Life in a saltbox
Saltbox homes, practical and charming, still grace the byways of New England.
By Les Christie, staff writer

NEW YORK ( - It must be pretty cool to be able to say that you live in a saltbox. It sounds something like living in a shoe. But just what the heck is a saltbox house anyhow?

These wood-frame, colonial homes have a long history in the United States, although the first homes identifiable as saltboxes were probably built in England. Early settlers brought the design to New England in the early 1650s, according to The Library of Congress, and builders still put up contemporary versions of this venerable style.

Photo GallerylaunchSee more photos

The classic saltbox home has a one-and-a-half or two-story faade and a much deeper, one-story-high rear section. The roof starts out with an equally steep pitch front and back, but while it ends abruptly out front at the second story, it extends much further down out back, in a lean-to effect. The pitch often flattens out at the first story to give the rear rooms more height. (See a photo gallery, with six saltbox homes on the market now.)

Many antique saltboxes probably started out as more conventional rectangular houses, but when families expanded, the houses were added to and the rear roofs were extended to cover the additions.

While the design may have started as an inexpensive way to accommodate growing families, it became a design end in itself, a form that recalls the charm of old New England. Most saltboxes were clapboard sided and featured central chimneys.

As for why it's called saltbox, it's very simple. It takes its name from its shape, which resembles the old wooden, wall-hung saltboxes from the 1700s. In those days salt was hard to come by and relatively expensive; it merited its pride of place on the wall.

Today, you can find saltbox homes almost anywhere, but they are much more common in the Northeast than anyplace else. They perhaps look best when perched atop a granite hillside or in a sea-side field leaning into a chill ocean wind. But wherever they are, they carry a strong whiff of yesteryear, a nostalgic evocation of a simpler time.

(See a photo gallery, with six saltbox homes on the market now.)


Many Americans are choosing to live in wine country. For that story,click here.

What would the house you live in cost in New England? Click here to get an estimate. Top of page

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