Inside an Amish Home: The Living Room

Nadege Armour asked in a comment yesterday:  Any chance we might be able to see the inside of an anonymous Amish home?

Well, here we have a photo of the inside of an Amish home near Clymer, New York, shared by Amish researcher Karen Johnson-Weiner:

amish home living room

First off, you can see one of the most important types of technology in an Amish home (at least in the evening): lighting.

This lamp is of a common design–movable and built into a piece of furniture (looks like a hickory style; is there a matching rocker around the corner?).  You also often see them built with a fully-enclosed cabinet concealing the tank.

Families will fire one of these up in the evening as everyone sits around on the couch and in easy chairs reading, snacking, and chatting.

One thing is for sure–they give off a lot of light–and heat.  In the summer, it’s easy to roast.  Takes some getting used to; to be honest, I never fully have.

If we’re playing a board game for instance, I usually end up pulling up my pantslegs and converting them into temporary shorts.  That and I drink a lot of water to fight off Amish Lamp Dehydration Syndrome (ALDS).

In the photo you’ll also notice some other interesting features of the home.

As you can read in Karen’s book New York Amish, the Clymer Amish group, with roots in Geauga County, Ohio, is relatively progressive compared to some of their Amish neighbors in nearby New York communities.

Certain items in this home, for example, you wouldn’t find in the homes of nearby groups such as the Byler Amish of Mayville or Troyer Amish of Conewango Valley.

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    46 Comments

    1. Marilyn in New York

      Good Morning Erik,
      I really enjoy the picture. One thing I notice is the couch and chair. I always heard that the Amish had hard wooden fruniture. This picture proves that wrong. If I had to sit on furniture for any length of time I would prefer what is in the picture and not the hard wooden furniture all the time. I like the tank in the living room.
      Marilyn

    2. Lois Klobucher

      Beautiful room, I was surprised to see curtains on the windows I always thought that the Amish did not have curtains that they only used a certain type of shade, I love this room, so cozy.

      1. Barbara Libengood

        The majority of Lancaster County Amish have dark green window blinds, but may have curtains in the bedrooms. I’ve never seen curtains on first floor windows in all the homes I’ve been in. And that would be many because we were invited to all the homes for meals.

    3. Nadege Armour

      Oh thank you so much for providing the photo of such a cozy yet still simple room. My books on the Amish implies that curtains are not allowed but clearly that may not always be the case.

      The lighting built into the furniture is also quite interesting. ALDS – very funny!

      Thanks again, you’ve made my day on this dreary rainy morning.

      Nadege Armour

    4. Robin Miller

      I have an Amish-made coffee table from Indiana, I believe made from hickory. The top is shaped like a fish! I’m still kicking myself for not getting the matching end table. It was gone when we returned to the shop a week later. Also wondering how safe these propane tank lamps are? I know that you can’t use a propane tanked gas grill indoors. Ever heard of any issues? Like Nadge above, I didn’t realize that some communities can use curtains in their homes. I’ve always observed the dark green pull shades in Pennsylvania and Maryland.

    5. Thanks Erik! This is so interesting. Is that a weaving loom I see in the back corner, behind the chair?
      Margie

    6. Robin Miller

      @Margie … I see it now too. I think you may be right.

    7. Betsy

      I wish I had some pictures of my Amish girlfriends house, it is absolutely beautiful! Until you reach the living room, it doesn’t look like the typical Amish house I’ve been in before. Maybe she will let me take some pics one day here soon:) Thanks Erik for sharing!!

    8. Do the Amish take any safety precautions running propane tanks indoors? Is carbon monoxide poisoning ever a concern? Thanks for sharing a picture!

      1. Marlene

        Carbon Monoxide Poisoning

        I, too, was concerned, how do they avoid poisoning themselves.

    9. Julie

      Recently I saw a sign for maple syrup and stopped to get some. The family selling it was Amish and invited me into their home while they got the syrup. Their was very primitive, much more so than the pic here. The home was about 1200 sq ft and was one large room, with the exception of a washroom. They had a cement floor with handmade rugs all over, all furniture was wood. It was like going back 150 years, it was really cool. I’ve been in others that were not so primitive and looked more like the one here.

    10. That was really interesting. I bet you would cook under that type of light!

    11. Thanks for writing about this. I’ve always wanted to see a contemporary Amish home, and not an old museum exhibit of one.

    12. Yonie Wondernose

      Another place you could get a good view of some Amish home interiors is on the film called the Backroad to Heaven by Bert Buller.

    13. Alice Mary

      Very interesting, Erik! This home MUST be in a more “liberal” Amish community, judging by the pictures on the wall (I’d heard calendars were the main “wall art” because they were “practical”, and that other “adornments” showed too much pridefulness).

      What I’m really intrigued by (and would like to see) are Amish homes with those “moveable walls” used to enlarge the interior space for bi-monthly Sunday services. I’d love to see a couple of examples of the walls, opened & closed.

      Alice Mary

    14. Carolyn Kirk

      Very interesting. Never knew about the lighting from propane tank. Like this kind of home better than those over-the-top interiors you see on TV home shows. Do we really NEED granite counter tops in the kitchen?

    15. Nadege Armour

      I know that there are many reasons the Amish do not use electricity and am sure one of the reasons may be monetary. However, has anyone done a cost comparison to see if propane is indeed less expensive than electrical lights?

    16. Amish lamps safety features

      Good question on safety; this tank would be equipped with a pressure release safety valve which would prevent explosion due to excess pressure build-up. There is also an overfill device which prevents the tank being filled too full, which allows the gas to expand. As far as I know those 2 are pretty much standard.

      Amish homes typically have smoke detectors and some have carbon monoxide detectors.

      In addition to propane Amish use naphtha as well, and some use kerosene a la the old style teardrop lamps but that would be a more conservative choice.

      Glad everyone is enjoying the photo and thanks again to Karen for sharing it!

    17. Marilyn rest assured the furniture in Amish homes (unlike the church benches we covered a couple days ago) tends to be pretty comfy…it needs to be with the amount of visiting and to let drowsy farmers nod off after big suppers 🙂

    18. Lois, Nadege, Robin some Amish definitely do use curtains, though the pull down shades are common as well. Nadege btw that is a good question on propane v. electric, do not have an answer.

      Marjorie you may well be right though I confess I’m not an expert on weaving looms.

      Julie maple syrup is a treat for the ages, yum. I might have some photos of an Amish maple operation coming up.

    19. Michelle, you really do roast. I first encountered this while selling books and visiting Amish homes in the evenings. At the tail end of a 13 hour day after sweating in the sun it just cooks you!

      And I wasn’t even in heavy broadfall pants or wearing a full dress like the families I was talking to;) I guess you just get used to it.

    20. Rhea, glad you liked it. And Yonie is right, Buller’s film is a good one. You can also see the church benches being unloaded from the back of the church wagon in that one.

      Alice Mary it would definitely be more progressive compared to a lot of its neighbors, so that may be why we have the wall decor (I zoomed in on the original and I think it’s hearts? But not sure).

      If I come across any movable walls photos I’ll try to share. They are like magic in expanding and “disappearing” rooms.

    21. Debbie Welsh

      As we’ve come to learn, every community may be different with it’s own set of rules, but I think overall the Amish have really progressed and come to embrace alot more modern things nowadays than they did, say, just twenty to thirty years ago. I’ve noticed so many of their homes and shops now have vinyl siding, as well as new vinyl windows and doors, and even the new vinyl railings and fencing. And alot of their flooring has progressed from old linoleum (which is seen here in the photo, by the way) to beautiful hardwood.

      When I was out in Holmes & Wayne counties in Ohio last year, we took a tour of an Amish homestead and farm, and they had two homes-one to show how they used to live in the old days, and one to show how they live now, and I was very surprised to see how “modern” they’ve become. The teenage girl’s room was all done up in purple with purple walls, solid purple curtains in that distinct way of only one panel pulled over to the side and hooked (every window in the house is done like that, and the Delaware Amish do the same), and a purple and white patterned quilt on the bed. The bathroom, although basically plain, still had new modern fixtures and tiles on the floor. But it was the big, spacious kitchen that really impressed me with it’s numerous and gorgeous oak cabinets, built-in sink, and almost normal looking stove and fridge, except that they were run on gas or propane, of course. I found that the Ohio Amish, in general, seemed alot more progressive than, say Lancaster.

      But perhaps it is because this last generation has been exposed to alot more of the “outside” world, given that so many now have to work out in it. And perhaps some Amish are more financially well-off these days than has ever been the case in the past.

    22. sadie crandle

      Julie … I am curious … were you perhaps in a Swartzentruber household? It certainly sounds more like it than old order or even Nebraska. Whereabouts was it?

    23. Marcus Yoder

      The John S. Yoder house in Surgarcreek, was moved and restored. This is an Amish home built in 1869.You can tour this home. You can google John S. Yoder home. This was my gg grandfather.
      Marcus Yoder

    24. Marilyn in New York

      Hello Erik,
      Am glad the Amish living room is more so comfy. I guess I’ve been reading to many novels. LOL About propane tanks-I use to be a full time RVer and had two propane tanks on the outside front of my trailer. They are supposed to be checked every time that are filled with propane-but some of the fillers don’t-if they’re in a hurry. If these tanks are damaged at all-you have to replace them. Also you can only keep the tanks so many years and you have to replace them. The the year the tanks are made are on them. Tanks now have a pressure release so if they get too much propane in them or it gets too hot outside they automaticly release built up pressure or propane gas. That’s why you don’t smoke around propane tanks especialy if they have just been filled. I know most Amish don’t smoke-just giving fact.
      Marilyn

    25. Are there any records/descriptions of Amish homes in Colonial times. I know very few Amish were here, but I’m interested in that time period.

      Also, when did the Amish begin dressing the way they do today? I’ve seen some old pictures, and they’re very different from the current styles.

      Susan

    26. Good Morning,
      In our Amish farm, which we are moving to in just 27 short days!!!, the living and dining rooms are one long room. There was the prerequset long table and benches, and then a rocker for both Mother and Father. This older couple lived alone, there wasn’t much other furniture, except a bench/couch thing which would sit about two and a half people. When we negotiated on the farm we all sat at the table and a colman type pressure lamp was lit. It was very warm and cozy. There are LOTS of windows too, it is so bright and sunny during the day, oh I can’t wait to get there!! I have pictures but I’m not sure how to share them.
      Have a great day everyone.
      Misty

    27. Colonial era Amish homes and clothing

      Susan–on Colonial Amish homes and Plain clothing, Stephen Scott has two books that might help–Amish Houses and Barns has a few descriptions of early Amish homes, and Why Do they Dress That Way? discusses a lot of the clothing questions. I’m sure there are other resources on the homes but I am drawing a blank right now!

      Misty–sounds very nice–if you are on Facebook, you are welcome to share any photos by posting them on the Amish America Facebook page: http://www.facebook.com/pages/Amish-America/122176297842825

    28. Upholstery on Amish furniture

      I should add that the furniture styles, while generally comfy, can vary–for instance some do not permit upholstered furniture, others have varying degrees of “upholstering”–Karen’s book New York Amish gives some interesting examples of the differences. Your “mainstream Amish” are going to have the upholstered furniture like in this photo. But that said I’ve found the classic hickory rocker despite it being all wood to be surprisingly comfortable in its own right 🙂

      Marilyn, thanks for the info on propane tanks.

    29. Debbie, thanks for the interesting description of the Holmes house, in some ways you might consider the Holmes Co Amish more progressive than Lancaster depending on the church district, but Lancaster does permit a relatively high level of technology.

      Marcus I haven’t visited the John S. Yoder home but maybe I need to.

    30. Thanks, Erik! I’ll check out those rsources.

    31. Mary Miller

      I don’t believe the “no electricity” lifestyle has anything to do with being cheaper. In fact, propane appliances (such as refrigerators, etc.) are very expensive to buy. Rather, it’s to be independent from the “world”. Some are now allowed “off grid” electricity for some items. So, solar panels and wind turbines are common place in northern IN.

      1. MKJ

        Re: petroleum

        No person who is buying or using petroleum products is separate from “the world.” Wars are being fought over oil, a lot of politics is tied up in oil. A lot of usurious banking, debt, etc is tied up with oil. Oil money affects politics greatly. It takes electricity to extract, refine, etc oil, and a lot of technology, and engineers and geologists with a lot of advanced education. And – it’s almost gone.

    32. Karen Pollard

      We had dinner with an Amish couple in the Shipshewana area of northern Indiana a few years ago. Their light fixtures were propane, but installed into the ceiling just like a regular light fixture. The odor of burning propane was so strong it almost made me nauseous though. It was in the fall, but I didn’t notice it being abnormally warm.

      Their furniture was regular upholstered furniture with simple tables. The only wall decoration was a calendar. The bedrooms had a double bed with a quilt covering and chest. The bathroom was a modern bath with tub, flush toilet, double sinks. One of the cuter things I noticed was they had built a loft for when the grandkids came to visit. He said they loved sleeping up there.
      The kitchen looked just like an ordinary kitchen. Stove, refrigerator, double sinks, beautiful cabinets.

      This couple lived in the dawdy house and were the parents/grandparents of the bigger house next door. Their grandson hitched up the buggy, bringing it over to his grandparents’ house for all of us to have a buggy ride.
      It was an amazing evening. As we rode, the horse would automatically stop at all stop signs, look both ways and then head on. We had a great time having a marvelous dinner and good conversation. I enjoyed it very much!

    33. Rose Goddard

      Isn’t it against the law to have the portable gas tank inside the home… I/we were told some years back, that is against the law. We had a 100lb cylinder inside our back porch and we were told that?

    34. Matt from CT

      On balance, not a bad alternative

      While it’s not GOOD to have a propane cylinder inside…

      It’s only going to be a true danger if there is already a large fire impinging on it.

      Compare that to a kerosene lamp that may shatter if knocked over, or a candle that can be easily placed somewhere a curtain may blow on it or some papers maybe just a bit too close.

      The design of that table keeps the burning end fairly well isolated.

      Propane tanks may vent. I’ve responded to several over the years, and the situation was always the same — filled early in the morning by a filling station that went by the illegal “Guess how much to put in” method instead of weighing the cylinder as they fill it. As the day warms up, the pressure builds in the overfilled cylinder and it’ll pop open and release extra pressure.

      As long as they’re filled by weight, you won’t have a problem of them venting in the temperatures inside a home. Unless it’s already on fire, and then you have a bigger problem already.

    35. Robin

      Erik,
      The Swartzentruber Amish where I live do not use smoke alarms or carbon monoxide detectors. The state is making it an issue. Will not allow local codes enforcement to make an exception based on religion.

    36. Hi Robin, yes I’ve heard that is an issue. The Swartzentruber reluctance to use so much technology can even strike other Amish as odd. Interesting to see what will come of this case.

    37. Lissa Holder

      Hi Erik, Thanks for sharring the pics! Very Interesting
      Lissa

    38. Eli

      Being a fan of outdated and arcane technology, I would love to make one of these lamps. Just for fun and I figure it would be handy for when the power went out in winter.

      They seem to be relatively simple but there is obviously not a lot of information out there. Does anyone have experience or information sources for such an item?

      Thank you

      Eli

    39. Carolyn B

      Erik, thank you for leading me to these links on Amish interiors. I, like Alice Mary, am very curious about the movable walls. I’m planning to Google it & see what comes up. I certainly will not be surprised to end up back within your blogs. 😀

    40. Theresa in Alabama

      inside the Swartzentruber Amish home

      Thanks for all the interesting pictures!
      I’m wondering if all of the photos are taken in communities or states other than Ethridge, Tennessee. My husband and I have several Amish families that we visit on a regular basis (at least once every three months) and have been doing this for the past 7 years. I have never saw any kind of upholstered furniture in the homes that I have been inside of. In the living room you will generally find a couple of rocking chairs, a fireplace or sometimes a wood-heater and most of the time there will be a twin size bed. In 2 of the homes I have recently been inside, that have small babies and toddlers, there have been the typical handmade baby crib and a chest with drawers. About the only other things you will see will be a clock on the wall, a shelf with hooks that holds hats & coats and a calendar. In the kitchen you will find the bare necessities such as the cook stove, dining table and maybe a step stool for the smaller children to stand on to get a drink from the countertop. The kitchen utensils were hanging from a nail? above the counter space, dishpan on stove along with other pots and pans. I only saw one lantern in each room on a small table between the rockers in the living room and on the dining table in the kitchen. This is just a little insight of things I have observed in the homes of some very dear friends 🙂

    41. Andy Dufresne

      I’m from near Clymer, NY, and your comment about difference between Amish Communities is quite true. I am 20 minutes from 2 Amish Communities, Clymer and Dewitville/Mayville, and the Clymer Amish are much more progressive. I see several of the Clymer Amish own ‘skid steers’, those little 4-wheel vehicles with a scoop on the front, used around the barn, etc.

    42. Amy Unruh

      Increasingly Modern

      I’ve never seen inside an Amish home, but I’ve always been intrigued by the Old Order Amish and Mennonite lifestyles. My uncle is a driver in Michigan for the Amish and we live just a little distance from an Amish community in Colorado. I’m a more conservative Christian. I dress modestly, mostly in long skirts and sometimes even wear a head covering. I like their modest and simpler ways. But … I’ve never understood why the Amish won’t use electricity when so many other things they do are connected to the world more and more. I realize it is a physical symbol of being linked to worldly things, but when you must buy propane and appliances that can be run on alternative fuels and buy fabric and thread and other sewing supplies, and buy food like bagged bread and peanut butter, instead of making it, you are connecting yourself to the world, in my opinion. Even buying supplies to make your own food still connects a person to the world, it seems. One of the homes pictured on this site is fancier than mine. I confess I am at a loss. Some things just seem to contradict their beliefs.

    43. MKJ

      Re: "independent" with store bought products etc.

      The Anabaptists began as an URBAN, middle to upper class movement, made up of artisans, craftsmen, tradespeople, educators, professionals, and a number of widows with dependent children who needed support. The idea of owning large farmland to establish separatist communities only came about after a century or more of trying to coexist among a diversity of other people who continuously attempted to exterminate them. Religious minorities who believe themselves to be “apart” or refuse to do certain things that they nonetheless build their economy and lifestyle around OTHER (damned, doomed) people, only exist when living in close association with others not of their group. The Anabaptists who use drivers, petroleum, etc are one such group, orthodox Jews are another, you also see it in how castes interact in India.
      If the anabaptists had begun as a rural, working class, primitive, subsistence, peasant, etc people, you wouldn’t see this kind of picky hairsplitting logical fallacy.