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What is a Saltbox House?

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  • Written By: Mary McMahon
  • Edited By: Bronwyn Harris
  • Last Modified Date: 04 November 2016
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A saltbox house is a type of frame house which is distinguished by having two stories in the front, and one story in the back. This architectural style emerged in New England around 1630, and saltbox homes were built well through the mid-1800s. Today, New England homeowners sometimes restore antique saltbox houses to live in, and several are also maintained by the United States Park Service, for visitors who want to see what life in Colonial New England was like.

Several characteristics can be used to define a saltbox house, in addition to the uneven arrangement of stories. Saltbox houses are flat in the front, with a central chimney set square in the middle of the roofline. The roof is asymmetrical, with a short, steep roof in front, and a much longer, sloping roof in the back which accommodates the one story extension of the home. Saltboxes are also traditionally made with wooden framing, and they are often covered in clapboard siding.

The name of this style of architecture to refers to the containers in which salt was once kept. Salt was at one time a very valuable commodity, and it was carefully stored in containers which often looked much like miniature versions of a saltbox house.

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The design of a saltbox house is quite rigid, with few deviations from the basic form. The rooms in the upper story are characterized by having steeply sloping ceilings, thanks to the pitch of the roof, and in some cases a partial attic may be built into the upper story for the purpose of storage. Typically, windows are arranged symmetrically, with the two sides of the home looking like mirror images of each, while the front of the home has several large windows evenly distributed to create a harmonious look. At the rear of the home, the windows tend to be smaller.

The origins of the saltbox house are believed to be related to taxation rules about private homes. The tax rate for single story homes was different than that for two story homes, so legend has it that people started building saltbox homes to get around the tax. It is also possible that this design emerged when people started adding lean-tos to the back of their two story homes to enlarge them, and these lean-tos gradually came to be integrated into the design of new homes.

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anon349454
Post 7

Can you guys talk more about the designs and features?

OeKc05
Post 6

@giddion – I stayed in a saltbox cabin for two weeks, and I loved it. You do get that feeling that you have traveled back in time.

Standing outside in the field that surrounded it and looking back at it, I really did feel something. I could almost sense the presence of a people and a time from a previous era.

At this cabin, there were no phones or computers, so I really did feel cut off from the rest of the world. The design of the house only contributed to that feeling of escape.

giddion
Post 5

My family and I stayed in a saltbox cottage near the sea during our vacation to New England, and we loved it. It had a very rustic feel, but the furniture was all fairly new.

I loved that the chimney was right in the middle of the living room. It divided up the house nicely, and it was a cozy central place to hang out.

From the outside, the place looked like something out of the colonial days. However, it was far from primitive inside. We rented the place for a week for $1,500, and we heard that it had been booked for the rest of the summer.

seag47
Post 4

A saltbox roof looks like it is just too long! It seems that the shingles are running away from themselves.

I understand why you don't see a whole lot of these houses being built today. To me, they just aren't very attractive.

shell4life
Post 3

I've seen a saltbox barn before. I thought maybe the smaller animals were stored in the one-story area, and the two-story area was meant for horses or something. It just seemed like a strange way to build a barn.

anon290862
Post 2

What was the era when the saltbox was popular?

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