The recent restoration of the Casino Hall in La Grange, TX, was a big deal for Fayette County. Built in 1881 by German immigrants, the building was originally a school, but has since served as a fire station, city hall, library, and a senior center. All of these different uses of the building involved significant modifications of the original structure. GW Cernoch Works was asked to furnish reproduction wood window sash, as part of a larger project to restore the original 1884 exterior and reinstate the upstairs theater to its original size and layout. This massive project was finished just in time for the hall’s 135th anniversary.
Fieldstone wall after waterproofing
Leaky basement? Instead of disrupting your landscape to treat your foundation walls or redirect the drainage, try the S+H Construction basement waterproofing solution. It works from the inside out, preventing moisture from entering the walls in the first place. The solution is so effective; there has never been a single callback.
Pre US Civil War buildings have a particular look, something that makes you look twice to make sure that you are seeing what you think you are seeing. The reason for this is that there was little standardization of millwork, wood moldings and window sash before that time, and soon after the Civil War was instituted a very durable and widespread system that endured into the 1960’s and which continues on in some ways into the present time. Our eyes have therefore been trained to expect a certain scale and form which has held somewhat standard from the Victorian period through the Modern. What one sees in the older buildings is what appears to be unique or “different” forms and scales in the details, the window muntins, molding depths. Of course, these buildings were not literally unique, but were rather regional, and expressions of “schools” of carpenters who approached the work each with their own traditions, tastes, and profiles of knives with which to form the millwork. As one drives from town to town in early settled parts of Connecticut, one can see these local preferences expressed with molding variations. Restoration carpenter Stephen C. Marshall is long familiar with these traditions as practiced in Fairfield County, New Haven County and Litchfield County, especially as this applies to the reproduction of wood window sash. Even without seeing the building, he knows that because a building is in New London, that he likely has the knife he needs to cut the muntins, because he has worked on other buildings from that era, in that town, but that that same knife won’t likely do him much good in Hartford.
Have you ever considered the risks home builders take while renovating that basement or installing a new bathroom? If you weren’t aware, construction workers face one of the harshest work environments in modern times. As Doug Hanna of S+H Construction in Cambridge, MA explains in his blog on construction safety, aside from equipment-related injuries and electrical hazards, exposure to toxic chemicals is common on construction sites. While proper liability insurance may boost consumer costs, hiring a cheaper contractor that ignores safety guidelines will increase the odds of an accident occurring on your property. Always do your homework to ensure you choose a contractor that practices safety as a core value.
Virgin growth lumber is the best building material you can find in the natural world, and researchers have yet to come up with anything comparable. Much of the timber used prior to the 20th century was from virgin, or first-growth forests which once covered the United States. For hundreds of years, these trees grew packed together, free from human impact, resulting in tighter ring patterns that make for a wood with distinct character- strong, durable, and rot-proof. According to Doug Hanna, at S+H Construction in Cambridge, MA, old virgin-growth white pine in particular is the crème de la crème for its rot resistant properties. Click here to read his post on the topic and learn where to source your own.
Period view of the street elevation of the historic Florentine Hotel in Germantown, Ohio.
The Florentine Inn has been standing on West Market Street in Germantown, Ohio for over two hundred years. This longevity is possible for the single reason that a succession of owners managed to keep intact roofing systems for the entire period. Once water penetrates the building envelope, deterioration is rapid and inevitable. Triumph Restoration of Germantown replaced the roof and gutter system, assuring the existence of this historic structure for another generation.
Typical condition of original “skip” decking, sound enough when resecured and covered with plywood.
A durable TRUE linseed oil based paint finish.
John Learnard of The Color Alchemist of Glen Echo, Maryland notes that every year since he started in the finishing trade, the big paint manufacturers have been promising that the new and improved latex and acrylic paints developed in their labs outperform traditional oil based paint – – THIS TIME. The only problem with these assertions is that they were always proven false, in the field, a bitter lesson to the professional painters who applied them and put their name on the work. So in the spring of the following year, just like flocks of robins, the paint company reps were back in the paint stores, saying, essentially, “this time we really mean it.” He recalls attending one of these events, hosted by the paint company with free coffee, donuts and paint hats, where the rep said that acrylic beat oil because it had microscopic “doors” in it to let out moisture that formed in the wood. When John asked what happened when these ”doors” let moisture IN, he was declared a contrarian paint dinosaur, who would soon be swept away by the building tsunami of advances in industry technology. That was over thirty years ago and there are yet such dinosaurs among us, John among them. So, what is the motivation of the U.S. paint manufacturers for selling an unreliable product? There is a much greater profit margin in such a product as it is made almost entirely from petroleum rather than linseed oil and turpentine. And what has been their response to their predicament? To degrade their own “oil based” products by substituting alkyd synthetics, again, petroleum based, for linseed oil (flax) and mineral spirits for turpentine (pine). Instead of making the latex better, they made the “oil” worse, so now their promise is actually coming true. Finally and Hallelujah! John’s response? To go offshore to Fine Paints of Europe, a Dutch manufacturer with a base in Vermont, because they still use effective constituent materials. Quality materials means quality results, he promises.
Kowloon Walled City in the foreground, Hong Kong behind.
Kowloon Walled City was a densely populated, ungoverned squatter’s colony in Kowloon City, Hong Kong. It was called the “Walled City” because it was built on the remains of an old Chinese fort. The Walled City contained 33,000 residents within its 6.4-acres. That’s about 3.2 million people per square mile. By contrast, Manhattan is about 170,000 persons per square mile. There was little light, little air, but the people lived their lives, worked, operated factories, delivered mail, threw their garbage out the windows, if they were lucky enough to have windows. Construction was always upward, with little regard or engineering or permitting. In spite of that, the structure stood, with whatever consequences for the residents. The city was demolished in 1994, after a mass eviction.
Kowloon Walled City elevation. They just kept building.
Plan view of architectural model of Kowloon Walled City.
Example of post and lintel construction.
Whether ancient or modern, classic or mundane, the basic unit of construction is the post and lintel, constructed out of stone, steel, concrete or wood. Mortonstones.LLC of Miami tells us how they repaired load bearing, steel post re-inforced brick columns that had failed, possibly from rust jacking of the core elements. Whatever the usage and materials, the engineering principles are the same. Mortonstones provides a brief manual at the link.
Steel post restored and sealed, brick column under reconstruction.
Queen Anne exterior color scheme.
Every year, Pantone picks the color of the year, and this year it is two colors, Rose Quartz and Serenity. You can be sure that it is just a matter of time before you see these colors on bath towels, appliances and restaurant interiors. Taste in color is truly ephemeral, and what Pantone does is a kind of handicapping, predicting the taste of the masses before they know what they like. When selecting colors for a late Victorian house, however, surely we can be guided by the template of history, and be spared the guessing? Various national paint companies have “Victorian” paint palettes that are more or less historical. The problem is that history has moved on, and so must our paint schemes. Color is a way of mediating between the past and present, that is, inhabiting the present, while acknowledging the past. The Color People of Denver, Colorado are expert at balancing these and other values. For this exuberant Queen Anne, they determined to assert its historic architectural features while fitting into the neighborhood and expressing the tastes of the owners. Just like the rest of us, this Queen Anne residence is of the past, but in the present, and the color scheme expresses that well.