The Cross House

A Grilling Question

Often, I write about being protective of the historical narrative of the 1894 Cross House. By this I mean that people should not walk through the house wondering what is original and what is not. I want this to be instantly obvious.

To this end I also want a distinction between what is period-correct to the house and what is not. So, when furnishing the parlor I chose a sofa and a table and chairs which are obviously NOT period-correct to the house. And then I also picked a single antique chair…


…which is specifically early 1890s and not 1870s or 1880s or 1910. I want any antiques in the house to support the era when the house was built, so that the story of the house is reinforced.


This philosophy helps to guide many decisions. Like, when I learned that the Cross House did not originally have a single electrical outlet, I knew what to do: order modern outlets. Done!

When I learned that the Cross House did not originally have any wall switches, mostly, I knew what to do: order modern switches. Done!


This is the type dimmer I will be installing in the house. The vertical LED bar lights up (blue!) as you drag your finger up it.


The above dimmer, by Lutron, is unmistakably modern.

But a lot of readers wanted me to install the classic two button switch. You know, the kind with the mother-of-pearl insets? But these were introduced about 1915. If I install these switches people will assume they are original and — oh, the horror! The horror! — I will have confused the historical narrative.

Well, all this brings me to my current HNI (historical narrative issue).


The Cross House has central AC, and the floors in every room have been punctured with grilles. Cheap grilles, like these.


With the parlor now mostly done, the cheap grilles suddenly stand out. They HAVE to go.

A lot of people restoring an old house would opt for what I call ye olde grilles. These are new grilles but styled to look like very old grilles. Like…


…this cast-iron version. Or like…


…this stamped metal version.


However, if I install such grilles I would confuse the historical narrative and create, no doubt, a crack in the space/time continuum causing universal havoc. Eek!

Because the Cross House did not have central AC when it was built, as no building did in 1894, installing ye olde grilles creates a false illusion. And this I am loath to do.

At the same time, I refuse to countenance cheap grilles.

Oh! What to do? What to do?


While pondering this vital issue, I came across this grill by Kul. And fell in love.


Even better was a brushed gold version which would complement the Lutron wall switches.


This new love however has a price.

$100 a grill! Ouch!

The ye olde grilles are less than half that. My parlor needs three grilles and $300 for grilles, friggin’ grills, seems quite the scandal.

But…I am in love.



I also hate having to worry about the space/time continuum.




34 Responses to A Grilling Question

  1. It’s also a question of practicality. I have one of “ye olde grill” in cast iron for a most excellent reason. I have a 220 pound son who regularly stomps across it. After replacing the darned thing NINE TIMES because he bent it, the cast iron one is holding up excellently well. My other ones are brushed nickle and they do not have to bear the weight of said son, so they are a purely esthetic choice. Your call, but please do consider the placement and traffic across it…even accidentally.

  2. Are all AC vents the same size? IF SO may I suggest 3 moderate priced for now. You can then buy, at a latter date get the ones you adore. Use the moderate priced ones in a musical chairs rotation. That way the initial expenditure shock can be le$$ dramatic. Just a thought towards reality and expen$e. The sticker shock came thru loud and clear.

    • The house is now filled with the cheap grilles. I have never given them a thought before but, now that the parlor is almost done, the three cheap grilles in the parlor suddenly stand out. They must go!

  3. I’ve actually thought about your light switch issue for months…though I like your choice…have you thought about remote programmable lighting for the main rooms?

    Also, a lot of older homes have the electric sockets in the floor instead of the walls… just thoughts…

    • Remote programmable lighting?

      So, say it is 6:51PM and I walk into a dark parlor. Would I have to first run upstairs to the computer to turn on the parlor light?

      Wouldn’t a wall switch be…easier?

  4. I definitely would not go with the “ye olde grills” because of the historical narrative even though I actually really like them. I know they use to have the fanciest items in the public rooms, plainer versions upstairs, and plainer still in places like the kitchen. If you instituted three different tiers, that would at least save you SOME money. Maybe if you shopped around some more you might find some that you love just as much, but for a cheaper price.

    • I, too, like the ye olde grilles. And if my house had a forced air (or gravity) system in 1894 I would use them.

    • Inexpensive grilles abound.

      But a really elegant modern grill which does not look cheap comes at a cost. It’s like the round Knoll table in the center of the parlor. There are knock-offs for 3/4 less. 3/4! But they are not really the same thing.

      • I like the looks of the wooden ones just fine though… they disappear, and I don’t think they look cheap. I like the flush ones that would have to be rabbeted into the flooring. The ones made to sit on the floors with rounded edges are just okay.

        But then, maybe my standards are low. I think ordinary sheet metal heat registers from the 50’s are fine; not sure if it’s a thicker gauge of metal or if multiple layers of paint give them visual heft, but it’s good enough for me.

        • Hi Chad!

          If I had a post-WWII house I would have no issue with the inexpensive grills currently in the Cross House.

          But every inch of the house radiates quality, even the small things. Like the doorknobs. They are high quality, and gorgeous. The hinges, too. So shouldn’t the AC grills be gorgeous and high quality?

          • You’re asking someone who got his bath towels from his parents’ rag bin and his mattresses from old ladies who died.

            [From Ross: ????????????]

          • The other thing is my parents replaced one of their heat registers with a brand new one about 20 years ago, and that one does bother me. It’s allegedly identical but looks drastically different.

          • Then I think you have just answered your own question. You really don’t need the permission from any one of us on how to spend your $$$. My question would be though, what about the rest of the house? Finishing details look great in a room, but what about the other rooms?

  5. I’m with Seth and Kerri; what about the plain wooden grills, stained to match the floor? They fit flush, and although they are not something you would have seen in 1894, they would literally disappear into the floor…if not those, then I would go with the ultra-modern ones, although that price seems awfully steep…what about something like this?

    • Hi Mike!

      I am not in love with the wood grilles. They seem kinda…clunky. Plus, I would SO not want to stain and varnish a housefull of grilles! Ugh! Getting stain and varnish into all those slots? Ugh!

      Also, the modern one you link to is actually $63 for the grill AND adjustable louver.

      • Well if you feel lukewarm about the wooden grilles that’s the end of that, though I personally don’t think they’re cheap looking.

        Now another question: would you similarly treat air conditioning grilles in my house as a modern intrusion if you were picking them there? Because I believe my house had some kind of air system except in the back bedroom and kitchen, which would have had stoves, but it wouldn’t be possible to reinstate them in the original locations now.

          • Yes, I was referring to the difference between my ho-hum $63 grills and your gotta-have $100 grills. My way, you can tell yourself that you are only paying $37 apiece for them. True love often comes down to a matter of perspective.

            [From Ross: Ah! A most excellent perspective, indeed!]

  6. Hey Ross. I just thought of something. Didn’t you say once that the floors aren’t original? I think you said they were installed in the 1930’s. Did they have “ye olde” grills in the 1930’s or whatever decade the floors were replaced?

  7. Do you ever actually open and close the grills?

    Would you consider having plain (non moving) covers made?

    A metal fabrication shop with a laser cutter could do the tops and then you just need to attach feet/pins/tubing so they are stuck in the hole- or find a way to super glue your custom covers to the bottom half of off the shelf ones. They might even still be able to be opened and closed then.

    You could probably have the whole house done at once for less than $100 each…

  8. I have an idea you might like: once a room is substantially complete (i.e. the parlor) you post a video tour of the space. This would really give us the overall feel and look of the beautiful new room and we’d get to hear you speak us through it all. That would be really fun.

    What do you think?

  9. Ummmm. Ross, have you considered the firm that did your finials? They seem to have an amazing array of metalwork, so it might be worth a trip there and talking to them about the problem. I’d bet that they have something that you might like even better.

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