Well, it does:
OK so this isn’t a typical New England building – it’s slightly more…concave than other buildings, but you can otherwise use this as a decent model for any place you might be renting outside of Boston.
Your average residential dwelling on the North Shore is wooden. Yes, wooden, as in, a wooden house. A house made of slats of wood stuck onto other slats of wood. Because of this, you can usually find them painted in various colours, making it easier to point out to the cab driver in the dark. Don’t be fooled by the size of some of these places -because they’re so
old historic, these ginormous houses are more than likely split up to actually be 3 or 4 apartments inside. If you’re lucky, you might actually get to live in an apartment whose front door was more like a bedroom door stapled onto a hallway frame, like I once did. Ignore the last two statements if you walk down Chestnut Street. They really are that big. Shut up.
You’d be forgiven for thinking that wood is unsafe because it’s so inflammable. Luckily, New England, though quite leafy, is so damn humid that you don’t have to worry about forest fires. Just watch out if your roommate lights candles or smokes cigarettes (it’s unlikely he’ll be smoking anything else). The houses are so old and were built long before anyone had ever seen the likes of a brick, so they’re commonly known as historic or Victorian homes. I like to call them Drafty Jenga Wooden Murder Shacks.
Why are they drafty? Well, these old houses existed before double glazing. And because these have/want to achieve historic/preserved status, they appear to be immune to any type of window that actually keeps in any kind of heat. So what you get instead is a thin slate of glass designed to look like a window but not actually function like a window. You can grab a hairdryer and affix sealant to the edges of the panes for the winter all you want, but none of those ads that say “brand new windows” mean anything other than glass-like pieces of tissue paper that make the heating companies very, very rich. You’d better get used to each and every gust of wind and sliver of a draft and ignore the fact that they might just be ghosts instead. This is why there are so many haunted house horror movies set in New England.
Thankfully, this kind of set-up is well-equipped for the summer. Most windows come with detatchable screens, sort of like window-shaped nets, to stop bugs from getting in and preventing your cat from lopping off the windowsill. This means you can actually open a window in the summer to let in fresh air, on the two days of the 36C hell that it isn’t muggy enough to warrant air conditioners in every room in the house. And those A/Cs are pretty easy to install:
- Open window
- Lift up air conditioner and place on window sill
- Close down window on top of air conditioner
- Pull out the accordion-like sides of the air conditioner until they touch the ends of the window frame
- Feel secure in the knowledge that if your window pane ever falls out, the impact of your air conditioner following suit will kill anyone who walks past your window
- Reserve previous scenario for enemies (remember: this is America, so you will make plenty)
Even though the outsides of these buildings look like Leatherface’s weekend getaway options, the insides are somewhat more modern. They will of course be renovated to a minimum legal standard, but you might see odd quirks like a kitchen sink halfway across the house from the actual kitchen, oil-based heat, forced hot-air vents and coin-operated washing machines in basements. Also: basements.
Everything is made out of wood. If the toilet could be made of wood, it would. The floors are “hardwood” (this is actually a major selling point in estate agent ads – as opposed to “foam-wood” or “fleece-wood” floors). Fixtures collect dust easily, doorknobs are so antique they will fall off if you use them more than twice, doors stick when it’s humid/raining/dry/snowing/sunny/cold/hot, basements are riddled with cobwebs and you should consider yourself fucking lucky if there is more than one plug outlet in any room.
English houses are typically made of brick. A little like the lego house above, but usually less colourful, because, you know, bricks can’t be painted. I guess. We tend to have carpets and most things are made of plastic wherever possible. Windows are double-glazed, open outwards and look like something out of a bank, but tend to be screen-less. So while in America, you can watch that hornet or dragonfly or wasp try in vain to squeeze its fat arse through that meshy guard, in England you will face the consequences of opening up your window on the one sunny day of the year to do battle with wall-shimmying craneflies and angry bees.