5 Surprising Items Found in Amish Homes

unexpected-items-amish-housesPreviously we looked at common features in Amish homes–linoleum flooring, propane lighting, and the natural gas fridge, to name a few.

But what about the more unexpected things you might find in an Amish home? The five items below probably don’t come right to mind when you think “plain and simple.”

The usual caveats apply: not everything seen here will be acceptable in every church. Some of these things are surprisingly common in Amish homes, however.


Five Unexpected Things in Amish Homes

1. $2,000 Grandfather Clocks

We’ve covered clocks here before, such as the musical wall clocks popular in Amish abodes. Those melodic timepieces can cost several hundred dollars and are a hit among the Amish.

You can shell out a lot more than that for a timekeeper, however, and get a grandfather clock–maybe the most sumptuous item in the entire Amish home.




When I see one of these splendid timepieces, I think of words like “elegant,” “stately”, and “grandeur”. Not words you usually use when describing the Amish.

Yet many Amish (often woodworkers themselves) appreciate well-made furniture, and I think the grandfather clock fits that category.

scarborough-grandfather-clock-howard-miller
Scarborough Grandfather Clock – Howard Miller

I just examined five grandfather clocks for sale in a mail-order catalog popular with Amish–some with mahogany overlays, satin brass dials, and something called “triple-chime Kieninger movement.” Prices ranged from $1,888 to $2,488.

Let’s be honest, if you just want something to tell the time, there’s probably nothing more “overkill” than a seven-foot-tall clock with triple-chime Kieninger movement.

When you can pick up a simple wall clock for 10 bucks at Wal-Mart, it isn’t about getting the plainest, most basic item to fulfill your needs.

But a grandfather clock is a nice way to own an “heirloom quality” decorative item which still qualifies as a functional device (the general, though not iron-clad, rule for decor in Amish homes).

2. Cell Phone Chargers

Lindsay Ems, writing in the JAPAS article “Amish Workarounds: Toward a Dynamic, Contextualized View of Technology Use“, describes finding a cell phone charger in an unexpected place while touring an Amish home:

….an interesting piece of technology was visible on the floor of their bedroom next to their bed, about five feet away from a circular, handmade baby’s crib. It appeared to be a car battery with a cell phone charger attached to the top. When the couple was asked about it, they revealed that it was indeed a cell phone charger. The author was struck by how close the phone was to the most intimate place in the family’s home.

cell-phone-battery-charger-lindsay-ems
Photo by Linsday Ems

Cell phone chargers would be seen in communities where cell phones are found, of course. If you own a cell phone, obviously you need someplace to power it up. The charger might also be kept in a shed outside the home or in the basement.

Cell phones are forbidden in some places, a grey-area technology in others, and more accepted in progressive communities.

When we think of the Amish, we still think “no phones in the home.” But when cell phones are as prevalent as they are in some places, that’s not necessarily the case, is it?

3. Conventional Washing Machine

How do Amish wash their clothes? The answer–for the vast majority–is using the classic 1950s-era wringer washer (you can see one here, third photo down). However, some Amish are now using standard conventional washing machines, powered by the diesel generator.

They still hang the laundry out to dry (the iconic Amish clothesline it not under threat–yet), but having the spin cycle is nice. A few years ago, I wrote about electric washers becoming accepted in parts of the Lancaster County community.

top-load-washing-machine

What if your church is like most, and doesn’t permit this technology? You still have your Maytag, but the “Charming Spinner” might help with the drying part. The circular contraption (seen in an ad here, second photo from the bottom), sold by Charm Engine in Ohio, claims to spin wet clothes “50-90% dry.”

4. Battery-powered Table Lamp

While propane and natural gas lighting are common in many Amish homes, sometimes you need to flick something on quickly without fiddling around with lighters and fossil fuels.

Small battery-powered table lamps are popular in Amish bedrooms for that purpose. The one I used on my latest trip to Pennsylvania had three tiny LED bulbs. It was enough to get me to the bathroom in the middle of the night without breaking a leg.

But the room wasn’t lit up like the fourth of July. I’d probably have to strain my eyes to read by that light. Other battery lamps even use the curlicue style bulbs (you can see a rolling floor model here).

decorative-glass-lampshades

These nightstand lamps have a distinct glass shade with various designs. Colorful nature and Native American motifs are popular. Above you see a photo I took of dozens of such shades for sale in The Lighthouse, an Amish lighting store in Holmes County, Ohio.

5. Fine China

China is one area where Amish permit themselves a little extravagance (relatively speaking). It helps that it is technically a useful item.

When I’ve eaten on the nice china in an Amish home, it was for an occasion–special guests, for instance. It also has decorative value.

China is a traditional wedding gift from groom to bride. Flower patterns seem to be common. “Victorian Rose”, “Blue Rose”, and “Clarabelle” are the names of designs available in one catalog. Here’s the “Charmed Rose” dinner set:

charmed-rose-porcelain-china-set
Image: Lynns

Some Amish may own the china, but are more modest about displaying it. As Karen Johnson-Weiner explains, in the homes of one “very conservative” New York community, “There is often a china closet, but, if it has a glass front, it will have a curtain so that one cannot see the dishes inside” (see New York Amish: Life in the Plain Communities of the Empire State, p. 137). Others do display it.

Maybe china on this list doesn’t strike you as so surprising. But if you consider the popularity of the humble plastic Boontonware bowl, you might assume that the Amish wouldn’t own fine porcelain. That’s not the case.

 —

As you can see, we can find some unexpected things in Amish homes–especially if we assume the Amish are extremely plain or Luddites about technology.

There will always be a plainer segment of Amish society that rejects much or all of the above. But the reality is many things Amish do and own are not as plain and simple as we might think.

What things have you seen in Amish homes–or elsewhere–that surprised you?

Image credits: china close-up- theglauber/flickr;

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    47 Comments

    1. In an Amish home where we visited, the two late teen/early adult daughters had an electronic piano/keyboard. Their family had generator-provided electricity to run their dairy equipment and some items inside the house.

      1. Anita Martin

        Not Old Order

        FYI- these folks are not Old Order Amish, as Old Order do not use any instruments.

        1. Anita, just curious, how are you defining “Old Order”? Because, for example, harmonicas are common among Lancaster County Amish, and they are considered Old Order Amish.

          1. Mary

            You are correct, Eric. I grew up Old Order and we had harmonicas.

        2. Yes, Old Order Amish

          Anita, the family was old order Amish, and the grandfather (who lived on the same home place) was one of the church’s ministers. Both of the girls were not yet baptized at the time, and I don’t know if that would have made a difference. But they were OOA, in Holmes Co., OH.

        3. Mark - Holmes County

          Our family is Old Order and does use musical instruments. Even more conservative groups might have harmonicas or the like.

        4. Rebecca

          Anita, FYI -my little sister has an keyboard and I know old order girls who have guitars and accordians.Don’t put all of us in the same box.Thank-you !
          Old order in Holmes County

        5. Debbie Kuhn

          Not so fast

          I will have to disagree, Anita. I drive old order Amish in Lancaster County, Pennsylvania and have send them with keyboards, guitars, harmonicas Etc. I have even taken them to music stores to buy music and other things needed for the instrument.

      2. Thanks for the example Pam. I hear about keyboards being used here and there by younger folks. A few months ago we posted a Pinecraft video where girls from Ohio sang accompanied by a variety of instruments including a Casio keyboard. Obviously a more progressive practice.

        https://amishamerica.com/amish-girls-sing-with-instruments/

    2. Terry from Wisc

      I’ve been in several Amish homes and have yet to see a grandfather clock. That pricey of a clock seems “pride full” to me, and would be frowned upon. I was surprised when I saw a piece of upholstered furniture for the first time in an Amish home! Most of our visiting has taken place sitting around the table. In summer we’ll sit outside. In later years and in a less conservative home we sat on a couch instead of a hard bench! 🙂

      1. Anita Martin

        No Upholstery in Old Order Amish Homes

        Funny tho, they use office chairs, the small ones that spin. They cover with their own fabric.

        Some have like long flat sofa looking things that they do cover with the vinyl stuff.

        1. Same question as above. Do you actually mean Swartzentruber or some other quite plain group when you use “Old Order”?

          1. Anita Martin

            Old Order?

            Just seeing these responses. When I met my Old Order friends 2 years ago I asked if they were Schwartz. Women wear alot of brown and grey. As they were exceptionally plain. No musical instruments, no purses, no modern molding on shoes, no frig, no bikes, no rollerblades, only plain colors for baby items, ect. I do alot of garage sale shopping for them. I have been in their homes numerous times. Only mirrors are really small. Men have shaved in my presence and women have washed their hair, which I was quite surprised by. Children work constantly. I do buy games and books for them too. There is real emphasis on sameness. We know the Bishop quite well and harvest maple sryup with his family and get to ride in wagons! This fall we even helped harvest corn with another which was great fun! We’ve also visited rhen they wete canning meat. Fresh deer and and pig kitchen table… Mix in salt and herbs, take to cellar to grind and then can. We go in barns which are old school amazing, and we feel like we are on Noah’s arc. We feel so fortunate. They still harvest ice from ponds for there ice houses which are small insulated rooms.

        2. Mark - Holmes County

          The Old Orders here have upholstered furniture.

        3. Rebecca

          Anita,You need to broaden your horizons.We old order Amish obviously don’t all follow the same rules.Maybe you should get educated about our ways before you comment .THANK-YOU ! Old- Order and happy !

        4. Debbie Kuhn

          Furniture is nice and comfy

          Again, I drive old order Amish in Lancaster County. I have taken many of them to buy new couches and loveseats and recliners that are upholstered. As a matter of fact I know where there is an Amish furniture store that is run and owned by Amish and they sell upholstered furniture.

    3. Trish in Indiana

      Thanks for the article, Erik, AND for the hat tip! It’s interesting to see how each community (Amish and otherwise) works out what fits into their value system and what doesn’t. The Amish must decide if a grandfather clock is prideful or if a cell phone charger in the bedroom is frivolous, but English families have their decisions to make, too, like how artistic a nude painting has to be not to be pornographic, or whether “Family Guy” is appropriate TV. Even people who might claim they have no such boundaries have SOME standards, even if they may be “backwards” (for example, no educational television). One way or another, everyone has values, and has to figure out what role they will play in his or her life.

      Sometimes, it takes looking at a community with a different set of values to realize how you express your own.

      1. Good points, Trish. Everyone has boundaries they have to decide and sometimes re-evaluate.

        “Sometimes, it takes looking at a community with a different set of values to realize how you express your own.”

        I’d say that is one of the ways the Amish have most influenced me personally. I’d like to think I spend a bit more time thinking about things I used to take for granted. Hopefully, it has done me some good 🙂

    4. Amy

      I may never understand the linoleum flooring. It’s so unhealthy!

    5. just curious

      Why is linoleum flooring unhealthy? Just curious, never heard that before.

      1. Amy

        Kathi

        It’s technically vinyl, which is PVC-based. It’s ranked as the worst building material out there fur both health and environmental reasons. It contains vinyl chloride, which actually caused a factory explosion a few years ago and killed 5 people.

        1. ann

          linoleum flooring unhealthy?

          as per Wikipedia:
          Linoleum is a floor covering made from materials such as solidified linseed oil (linoxyn), pine rosin, ground cork dust, wood flour, and mineral fillers such as calcium carbonate, most commonly on a burlap or canvas backing; pigments are often added to the materials.

          Yes, some people call vinyl linoleum and vise-versa but they are to different things. Real linoleum is a safe product.

          1. Amy

            Yes, but linoleum is not what is being used in Amish homes. It’s vinyl, and the two terms are so interchangeable that vinyl is called linoleum so frequently that most don’t know the difference. I didn’t.

            1. Rebecca

              It’s linoleum. Thank-you !

    6. Spin-Cycle Washer

      Interesting article, as always, Eric.

      I would just add that a family that we have visited with has the modern washer for the spin cycle like you mention, but they power it pneumatically with a windmill-generated air compression system that they use for their woodworking shop. Quite innovative.

    7. Alice Mary

      I guess I was a bit surprised by the cell phone charging in the house via the car battery. I knew about diesel-fueled charging (charging the battery via a diesel powered tractor, for example) but never thought much beyond that, so seeing the battery being used in the house, for charging a cell phone caught me off guard. I guess I’ve always connected cell phones in Amish communities with teenagers in their Rumspringa years, being very clandestine about their cell phones, radios, CD players etc.

      When I visited my first Amish community in Arthur, IL around 15 yrs. ago, my husband and I visited an Amish furniture store. I needed to use the “facilities” and was surprised by the modern cabinetry within…and even the fact that it wasn’t an outhouse! I was also intrigued by the gas light fixture, remembering my Mom telling me that the house I grew up in originally had gas pipes & fixtures throughout.

      Enjoyable post!

      Alice Mary

    8. Terry from Wisc

      Going Amishing today

      This morning I’m headed to the Kingston/Dalton settlements. I will be doing some detective work while in that area, and will report back my findings!
      Not really because I know what I’ll find due to so many trips to the area. But, that doesn’t mean I won’t come across some news worthy discoveries!

      Off I go!

    9. pilgrim

      Guitars and laptops

      Some Old Orders of Holmes County Ohio, have Laptops, and Guitars in their homes,,,,
      I know this for a fact as was asked to take old order Amish man and his children to get music lessons from another former amish man and watched the boy play on his good guitar.

    10. Slightly-handled-Order-man

      People have mentioned that the old order/plain people like Harmonica music, I am wondering if there are any good recordings of Amish people, in any order, playing harmonica music…
      I’m not any good, but I love the little instrument, and been tooting since I was a teenager (I was an oddball, I at one point could play the 1990s punk band Green Day on my little harp, or at least that is what me and this native girl pal of mine did for kicks at one point, she was good at guitar and I played along). It is easier to carry than a guitar as you can fit it in a pocket

      1. Linda

        Harmonica

        Here’s a start, SHOM,

        -Samples from Amish Music: Hymns to Harmonica. Some songs are sung a cappella; some are played by harmonica.
        http://www.mennolink.org/cgi-bin/search.cgi?bk.amv.01.txt

        -Samples from Amish Harmonica, a 12-minute CD.
        http://www.mennolink.org/cgi-bin/search.cgi?bk.ah.01.txt

        -In 2011, Faith View Books had a new CD in their store from Ada Petersheim. Instrumentals with Harmonica, electric, and acoustic guitar. Great harmonica CD!! Ada is New Order Amish.
        https://www.facebook.com/faithviewbooks/posts/310239045668780

        -Church in the Wildwood – Singer David Miller – David Hoover harmonica , Penn Yan, NY Sept. 2012. Some have an Amish background.
        http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=06A4okab3E4

    11. Terry from Wisc

      The drive through Amish country...

      My travels today took me to a number of Amish businesses, but as I said earlier I didn’t think I’d come across any new findings, and I didn’t. The places I patronized were; bulk food store, two rug shops, machine shop just to say hi, another Amish lady who really doesn’t have a rug shop but sells rugs to some of us but didn’t have any to sell today, tried one of the bakeries and there was a line outside the door, so didn’t stick around for some fresh bakery. 🙁 Drove by several green houses but the Mrs needs to be along when we go plants shopping. Waved when I went by some other friends, but didn’t stop because I was running out of time.

      Not a lot of buggies on the road, but several men working in their fields with horses which is understandable because it’s springtime. Of course when you meet a buggy, or horses and a wagon on the road or in the field, or kids outside playing, you ALWAYS wave!

      Many places had laundry on the clothes line, or hanging on the porch. Here in our neck of the woods we never see a clothes line on the pulley up to the peak of the barn. The norm would be three “T’s” for posts and that gives the laundry lady about 10 or 12 lines, that are often full especially when you have a large family. Many have a wheel that hangs by a chain with clothes pins attached. Often they hang small items like plastic pants if there are diapers on the line; or socks and hankies.

      Overall it was an enjoyable day in Amish country as it always is.

      1. Slightly-handled-Order-man

        good account, Terry, thank you.

        The other day I was browsing before work at a “Value Village” thrift/charity store to kill some time before actually getting to work to log in for the day [that sounds misleading, I don’t work at value village, I interviewed there once, but didn’t get the job, my work place is about two or three blocks up the street from such a store) and I see a plain dressed lady pushing a cart full of stuff from different corners around the store.

        Seems I’ve been seeing a lot of plain folk (probably of the Mennonite persuasion) in my area, on the shores of Lake Ontario in Ontario, Canada, in the last couple of years…

        1. Joy

          Florida Amish

          I live in Florida and in Sarasota our Amish community do not use horse and buggies but ride 3 wheel bicycles. There are no farms here because it is too hot and mostly the older Amish come here to retire.

    12. Ed from NY

      Do any Amish play pianos, or have pianos in their homes?

      I didn’t realize that instrument playing was banned by many Amish communities. Seems kind of odd, because playing and listening to music can be community-building, and because one does not need any electricity or special equipment to play a piano, violin, cello, other than the instrument itself.

      1. Anita Martin

        Singing

        In the OOA I know there is no music other than singing which is really big. Just about the only social activity for youth. No toys with music functions either.

        1. Amish Girl-Rebecca

          I am OOA and we do use some musical instruments as I commented earlier (just not in church and social gatherings) and there are also musical toys. Our youth group has various activities, such as volleyball games, singing in nursing homes, game nights, potato project, benefit auction, comfort knotting, besides Sunday eve singings, to name a few. Small groups might go camping, shopping, birding, or biking together. Keep in mind that OOA varies from community to community.

    13. Rebecca

      Ed,Yes many Amish play musical instruments,tho not in church and typically not in bands or for the public unless they’re not members yet.Each group has their own rules,some allow no instruments,some only harmonicas,other guitars,keyboards,etc.

    14. Jeff

      Ads

      Kind of funny and ironic that one of the pop up ads was for discount tire. 🙂

      1. You’re right, that would be another surprising item for this list 🙂

    15. Missy

      Another surprising thing

      One thing which is surprising and yet actually useful is a separate sink in the kitchen for washing up. I have seen these in a number of homes.

      1. That is a neat and handy feature, isn’t it?

        https://amishamerica.com/inside-an-amish-home-second-sink/

    16. David M. Hill

      no exactly accurate

      I read these things none of this is true when speaking about OLD ORDER AMISH We lived in such a large settlement in Missouri. No ELECTRIC, NO REFRIGERATION, NO BATTERY ANYTHING. Extremely conservative as these type of settlements are and remain.

      1. True

        What personal definition of “OLD ORDER AMISH” are you using here?

        https://amishamerica.com/how-many-types-of-amish-are-there/

        1. David M. Hill

          Old Order Amish

          Having lived with an Old Order Amish settlement I can only judge from my experience. Like many religions, Amish practices are all over the map. Some believe this while others believe something different. There is Zero continuity in the faith. Defining Amish life is next to impossible. It’s the reason many young people move from one settlement to another. The object to the rules set by elders. They also often contradict themselves.

    17. Paula

      Cell charger

      In Oct 2019 I visited Shipshewana In. I could plainly see that this was a more progressive community despite the extremely large number of buggies. I have NEVER seen more buggies. More astonishingly I couldn’t believe their speed & accuracy & SKILL at maneuvering alongside semis!!! On a corner was a CVS which we turned into the parking lot along with another buggy. The young man sprinted into CVS ahead of us & I think he was attempting to make a quick purchase before we (obviously we were tourists) entered the store. We go in & the young man was crouched down…looking at cell phone chargers. He was quite nervous as he looked around to see if we saw him. I smiled at him & wanted to say “it’s okay dude…we know you use them & we get it”, but for once I held my blunt tongue. It did not shock me…cause I read Amish America. Lol. I feel kinda bad that we, the English, make so many assumptions & judgments about a society we know so little about in reality. I suppose it’s true that we try to impart our own stuff on other people…

      Another subject for another day…the time I was invited to be Amish (& why I declined)…& the time I found out that my interest in Amish & Mennonite may have actually been inborn in my spirit after all…thanks Eric…

    18. Nice story Paula. Might have been his first time buying one:) I’d be curious to hear more about the other subjects you mentioned sometime.

    19. Paula

      Thank you

      And what about you Eric? I’m interested in how you became interested in the Amish?
      I’ll email you my stories…