This week’s Ask the Craftsman question comes from Jennifer.
“I have these little pentagon shaped openings near my roof and I’m wondering if you can tell me what they are.”
Jennifer, it sounds like you’ve got dovecotes, which were a popular feature on mid-century storybook style houses.
A lot of folks mistake them for attic vents, and in all fairness, that’s all they usually are in mid-20th century houses.
Dovecotes were traditionally found in the homes of nobility (ordinary citizens were not allowed to keep birds). Dovecotes are small openings that encouraged doves or pigeons to nest there so the occupants could catch and eat them and also use their droppings as fertilizer for their farms.
Sometimes dovecotes were separate birdhouses, and other times there were incorporated into the gables of houses.
In mid-century America, we didn’t eat pigeon meat much anymore, but that didn’t stop us from falling in love with the romantic styles of old Europe where the dovecotes were proudly displayed on the noble homes.
The Disney-esque storybook style of home that was popular in the 1950s and 1960s made use of this unique feature in a cosmetic sense only.
Most dovecotes in America are screened over on the inside to prevent birds or bats from using them. Some were a clever way to disguise attic vents, and still others simply led to spaces so small that no bird in their right mind would try to fit in there.
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I love old houses, working with my hands, and teaching others the excitment of doing it yourself! Everything is teachable if you only give it the chance.