Telephone Niche

As an architect who enjoys working with older and historic structures,  I sometimes  come across unique and interesting construction features or details that I would like to share with people, and hopefully, heighten someone’s awareness of and appreciation for the amazing diversity of our built environment.

One sucDSC_0432h detail I encountered in a brick bungalow built in 1932 that I am currently working on in the Stoneleigh section of Baltimore County, is this built-in telephone niche recessed into a first floor hall partition behind the Dining Room and opposite the stairs (right).

Instead of placing statuary in the niche (as the ancient Romans had done in the Pantheon in Rome), apparently these stock units were available in the 1920’s and 30’s by mail order from companies that sold millwork, such as Sears Roebuck, Montgomery Ward, or builders catalogues, as a home for that modern wonder, the telephone, to keep the clutter from wires out of sight. Usually, they were centrally located in the house on a wall near or beneath a stairs. In this case, the phone sat/stood  on the wood shelf, and partly recessed back into the niche.

DSC_0431A hinged cabinet below the shelf  (left) provided storage for telephone books, and concealed a wall plug,  (forerunner to a telephone jack) from which a cord ran up to the telephone through a small hole drilled in the back of the shelf.

They were generally fabricated about 14″ wide, so as to fit in the space between two wall studs, very much like an ironing board cabinet or medicine chest.

I’ve worked on a lot of different houses over the years, from all different ages, and this is the first example of this feature that I’ve encountered, but I’ve been told by the client that others exist  in this same neighborhood, where many of the houses were built in the 1930’s.

If anyone would like to see more examples, I did an online search for telephone niches, and found a blog about Sears Houses that displays a variety of telephone niches (different from this one)  that could be ordered. So if anyone has one in their home that is different from this one, I would greatly appreciate hearing about or seeing it.