Amish housing


Gene Wintersole photo

Ohio Amish homes are easily picked out as one drives through a community. The houses are usually large but simple in design. Most feature white siding of some type. Porches and decks are common. There's a detached barn close to the house. The wash is flying in the wind on a wash day and smoke curling from the chimney on a cold day.

The large houses serve two purposes, neither of which has to do with having a bigger house than the neighbor in some kind of competition. First the house typically provides space for larger families. The bedrooms are upstairs with the downstairs open for sitting, dining and cooking. Second the larger rooms on the first floor or the open basement allow for their church service to be held there when it is their turn. That typically happens once to twice a year depending on the size of the church district. The open space also facilitates the extended family gatherings that are so common.

The inside of the homes is usually plain, lacking pictures and other adornment on the walls. The walls are painted with a higher gloss paint to facilitate washing the walls to remove the coal or wood smoke residue from heating during the winter. The floors are usually hardwood with three coats of polyurethane to provide a shiny hard surface. There may be some throw rugs in a few places. Some other families may put vinyl throughout the house. Both types of floors facilitate cleaning and mopping. Carpet would require electricity to run a vacuum.

The windows would usually be covered with white or dark green roll up shades. Some groups are restricted from having white in their windows and would use a dark cloth curtain to drop across the windows in the evening. Controlling the heating of the air in the house by the judicious use of blinds and curtains helps to cool the house in the summer. Placement of the windows when the house is built facilitates a cross breeze to assist in the cooling.

Their furnishings will include upholstered furniture of plain patterns, fine hand crafted wooden furniture including chairs, dining tables, hutches and other functional pieces. Most homes would include a hecka stool or hickory rocker to rock in while reading the paper.

Most appliances would be gas in the typical Amish home. This could be either natural gas or propane. In the more conservative groups the cooking stove would be fueled by wood. Refrigerators are available that run on gas and would be used by the more liberal groups. The more conservative groups would have an ice box and take regular delivery of ice during the summer months. Some even cut blocks of ice from ponds on their property during the winter and store it in specially built buildings.
Keeping food frozen is a challenge. To overcome this families will partner together to buy a storage shed, equip it with electricity and fill it full of freezers from the families in the neighborhood. In some instances they will pay a local neighbor for the privilege of placing a freezer in their barn or other out building. this facilitates them feeding a larger family without multiple buggy trips to the grocery or renting a van to make a shopping trip every other day.

Lighting is handled in several different ways. One is by use of coal oil lanterns, much like those used in pioneer days. These are still used by the more conservative groups. Other more liberal groups use white gas lanterns of similar design to the camping variety that Coleman manufactures. These may hang on hooks on the ceiling with a heat shield on the ceiling above them. Some groups go so far as to pipe in white gas via very small copper tubing to fixtures in each room mounted on the ceiling. Others who use white gas have small tanks with a light mounted on them that functions like a floor lamp.

Water is supplied to the house via a well powered by a windmill or from a tank set high above the house on a hill so the water runs by gravity. Some groups will allow water wells with an air pressure pump that pressurizes the water. A few Amish who would live in town would have city water. In some of the more conservative groups you will still find a pump mounted on the kitchen counter to draw their water. These communities are also dotted with old fashioned outhouses. Most areas would require even Amish homes to have a septic system for waste water treatment.

Because the houses are not air conditioned, many of the families retire to the basement during the summer where it would tend to be cooler. They often move their cooking duties to the "summer" kitchen to keep the heat away from the main part of the house.

Laundry is accomplished by using an old wringer type washing machine. Many of them are powered by gasoline engines mounted to run the pulleys just like an electric motor. As mentioned earlier, the laundry is hung out to dry outside on lines or under the porches on rainy days. Even the cold weather doesn't keep the typical Amish housekeeper from hanging her laundry out to dry. In some case they use lines in the basement during the winter where the heat from the stove will speed the drying time.

Just for fun take a moment to look around you home and picture what would be missing if you didn't have electricity to power it. Then think about what kinds of utensils or tools you would use to replace what is operated by electric. That would give you some idea about what you would need in an Amish household.

The dawty haus or grandparent's house is a way the community spirit and family values are expressed among the Amish. This is a wing attached to the main house for the parents or parents-in-law to live in in their later years.

Since the homes are so large many times the parents decide to switch houses with one of their married children. That way the family who needs the most space has the space. If the house is on the family farm it is easy to add an addition to the main house to provide an apartment for the parents. They will share meals with the family but maintain their own kitchen in their wing. They will interact with the grandchildren. They may even help with some of the family chores to contribute where they can. This avoids the expenses of a nursing home, allows for more interaction of the extended family and care from the younger family as the parents age.