Historic saltbox homes are a regular part of the landscape here in New England. Originally borne of necessity, saltbox home designs became so popular and functional that what started out as an add-on became a staple feature in new home designs of the 18th century.

Photo: TMS Architects via Houzz

In this post, we’ll take a look at what saltbox homes are, how they came to be, and why their smart design still makes sense more than 300 years later.

Appreciate the Ingenious Design of Historic Saltbox Homes

Saltbox homes are aptly named. Their profile – high roof pitch in the front with a gradual incline that tapers off to the lower lean-to level in the back – were reminiscent of the wooden saltboxes that hung by a hearth to keep valuable salt stores from caking up in response to humidity.

Originally, most saltbox homes started out as one-and-a-half or two story homes. As a home’s occupancy and needs expanded, an additional enclosed “lean-to” was often added at the back of the home to provide extra storage, a kitchen or even a birthing/sick room. Keep in mind that access to a home’s second-story often involved a ladder or a very steep staircase, so adding a space for the sick, injured, elderly or very pregnant to recover was essential.

These lean-to spaces were also advantageous in terms of weatherproofing. Just as we like to emphasize orientation and exposure to the elements in terms of sustainable, passive solar design – 17th and 18th century builders recognized the benefits of having a gently sloped roof on the northern-side of a building in order to deflect harsh winds. A saltbox home’s simple architectural design can be preserved or embellished, depending on your tastes.

This new saltbox home in Boston preserves the very essence of its “salty” design roots, highlighting the central chimney, natural wood siding, and neatly spaced windows. Modern saltbox renovations may opt to remove a central chimney and replace it with a belvedere or a shed dormer as a visual focal point. Even a simple change, like replacing traditional wood siding with stone can make a major design impact.

Please contact TMS Architects to use historic saltbox home design elements in your upcoming new construction project or to begin renovating an authentic saltbox home with tasteful contemporary accents.

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