The Mystery of the Bathroom Notches

What are they?

What were they for?

When did whatever they held get removed?

Will the mystery ever be revealed??????????????????



This is the second-floor, main bathroom of the Cross House, as designed in 1894. It was two rooms. The larger room held the sink and tub. A smaller room held the toilet. Both rooms had encaustic tile floors. The tile floor in the toilet room has been lost.


In the 1920s the bathroom was converted into a kitchen. In 1950 the room was converted back into a bathroom (when the house was turned into a motel). At some point the room was gutted to the studs, and only the encaustic tile floor remained (thank God). Today, the room is still just studs.



So, I have a room full of exposed studs. But the VERY curious thing is that all around the room, at three different horizontal levels, are notches in the studs. These notches are 5-inches above the floor, 28-inches, and 57-inches, respectively (the dimensions are to the center of each notch). But why? Why are the studs notched out about 1/8-inch? In the above image, you are looking at the top row of notches.


I have shown these notches to a ton of people. Nobody has a clue why the notches are there. They seem original. Obviously, the studs were notched to hold…something. But what? And why are there three rows?

I am hoping that by posting this somebody with an old house will write: “Hey! We have the same notches in our old bathroom! And the notches were for….”

The person who first responds with the correct answer to the Great Bathroom Mystery gets a prize.

And a big kiss from me.


  1. amyheavilin on February 6, 2015 at 7:19 pm

    I mean, studs can be notched for affixing something to the wall and gaining stability. And that those heights, I can only guess a tall wainscot, which would be common in that era bathroom. Maybe they did the woodwork first and built the plaster around it? Surely I’m incorrect. But do I still get a prize?

    • Ross on February 6, 2015 at 7:58 pm

      Alas, no prize. Sorry! Even with wainscoting, why would the studs be notched? And at three different levels? And WHY would one level be at 28-inches above the floor?

      • amyheavilin on February 6, 2015 at 8:56 pm

        I was thinking more along the lines of a wider paneling, more like a boiserie. And that the stiles and rails were perhaps affixed into the studs to create stability. To me, those heights would be perfect for that type of paneling. Again, probably wrong. But that’s what I thought of!

        • Ross on February 6, 2015 at 9:03 pm

          …but why the notches? Stiles and rails can be attached without all the tedious work of notching studs, right?

          • amyheavilin on February 6, 2015 at 9:48 pm

            True, but we’re talking about the 1800s, when detail and overkill were king. I’m sure I’m not right. But that’s still my guess based on the heights. I still think I get a prize, for my resolve if nothing else. Even an imaginary gold star will do!

  2. amyheavilin on February 6, 2015 at 7:21 pm

    Also, built. Not build. Goodness. I promise, everyone, I actually am smart. [Amy, I corrected your first comment. However, I left your second comment because it made me smile. Ross]

  3. Joe G. on February 7, 2015 at 9:02 am

    Ross, I have absolutely no experience with this kind of stuff. But if I had to hazard a guess I would guess perhaps it is from the 20’s remodel into a kitchen? Maybe there were built in cabinets and they notched the wall to better fix them to the wall? The bottom two notch levels for the bottom cabinets and the top one for the top cabinets? I have no clue if I’m even close to being right… Like I said, I have no experience with this (I’m only 17!). Hope this helps!

    • Ross on February 7, 2015 at 9:25 am

      Hi Joe,

      Good guess! But likely not. Sorry!

      The notches go all away around the room, even in places where no cabinet could have been placed. Why laboriously notch out studs where no cabinets could fit?

      Also, why only notch out 1/8-inch?

  4. meganmoss82 on February 7, 2015 at 12:35 pm

    It sounds like you already have an idea of what they were for, but in rooms of mine that were originally paneled I have similar notches at around 36 and 5 in which were mounted horizontal nailers for the wainscot and baseboard. All this was plastered over with the paneling installed on top – the notches were there to make the 1x nailers flush with the thinner lath.

    • Ross on February 7, 2015 at 12:52 pm

      No, I do not know why the notches are there. That is why I wrote this post. In your house, the horizontal nailers make sense for base and wainscot. But I have three horizontal nailers. And I doubt the main bath had wood wainscot (the less important bath on the first floor has marble wainscot). I suspect the bath had tile walls (like a neighboring house by the same architect) but then why the notches at all?

  5. Sue C. on February 7, 2015 at 7:14 pm

    No idea, Ross, but I would like to comment on the two-room bathroom. In our 1898 house in St. Joseph, MO, we also had a two room bathroom, with the sink and tub in one room, and the WC in a smaller room. The two rooms were connected by a door but each also had another door (one to the hall, and one to a bedroom). I know this was common in Europe, but was it also common in the US?

  6. Anna on June 2, 2015 at 3:36 am

    I know absolutely nothing about historical architecture or restoration, but you say you think the bathroom was tiled. Could the notches possibly have offered extra depth to accommodate three rows of tiles made of a different material or style that was thicker, but which they wanted to sit flush with the rest?

  7. Sue on February 20, 2016 at 1:05 pm

    I have an 1898 house, and in the bathroom is beautiful wood detail like a wainscot. Above it is a large piece on molding. It may be set into notched places like you have so as to be flush with the woodwork below. I can see if this can be photographed. It is original to the house and has never been removed or altered. Only the plumbing appliances were changed in 1925.

  8. Montana Channing on February 25, 2016 at 12:52 am

    If the first floor bath was marble and this is as classy a place as you keep telling us it is and if this was Susan Cross ‘ s bathroom next to her sewing room frequented by all her girlfriends, then I bet this was sheathed in marble also hence the necessity for 3 support rails. I can’t imagine that they cheaped out on the MASTER bath.

    • Ross on February 25, 2016 at 9:48 am

      I have since found photographic proof that the main bath did, in fact, have wood wainscot. The previous owner removed did.

  9. Tyler Gillihan on August 22, 2016 at 11:11 am

    I’m also going with plaster grounds, with the added theory that the grounds were an 1/8″ too thick, so instead of planing them down just notch the studs.

  10. Cory on September 15, 2016 at 7:04 am

    The notch is for a ribbon board to to hang the wood paneling off of. The notch gives the board structural support even though it’s only about an 1/8″ recess into the wall studs. I can send you a picture of my bathroom and why the paneling heights are different on certain walls.

Leave a Comment

Your email address will NEVER be made public or shared, and you may use a screen name if you wish.