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Permanent Furniture: Fireplace Nooks

In this continuing series of “Images From The Awesome Old Architecture Books of Awesome Historian Bill Inge,” the next fun topic is “Permanent Furniture.”

While browsing through Bill’s “Builders’ Woodwork” catalog (1927), I was intrigued by this phrase, and found that it was a reference to built-in bookcases, nooks, and fireplace seats.

And my oh my, they are beautiful!

“Permanent Furniture” is also a jarring reminder that, despite our so-called progressive views on recycling, our not-so-distant ancestors did far better in preserving and respecting our country’s resources. I suspect they’d be scandalized if they saw a modern HGTV program, which seems to advocate disposing of anything in a house that’s more than 20 years old.

I shudder to think how much early 20th Century “Permanent Furniture” is sitting in a landfill somewhere, having been tossed into the waste stream for no other reason than the fact that it looked “dated,” or “old-fashioned.” And the modern home improvement shows fuel the fire, encouraging folks to rip out and replace anything that isn’t “up-to-date.” It takes “keeping up with the Joneses’” to a whole new level of insanity (and debt).

But don’t get me stated on HGTV. If I were queen of the world (and it shouldn’t be long now), I’d have that show and its ilk banned from the airwaves.

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Bill loaned me this book on one condition. "Don't drool on the pages," he said with a degree of gravitas, "because trust me, you're going to love these 1920s images."

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"The various items...have been designed for service and simple dignity." I not only loved the photos, I loved the accompanying descriptions, too. Beautifully said.

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Looks like a "Hospitality Seat" made it into the living room. I'm not sure how practical this one is, but it sure is lovely to look at. The woodwork is stunning.

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Simple, but dignified, as promised. This set-up was very common in so many early 20th Century houses and it creates such an inviting look. What could possibly be better than streaming sunlight, a warm fire and a good book?

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For those who don't own a lot of books, and like really big pillows...

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Apparently, Spanish homeowners prefer their guests to stand. Maybe it inspires them to leave faster.

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Room for lots and lots of books! I do love the look of this. The oak wainscoting would be dark, but dignified.

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Most of these fireplaces have the lights over the mantel, whereas this has sconces on the side walls. The original caption says that this fireplace "is very artistic with its Tudor Gothic arch."

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Despite the fact that this arrangement may be a little too toasty, I think it's my favorite. I love how the wainscoting blends right in with the seat backs. Looks like there's storage within those benches.

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A classic look for early 20th Century Colonial Revivals.

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Another Colonial-esque mantel with flanking bookcases. The original caption says that the “sliding curtain is very practical.” I guess it’s a good idea for when your illiterate friends visit and you don’t want them to know you’re a bibliophile. The mirror looks like it’s draped with black crepe, but I don’t think that’s what it really is.

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I love how they have a picture of a Spanish mission house over the mantel. Just in case you were wondering which style of mantel this house is designed for...

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This image is from the 1921 Sears Modern Homes catalog. It's the fireplace nook for the Sears Ashmore. Pretty fancy for a "simple little kit house."

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Last but not least, here's some "permanent furniture" in a Sears Osborne in Illinois.

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  1. Angela
    December 2nd, 2013 at 23:27 | #1

    I couldn’t agree with you more about our current generation’s need to rip out their houses’ history and put in “modern” finishes.

    These pictures are beautiful. LOVE the cozy fireside nooks. That Ashmore picture has always been one of my favorites :-)

  2. Betsy Thompson
    December 3rd, 2013 at 00:39 | #2

    I’m swooning. Such wonderful details in these houses. Thanks Rosemary:)

  3. Akon
    December 5th, 2013 at 05:11 | #3

    This is one of the reasons I love American architecture and building vernacular.

    Ground floor almost always seems to feature living room, dining room, kitchen and maybe a vestibule, hallway and/or pantry.

    Upstairs, the bedrooms and bath are located. This is not only functional but cost AND resource effective. It’s the kind of house I would enjoy living in.

    It’s sensible while promoting a kind of practical living a home should provide.

    The cherry on top would be built-in clothes/linen closets, fireplace nooks and other permanent furniture such as book cases, laundry chute and the like.

    They’re sturdy, in line with the architectural style of the house and do not rob the room of any actual or perceived space like free standing furniture do. Carpenters of our past appear much more hands-on in the building process.

    Why has this practice devolved?

    Understanding constructing a pre-fab house today is different from a kit house built by hand a century ago, why not retro-fit such functional, lasting and often aesthetically pleasing pieces?

    Permanent furniture is a wonderful concept. They help embody the modern home. I finally have a designator for one of the qualities I feel miss in 21th century homes.

    Thank you for a wonderful article.

  4. December 6th, 2013 at 06:01 | #4

    Amazing photos. I have two solid fuel stoves in my UK home both with the original old brick interiors and one with a hand made fireplace made of Yorkshire stone.

    This knocked up by a local stone mason aged 80 years named Burt!

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