Sunday, 30 November 2014

Historical Musings of a Renovator*

Having recently project managed the renovation of my grandfather's house, I found myself discussing some of the discoveries I'd made with some girlfriends over breakfast, and we wondered over the interconnection of various elements of the house.

When I had been receiving quotes for new carpet in the bedrooms, upon measuring the bedrooms the salesman had emphasised the ease of the laying due simply to the size of the room. A rectangular room, it possessed standard dimensions that were also the standard measurements for the carpet we were intending to lay. It seems a roll of carpet is made with a width of 360cm/12ft (the exact measurement may differ slightly) which is the standard width of the bedrooms in Federation houses.

This interesting coincidence led to the series of questions of whether it was in fact a coincidence or actually a causal relationship.

Had the standard width for carpet become 360cm because of the room size? 
Why had 360cm become the standard room width? It seems an unlikely number, so was it based upon the maximum or standard length of the ceiling beams, or the ultimate width of the house (eaves, two rooms and a corridor between)?

It's unlikely that the carpet width came first with the rooms built to fit. That's just not the order in which most houses are built. In addition, initially the houses were possibly not designed to have fitted carpet; the underlying Jarrah floorboards and removable rugs would have been far easier to maintain. It makes sense that carpet would have become a standard feature later and if the majority of rooms are this one size, then why not weave the carpet to fit, without the need for cutting and adding and fitting together.

But if the majority of homes had rooms of this one size, then what was it that had determined this measurement as the standard room size?

Even in this day and age where houses seem to almost be rolled out on a production line there is still enough variation in the size of rooms. So why did 360cm/12ft become the standardised measure? Or how?
Is the room size based upon the length of ceiling beams? Across one room, or across the whole house? Or is it instead related to another element of the house's construction that I haven't even considered? Something must have determined this specific measurement over say 10ft, but I'm at a loss to determine what it might have been.

This initial subject lead to another one.

Why are the ceilings of Federation houses so high?

Now it is most definitely not a standard feature and yet then, 100 years ago it was. It was almost guaranteed not to have been the result of cost; they were more likely to have been lowered again to save on costs. In addition, in the earliest days, if costs were of greatest concern the doors would have been scarcely higher than the owners and the ceilings barely higher again.

I wonder if the tall ceilings are due instead to the Australian climate in which they are built. For they would enable the unfamiliar (and unbearable) heat to rise away from the inhabitants and slip out through the ornate holes in the upper wall.

This would seem somewhat of an illogical move given that in the winters the idea would have been to conserve what existing warmth there was (particularly given how cold Federation houses can be) as opposed to letting it rise and escape outside.
But perhaps then practices were different.
The houses were furnished with at least one fireplace and wood to burn would have been readily available. Besides, most of the early settlers probably hailed from the United Kingdom and so would probably felt far more at home in the cold misery of winter.

*title courtesy of Miranda 

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