If You Spot A Button On The Floor Of An Old Home, This Is What It's There For

Little mysteries in old homes add a bit of magic to your day if you're lucky to live in a house with history. There can be plenty of fun and bizarre features in old homes. It's not hard to figure out the purpose of some outdated fixtures like milk delivery doors, coal chutes, or push-button light switches. Yet, there are some quirky gadgets whose purposes don't immediately come to mind, especially when they were intended for things that are no longer part of daily life today.

If your home is the kind that needed servants in the past, you may have spotted a curious button on your floor. A button or even an unexplained hole in the middle of your floor is likely the remnants of a servant bell, according to real estate expert Joe Himali. These buttons even show up in former homes of less wealthy folk, too. If yours still works, then you've hit the jackpot!

What were these buttons for?

Fans of shows like "Downton Abbey" may remember the panel of servant bells in the kitchen that lets the staff know who needs what in various parts of the manor. The button on your floor is a more modest version of that. If your house has one, a servants' button will most likely be built into the floor of what is or was the dining room. It's common to find these in late Victorian-style houses and houses or apartments built in the first two decades of the 1900s.

The button itself is part of a call system. Pressing this secret button with your foot supposedly sent an electric signal to a bell in the servants' area. Modern homeowners speculate that button would be situated under the dining table, often under a rug for extra discretion, so that the head of the family could effortlessly call for the servants to bring the next course of the meal.

There's not a lot of official information available about these features, but community forums are packed with stories, speculation, pictures, and videos of what homeowners have discovered in their rooms. Some contributors share that they have found these buttons on the floor of their bedrooms and other rooms of their homes.

A short history of the annunciator

Historian Abigail Stewart is a fountain of information on the obscure subject of servant call systems. An expert on historical architecture and the former Research and Interpretation Specialist of The Preservation Society of Newport County, Stewart explained to Curbed that these historical touches were known as "annunciators," an updated version of a system popular with wealthy Brits in the 1700s. This innovation made its debut in Chicago hotels in the late 19th century. The annunciator's convenience and novelty quickly caught on with the wealthy in other parts of the country.

You can see well-preserved examples of electric annunciators in lavish homes of the past. Especially on the East Coast, there are many historic homes that feature this curious technology. You can visit the Vanderbilt family's 1895 Rhode Island estate The Breakers and Henry Clay Frick's New York City mansion-turned-museum The Frick Collection to see examples of this luxury phenomenon.