what is this called and why is it?

writersblockApril 24, 2014

I've looked at dunaplenty old cottages in Northern Florida in the past couple of weeks and there's one architectural feature I keep seeing that puzzles me a lot: this strange heavy wooden header over double doors in parlors and other major rooms. In the first house I thought it was an old transom that had been filled in, but on the other side of the door opening there's no clue at all that anything like that exists (and the woodwork appears to be original). Then I began seeing it a lot in larger houses built in the 1870's, always that same heavy header.

Does anyone know what the correct term is for this and why they would be there? I tried looking up things like "false transom", but that just got me very educated about boats.

Sorry about the large image, but the software here upsizes images if they're too small, so I can't help it.

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It's called a "blind transom". I'm guessing it was done to bring up the door casing to a desired height to match other elements or accommodate a frieze or wallcovering.

    Bookmark   April 24, 2014 at 8:05AM
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Thanks, Casey. Interesting. That photo is from what was originally a four-room laborer's cottage. Interesting that they would have bothered with a detail like that for such a humble dwelling.

    Bookmark   April 24, 2014 at 1:05PM
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A laborer's cottage with multi-piece moldings? Picture Molding and such high ceilings? Too much detail for an actual cropper house.

    Bookmark   April 25, 2014 at 7:41AM
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It's a "cheat" ... lets them have the appearance of a large door in the public areas and have smaller scale less expensive moldings on the other side.

We're thinking of doing it on our "dream house" front door. The entry is going to be fairly low-ceilinged, but the scale of the house needs a taller door.

Tah-dah ... the blind transom will make the door look bigger but the inside will fit the vestibule.

I agree with Casay: that's too fancy for a laborer's cottage. They were lucky to have doors and a floor. Maybe a farm manager's bungalow and the cook shack was out back?

    Bookmark   April 25, 2014 at 8:55AM
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It's actually in town. Guess I should have been clearer. The first owner would probably have been something like a sawyer at the local cypress mill. So not a skilled craftsman, but not a field worker, either. Other houses on the street belonged to other sawyers, night watchmen, butchers at the stockyards, widows who ran boarding houses. All the others are at least double the size of this one, often three or four times the square footage.

    Bookmark   April 25, 2014 at 7:06PM
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Writersblock...did you ever figure this out? It will haunt me until I know what it was for. The obvious would be transoms that were blocked in for efficiency once modern AC existed, but you know that already. Awfully pretty doors to be in such a 'humble abode', too.

    Bookmark   July 8, 2014 at 10:19PM
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Sorry, just saw this. No, I never found out anything for sure, but when we were researching the history of the house we found that in 1887 it was probably inhabited by a family of carpenters, so maybe they just went to town on it for fun.

I say probably because the town records don't go back before 1900 (fire destroyed older records), so all we really had to go on was the Sanborn maps and the street directories. At that time there weren't street numbers, so it was all just "Monroe St near Kirby" and like that, so we had to do it pretty much by the process of elimination, looking at later directories after numbers came in to see which names were still in the same location and eliminate those folks.

Oh well, as the curator at a house in the historic district said to me about her museum, "This house is 90% completely obvious and 10% a total mystery."

    Bookmark   July 10, 2014 at 11:10PM
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I own an home built 1834.

Making the post from a cell phone.. So please disregard typos

Anyway here is my thoughts on this. I own a two room Laborers Cottage, it has two front doors, and one room has Ash flooring, and the other Popular flooring. One room would be the room that they lived in. And the other room would be a formal room. My home was used as a doctors office on one side, and the family of two adults and twelve children all lived in the 700sq foot home.. They would have only used 350sq foot of the home for living, and the other side was only for Sunday, guests or an office visit.

I would guess that this detail found in this home is the same idea, you would have one room with nice flooring, and trim. The rest of the home would be built out of cheaper materials.

You all are forgetting that back then most everything had to be done 100% by hand. I found that the wall separating the two room in my house the studs still had the bark on them. Trim and flooring would cost a lot back then, since it may take a few hours to make just one piece of trim or flooring.

It makes a lot of since to me, they could make the home look a lot nicer for the one room that guests would ever be allowed in, and save the money on making the other room exactly the same way.

I think I may use this exact same idea in my home when I finish remodeling it.. Since all of the original trim was already removed by the last owner.. This is a neat touch.

FYI: the 700 foot room will now be just our living room.. Since there is a 1500sq foot addition on the home now. I plan on making one side the family room with TV. And the other side will just be the sitting room for reading or greeting guests into our home.

    Bookmark   July 20, 2014 at 11:21PM
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>I would guess that this detail found in this home is the same idea, you would have one room with nice flooring, and trim. The rest of the home would be built out of cheaper materials.

Actually, everything in this house was the same quality throughout, as far as I can tell, although there is only one false transom, but that's the also only between-room opening with double doors. The floors are beautiful in every room, for instance, with a rug inlay pattern in all but the kitchen and bath, which the current owner tiled.

The other rooms open off an interior hallway and have single doors.

There are the ruins of the foundations of what an early fire map notes as a "workshop" behind the house.

    Bookmark   July 21, 2014 at 2:41AM
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