Step up to modern life in a not-so-modern home


A funny thing happened on my way to this column. I lost my office.

Granted, it wasn’t so much “lost” as that I couldn’t find my way to it.

The sheer volume of space (and stuff) between myself and my home office had expanded in such a manner as to keep me completely away from my desk for days at a time.

Clearly, the house is to blame.

Great rooms. Now, to be clear, my house isn’t large in the way of newly constructed homes.

You know, the ones where “great rooms” are measured in yards, not feet, and the entire structure is constructed seemingly without interior walls for maximum “flow?”

On the contrary, our house is large in the way that homes of a century ago were built to house multiple generations of families and, most importantly, their hired help.

We have a total of three full floors and (it is rumored) a basement to boot.

Up the stairs. As for stairways, we can only imagine that architects of the past must have been paid by the step (but never, unfortunately, by the closet).

Thus it was decreed that you simply cannot have enough stairways and was sometimes required that you build two or more just to get from the first to the second floor alone.

This secondary set of stairs leading from the kitchen to the upper floors in our home are, as in many vintage homes, euphemistically known as “the maid’s stairs.”

In 1896 this probably made perfect sense. By 1996 this was false advertising, plain and simple.

Detours. Nonetheless, from these spare stairs was born the myth of “charm” and “character” that old house nuts like me are often nattering on about.

That is when we can catch our breath from all the stair climbing.

This long-ago dedication to designing homes where virtually every family member – and the maid – had their own stairway, has left us today with a variety of corridors, crannies, and stairways to traverse to get from point A to point B (sometimes detouring through points L, X, and Z just to find the bathroom).

Uncharted territories. How then, do you lose your way to an office?

Easy. When you live in a house of stair abundance, you mean to take this or that bit of clutter or work up to somewhere else, you really do. Honestly.

You are going to do it right after you run this or that other thing around the back stairs and over (up? across?) to where it belongs.

Where does it belong? Who really knows? Storage space is always such a premium in these old places.

Nonetheless, your intentions are wholly honest and good. Except that you can’t quite tame the pile.

Thus the pile grows, attracts like objects, and morphs into an honest to goodness heap.

Lost in the heap. Pretty soon you can’t face the swell that blocks the stairway and impedes access to the floor where, it is rumored, your “office” lies in wait.

So you pick another stairway and use that one for a while.

Unfamiliar with this new traffic pattern, you take a wrong turn on your way to aforementioned office and end up in the “soap making room” or the “keeping area” or some such oddly designed little space and you never do find your way to the office.

Stay connected. Meanwhile, a leading architectural publication recently reported that the average home of today has grown from just under 1,500 square feet in 1970, to an increasing number of homes approaching 4,000 square feet today.

As a result, intercom systems are becoming increasingly common as modern families struggle to stay connected in oversized homes.

Just a note that if your house is so large that you cannot find your kids to talk to them face to face, I would seriously despair of ever locating that laundry you left on the stairs.

Meanwhile, as I face yet another pile of the assorted flotsam and jetsam of family life that seems endlessly to require carrying ever further “up” (lest we risk blocking all the stairs we have and being forced to access our upper floors via ladder), I can only wonder.

Optimist. Recall, if you will, the tale of the optimistic and the manure pile: gleefully he leaps into the pile, digging feverishly while shouting “there must be a pony in here somewhere!”

On that note, do you think that if we leave the pile on those “maid’s stairs” long enough, that there just might be a maid in there somewhere?

(Kymberly Foster Seabolt is still waiting for the maid. She welcomes comments c/o or P.O. Box 38, Salem, Ohio 44460.)

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