Help Me Solve a Remuddling Mystery

From front

It’s the closed door (to the third floor) and the open door (from the back stairs) adjacent to it that aren’t right (as well as that weird opening between the front hall and back hall).

Two months ago or so, as the first step in renovating my kitchen, I started tearing out a first-floor bathroom that was in what was almost certainly a butler’s pantry – and will become so again. But this seems like a bad time to tear out the kitchen proper – and a bad time to spend a lot of money on 6/4 oak for the stair spindles – so I’m looking elsewhere for house projects.

One thing that has confounded me since before I bought the place is the second-floor opening to the back stairs and the adjacent door to the third floor. The configuration simply cannot be original, but darned if I can figure out what it ought to be.


Here, you can see where the anaglypta stops on the back stairwell, and the 16″-wide or so insert of drywall at the top of the stairs. But you can also see the original trim and painted anaglypta on the stairwell up to the third floor. It seems likely the short wall between the two should be pushed back…but then how would the trim carpentry work?

Today, I took out the remaining stops that had been installed to put a door at the top of the back hallway (and lock off what used to be a separate apartment), thinking that might give me more of a clue. The only thing it revealed was that my suspicion was correct – no way was there a door right there before. The wood (though clearly 100+ years old) in the jamb behind the stops is loosely inserted – not supporting or supported by anything other than a couple of round-shanked nails (all the original stuff is installed with cut nails). And the door header isn’t actually a header; it’s just a piece of wood the width of the doorway. Plus the trim installation is janky – as if it was moved and not reinstalled quite properly. And anaglypta on the bottom of the hall opening between the front of the house and back? Um, no.


There is zero chance that the Germans who installed the trim work in my house in 1905 did any of this. I think most of it is original trim, but this was not its original location.

Probably, the framing was originally at about the same point where the anaglypta ends in the back stairwell. A neighbor has a similar floor plan, and her stairwells are just in front of the top/bottom stairs…but if so, then I can’t figure out the proper transition from the back hall stairs to the short wall between it and the door to the guest bath. I know those walls are original; they’re plaster over lathe, and I can see the original plaster behind the anaglypta that is pulling away from the wall there.


I’m positive these two walls are original.


This is my neighbor’s back hall; similar stair setup, but no short wall to the right, as in mine.

So that’s my current renovation headache – what to do? The obvious answer is to take out the trim and what has clearly been added later – the drywall and the hardboard that’s above the doorways. That’s most likely to give me the answers. But that will leave things open to the third floor…to which I wish to lose neither heat or my cat. So I’ll wait on that until the temperature is likely to stay above 60°…then just let the cat have her way.

But if anyone reading this owns a 1905(ish) four square with a similar setup, I’d love to hear from you (with pictures). Anything to keep me from tearing out the kitchen!



About fitz

Woodworker, writer, editor, teacher, ailurophile, Shakespearean. Will write for air-dried walnut.
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13 Responses to Help Me Solve a Remuddling Mystery

  1. Chester says:

    This is intriguing Megan. I love taking old houses apart to discover the changes that have been made through the years/centuries. What I do, and you may have already done this, is to draw out the floor plan as it currently is and see if it gives you any clue as to what had been or could have been.
    Question; was this house cut up into apartments in a previous life?


  2. Josh says:

    You’ve probably thought of this already, but is there any chance your original floor plan can be found in a catalog somewhere?

  3. justiain says:

    Megan, my take is that the door frame and wall section above and the stub wall shown in the photo with the caption “Here, you can see where the anaglypta stops…” are added to square up the area to provide a landing at the top of the stairs. Peaking under the carpet would likely show the floor boards running continuously under that stub (thus proving the stub was added after initial construction). The door trim on the right hand side of the doorway with the hung door in the same photo might fit where the door jamb was hung with the hinges (i.e. the trim was taken off the ‘corner’ and moved over to become door trim). Some measuring might indicate if my guess is correct.

    Stay healthy!

  4. ben lowery says:

    By law, if you renovate a butler’s pantry, you must also get a butler.

    I am not a lawyer, but I’m pretty sure this is a True Fact.

  5. There aren’t enough pictures for me to visualize it all. And it seems like your picture and the picture from the neighbor’s home were taken in different spots?

    Any chance you could do sort videos, walking from the top of the front staircase down the hall, then in reverse?

  6. Dumont69 says:

    I think you just like typing anaglypta!

  7. Dave says:


    • fitz says:

      Pressed thick paper/paste wall covering with an embossed pattern. Lincrusta is the fancier version, made of a linseed oil gel as the base.

      • Dave says:

        I always look forward to your posts Megan, aside from the interesting content I know I’ll usually learn at least one new word! Good luck with your discovery.

  8. toolnut says:

    Hard to tell from the pics but could that weird opening have been a hall closet at some point? I’m referring to the pic where you said you were positive the two walls were original.

    • fitz says:

      I don’t think so — the wall continues past the open doorway behind where I installed that built in. It was likely a bedroom originally (now a guest bath/future laundry)

  9. JSwogge says:

    Have you been able to locate the wiring “home run” circuits which pass up to the 3rd floor? Perhaps a wiring upgrade made at some point in the past removed the (now drywall) section of original wall at the top of the 2nd floor stairwell to pull new wiring into the 3rd floor. This would be done to feed back down into the 2nd floor/remainder of 3rd floor. Therefore the “header” (or lack thereof) was never disturbed. And as for the sloppily reattached door trim, perhaps this was cut, removed, and then reattached after running wiring horizontally across the 2nd floor hallway.

    I am three years deep into restoring a (much less fancy) 1915 four square in Dayton, and I removed gobs of old wiring from the narrow wall cavity between stairs. This is assuming all of your stairs are stacked from basement to 3rd floor like mine.

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