A Number of Nice and Natty Niches

It was described as a “Modern convenience in a typically modern setting” (1928 Sears Modern Homes catalog).

The Montgomery Ward catalog said it, “Answers the problem as to where to keep the telephone.”

The telephone was patented in March 1876.  At the turn of the last century (1905), about 5% of U.S. households had a telephone. By 1930, more than 40% of American homes had Alexander Bell’s fancy new invention installed in their homes.

The new technology brought new housekeeping issues: All those wires were a bit of a mess. The phone niche solved that problem and made this wonderful new convenience even more convenient!

Interested in building one for your own home? Check out the photos below, one of which provides detailed specs.

And as always, if you enjoy the blog, please leave a comment!

To read about Hospitality Seats, click here.

To learn more about beautiful staircases, click here.


The 1929 Sears Building Materials catalog offered this phone niche.

The 1929 Sears Building Materials catalog offered this phone niche for $4.70 (in Fir) or $7.50 (in Oak). Either way, it was a pretty sweet deal. However, that wallpaper looks ghastly.


The Montgomery Ward Building Materials also

The Montgomery Ward catalog described their phone niche as "A Wardway Refinement" (1929).



And it's included "without extra cost."


GVT 1929

Gordon Van Tine also promoted their snazzy extras, but in COLOR!! (1929)


1929 Niche

There's a reason that this image (from the Gordon Van Tine catalog) bears a stunning resemblance to the phone niche shown in the Wardway catalog. Gordon Van Tine printed the Wardway catalogs for Montgomery Ward and fulfilled their orders, too. At least they had the decency to change the words around a bit.


Phone niche in 1927 Builders Woodwork Catalog.

The niches above appeared in the 1927 Builders' Woodwork Catalog. Thanks to Bill Inge for sharing this wonderful old book with me. It's full of fun images, just like this!


phone niche

This image (also from the 1927 Builders' Woodwork catalog) shows some detail on how these niches were built. If you look at the box on the upper right, you'll see the "bell box" in the top. Back in the day, the ringers were not an integral part of the phone. When we lived in Illinois, we had an early 20th Century home that had the two bells high on a kitchen wall. I imagine that it scared the housewife out of 20 years growth whenever those things clanged.


1927 Niche book

Close-up of the niche in the 1927 Builders' Woodwork catalog.



The owner of this Sears Elmhurst (in St. Louis) went to great lengths to restore his phone niche.


Phone niche also

Often, these niches get turned into tchotchke shelves (as seen in a Sears Lynnhaven in Greenville, IL).


Niche Ersela

Ersela Jordan found this niche in a Sears House in Beckley, WV. Finding these old niches with their original varnish/shellac is a rare treat. Notice the surrounding wood trim is also unpainted. (Photo is copyright 2009 Ersela Jordan and may not be used or reproduced without written permission. So there.)


Phone Ersela

Ersela found this niche in a Sears Lexington in Beckley, WV. The colossal egg is a nice touch. (Photo is copyright 2009 Ersela Jordan and may not be used or reproduced without written permission.)


To learn more about awesome built-ins, click here.

To let Rose know that her life has meaning and purpose and that she should continue perusing old catalogs and old books for vintage images and fun stuff, please leave a comment below. Each day, about 1,000 people visit this site. That’s a bunch of people clicking on through. I’m living on love here, so every comment brightens my day and lightens my step and enlivens my soul. Kinda. And on a side note, I’d like to be part of the worldwide effort to educate the American public on the proper use of the word “peruse.” Surely, it must be one of the most-often misused words in the English language (and don’t call me “Shirley”). Most people use peruse to mean, browse, or scan or read quickly. In fact, it means the opposite.

pe·ruse:  pəˈro͞oz/ 1. to read [something], in a thorough or careful way.

“Rosemary has spent countless hours in libraries perusing old magazines and vintage catalogues.”

The End.

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  1. Dale Haynes

    Love the built-ins. Maybe we could do the phone one for a cell-phone charging station.

    Do you know if Sears did a clothes chute like the Gordon Van Tine model above, and where I could find plans for older type clothes chutes?

  2. Nellie

    My house (circa 1939) has both a phone niche and a laundry chute! Two of the details that made me fall in love with it.

  3. Betsy Thompson

    Great article on phone niches. I never knew the reason builders started including phone niches, but it makes perfect sense.

    I LOVE all the pictures you include in your articles. These houses are so appealing in their simple elegance and practicality.

    Thanks also for the lesson on peruse. 🙂

  4. Sue

    Uh, can I have the phone? *smile* Remember the “telephone bench” when the desk phones came out?

    Still a pity to see fine wood painted. Love to see the pictures. I have them for dessert. Thanks!

  5. Rebecca from Australia

    I wanted to say how much I love “perusing” your blog. ☺️

    I found it via Pinterest, and if a few days go by without a post appearing in my inbox, I get antsy!

  6. Laura (So Ca)

    My cousin lived in a really cool apt (actually a duplex) in the “poorer” part of Beverly Hills. It had a wood phone niche, and a wood breakfast nook/bench area.

    The place was built in the early 1930s. This is a most interesting post. The telephone history was great stuff.

    I follow your blog religiously. You’re a fascinating lady, Rose.

    Milton is one fortunate man. (Tell him I said so, if he gets cranky researching for you through his lunch hour.) LOL.

  7. Angela

    I love built ins off all kinds, especially the phone niche. Wish I had one.

  8. Charles

    Thanks for posting this. Have you seen a house with a phone booth?

    Our neighbor has one. It includes a door

  9. Sarah M

    I LOVE built-ins. The one thing that surprised me greatly about my 1926 Arts & Crafts-disgiused-as-a-Colonial-Revival is that there are NO built-ins except for a laundry chute in a back-bedroom (and not even in the maid’s quarters).

    All of the paneling is intact and the man from whom we bought the house says he doesn’t remember any built-in anythings when he was growing up.

    His grandparents bought the house in 1948. We can see evidence of maybe the butler’s pantry being torn out and a staircase closed up, but that’s really it :(.

    3,000+ books and nowhere to put them!

  10. Laura (So Ca)

    “My 1926 Arts & Crafts.”

    Gosh Sarah, I’m green with envy.

    I am thinking of building in a window seat in my living room. The original pantry closet in the entryway of our home has now become a built-in bookcase. I framed it in fluted trim, with corner cornish.

    Looks like original permanent furniture. I guess my idea was fabulous, because my neighbors have copied it.

    I had a large book collection as well, and having cut my square foot in half, I adopted them out.

  11. Alice VR

    Thank you for the beautiful overview. I’m looking into buying a small 1930 cottage and it has a phone built-in… it’s probably one of my favorite features. I must check and see if a laundry chute is there too…