 2009

The Pretty Room

This is part of the series, The House on High Street. The entire series is indexed here.

Please forgive the poor quality of the photo--because my scanner isn't working, I've made do with a digital photo of an old photograph

On the day we moved into the house we decided that with all the chaos of moving, we should establish a quiet restful area that would be a moving box-free zone and a place to relax and regroup while taking breaks from unpacking, sorting our belongings and, incidentally, making plans for our ailing septic system. We finally had access to the whole house now that the "B" family had gone, taking their invisible (but large) mother with them. We could tour everywhere in our new home to find the best room. 

Our 1770 house was similar to other New England homes built during the period 1650-1775. I found a web site for the Historical Commission of the town of Weston, Massachusetts, which gives the following information on this type of house: 

The center-chimney Colonial style is the first distinctive housing style in New England. Its massive framework is built around a vast, central chimney which provided fireplaces for most of the rooms in the house. In Weston, the earliest houses were usually "one over one" in plan - one room on the first floor and one on the second. These houses were three bays wide (a "bay" is a window or door opening). Other early Weston houses were only one story. 

As the first settlers prospered, they often expanded the three-bay houses into a symmetrical "two over two" room plan with five bays, a center chimney and center entrance door. Houses built after 1750 were generally built with the full five bays. Staircases in central chimney houses are usually a "tight run around" located in front of the chimney. Later 18th century houses often had paired chimneys set nearer to the end walls. This arrangement permits a central hall and straight staircase.

Our house appeared to have been built originally with five full bays across the front (5 windows across the second floor, and four windows and the central front door across the first floor), with the "two over two" room arrangement. The staircase was located right inside the front door in front of the chimney, and it curved around on itself, slowing down everyone who passed up and down the steep stairs.  A tight little staircase like this is also called a "captain's staircase," or a "suicide staircase," and you soon understood the latter name if you tripped. 

The two square rooms on the first floor were the original kitchen, its huge fireplace hung with cranes, and the beehive oven; and the original parlor. Above these two rooms were the big, square front bedrooms. Across the back of the house on the first floor there was a keeping room that stretched across the width of the house, a birthing room just off of it, and a maze of little interconnected rooms up the back stairs and above the keeping room.

The room where the mother of the "B" family had called out to me from her bed turned out to be a delightful surprise. Although it probably sounds odd for an old colonial house, the woodwork had been painted a pale dusty pink that had faded over the years. The old wallpaper was covered in sprays of lilacs. The wide pine floor boards were worn down by the generations of feet that had walked over them. There was a charming little fireplace, and three "six over six" windows (somewhat like these), all with lovely old wavy glass. The children immediately christened it The Pretty Room, and so it remained for all the years we lived there. 


Judy said...

I love those old windows and the shutters just set them off with the pretty trim. I hope you didn't have ghosts???

clairz said...

Ghosts? Stay tuned...

Rebecca Zarges-Joy said...

I seem to remember that I specifically called that room the "pretty room" because I hate to say it ,but when you first took me in, I HATED the house! Except for the "pretty room". Let's remember I was 9 years old and had never seen anything like it. My bedroom was in the dark part of the house and I naturaaly assumed that was where the ghosts were! Of course by the time I moved in a LOT of the work had been done by you guys but there was still a lot of work to do and up until that point I had NEVER been told to do anything at all (I didn't even know what a real potato looked like,remember?) I laugh about it now but it was actually quite sad. Just so everyone knows I eventually grew to LOVE that house! There isn't a person in this world who couldn't love it!(If you have a heart beat (and even if you don't sometimes. Hmmmm....)