Name that thing: 1920s house edition.
November 19, 2017 11:13 AM   Subscribe

This thing must have been for a phone at one point. What I don't understand is the space below. It looks like some kind of speaker grille but I can't figure out what it would have been for. There's a big hollow space behind the grille but there's no obvious way to open it. Maybe the previous owners screwed the shelf on in such a way that prevents it from being opened? If I were to access that space, can anyone think of something useful / interesting that could be done with it? Thanks!
posted by sewellcm to Home & Garden (11 answers total)
It's definitely a phone niche. The grille is for the bell box- the ringer used to be external to the actual phone. You can see more examples in this Google image search.
posted by zamboni at 11:31 AM on November 19, 2017 [11 favorites]

I am trying to find a picture right now, but IIRC, the bottom area may have held the ringer on a 1920s style multi-part wall phone. The shelf probably used to slide out allowing you to slip the facing up, but maybe it's been painted shut or even glued up since.

Found one of the setups I was talking about, and left that last part in for a real time, action packed answer.
posted by ernielundquist at 11:33 AM on November 19, 2017

Oh, I forgot. As to what you can do with it, maybe a charging station, and a nightlight or speaker in the enclosure. Or you may just have to get a landline and one of those phones.
posted by ernielundquist at 11:34 AM on November 19, 2017

Lots of old phone nooks had these. These vintage ads seem to indicate it was where the phone box and wires were stored--and some apparently even had a place to store the phone book!

Many of my friends who have these in their homes us them to display flowers. One uses it as a little household altar. Another, who has one of these in the hall between their bedroom and front door, uses it as the staging area where everything (phone, keys, wallet, etc.) goes when she gets home for the day and everything gets picked up when she leaves in the morning.
posted by rhiannonstone at 11:38 AM on November 19, 2017

I would have thought the space underneath and behind the cover/grille was for a radiator, and the slits/openings are to allow heat out. Is there a heating grate at the bottom of the opening behind the cover?
posted by primate moon at 12:20 PM on November 19, 2017

To get the lower cover off, you may have to lift *up*, and then swing the bottom out.

Popping it with the back of your hand around the perimeter may help loosen it, if it's been painted in.
posted by notsnot at 1:07 PM on November 19, 2017

Best answer: I would feed strands of mini LED lights through the slots -- they're super tiny now -- using 3M Command strips to attach and hide the battery/control boxes under the shelf. I would let this unexplained glow emanate, and place an older, red telephone on the shelf, and, when asked, mysteriously say "it's on its own dedicated line, the red phone -- please don't use it," and just give why-are-you-asking non-responses to any inquiries about what my eerily highlighted red phone was for. (Then probably crack up and confess, but only after a whopping lie about direct access to a random government.)
posted by kmennie at 1:14 PM on November 19, 2017 [14 favorites]

IIRC, in my grandparents' house that was where the doorbell chimes were located.
posted by bricoleur at 3:58 PM on November 19, 2017 [1 favorite]

"If I were to access that space, can anyone think of something useful / interesting that could be done with it? Thanks!"

I would 100% have an electrician in and remove the front, have a shelf installed, and put in a series of outlets and USB outlets, as a phone/device charging station.
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 5:51 PM on November 19, 2017 [1 favorite]

Seconding doorbell chime nook. My last house had this.
posted by JoeZydeco at 7:21 PM on November 19, 2017

My grandmother had a phone nook like this. In her house, there was a little chair that folded out of the part below the shelf so a person could sit while talking on the phone. Of course she painted over it sometime in the late 60’s, so i’ve never seen it folded out myself.
posted by sideshow at 10:31 PM on November 19, 2017

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