These Mysterious Home Features Used To Serve A Purpose Centuries Ago

From the mysterious to the weird, old homes feature unusual details that you’d never find in new buildings. These features used to serve a purpose, but with the rise of refrigerators and electricity, they have faded into obscurity. If you’re lucky, you can still find some of these quirks in old houses.

Some of the features are hidden away, like a small slit inside a medicine cabinet. Others, like a lone toilet in the basement, are glaring and strange. Read on to learn about these antique house features and whether you can repurpose them.

A Phone Niche On The Wall

An antique phone niche sits on a yellow wall.
Pinterest/Angela Martin
Pinterest/Angela Martin

Remember when every house had a landline? Since rotary phones were bulky and wide, some architects build phone niches into the wall. Keep in mind that these phones had cords, so people had to stand around to talk. Hence, phone niches often appeared in hallways, kitchens, and bedrooms.

Many homes still have phone niches tucked into the wall. If you have a landline, you can store it there as the developer intended. Others use their phone niches to hold mail or display decorative plants.

This Standing Cabinet Is An Icebox

An antique wooden ice box is open.

Does your cabinet have a tiny door with no apparent use? It’s likely an icebox, also called a cold closet. Iceboxes were twentieth-century devices used to store ice before electric refrigerators. Delivery people would place the ice in from outside so they didn’t have to enter the house.

Some iceboxes were built into portable refrigerators, while others were installed into cabinets. In the mid-twentieth century, developers added drainage systems to divert the melted ice from homes. Over time, mechanical refrigerators made an icebox unnecessary.

A Lone Toilet In The Basement

A Pittsburgh potty sits in the middle of a basement.

Some World War II-era homes include a random toilet in the basement. They’re often called “Pittsburgh potties” for their prevalence in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, but are found all over the U.S. One theory is that workers would use them in order to not bring grime into the home. But according to architect William Martin, these toilets weren’t meant to be used at all.

Martin says that the toilets were used to detect sewage backups. If a sewage pipe were clogged, a family’s bathtub or living-space toilet would overflow. To prevent this, a basement toilet was added so that the overflow wouldn’t soil the family’s home.

A Beehive Inside The Home’s Walls

Professionals safely remove bees from a home wall in Ogden, Utah.
YouTube/Scott Willis
YouTube/Scott Willis

Those who renovate an old home might stumble upon a beehive in between the walls. Built-in beehives were installed to give the homeowner honey whenever they wanted it. Behind the wall, bees could fly through the pipes without swarming the main living areas. Today, the practice is called “wall beekeeping.”

Wall beekeeping dates back to at least 60 AD. Homeowners would either bring a hive from the wild or allow the bees to find the wall hive themselves. The bees flourished inside wall hives since the structure provided warmth in the winter and shade in the summer.

Laundry Chutes Are Still Used Today

A laundry chute in the second-floor bathroom leads to the laundry room on the first floor.
Pinterest/Jon Izbicki

In houses with more than one story, a small door may connect the hallway to the laundry room. Laundry chutes are designed to relieve the burden of carrying laundry; instead, you toss it down the chute to be washed. They’re so handy that many people still install them today.

No one knows who invented the first laundry chute, or when. Newspaper articles describing early linen chutes date back to the 1890s. If your home has one, your laundry days are going to be a lot easier.

Why There’s A Slit In Some Medicine Cabinets

A small slit for razor blades is in the back wall of a medicine cabinet.
Pinterest/Katherin Sp
Pinterest/Katherin Sp

In some old homes, a medicine cabinet includes a tiny slit that looks like a coin slot. It was actually used to deposit razors. Once people finished shaving, they would drop their used razor blades into the slot. Where would they go? Nowhere, really–just into the wall.

If you were to remove the medicine cabinet, you’d likely see all the discarded razors. Keep that in mind if you plan to have someone replace your old medicine cabinet. You don’t want an infection from a decades-old razor blade.

A Second Staircase And Tucked Away Rooms

In a nineteenth-century Victorian home, a secret stairway provides access to servants.

In some old, large homes, a second staircase may lead to smaller rooms within a basement and attic. These were known as servants’ quarters. In the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, servants lived in the same home as their masters. Servants’ quarters were built to keep the servants out of sight and out of mind.

In enormous mansions, these rooms would have elaborate pathways leading to the dining room and kitchen. Servants quarters were built into the twentieth century, when they featured spiral staircases and smaller rooms.

Button Light Switches

Old-fashioned button light switches hang on a wall.
Pinterest/Stacey and Do’oh!-I-Y

Button light switches were common in the nineteenth century. The toggle light switch that we know today wasn’t invented until 1917. Because button light switches often got stuck, toggle switches became the new norm. If your house has button switches, you know it’s old.

Although they’ve been out of style for over 100 years, some people prefer the look of a button light switch. Designers have made new button switches built to modern safety standards. So if you want one, you can buy one!

A Tiny Door Leading To The Basement

An open coal door leads to a stone basement.

Today, most homes aren’t powered by natural gas. But in the 1940s, gas was the only option. Coal delivery men would travel door-to-door and drop coal into this small iron door. The door was attached to a chute that dropped the coal into the basement. Once there, homeowners could shovel it into their furnace.

In the mid-1930s, fuel oil burners began to outshine coal as a safe and reliable source of heating and power. Today, most coal chutes have been sealed. But you can still find a couple of tiny doors in some old basements.

The Dumbwaiter, A Home’s Mini Elevator

A member of staff removes a tray of freshly cooked pies from the dumbwaiter
Oli Scarff/Getty Images
Oli Scarff/Getty Images

Dumbwaiters are small freight elevators made to lift objects from one floor to another. You can recognize a dumbwaiter by its sliding door and the fact that it usually opens into the kitchen. In the 1840s, people used dumbwaiters to transfer food to a living room or bedroom.

Dumbwaiters are still used in some buildings today. They’re often installed in hospitals, retirement homes, and some restaurants to transport meals. Unlike antique dumbwaiters, modern ones come equipped with electric monitors and automatic control systems.

That Tiny Thing Near The Front Door Is A Boot Scraper

A metal boot scraper sits on the stairs of an Edinburgh home.

In some homes, tiny iron ornaments stick up in front of the door. These are boot scrapers, which appeared in major cities during the seventeenth century. Boot-wearers would scrape the mud off of their shoes before walking through the front door. Nowadays, they only stub peoples’ toes.

Boot scrapers, called “decrottoir” in French, came in many shapes and sizes. Many include ornate spirals and designs, including animals. Usually, two boot scrapers would border the door at the end of a walkway. Perhaps you can still find an old boot scraper to use when it’s muddy outside.

Milk Door: A Tiny Compartment In The Cabinets

Person opens a tiny iron milk door under the cabinets.

If your house has a small cabinet with doors both inside and outside, it might be a milk door. Also called a milk chute, milk doors were built for milkmen to drop in daily milk. Like iceboxes, milk doors allowed homeowners to retrieve their daily milk without leaving their homes.

Milkmen usually delivered the drinks early in the morning so families could drink milk with breakfast. Sometimes, milkmen would deliver other products such as eggs, cheese, butter, and soft drinks. In the U.S., some families still have milk delivered today.

Picture Rails Line The Walls And Ceiling

Photos hang from white picture rails against a red wall.
Pinterest/Susan Benson
Pinterest/Susan Benson

If your walls have small wooden railings near the ceiling, you may own a picture rail. In the 1840s, architects built these into homes to hang pictures. Art would dangle from a chain, and the hanging wouldn’t damage the wall. Many picture rails include movable hooks for paintings.

Picture rails became outdated by the 1940s. However, you can still install a picture rail if you want to save your walls from nails. Most picture rails are 1.5 to 2 inches wide and carved from wood, sometimes painted to accent the room.

Copper Wires And Tubes On The Ceiling

Knob and wire tubing lines a wooden ceiling in the basement.

Some homeowners may see several wires stretching across their walls and ceilings. These are knob-and-tube wiring, an old method of electrical wiring that was common from the 1880s through the early 1940s. Copper wires were protected by porcelain and nailed down with porcelain knob insulators.

Although knob-and-tube wiring did the job, it had a high cost of installation compared to modern power cables. Currently, knob-and-tube installations are not permitted in the United States except in specific situations. If you’re lucky, you’ll stumble across a building that still has it.

A Desk…In The Kitchen?

A cream and green oak Hoosier desk sits in a kitchen.
Pinterest/Linda Shaw

Some already know about kitchen desks, which are tiny work stations built into the kitchen. Most of the time, kitchen desks were part of a Hoosier cabinet, free-standing kitchen cupboards that doubled as a work station. Since early nineteenth-century kitchens didn’t have built-in cabinets, a Hoosier desk fulfilled this need.

Hoosier cabinets (sometimes called Hoosier cupboards) became popular around the 1890s. But by the 1920s, new homes began installing the wall cabinets we know today. Some homes have a similar design–a kitchen desk with hanging cabinets–built into the wall, replicating the classic Hoosier cabinet.

Murphy Beds, Also Called Wall Beds

Woman lowers a murphy bed.
YouTube/Murphy Beds San Diego
YouTube/Murphy Beds San Diego

Murphy beds are mattresses that store vertically against the wall. Also called wall beds or pull-out beds, they often come from a closet or cabinet. Although many people know Murphy beds from ’80s and ’90s sitcoms, they became popular in 1900s silent films (albeit under a different name).

Most homes don’t include built-in Murphy beds anymore. Although these beds save space, they declined in popularity during the ’90s and 2000s. However, they started to come back into style during the 2010s.

Why There Are Windows Above The Front Door

A porch door has transom windows above it.

Have you ever wondered why some doors include windows above the frame? These are transom windows, horizontal windows built to let in light. Before electricity became common, transom windows were installed to illuminate the entryway.

Transom windows are still popular today. Unlike newer designs, older transom windows could open to ventilate the home. Now that air conditioners are common, most transom windows don’t open. If yours do, they may be leftover from a previous generation.

A Button In The Middle Of The Floor

A button on the floor in a 1910 home.

Some homes may feature a seemingly random button on the wall or floor. These were servant buttons, an electric servant calling system that became popular in the late nineteenth century. Sometimes called “butler buttons,” these buttons signal a servant to attend the room.

Servant buttons litter the floor of some houses. Because architects couldn’t predict the table size the owner would use, placing the button on the floor guaranteed that the master could reach it. Today, most servant buttons are painted over or covered by a rug.

That Separate Mini House Is A Summer Kitchen

A historical stone summer kitchen stands with iron bars.

Large estates in New England may have an outdoor barn that’s not connected to the main house. These barns come fully equipped with large fireplaces and stone ovens. They’re called summer kitchens, where servants and slaves would prepare big enough meals to feed everyone on the property.

Popular in the nineteenth century, summer kitchens were designed to keep the main house cool. Since all cooking was done on wood-burning stones and fireplaces, cooking in a separate house would prevent the family from overheating. Some summer kitchens included bedrooms for the servants and slaves.

Why The Closet Along An Outside Wall Is Cold

Antique cold closet is built into a modern kitchen.
Pinterest/Gabby Sue
Pinterest/Gabby Sue

If an old home has an outside closet that’s always cold, there’s a good reason for it. Cold closets–yes, that’s their official name–were designed to preserve fruits and vegetables. Unlike ice boxes, cold closets were built into the house before families had access to refrigerators.

Cold closets couldn’t keep produce frozen, but they could keep vegetables, cheese, and meats fresh for use. Especially during harvests, people would store herbs and produce in cold closets to prevent them from rotting. You can still use a cold closet if your refrigerator is full.

What’s A Phone Jack?

Light Yagami/Pinterest
Light Yagami/Pinterest

As each day passes by, the less homes need a landline phone jack. For one, people just use their cell phone and it’s rare people have a home phone. For two, only internet service providers need it.

As more and more tech companies start releasing Wi-Fi devices, the land line will become even more obsolete. It’s only a matter of time before we live in a world where the land line won’t be needed at all.

Please Explain Why You Still Have Floppy Disks

Becker & Bredel/ullstein bild via Getty Images
Becker & Bredel/ullstein bild via Getty Images

If you’re still living in the year 2000, then you don’t need to read this slide. Unfortunately, it’s 2019, so this applies to everyone. Why on Earth would you still have floppy disks in your home?

Anything you could have possibly learned from one of them is now on the internet for free. Please, do us, yourself, your grandchildren and your kids a favor and toss them out. We don’t need them anymore at this stage of life.

Just Use Your Smartphone

Smith Collection/Gado/Getty Images
Smith Collection/Gado/Getty Images

Only the hipster kids can sort of get away with this one. Getting film developed is so twentieth century. The time has come for you to use your smart phone that has better quality than the best camera you purchased in 2010.

On a serious note, who develops film anymore if they aren’t into photography as a hobby or professionally? It’s a new day, so its time you realize stores probably won’t even develop your film anymore.

Flip Your Old Phones For Money

Koichi Kamoshida/Getty Images
Koichi Kamoshida/Getty Images

One question; do you own an android of Apple phone? If you surprisingly answered no to that, we still need you to dispose of your box of flip phones. There are places where you can turn them in for money, too.

We’re not trying to be rude, but those ancient phones don’t bring anyone value anymore. In fact, if you have one, you might be up to no good because they’re considered “burner phones” in some communities.

Are You An Explorer?

America map
Contributor/Getty Images
Contributor/Getty Images

Unless your name is Dora The Explorer, it’s time to put to rest any physical maps you have lying around the house. There is, however, one case that would make having a physical map acceptable and that’s if you hang one on your wall.

Other than that, if they’re just loose in a drawer, closet or anywhere else, dump it. You have the internet, a phone, and your friend on speed dial in case you need help getting anywhere.

Ever Heard Of Streaming?

vcr movies
contributor/Getty Images
contributor/Getty Images

If there were a word that amplified obsolete by 1000, that’s what we would use here. VCRs are completely useless these days thanks to streaming services. Even then, DVDs are second option.

There was a time when VCRs were go to devices to watch your favorite movie, but those days are far behind us now. Unless you want to live in perpetual nostalgia, then we advise you try and sell your machine for the most profit you can get.

Hey, Your Fax From 1999 Just Sent

fax machine
Contributor/Getty Images
Contributor/Getty Images

Well, this one is pretty self explanatory. With the internet being such a useful and powerful tool, the need of a fax flew out the window years and years ago.

Some companies still have fax machines in their offices, but you might never hear them in action. With that being the case, unless you’re communicating with someone from the past then you don’t need to have this machine in your home anymore. Do it for yourself.

Yellow Pages? It’s Called Google

phone book
William Gottlieb/CORBIS/Corbis via Getty Images
William Gottlieb/CORBIS/Corbis via Getty Images

Who are you trying to fool? If you’re still flipping through hundreds of pages attempting to find that plumber’s number to come and fix your leak, you’re stuck in the past.

Hey, not all hope is lost. If you still have one in the house, you can always use it as a stepping tool if you’re too short. Maybe even put it on the seat of your car for a little added height as well.

Your Phone Will Do Just Fine

Robert Alexander/Getty Images
Robert Alexander/Getty Images

Hey, we’re not judging anyone who still has a prehistoric alarm clock. Who cares if you can voice control your smart phone to set an alarm at any point you wish.

The classic alarm clocks can come in handy for those heavy sleepers out there. Just place it on the other side of the room, so when it goes off, you have to physically get up to shut that noisy thing off. Seriously, you don’t need one.

Throw Them Like A Frisbee

cds up close

Now, this one is a bit tougher. Thanks to music streaming services, the need for anything other than headphones and a smart device makes owning CDs a thing of the past.

While it’s tougher to find VHS cartridges, you can still buy CDs at almost any electronics store. Some people do like popping them into their car stereo for that nostalgic feel, but no one needs them anymore. If you see any on your floor, feel free to toss them.

Math Made Easy

a lot of calculators
Matt Cardy/Getty Images
Matt Cardy/Getty Images

There was a time when calculators were a man’s best friend when it came to solving tough math problems. Multiplying 23×72 was made easy with one of these gadgets. They just made life easier.

Now, technology has made things even better for figuring out math equations. Pretty much every phone in existence now comes with a calculator. On the off chance yours doesn’t, go to the app store and download it. It’s safe to toss your battery-powered calculator now.

Who Needs A Photo Album?

zoom in of photo album
Brooks Kraft LLC/Sygma via Getty Images
Brooks Kraft LLC/Sygma via Getty Images

Disclaimer: if you already have a few photo albums filled with a bunch of old family photos, then you can keep them. There is no reason for you to go out and purchase new ones.

Now, there are digital photo albums for your precious pictures. Also, you can take all your pictures from your old photo albums, take them to your local target, and have them scanned so you can have them digitally. That would make life easier.

Find The Definition Elsewhere

zoomed in
NICHOLAS KAMM/AFP via Getty Images
NICHOLAS KAMM/AFP via Getty Images

If you’re troubled with what a word might mean, you don’t need to pick up a dictionary anymore. They might’ve been helpful in the past if you kept them around your house, but those days are over.

Much like many other things on this list, the solution to your problem is in your phone. Download a dictionary app, and boom, you now know what “onomatopoeia” means and you didn’t need to flip through a bunch of pages.

Manual Can Openers Are A Thing Of The Past

manual can openers
John Patrick O’Gready/Fairfax Media via Getty Images
John Patrick O’Gready/Fairfax Media via Getty Images

If you still find yourself using manual can opener tools, you might be afraid of the future. While these things are way outdated, even the electric ones will soon become obsolete.

More and more cans now have the peel-off lids, so you don’t need to trouble yourself with instruments like these. One day, either all cans will come with the easy lids, or some other option that will make using can openers a thing of the past.

Ditch The Little Black Book

little black book
Chicago History Museum/Getty Images
Chicago History Museum/Getty Images

Your cell phone might be the leading cause of not needing most things on this list. The last thing anyone needs in their homes anymore is a little black book.

While you might have some phone numbers in there of people you may never forget, chances are that they’ve changed their numbers. Oh, and you have a cell phone that can store pretty much an endless amount of numbers and addresses for you with a press of a button.

Do You Still Have Milk Crates?

Dave Thompson/PA Images via Getty Images
Dave Thompson/PA Images via Getty Images

This isn’t 1955, you don’t need a milk crate anymore. The days of the milkmen are gone. While the delivery of milk was a mainstay for families during the ’50s and ’60s, you’d have a better shot at finding a vampire then seeing a milkman deliver something.

We hope you don’t have the extra clutter around your house, but in the off chance that you do, its time to get rid of the milk crates.

No More Portable Radios

young boy
H. Armstrong Roberts/ClassicStock/Getty Images
H. Armstrong Roberts/ClassicStock/Getty Images

Please, if you own a portable radio and its in your home, stop what you’re doing and take it to the nearest trash can or put it up for auction. You don’t need it anymore.

If you’re in need that much to play music with you wherever you are, play it out your phone. That’s what the speakers are for, aren’t they? There are even apps that let you listen to any radio station you want.

Who Still Has One Of These?

wall clocks on the wall

The only time it’d be okay to have a wall clock is if your interior designer purposefully designed your home to have a retro vibe. Outside of that, save the wall space and get rid of it.

These days, you can literally ask your smart home what time it is and you’ll receive an answer. If you don’t want to talk, then pull out your phone that’s probably in your pocket and then there you have it.

Home Antenna… What Is That?

ronald reagan
Richard C. Miller/Donaldson Collection/Getty Images
Richard C. Miller/Donaldson Collection/Getty Images

An antenna usually helps a device gain a stronger signal. A home would usually have one on the roof to help with the TV signal. The days when folks needed them are now over.

While this might not be in your home, it’s still apart of it, so hop on the roof and start removing it. Who wants their house to look outdated thanks to a hunk of junk made from metal? Not us, thats who.

We’re almost Certain You’ll Never Need This Again

close up of a beeper
Michael Williamson/The The Washington Post via Getty Images
Michael Williamson/The The Washington Post via Getty Images

Beepers used to be all the rage in the ’90s and even early 2000s. When the office or someone needed to get through to you, they would just beep you. It was like a simple form of SMS.

Now, you can get a text, Whatsapp, Facebook, or Instagram message. No one needs to beep anyone these days. That beeper you have in your drawer from a decade ago needs to go in the trash can next time you see it.