Kitchens were set in low-slung additions at the back of the house, creating that “saltbox” shape that makes the house look as if it’s rooting itself to the ground.
At one end of the kitchen there was a lean-to (phoneticized from the East Anglian dialect as a “linn-too”).
When a landowner died in colonial New England, the town appointed a committee of neighbors to survey and value the possessions of the dead, so that the estate could be taxed.
These committees were scrupulously exhaustive, creating detailed room-by-room accounts of the items in the house.
An earnest young couple with a mind-blowing budget is searching for a house in an unnamed North American suburb.
Their must-haves: open-concept living (does anyone enjoy living in rooms anymore?The uppermost couple of inches of ground have thawed, but the underlying frost stretches to a depth of 18 inches or more. And then you have days marked by dark brown mud, the kind of mud that ensnares vehicles up to their axles and serves as the beginning of stories swapped at the cash register of our Agway in Portsmouth, Rhode Island.When mud-season mud dries, it leaves a chalky, caked residue on the palms of your hand and crusty clods on the soles and sides of your boots.It’s the only place in the house I can put the broadfork, the seed potatoes, and the gleaming Ball jars of pickled peppers I put up last September.It’s a filter that snares the debris of the farm before it can migrate into the public areas of the house.And that is always the most interesting part of the inventory, because it is where the surveyors find the most random items: “a box of old junk,” “some broken tools,” and in one document, memorably, “a parrot in its cage.” Out of sight, out of mind: the lean-to was the original junk drawer where the household’s funk accumulated.As landowners grew wealthy, they built more substantial dwellings.One of my winter chores involved opening the hatch to the crawl space, wriggling between the wet beams, and placing torn-open boxes of D-Con rat poison on the frozen earth.April really was the cruelest month, one that I associated less with lilacs and snowdrops and more with the lingering odor of poisoned rodents decaying under the mudroom, their open-air graves marked by middens of broken medicine bottles, pottery shards, and withered corncobs accumulated over the last century. I don’t have to worry whether the turnips are bored, and I finally understand the practicality of the mudroom.In the rural Rhode Island Greek Revival farmhouse where I grew up, the mudroom wasn’t an emotional ornament so much as a constant necessity.We used it as the prosperous farmers before us had, as a repository for unpleasant things that didn’t seem to fit elsewhere in the house and needed to be out of the public view.