Friday, July 3, 2009

Friday FAQs: ceilings

An architectural question we frequently hear is: Why are the ceilings different heights on every floor of the house?

This is most often asked by visitors staying on the third floor, where it is only seven feet four inches to the ceilings in the rooms. It doesn't bother anyone except the basketball players but it is noticable.

The ceilings get progressively higher as you get closer to terra firma -- 9 feet on the second floor and 11 feet on the first floor. Since the house was built in the 1870s, consulting the original contractor is out of the question. But from Internet research and discussion with guests who live in or work on older homes we have a working hypothesis.

The house was constructed for use as a summer home by a well-to-do merchant named Caswell. It’s likely that he had a staff of servants, who probably resided in the smaller, lower-ceilinged rooms up on the third floor. People weren’t quite as tall back in the 19th Century and so seven feet four inches might have seemed like plenty of headroom for the working class.

The second floor was most likely where the owner, his family and any guests might have slept. Nine-foot ceilings are pretty standard for that era as long as your name wasn’t Vanderbilt and your budget wasn’t unlimited. At that height you can hang a candelabra without coming too close to a fashionable lady’s hairdo. The second floor rooms all had transoms above the doors to vent hot air into the hall and out the third floor windows. The working transoms are long gone (and would be a violation of fire codes anyway) but the spaces are occupied by pretty stained glass panels executed by Seely's mom.

So why those lofty 11-footers down on the first floor? We think that’s because most of the entertaining was done at ground level. Fancy dinners, perhaps a music recital or even a formal ball might have been held on the premises. In that pre-AC era, an 11-foot ceiling would allow the warm air from such activities to rise and be whisked outside by the tall windows, several of which reach to within a foot or so of the ceilings.

That’s our theory, and we’re standing by it until someone offers us hard evidence to the contrary.

Monday will mark the debut of our new blog featurette, "Monday Memories" in which we will pull out the old photos and regale you with horror stories from the years gone by. This is the Inn's tenth year