When I saw the sale listing for our house, I laughed.
“Six bedrooms. Pffffffffffffffffffft.”
Because I mean, that is a lot of bedrooms, and we are two people. And while I wouldn’t put it past myself to buy a house in which each of my critters could claim their own bedroom, I would put it past my husband. Way, way past him.
But the picture had a nice way about it. In addition to making it look like it stood alone on a knoll (which it does, if you don’t count the neighbor’s house or the neighboring apartment building, or the entire 1916 subdivision to which it belongs), it showed a nice house. A good, sturdy, solid looking red brick number with a light-filled living room and the typically spartan assortment of furnishings intended to emphasize the airiness of it all.
I say six bedrooms and it’s returned, inevitably, “SIX BEDROOMS?!” which quickly descends to “No, no . . . but it’s not like that.” And the explanation: most of my house is bedrooms. It is somewhat oddly, and a little overwhelmingly, devoted to slumber. Our first floor does not have an abundance of communal living space. Just that long, skinny living room that occupies one half of the downstairs, and the second half divided between a comfortable dining room and teeny-tiny kitchen. A central entry hall eats up the space between the halves.
And that’s it. The rest is six bedrooms.
Upstairs, there are four bedrooms arranged symmetrically around a second floor square hall, each one slightly less than one quarter of the house.
And then there’s our secret weapon for absorbing visiting family: the third floor. Not a proper floor, mind you. A half story, with a central dormer at the back, and a small window in each gable. It’s a walk-up, with a stair off the hall, and at the top is a perpendicular hall linking two more bedrooms.
This is contested space. Because, really, who needed six bedrooms in a fairly modest house built in 1927? That third floor was surely a walk-up attic. That is the entirely reasonable opinion of my husband and most other reasonable people.
But . . .
There are radiators. | Which could have been added later-say in the 1972 probable renovation/flip, but they’re terribly undersized for space they’re intended to defrost, and they’re such a long way from the basement boiler. Just doesn’t seem practical for the 1970s.
And there’s window and door trim. | That could have been added in the reno, true enough, but it matches the trim in the rest of the house, both in profile and in stain.
Also, the floors are stained. | They’re wide plank pine, which definitely does not match the narrow plank hardwood of the rest of the house, but the stain matches the trim.
There are closets. | ” . . . ”
You just don’t see a lot of closets in attics, but each bedroom has one. Come to think, you also don’t see a lot of room subdivision in attics. Why bother? If it’s a storage space, do you really need his and her house sides?
While I allow that all of these things could be a product of overzealous renovators trying to
shoehorn bedrooms into a listing for a neighborhood where most contemporaneous housing stock maxed out at three bedrooms, I don’t know. I just don’t feel attic. I feel bedrooms. And yesterday, I found a 1930 census record that makes me think Mary T. Wallace, the home’s builder, also felt bedrooms.
We know that Mary T. built the house around 1927. I have blueprints dated 1926 that, in defense of reasonable people everywhere, do NOT include the third floor. But by 1930, the people living in my house were:
- Mary T. Wallace. Head of household
- (daughterA) Mary B. Walters
- (son-in-lawA) George Walters, a clerk
- (grandchildA) Mary L. Walters, 11 years old
- (daughterB) Julia L. Wallace, a clerk
- (daughterC) Helen McKee
- (son-in-lawC) John McKee, a salesman and WWI veteran
- (grandchildC) Wallace McKee, 3 years old
That’s eight people. 38% of whom were named Mary. Three daughters, two sons-in-law, two grandchildren.
The thought that all of these people coincidentally wound up under one roof a scant three years after said roof was constructed tests the limits of my fancy. My working theory, while keeping one eye fixed on the possibility of the Great Depression catching the family off guard, is that the house was built to accommodate, as well as possible, an extended family living arrangement for reasons I may never learn. And anyway, with three white collar working people living in a house valued at $15,000 (approximately $215,780.00 in 2016 dollars) at the height of the depression, I’m reluctant to accept too dire a speculation about family finance.
Sheltering a family of eight, my house makes sense. The adults could have their own rooms, and two children on the third floor could each have their own snug little room. And while I am only too aware that an answer is not made correct by virtue of the elegance that describes it, I am inclined to plead Occam’s Razor as I continue digging into the lives of the Wallace and McKee Clan. For now, at least, I’m going to imagine them sanely tucked into spaces that granted them not only family space, but also a comfortable, private existence.
It’s the least anyone can dream for them; they only had one bathroom.