Business in the front, Party in the Back: Part I

Ever since we bought BHH, I have struggled to define which architectural style BHH fits into nicely. It is big and boxy like a Colonial. Inside it is fancy and ornate much like a Victorian. Both inside and out, it has some “frankenfeatures” that do not necessarily detract from the aesthetic but are clearly not original. This week, I sat down and spent some time trying to figure out the puzzle of the architecture of BHH. After a great deal of research, I have come to a conclusion. We are living in a house that is the architectural equivalent of the mullet: Business in the Front, Party in the back. Let me explain.

The starting point for my research was the real estate listing,  The real estate listing called BHH a Colonial. While I certainly could have taken that at face value, several anomalies tell a different tale. Wait, I am getting ahead of myself. Let me begin on the outside.

The Exterior

Benjamin Moore Hale Navy

At first glance, BHH sure looks a lot like a Colonial. According to this website, all of the characteristics of a Colonial are present. The house is symmetrical. The door sits squarely in the middle with two windows on either side, and there are five windows across the top. The middle window is centered over the entrance. It’s a Colonial.

Ok, I will be the first person to mention the elephant in the room. I know you all see it.

What the heck is that?

Behind that decidedly not Colonial window is a small room off the kitchen. The room is approximately 8 feet X 5.5 feet. Eventually, we will turn it into an eating nook. (Yikes! Remember when the kitchen looked like this?)

What we believe is that this small room used to be an open porch useful for deliveries. It probably had pillars supporting the upper story. One door led directly into the kitchen, and a second door led into a storage room that we converted into the laundry room.

As for the covered entry, that is a feature of Colonial Revival Architecture. However, originally, our porch was not enclosed. Two pillars held up the small roof overhead.

Benjamin Moore Hale Navy Heritage Red

We do not know when these changes were made, but we have this photo from the 1960s, and both features are clearly already in place.

The Other Side of the House

If we were just looking at the exterior front of the house, it would be easy to draw the conclusion that BHH is a reasonably traditional Colonial with some modifications. Walk with me to the side of the house.

What just happened here? Is this even the same house? Aside from the roofline, very little of this side of the house looks like a Colonial. (PS: You have not lost your mind. This side of the house is no longer green. This is an old picture.)

One look at this original photo and the idea that BHH is a traditional Colonial completely falls apart.

First, those are cedar shingles on the side of the house, not lap siding. Shingle Style architecture was an actual thing between 1880-1900, but it was most popular in New England. However, it is not a huge stretch to imagine that it made its way this far west.  Next, Look carefully. BHH used to have a wraparound porch, very much like a Victorian. Let me repeat that, BHH used to have a wraparound porch!  

At one time, there was a circle drive, and this side of the house was the grand entrance for the owners and their fancy pants guests. The street side was access for the help and deliveries. (In our world, we use both doors equally.)

Where is our wraparound porch?

This numbered photo shows some of the key elements of this side of BHH, and number 4 holds the secret of the long lost wraparound porch.

  1. Sleeping Porch –  This is not relevant to this discussion. I am just pointing it out for fun.
  2. The original fancy leaded-glass bay window – This feature is very Victorian, and you can see it in the old photo that I posted up above. Go ahead and look. I’ll wait.
  3. The current front porch – Cement stairs lead up to the front door which is original to the house.
  4. The Garage – Hold the phone. A garage?

Yes. A garage. BHH was built circa 1885 before most people owned cars. BHH was also built as a summer house. We are located within a few hours distance, by horse and buggy, from the big city. The carriage house that used to belong to BHH now sits on the neighbor’s property.

During the early 1900s, the owner must have thought to himself; I desparately need a place to keep my Tin Lizzie nice and dry. I am going to convert some of that covered porch into a garage. And, this is the result of that project.

These bi-fold doors, which currently do not function, are just wide enough for a Model T or something similar.

In this interior photo, you can still see the original siding, shutters, and tongue and groove ceiling. The porch started by the grand entrance front door, wrapped all the way around this side of the house, and stopped where the bi-fold doors are now.

The garage is made almost entirely out of windows. Word on the street is that Dorothy’s husband used it for a greenhouse.

Stay tuned for more tomorrow.

We have reached our stopping point for today.

Check back tomorrow for Part II. We will take a look at the Victorian and Colonial features inside that further confuse the issue. I will tie this all together (somehow!), and I will sum up the early history of BHH as I understand it from my research. It will not be boring. I promise.

Edited 3/8/17: Here is a direct link to Part II.

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