The Real Reason Behind All Of Those Weird Features In Old Homes

Incredible | 3/25/20

Thanks to new technology, the world is a very different place than it used to be. There are relics from the past that still exists in our homes that we no longer have a use for (especially if you live in an older home). Newer homes aren’t built with dumbwaiters and cold closets and kitchen desks, although maybe they should be.

Keep reading to see some of the unusual details that you can find in old buildings, but not new buildings. Read on to learn about these antique house features and whether you can repurpose them.

A Random Button In The Middle Of The Floor

Have you ever seen a random floor button in an old house before? These features were part of an electric servant calling system that became popular in the late nineteenth century. Servant buttons, sometimes called “butler buttons,” would signal to a servant working in the home that they were being summoned.

A button on the floor in a 1910 home.

Because architects couldn’t predict the table size the owner would use, placing the button on the floor guaranteed that the master could reach it.

A Phone Niche

Remember when every house had a landline? Since rotary phones were bulky and wide, some architects build phone niches into the wall. Keep in mind that these phones had cords, so people had to stand around to talk. Hence, phone niches often appeared in hallways, kitchens, and bedrooms.

An antique phone niche sits on a yellow wall.
Pinterest/Angela Martin
Pinterest/Angela Martin

Many homes still have phone niches tucked into the wall. If you have a landline, you can store it there as the developer intended. Others use their phone niches to hold mail or display decorative plants.

Picture Rails

Do your walls have thin wooden railings near the ceiling? If so, you probably live in a house that was built before 1940. These rails were used to hang portraits and artwork. In the 1840s, architects built these into homes to hang pictures. Art would dangle from a chain, and the hanging wouldn’t damage the wall. Nowadays we have things like sticky tack and peel-away velcro for that.

Photos hang from white picture rails against a red wall.
Pinterest/Susan Benson
Pinterest/Susan Benson

If you have picture rails in your house, why not use them?

A Cold Closet

Cold closets were closets built outside a home or on an outside wall of a home. They were designed to keep fresh produce cold before people had access to electronic refrigerators. These closets wouldn’t keep food frozen, but they would provide a cooler environment that would help keep food from spoiling too quickly.

Antique cold closet is built into a modern kitchen.
Pinterest/Gabby Sue
Pinterest/Gabby Sue

If you have a cold closet in your house, you can still use it as a second refrigerator, especially for non-dairy and non-meat items.

Button Light Switches

We’re used to light switches that flick on and off now, but back in the 1900s, people used light switches that looked like this. There were separate “on” and “off” switches. The light switches that we’re used to seeing weren’t invented until 1917.

Old-fashioned button light switches hang on a wall.
Pinterest/Stacey and Do’oh!-I-Y

Although they’ve been out of style for over 100 years, some people prefer the look of a button light switch. It does give your home a gorgeous vintage vibe. What do you think? Are button light switches in or out?

A Boot Scraper

If you see an anvil-looking iron ornament outside someone’s house, you just might be looking at a boot scraper. These features started appearing in major cities in the seventeenth century. In some homes, tiny iron ornaments stick up in front of the door. Men would use them to clean mud off of their boots before entering the house. Today, they mostly injure unsuspecting people’s toes.

A metal boot scraper sits on the stairs of an Edinburgh home.

Boot scrapers, called “decrottoir” in French, came in many shapes and sizes.

Laundry Chutes

We don’t really know why laundry chutes went out of style. While they still exist in some hospitals and apartment buildings, they’ve mostly fallen out of favor. It’s a shame because they seem both fun and useful. Laundry chutes are designed to relieve the burden of carrying laundry; instead, you toss it down the chute straight into a laundry hamper.

A laundry chute in the second-floor bathroom leads to the laundry room on the first floor.
Pinterest/Jon Izbicki

Newspaper articles describing early linen chutes date back to the 1890s. Who doesn’t secretly want to ride down one of those things?

A Summer Kitchen

Many large homes and estates in New England have a smaller home nearby on the same property. The smaller home isn’t connected to the main house. These little houses were known as summer kitchens are they would typically be fully equipped with large fireplaces and stone ovens.

A historical stone summer kitchen stands with iron bars.

Enslaved individuals would work in these kitchens to make food for the family they were serving. The kitchens were outside the house so that the stove and fireplace wouldn’t heat up the house while the enslaved people were cooking.

An Icebox Standing Cabinet

Does your cabinet have a tiny door with no apparent use? It’s likely an icebox, also called a cold closet. Iceboxes were twentieth-century devices used to store ice before electric refrigerators. Delivery people would place the ice in from outside so they didn’t have to enter the house.

An antique wooden ice box is open.

Some iceboxes were built into portable refrigerators, while others were installed into cabinets. In the mid-twentieth century, developers added drainage systems to divert the melted ice from homes. Over time, mechanical refrigerators made an icebox unnecessary.

A Lone Basement Toilet

Some World War II-era homes include a random toilet in the basement. They’re often called “Pittsburgh potties” for their prevalence in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, but are found all over the U.S. One theory is that workers would use them in order to not bring grime into the home. But according to architect William Martin, these toilets weren’t meant to be used at all.

A Pittsburgh potty sits in the middle of a basement.

Martin says that the toilets were used to detect sewage backups. If a sewage pipe were clogged, a family’s bathtub or living-space toilet would overflow. To prevent this, a basement toilet was added so that the overflow wouldn’t soil the family’s home.

That Slit In Your Medicine Cabinets

In some old homes, a medicine cabinet includes a tiny slit that looks like a coin slot. It was actually used to deposit razors. Once people finished shaving, they would drop their used razor blades into the slot. Where would they go? Nowhere, really–just into the wall.

A small slit for razor blades is in the back wall of a medicine cabinet.
Pinterest/Katherin Sp
Pinterest/Katherin Sp

If you were to remove the medicine cabinet, you’d likely see all the discarded razors. Keep that in mind if you plan to have someone replace your old medicine cabinet. You don’t want an infection from a decades-old razor blade.

A Tiny Basement Door

In the past, many homes were heated with coal. Coal delivery men would travel door-to-door and drop coal into this small iron door. The door was attached to a chute that dropped the coal into the basement. Once there, homeowners could shovel it into their furnace.

An open coal door leads to a stone basement.

In the mid-1930s, fuel oil burners began to outshine coal as a safe and reliable source of heating and power. Today, most coal chutes have been sealed. But you can still find a couple of tiny doors in some old basements.

The Dumbwaiter

Dumbwaiters are small freight elevators made to lift objects from one floor to another. You can recognize a dumbwaiter by its sliding door and the fact that it usually opens into the kitchen. In the 1840s, people used dumbwaiters to transfer food to a living room or bedroom.

A member of staff removes a tray of freshly cooked pies from the dumbwaiter
Oli Scarff/Getty Images
Oli Scarff/Getty Images

Dumbwaiters are still used in some buildings today. They’re often installed in hospitals, retirement homes, and some restaurants to transport meals. Unlike antique dumbwaiters, modern ones come equipped with electric monitors and automatic control systems.

A Kitchen Desk

Some already know about kitchen desks, which are tiny work stations built into the kitchen. Most of the time, kitchen desks were part of a Hoosier cabinet, free-standing kitchen cupboards that doubled as a work station. Since early nineteenth-century kitchens didn’t have built-in cabinets, a Hoosier desk fulfilled this need.

A cream and green oak Hoosier desk sits in a kitchen.
Pinterest/Linda Shaw

Hoosier cabinets (sometimes called Hoosier cupboards) became popular around the 1890s. But by the 1920s, new homes began installing the wall cabinets we know today. Some homes have a similar design–a kitchen desk with hanging cabinets–built into the wall, replicating the classic Hoosier cabinet.

A Beehive Inside The Walls

Those who renovate an old home might stumble upon a beehive in between the walls. Built-in beehives were installed to give the homeowner honey whenever they wanted it. Behind the wall, bees could fly through the pipes without swarming the main living areas. Today, the practice is called “wall beekeeping.”

Professionals safely remove bees from a home wall in Ogden, Utah.
YouTube/Scott Willis
YouTube/Scott Willis

Wall beekeeping dates back to at least 60 AD. Homeowners would either bring a hive from the wild or allow the bees to find the wall hive themselves. The bees flourished inside wall hives since the structure provided warmth in the winter and shade in the summer.

Copper Wires And Tubes

Some homeowners may see several wires stretching across their walls and ceilings. These are knob-and-tube wiring, an old method of electrical wiring that was common from the 1880s through the early 1940s. Copper wires were protected by porcelain and nailed down with porcelain knob insulators.

Knob and wire tubing lines a wooden ceiling in the basement.

Although knob-and-tube wiring did the job, it had a high cost of installation compared to modern power cables. Currently, knob-and-tube installations are not permitted in the United States except in specific situations. If you’re lucky, you’ll stumble across a building that still has it.

Over-Door Windows

Have you ever wondered why some doors include windows above the frame? These are transom windows, horizontal windows built to let in light. Before electricity became common, transom windows were installed to illuminate the entryway.

A porch door has transom windows above it.

Transom windows are still popular today. Unlike newer designs, older transom windows could open to ventilate the home. Now that air conditioners are common, most transom windows don’t open. If yours do, they may be leftover from a previous generation.

Manual Can Openers

If you still find yourself using manual can opener tools, you might be afraid of the future. While these things are way outdated, even the electric ones will soon become obsolete.

manual can openers
John Patrick O’Gready/Fairfax Media via Getty Images
John Patrick O’Gready/Fairfax Media via Getty Images

More and more cans now have the peel-off lids, so you don’t need to trouble yourself with instruments like these. One day, either all cans will come with the easy lids, or some other option that will make using can openers a thing of the past.

A Little Milk Door

You might be wondering what could possibly fit through a door that small. Milk. That’s what. These little doors were installed in homes so that people could receive their milk delivery without having to go outside early in the morning.

milk door on side of house
Photo Credit: Twitter / @esargent184
Photo Credit: Twitter / @esargent184

Sometimes, milkmen would deliver other products such as eggs, cheese, butter, and soft drinks. In the U.S., some families still have milk delivered today. Maybe we should bring back this fresh milk trend. Amazon, are you listening?

Murphy Beds, AKA Wall Beds

Murphy beds have been around since the 1900s, although back then, they weren’t called Murphy beds. These beds are built so that they can easily fold away into a wall. That way there’s more space in your bedroom to do activities!

Woman lowers a murphy bed.
YouTube/Murphy Beds San Diego
YouTube/Murphy Beds San Diego

Most homes don’t include built-in Murphy beds anymore. Although these beds save space, they declined in popularity during the ’90s and 2000s. They did come back for a bit in the late 2010s when minimal living and tiny homes came into fashion.

A Second Staircase

If there’s a secret second staircase in a house, it most likely leads to the servants’ quarters. In some old, large homes, a second staircase may lead to smaller rooms within a basement and attic. In the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, servants lived in the same home as their masters. If you’ve seen Downton Abbey, you get the idea.

In a nineteenth-century Victorian home, a secret stairway provides access to servants.

In enormous mansions, these rooms would have elaborate pathways leading to the dining room and kitchen.

A Home Antenna

An antenna usually helps a device gain a stronger signal. A home would usually have one on the roof to help with the TV signal. The days when folks needed them are now over.

ronald reagan
Richard C. Miller/Donaldson Collection/Getty Images
Richard C. Miller/Donaldson Collection/Getty Images

While this might not be in your home, it’s still apart of it, so hop on the roof and start removing it. Who wants their house to look outdated thanks to a hunk of junk made from metal? Not us, thats who.

A Phone Jack

As each day passes by, the less homes need a landline phone jack. For one, people just use their cell phone and it’s rare people have a home phone. For two, only internet service providers need it.

Light Yagami/Pinterest
Light Yagami/Pinterest

As more and more tech companies start releasing Wi-Fi devices, the land line will become even more obsolete. It’s only a matter of time before we live in a world where the land line won’t be needed at all.

Floppy Disks

If you’re still living in the year 2000, then you don’t need to read this slide. Unfortunately, it’s 2019, so this applies to everyone. Why on Earth would you still have floppy disks in your home?

Becker & Bredel/ullstein bild via Getty Images
Becker & Bredel/ullstein bild via Getty Images

Anything you could have possibly learned from one of them is now on the internet for free. Please, do us, yourself, your grandchildren and your kids a favor and toss them out. We don’t need them anymore at this stage of life.

Milk Crates

This isn’t 1955, you don’t need a milk crate anymore. The days of the milkmen are gone. While the delivery of milk was a mainstay for families during the ’50s and ’60s, you’d have a better shot at finding a vampire then seeing a milkman deliver something.

Dave Thompson/PA Images via Getty Images
Dave Thompson/PA Images via Getty Images

We hope you don’t have the extra clutter around your house, but in the off chance that you do, its time to get rid of the milk crates.

Portable Radios

Please, if you own a portable radio and its in your home, stop what you’re doing and take it to the nearest trash can or put it up for auction. You don’t need it anymore.

young boy
H. Armstrong Roberts/ClassicStock/Getty Images
H. Armstrong Roberts/ClassicStock/Getty Images

If you’re in need that much to play music with you wherever you are, play it out your phone. That’s what the speakers are for, aren’t they? There are even apps that let you listen to any radio station you want.

Printing Photos

Only the hipster kids can sort of get away with this one. Getting film developed is so twentieth century. The time has come for you to use your smart phone that has better quality than the best camera you purchased in 2010.

Smith Collection/Gado/Getty Images
Smith Collection/Gado/Getty Images

On a serious note, who develops film anymore if they aren’t into photography as a hobby or professionally? It’s a new day, so its time you realize stores probably won’t even develop your film anymore.

Wall Clocks

The only time it’d be okay to have a wall clock is if your interior designer purposefully designed your home to have a retro vibe. Outside of that, save the wall space and get rid of it.

wall clocks on the wall

These days, you can literally ask your smart home what time it is and you’ll receive an answer. If you don’t want to talk, then pull out your phone that’s probably in your pocket and then there you have it.

Flip Phones

One question; do you own an android of Apple phone? If you surprisingly answered no to that, we still need you to dispose of your box of flip phones. There are places where you can turn them in for money, too.

Koichi Kamoshida/Getty Images
Koichi Kamoshida/Getty Images

We’re not trying to be rude, but those ancient phones don’t bring anyone value anymore. In fact, if you have one, you might be up to no good because they’re considered “burner phones” in some communities.

Physical Maps

Unless your name is Dora The Explorer, it’s time to put to rest any physical maps you have lying around the house. There is, however, one case that would make having a physical map acceptable and that’s if you hang one on your wall.

America map
Contributor/Getty Images
Contributor/Getty Images

Other than that, if they’re just loose in a drawer, closet or anywhere else, dump it. You have the internet, a phone, and your friend on speed dial in case you need help getting anywhere.

VCR Players And Cassette Tapes

If there were a word that amplified obsolete by 1000, that’s what we would use here. VCRs are completely useless these days thanks to streaming services. Even then, DVDs are second option.

vcr movies
contributor/Getty Images
contributor/Getty Images

There was a time when VCRs were go to devices to watch your favorite movie, but those days are far behind us now. Unless you want to live in perpetual nostalgia, then we advise you try and sell your machine for the most profit you can get.

A Fax Machine

Well, this one is pretty self explanatory. With the internet being such a useful and powerful tool, the need of a fax flew out the window years and years ago.

fax machine
Contributor/Getty Images
Contributor/Getty Images

Some companies still have fax machines in their offices, but you might never hear them in action. With that being the case, unless you’re communicating with someone from the past then you don’t need to have this machine in your home anymore. Do it for yourself.

Yellow Pages?

Who are you trying to fool? If you’re still flipping through hundreds of pages attempting to find that plumber’s number to come and fix your leak, you’re stuck in the past.

phone book
William Gottlieb/CORBIS/Corbis via Getty Images
William Gottlieb/CORBIS/Corbis via Getty Images

Hey, not all hope is lost. If you still have one in the house, you can always use it as a stepping tool if you’re too short. Maybe even put it on the seat of your car for a little added height as well.

A Separate Alarm Clock

Hey, we’re not judging anyone who still has a prehistoric alarm clock. Who cares if you can voice control your smart phone to set an alarm at any point you wish.

Robert Alexander/Getty Images
Robert Alexander/Getty Images

The classic alarm clocks can come in handy for those heavy sleepers out there. Just place it on the other side of the room, so when it goes off, you have to physically get up to shut that noisy thing off. Seriously, you don’t need one.


Now, this one is a bit tougher. Thanks to music streaming services, the need for anything other than headphones and a smart device makes owning CDs a thing of the past.

cds up close

While it’s tougher to find VHS cartridges, you can still buy CDs at almost any electronics store. Some people do like popping them into their car stereo for that nostalgic feel, but no one needs them anymore. If you see any on your floor, feel free to toss them.

Physical Calculators

There was a time when calculators were a man’s best friend when it came to solving tough math problems. Multiplying 23×72 was made easy with one of these gadgets. They just made life easier.

a lot of calculators
Matt Cardy/Getty Images
Matt Cardy/Getty Images

Now, technology has made things even better for figuring out math equations. Pretty much every phone in existence now comes with a calculator. On the off chance yours doesn’t, go to the app store and download it. It’s safe to toss your battery-powered calculator now.

Photo Albums

Disclaimer: if you already have a few photo albums filled with a bunch of old family photos, then you can keep them. There is no reason for you to go out and purchase new ones.

zoom in of photo album
Brooks Kraft LLC/Sygma via Getty Images
Brooks Kraft LLC/Sygma via Getty Images

Now, there are digital photo albums for your precious pictures. Also, you can take all your pictures from your old photo albums, take them to your local target, and have them scanned so you can have them digitally. That would make life easier.

Print Dictionaries

If you’re troubled with what a word might mean, you don’t need to pick up a dictionary anymore. They might’ve been helpful in the past if you kept them around your house, but those days are over.

zoomed in
NICHOLAS KAMM/AFP via Getty Images
NICHOLAS KAMM/AFP via Getty Images

Much like many other things on this list, the solution to your problem is in your phone. Download a dictionary app, and boom, you now know what “onomatopoeia” means and you didn’t need to flip through a bunch of pages.

The Little Black Book

Your cell phone might be the leading cause of not needing most things on this list. The last thing anyone needs in their homes anymore is a little black book.

little black book
Chicago History Museum/Getty Images
Chicago History Museum/Getty Images

While you might have some phone numbers in there of people you may never forget, chances are that they’ve changed their numbers. Oh, and you have a cell phone that can store pretty much an endless amount of numbers and addresses for you with a press of a button.

A Very ’90s Pager

Beepers used to be all the rage in the ’90s and even early 2000s. When the office or someone needed to get through to you, they would just beep you. It was like a simple form of SMS.

close up of a beeper
Michael Williamson/The The Washington Post via Getty Images
Michael Williamson/The The Washington Post via Getty Images

Now, you can get a text, Whatsapp, Facebook, or Instagram message. No one needs to beep anyone these days. That beeper you have in your drawer from a decade ago needs to go in the trash can next time you see it.