De Atlas Etnográfico de Vasconia
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General points

Traditional houses in the Basque Country can be found with different number of floors, ranging from one to four.

The most usual type of rural houses, which are the ones mainly described in this chapter, has three floors, even though the third is low in height and only the central area can be used. As gable roofs are the most common, if the third storey of the house is high enough, there is sometimes a small attic storage area under the highest point.

The whole, or most, of the ground floor of the houses was used for stabling. There was usually a room to store part of the grain in mainly farming areas. In those houses when the kitchen was also on this floor, hatches to give food straight to the cows would be made in one of its walls or in a passageway off the kitchen. While the kitchens had earthen floors, hens used to be allowed to peck the food that had fallen on the ground. In short, apart from dogs and cats, contact with animals was closer and more intense than nowadays.

A shift away in this regard has occurred either become the farmsteads no longer keep livestock or, conversely, because the number of animals has had to be increased to the point that appropriate or more modern enclosures have been built outside the houses.

Rural buildings, if they are sufficiently old, were designed for the farming activity of the dwellers. In general, the premises used for that purpose were generally larger than the dwelling itself. With the passing of time, the latter increased to the detriment of the former to the point that many of those houses have been completely converted into residential dwellings and there is no trace of their agricultural past, as this new role has required the whole of the interior to be remodelled. Those spaces previously occupied by animals or used for other farming purposes, at best, fell into disuse.

In general, the most important aspect of the house, the kitchen, as it was where the hearth was traditionally in one of two locations: on the ground floor or on the first floor. The main advantage when it was on the ground floor is that people did not have to go up any stairs to reach it. Therefore, there was frequently a room next to the kitchen, which was used by the oldest couple, as they were more likely to have mobility issues.

This has meant that in the case of recent restorations of houses where the kitchen was on the first floor, if the owners were no longer involved in arable or livestock farming and the stabling was no longer needed for its original purpose, it has sometimes been converted into a kitchen or more frequently a txoko, an area where to cook and socialise.

As regards the model with a kitchen on the first floor, it generally coincides with a need for the whole of the ground floor to be used for keeping livestock.

Another common feature of the internal distribution of the homes is a space behind the main door that has different names and which leads on the other rooms on that floor. The stabling and stairs up to the upper floor could be accessed from there. The first floor is distributed around the living room or a large corridor reached by the chairs. In more cubic houses, this central space is different from a corridor in terms of its size and as it is square. All the rooms on this floor are reached from this space and stairs lead up from it to the top floor under the roof.

The living room is usually located in the sunniest part of the house, coinciding with the frontage, and it is usually above the doorway. It is the most ornate room even though, precisely for that reason, it was the least used and reserved for important events.

Toilets were not in the houses in the past and they have evolved to acquire the importance that the bathroom now has. There is why there is not usually a specific location, but rather it was added in any unused space. Remodelling the structure of the house has always been the opportunity to improve the bathroom facilities.

The top floor was partly used to store straw or hay and partly for grain and produce from the vegetable garden. It was therefore not hermetically sealed, but it was often well ventilated. It is also used as an attic.