Secret Chute

House hunting with my enthusiastic contingent, us adults stood in a dim basement yesterday, so cold we kept swaying from one foot to the other, trying to stay warm. Outside, the children tromped in the snowy yard, warmer in the sunlight than we were in the house.

In the basement, someone discovered a wooden chute, carefully nailed shut from the cement floor to the under boards of the dining room above. Intently curious, my friend pried off a board, and I peered up through the darkness where I saw a gleam of daylight through an ornate floor grate.

What the heck?

It made no sense to any of us, running through our logical possibilities.

In the end, blowing on my hands, I said, But it must have made sense to whoever built it. Look at the labor.

Upstairs, the children were laughing and throwing snowballs at each other, busy in their own meaningful kids’ work.

Whether I buy the house or not, we’ve spent serious time already, running palms over pipes, fingering up loose linoleum, rapping on old plaster, getting to know just a few mysteries of this old house.

When the old way of seeing was displaced, a hollowness came into architecture. Our buildings show a constant effort to fill that void, to recapture that sense of life which was once to be found in any house or shed. Yet the sense of place is not to be recovered through any attitude, device, or style, but through the principles of pattern, spirit, and context.

Jonathan Hale, The Old Way of Seeing: How Architecture Lost Its Magic – and How to Get It Back


West Woodbury, Vermont

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