Gropius House

Communication in the Service Wing


Because this wing was tucked away far from the public spaces or family bedrooms, it was important for the family to be able to communicate with the domestic staff who lived and worked here. To accommodate this, speaking tubes were built into the walls of the house during construction, running from strategically chosen rooms down to the kitchen. There are six different speaking tubes:

1. Night Nursery

2. Second Floor Hallway

3. Third Floor Hallway

4. China Closet

5. Master Bed Chamber Dressing Room

6. Lab

In the rooms above, the opening of the speaking tube is a flared cone of ceramic. The other end has a whistle valve, so that if a person blows into one of the tubes in the house a whistle, like that of a tea kettle, will sound in the kitchen. This alerts the person on the other end as to which tube is in use and they can then open the valve and have a conversation.


“The habit of calling from the top to the bottom of the house is sometimes permitted when only one servant is kept. It should never be allowed…Speaking-tubes are most desirable, but when they are out of the question a bell can almost always be arranged which will notify the family of the arrival of visitors, or will serve to call the maid, if her presence is desired above stairs. American voices have sufficient reputation for loudness and shrillness already, without increasing these unpleasant tendencies by screaming orders up or down a couple of flights of stairs.”

From Housekeeping Made Easy, 1888