Sippican Cottage

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A Man Who Has Nothing In Particular To Recommend Him Discusses All Sorts of Subjects at Random as Though He Knew Everything

Interestingly, Derogatory Boston Caste System Is the Name of My Dropkick Murphy’s Tribute Band. But I Digress


Architect: One who drafts a plan of your house, and plans a draft of your money.

Ambrose Bierce

So, we were presented with a common design dilemma. A Victorian house is laid out differently than a more recent pile of sticks and bricks. The rooms are too big, or too small, or not where you expect them. Bathrooms are always in short supply, although a Victorian bathroom in good repair is a wonderful thing. They invented bathrooms, after all. They pretty much got it right on the first go-round. Everything was white, for cleanliness. Toilet, sink, tub, lots of white tile, with interesting patterns on the mosaic floors.

A Victorian house with two bathrooms was a rarity. For instance there used to be a pecking order of poshness for Boston Irish, which I am, sorta.  They knew a thing or two about Victorian houses, and pecking orders. They had to mop the floors in them at first, and eventually they lived in them when the structures were run down enough to afford the rent. The bottom rung of the Boston Irish social climbing ladder was ignant bogtrotter. Then came shanty Irish. If you rose further in the world, you could become cut-glass Irish, also known as lace-curtain Irish. Middle class. The pinnacle, of course, was two-toilet Irish.

So, we were coming up in the world, but a second toilet in a Victorian house presents more problems than just a derogatory Boston caste system. You’re going to have to make a bathroom out of a room that ain’t. Converting a closet won’t do. Victorian houses don’t generally have those, either, and if they do, they’re only big enough for one suit of clothes, and forty thousand moths. Lotsa more recently constructed houses simply convert a bedroom into a bathroom. Modern-ish bedrooms, like you’d find in a ranch, are usually pretty small, and three fixtures and a bathroom scale you’re avoiding all fit in there nicely. Victorians like ours have all kinds of “chambers,” their word for bedrooms, and parlor after parlor. The problem? These rooms are huge.

Our bedroom is 16′ x 16′. Our kids’ bedrooms are about the same, with some jogs in the floor plan to accommodate dormers. Our living room is 18′ in one direction. So is the kitchen. Our dining room is 225 square feet. Hell, our existing bathroom was an afterthought in this house, and it has room for three fixtures and a washer and dryer in it. Many people in the town we live in convert a Victorian bedroom into a much needed bathroom. The fixtures look lost in them, and there’s this weird tiled dance floor in the middle of the room. You’re often required to go through a bedroom to get to the bathroom, too.

There’s plumbing considerations to go with deep thoughts about floor plans. You can snake water lines most anywhere nowadays using pex piping, but the big drain, waste, vent (DWV) line has to go out through the basement and up through the roof. I stood on my head and squinted, but I couldn’t figure out any way to add a bathroom in our house until we discovered a main drain on the opposite side of the house from the original.

So the Blue Room was too big for a bathroom, and too weirdly shaped for a bedroom. We’ve got more bedrooms than we need, anyway. But I began to wonder. What if it was two rooms? Could I fit a bathroom in there, with a room left over? This portion of the room started looking appetizing:

There’s a chimney stack in the wall to the right. That can’t go anywhere. Sloped ceilings all over. Attics and crawl spaces galore behind the kneewalls. I made a plan for a bathroom on an index card. It was a rectangle with two dimensions. I measured down from the imaginary spot on the ceiling slopes where I could still stand up, projected an extension of the existing wall on the left, and miracle of miracles, there was exactly enough room for a three fixture bathroom. The kitchen was directly below that rectangle, and we could continue the plumbing pipes down through there and out the basement. If the rectangle was 1″ smaller in either dimension, it wouldn’t have fit.

I ran downstairs to tell my wife the good news. She casually mentioned it was 2 AM, and that good news can generally wait until daybreak. Then she rubbed her eyes, sat up in bed, and looked at my index card. You know, the one with nothing but a crudely drawn rectangle and two numbers on it. Since I was finishing a sentence I started two weeks before, regarding an idea a month or two old, all she had to go on was, you guessed it, an index card with a crudely drawn rectangle and two numbers on it.

I’ve accomplished many wonderful things in my life. Staying married is right at the top of the list.

[To be continued]

2 Responses

  1. “She casually mentioned it was 2 AM, and that good news can generally wait until daybreak.”

    Again I am reminded how fortunate I am to have my wife. In those odd 2AM moments when we are both unaccountably awake, one of us will pick up a stray conversation thread, and other will respond appropriately, as though we had been talking for hours. We do, of course, confirm what was discussed after daybreak.

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