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Before tour: the living room

It seems appropriate to introduce you to our living room since we spend nearly all our time huddled up there these days.  It’s home to two electric radiators cranked to maximum overdrive that keep the temperature somewhere between barely tolerable and toasty, depending on the weather outside.

living room 1

This room is in the earliest portion of the house, built circa 1754. The focal point of the space is the fireplace and the formal mantel that extends to the ceiling.  Simple wainscoting lines the room’s perimeter and begs to be painted something (anything) other than the current ghastly shade of salmon pink.

The floors are tight-grained heart pine boards of varying widths face-nailed directly to the joists below. They have a lovely worn patina that only two hundred years of foot traffic can create.  The wood appears to have been coated with wax, but it’s worn thin and we’ll eventually have to figure out whether to rewax or sand the floor and try a more durable penetrating finish. I was squarely in the former camp, while the missus is in the latter, but each spilled drink brings me closer to sharing her point of view.

The ceiling is tall and composed of painted wood boards. At some point in the past, someone tacked up wood battens to hide the seams between the boards, creating the stripe-y look you see in the photo.  I’m not a fan, so I’ll be looking for a better solution in the future.

The volume beneath the stairs houses a full(!) bath, with a minuscule shower shoehorned in below the treads above.

stair bath

Of course, this hasn’t always been the case. Originally this is where the back door was, which led directly to the backyard. When the rear wing of the house was added, the door remained and was accessed from a porch inset into the mass of the house.

rear entry

In this sixties-vintage photo below, I’m not certain whether the back door opens to the porch, or whether a half bath had already been added. A short door that provided access to the space below the stairs now lives in the library and leads to a small storage closet.

sixties living

The proportions of the living room are spot on and it’s a wonderful place to spend an evening. It needs a serious cosmetic overhaul, but its grand simplicity typifies the best of colonial architecture.  One day we’ll upgrade beyond our hodge-podge of twenty-something furniture and restore this room to its rightful role as the formal highlight of the ordinary.

9 Comments Post a comment
  1. #

    Oh, that ole TV, where we always watched Ed Sullivan on Sunday night; the first time Elvis appeared and was shot from the waist up as he wiggled his hips, the Beatles and so many memories. We had some of the first TV dinners there; aluminum with 3 parts to the tray; turkey with dressing, gravy, another with masked potatoes, and one to some kind of berry dessert. Our parents built that little extra bath. It is where the early handle to the door either fell off or got stuck as Mom entered one morning. She literally spent the day there waiting until Daddy got home from his medical office…Kitty Murphy always had literature to read and read she did; probably Life, Sat. Evening Post, Ladies Home Journal. Upon his return and her escape, supposedly she declared that it was time to sell “this ole house” to somebody young, with money and who could keep it up. She wanted to move to a more modern house, one floor, and where things were not always falling apart. Cheers, Zacki (Anne) Murphy Zacki’s Culinary Creations 3537 Sugar Tree Place Durham, NC 27713 Office Fax (919) 768-4953 Mobile Phone: (919) 360-7744 Website: _ ( Email: _Zackisculinary@aol.com_ (

    January 7, 2013
    • jrh #

      So interesting to hear your memories of the house. Once we have conditioned space again, we’ll have you and Karen over for story time. Fortunately (?), we won’t have to be concerned with locking ourselves into any rooms…none of the doors latch anymore!

      January 9, 2013
  2. Well…how funny…..I’d just (as in ten seconds ago)wiped/copied the contact information for Zacki Murphy (who, as you’ll now know, grew up at Seven Hearths and no doubt could tell you most anything you want to know about it).

    As for the board battens on your living room celings?… can come look at our ceilings, which are unbattened planks. It’s a nice look (although it’d be a more comfortable fit, so to speak, in the front room if the ceiling were at least 7′ high; it was lowered, long ago, to accomodate a bedroom upstairs).

    Level Best as Ever,

    David Terry
    117 E. queen St.

    January 8, 2013
    • jrh #

      Small town, small world! We still owe you a visit to chat (commiserate?) about old Hillsborough houses.

      January 9, 2013
      • Oh, there’s to “commiserate” about concerning the Webb House. It won the North Carolina Preservation Society’s award for restoration only about six-or-so years ago and is, basically, in perfect & completely modernized condition. Thus, we’re left (for our remaining 40 or so years) with nothing to work on but ourselves. That’s probably for the best, come to think of it…..we’ve certainly got plenty to work on in that regard.

        Level Best as Ever,

        David Terry
        117 E. Queen Street.

        January 9, 2013
  3. P.S….that should read “there’s nothing to commiserate about”……

    January 9, 2013
  4. P.S. Just realized that’s me in the b&w with dark hair in the white shirt and bermudas. It was early 60’s. We called the kitchen door the back door, which led outside and had a stair or two going down. It is not seen in the photo.

    Zacki “Anne” Murphy

    July 29, 2013

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