In the backyard of our 1920s home sits a garage, a seating area and a white structure that we like to call “Mini-House.” Others have called it by other names, including “a storage shed,” “The Original Mancave,” and my favorite came from our electrician, who calls it “A Playhouse Gone Horribly, Horribly Wrong.” It’s quite an odd little structure to see right in the middle of town and visitors always ask our neighbors what it’s used for. Up until a few weeks ago, we used it for storage.
Mini-House is the square footage of a small bedroom and has 1970s wood paneling. It has a variety of windows on each side – some are newer than others. It also has an extra wide front door, hookups for television and phone, as well as an air conditioner and a small heater. When we closed on the property, we inherited some clues about Mini-House and Clarence, the previous owner.
Clarence and his wife bought the property in 1968, and when we came along, we acquired some of the belongings he left behind. It was clear that the Mini-House was Clarence’s domain. It had a massive metal desk that overlooked the yard through a large window. A phone line ran through the desk and a large, black rotary phone sat on the left corner. Bolted to the largest wall, was an entertainment center that had seen better days. Its door had fallen off and the fake wood was peeling. When we removed the entertainment center, there was cement underneath it. Someone had cut the cobalt blue carpeting to fit snugly around the piece.
In the back corner is an imposing brick oven with a brick chimney – something that was there long before Clarence. It’s the piece of the puzzle that makes everything even more interesting.
Mini-House was a man cave of sorts for Clarence. The handyman added a walkway between Mini-House and the garage, which he rigged into a work area. Fifteen Mason jars filled with nuts and bolts spin on a homemade spindle hanging from the ceiling and scrap lumber fills nooks and crannies of the garage. You never know when you might need something that the garage holds.
Clarence’s hold on the property and its use is clear, but what was Mini-House and its oven used for before that? A read through the home’s abstract didn’t yield any clues; except that the home has had seven previous couples live in it. (One man gave his wife part of the mortgage in exchange for “love and affection.”)
A conversation with a friend over coffee introduced a new theory about the structure’s history. She thinks Mini-House was originally a summer kitchen, a place to get the cooking done without heating up the house. The proximity to the backdoor and the brick oven fits into her theory, but it will take quite a bit more research to determine if that was the intent of Mini-House.
Last week, I set it up as a place to update furniture with new upholstery. I use the walkway to get to the garage, which (as you know) is where the painting is done. The cobalt blue carpet in Mini-House got a solid vacuuming – it took a half an hour to get it up to good-looking condition. The cobwebs got wiped away and the paneling got a good scrub. Now two banquet tables line the walls and totes serve as storage. Sheer curtains hang on a few of the windows and a stained glass butterfly greets the neighbors’ garden on the other side of the window.
It took a while to figure out what Mini-House would be for us. For now, it’s got a solid purpose, with the ability to adjust as needed, just as it’s done for years before us.