General Question

Yellowdog's avatar

Where was the telephone niche (in a house of the 1890-1940 era) usually located?

Asked by Yellowdog (12183points) January 18th, 2018

Are you familiar with an old house that has, or had, a telephone niche? I am designing a new ‘old’ house that hypothetically fits the 1899–1916 era—somewhat of the Arts-and-Crafts/Craftsman and Colonial Revival and Tudor Revival spirit.

What room were these typically in?

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17 Answers

SergeantQueen's avatar

The Kitchen?

Zaku's avatar

Yes, I’m thinking of a nice house built in that period, which had a walk-in telephone niche with a door built into the wall of the main staircase just past the main foyer. I think I’ve seen similar examples, either at or near the base of the main stairs, or off the main stairs half-way to the next floor up.

Oh, I know some other houses too, where the phone niche was just big enough to hold the phone. In the examples I’m thinking of, these were:

In the hallway to the rest of the house, just after the front entryway.
In the breakfast nook off the kitchen.
Upstairs on a walkway that wrapped around the chasm for the main stair.
In a hallway connecting bedrooms.
In the wall of the “play room”.

I think they tended to be in convenient places where one could sit or stand and talk, and could be almost anywhere but generally not in rooms where more formal use was expected – i.e. I don’t remember them being in a dining room or living room.

canidmajor's avatar

I grew up in such a house. The telephone connection was not in a niche, but in the public front hall area. Privacy wasn’t considered polite for telephone conversations (according to my grandmother, who was born in 1885)

Yellowdog's avatar

Yes, my great, great grandmother had a phone in her entry hall. but no niche. It seems the best atypical location for a phone niche would be the front hall within or around the stairs—the ascribation for between floors was probably to be convenient to both floors, although it seems that flying down the entire stairs to answer the phone would be preferable to running up half way—the entry hall seems the way to go. In houses without an upstairs, maybe the most central location or hallway or transitional area, if privacy wasn’t polite.

The kitchen seems convenient, or a butler’s pantry between the kitchen and dining room—but maybe too off and away, albeit it makes more sense.

Please keep the answers coming. I want to read what’s familiar to those of you who have old houses or have experienced them in some way in your past.

janbb's avatar

In the front hall. I picture it usually on a table.

canidmajor's avatar

Remember, too, (according to my grandmother) that the phone was used exclusively for information, not chatting or socializing. That also may have played a role in locating the instrument.

KNOWITALL's avatar

The kitchen, it was always the social hub of a rural home.

SergeantQueen's avatar

^that’s what I was thinking. That or the living room. I remember seeing movies/tv shows set in that time period and they had a telephone in the kitchen. and in the shows set in the 50’s it seems to be more in the living room. But I wasn’t alive during that time period so I am just going off what I saw in tv shows.

Dutchess_III's avatar

Seems to me they were in hallways…like, always by the stairs or something, if they had stairs. I wouldn’t think they’d have them in a living room. You can’t politely hold a conversation with a third party when others are in the room.
I finally got my husband to FREAKING UNDERSTAND THAT!! Now he takes the calls in the kitchen or outside.

janbb's avatar

I think we might be talking about different time periods and different parts of the country. In towns in the early days – maybe 20s through 40s or so – I would definitely see them in front halls. In the country and somewhat later – maybe the 50s and 60s – I would think they might be in the kitchen as @KNOWITALL says.

Dutchess_III's avatar

I think you’re right @janbb. So we women could still work and talk on the phone at the same time. Stretch that cord all out!
Then, of course, a lot of people got multiple phones for different rooms, like the bedroom.

elbanditoroso's avatar

My grandparent’s house – built in the teens or so – had the telephone nook in a hallway between the kitchen (back of the house) and the living room (front of the house with picture window).

It didn’t have seating; rather it was a recessed area in the wall with sort of a plastered shelf for the phone.

Dutchess_III's avatar

My folks had our house built in 1968. Our phone was on a desk, built into the wall just for that purpose. It was in the dining room. Above it was a glass hutch for formal dinnerware.
Mom told us not to ever interrupt her when she was on the phone, unless the house was on fire! So when we had something to ask or to tell her, we’d stand behind her and whisper Mom!! The house is on fire!!” She’d just whack at us! Thank goodness for phone cords!!

Jeruba's avatar

In the big old house we moved into when I was 11, we had a telephone table in the front hall on the first floor and an extension in the hall on the second. There was no niche. That house is probably a hundred years old now.

Where we lived before that, in a house built probably in the 1930s, the phone jack was at the juncture between the living room and the dining room. I don’t remember ever seeing a niche in any friend’s house. In that time and place (blue collar/middle class coastal suburb of Boston), not every house had a phone, and few had more than one. It wasn’t taken for granted or built for, not where we lived.

Dutchess_III's avatar

My house is 110 years old. There is no hint of a phone niche now. It’s been remodeled so many times.

Call_Me_Jay's avatar

I’ve lived in two apartments built circa 1910–1920 with phone niches in the hallway near the front door.

I also think the front hall was the usual place from watching It’s a Wonderful Life a few dozen times.

janbb's avatar

@Call_Me_Jay I’m pretty sure that’s my reference point too! I keep picturing their house.

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