Old house kitchen stairways and cookie jars

By: Conrad Neuf , Contributing Writer
In: Old House Musings

Moving into new home can be exciting. Especially when you're a young kid not yet burdened with thoughts about commuting distances and mortgage payments. The experience can be downright exhilarating when the house is over 150 years old -- quite a change from the newly constructed home we lived in prior to the big move.

Bedrooms without closets, a single heat vent for the entire house, and single-pane windows that frosted on the inside were just a few of the quirky details that actually seemed to add charm. However, the one item that may have intrigued me the most was the small back stairway in the kitchen.

As a young teenager, I already knew a thing or two about midnight raids on the kitchen cookie jar. Surely though, whoever designed the house's kitchen stairs must have had someone like me in mind. While they were steep and narrow and each tread creaked, the stairs allowed me to make many a late-night excursion seeminly undetected. Of course, I was also naïve enough to think that my mother never wondered what had happened to all those freshly baked goodies.

Why do even small old houses have kitchen stairs?

When I got older, I pondered the real reason for those kitchen stairs -- why had they been installed? Many large old houses have stairs in the kitchen that permitted servants to enter and exit without disturbing the owners and their guests. But my parents' home with its three bedrooms and small kitchen obviously wasn't constructed with entertaining and hired help high on the priority list. And with the main stairway being only two rooms away, added convenience wouldn't seem to be the reason either.

kitchen stairway in old house

Opening up a kitchen stairway can make it more inviting

The mystery has continued as I've gotten older and had the opportunity to tour numerous old houses with similar layouts. Just up the street from where I now live is an older home that has been undergoing renovation. The owners felt that their kitchen stairway was seldom used because it was so dark and uninviting. The solution: open up the lower level entrance and install an oak railing. Now the stairs get as much use as the main stairway at the front of the home -- especially by their young children.

Old house kitchen stairs and cookie jars: may the circle be unbroken

old house kitchen stairway entrance

A lot of cookies passed through this door

As for my parents' kitchen stairway, it still looks pretty much the same as when we first moved into the home 45 years ago. My father painted the lower level door, installed new paneling in the stairwell, and refinished the treads and risers. However, I doubt they got much use once I headed off for college.

One of these days a new family is going to move into that old house. I hope that when all the excitement from moving subsides, the children discover that there's a really great way to sneak downstairs to the kitchen cookie jar. Just be careful of those creaking treads.

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