Interesting small spaces

When you think about home renovation, kitchen and baths probably pop to mind. But my hunch is you’re not considering the privy.

From the rear Wethersfield, CT, 6-4-14

Webb-Deane-Stevens Museum, from the rear

The Webb-Deane-Stevens Museum has you there. Executive Director Charles Lyle proudly took me on a privy tour of the meticulously-restored privies for the three houses. After all, they date back to the late 18th century and that makes them historically significant. Yes, they are listed on the National Register for Historic Places. Plus they’re interesting.

Juxtaposing the historic privy with the modern apartment building next door.  Viva history!

Juxtaposing the historic privy with the modern apartment building next door.  Viva history!

Turns out, two of the privies were moved over time, to the Congregational Church and Old Academy building. A soil test helped bring the Deane House privy home, with its chemical match. All three are now behind their respective houses, although apparently on slightly different sites. No longer used for storage, the privies tell their own stories now.

2015-08-12 11.27.06I have to say that the most sophisticated of the three, a seven-seater, was practically as big as my New York apartment. Charles doesn’t think the family sat together, if you will, though they likely had assigned seats, ranging from papa- and mama-sized to child-sized





Rat-tail lock hanging loose here, and note the heart-shaped bolts above the door handle.

Rat-tail lock hanging loose here, and note the heart-shaped bolts above the door handle.

These are not your grannie’s privy. Truly fancy—hipped rooflines and cornices, paneled doors, and hardware. Note this wonderful rat-tail lock.

I know it’s hard to imagine that a privy might need a new roof. But the three dilapidated structures did. And the Webb House Privy now proudly sports its finial on top again, along with its new cedar shakes.


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Does your privy have a paned window with a view? These do, and the original glass was salvaged for the restoration. Applying a plaster wall and ceiling now is almost a lost craftsman form. But these privies have a new hand-brushed, skim coat of plaster applied over the old.

Yellow pine salvaged from other historic properties, provided by Armster Reclaimed Lumber in Springfield, MA, allowed Charles and the contractor JHS Restoration to match the aged patina of the replaced floorboards to the original. You might also notice the stand for a candle, for those middle-of-the-night runs. These interiors are truly remarkable.

A privy at one end of the garden.  Note the finial at the top of the roofline.

A privy at one end of the garden. Note the finial at the top of the roofline.

Painted colonial red, the privies are coated in the color that Charles thinks signaled the service aspects of home life. The back of these houses are painted red, too, while the fronts are the more fashionable yellow. The back of the house is where slaves and servants worked. Distinctions were made, and so it makes sense for the privies in the rear of the houses were painted that same red.

The base of a privy has been damaged, where a shovel repeatedly knocked the wood to remove the, ahem, fertilizer. Good for composting and for the garden. And the gardens are looking lovely this summer, thanks to the hardworking volunteers.

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So on your next visit to Wethersfield, not only can you visit what’s up front and center, but also the necessities out back. There may even be an idea or two for your next bathroom renovation.

A New Musical

Another small space, the Normal Terris Theater of Goodspeed, currently has a big production. “My Paris” directed by Kathleen Marshall, of “Anything Goes” and many more Broadway hits, is a world-premiere musical about Henri Toulouse-Lautrec.


Clever staging put the actor playing Toulouse-Lautrec one step down from the others, to communicate the artist’s damaged legs and short stature. Plus, the costume designer lengthened his coat and the crotch of his pants, so that his legs looked shorter. Subtle, but noticeable.

Here red doesn’t get relegated to the back, but lives boldly as red wants to do.  Fun to watch the paintings come to life, as you’ll see in this video.

The can-can, the red scarf. It says, vivre la vie, a Lautrec mantra. Well-paced, with a variety of nicely sung songs, I’m guessing this one is Broadway bound in no time. There the spaces will hardly be small and the whoops and twirls will no doubt be broad. Keep a look out.

2 thoughts on “Interesting small spaces

  1. This may be one of your funnest (if not funniest). Yet, my brother built a privy when he lived on top of a Mt without inside utilities. His had no door so you could look out down the mt. side while doing your necessities. As for My Paris, sounds great — but no video.

  2. Pingback: In front of, and behind, the scenes | Rena Tobey

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