Sunday, October 21, 2007

the Ryan Home of its day, or: secrets of the sex lives of Victorian middle management

This is the way the late afternoon sunlight (which is getting less and less late all the time – hello, fall!) looks as it falls through our wavy old window glass onto a door in my bedroom. I was lying in bed as I took this photo – I'm down with a crushing head cold, so have been logging a lot more time in said bed than I would really like – and when I opened my eyes to see this, I thought, too bad I don't have the camera nearby, but no way am I rousing my sorry self to get it. But wait! The camera is miraculously on my nightstand! And so I was able to capture the moment without bothering my congested little head about getting up.

That is just a side note, actually. What I really want to tell are two interesting facts about this door:

1. It leads directly into the bedroom next door, which, for obvious reasons, we have designated the nursery. (Yes, the child who sleeps there is now well beyond nursery-occupant age, but that is another story.) J and I always sort of assumed that our hundred-year-old house was built with this direct access between the parental and baby bedrooms in mind, that the convenience of the linked rooms was thanks to the foresight of the original owners/parents/builders. Then I was on my umpteenth tour of this local historic house* and, as I walked between Mr. and Mrs. Frick's bedrooms, separate but joined via a shared, private hallway, a light bulb went off: our house is nothing but a poor cousin of the Fricks'! Our interconnected rooms were not meant for easy back-and forth between parents and baby, but for the middle-manager-master and his wife, the mistress of the house, to have separate occupancy but private access. The baby slept across the hall, and if it cried, they didn't bother themselves – that was a job for the nanny, who lived upstairs.

*Well worth it if you are ever in the neighborhood, though in my experience the quality of the tour varies widely from docent to docent.

2. The door, like all the doors and woodwork on our second and third floors, is faux-woodgrained. No, not by me, good heavens no. By a craftsman (presumably he was a man) who must have made his living dressing up cheap woods to make them look more expensive. On our first floor, in the rooms that guests would see, we have the real McCoy, quarter-sawn oak; on our second and third, which would have been seen only by the family and servants, we have this, pine painted to look like oak (in some rooms) or walnut or mahogany (in others). It's so expertly done that J and I did not realize it was a faux finish until well after we'd bought the house. I actually love these faux-finished doors more than if we had expensive wood throughout. I love the idea of this craftsman, who must have sold his services to local builders, making poor woods look more expensive as turn-of-the-twentieth-century tract houses went up in the former farmlands of the east end. Of course, the irony is that nowadays, you'd pay more for such fine craftsmanship than you would for a real oak door.

To late – and dark – now for me to try to take a close-up picture, but I'll try to post one tomorrow for all the old-house geeks who are still with me.

What are the quirks of your house?


Anonymous erin said...

oh, i think our house is similar to yours! jane's room has a huge closet with built-ins that connected to kate's room at some point. it's all making sense now! ours isn't victorian, though...built in 1911 and it is the biggest mish-mash of architecture in a charming way that just works well.

7:58 AM  
Blogger meg said...

i grew up in a large colonial and we had adjoining rooms just like that. we were told by the previous (though not original) owners that it was so the nanny could sleep next to the nursery.

3:40 PM  
Anonymous nan said...

I'm not happy about this line of inquiry..Where does one begin about quirks or what's more to the point where does one end? I won't do either.

In my next house I'm voting for the bedroom set-up of Victorian middle management in Baltimore. Nothing like a bit of distance to make the heart grow fonder or was that out of sight out of mind?
Hope you are well.

9:20 AM  

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