Monday, December 20, 2010

You're Gonna Wind Up Where You Started From

I’ve been pondering the east wall in our living room. This is the wall where we took out a closet added by the previous owners. (See the second half of this post from Nov. 2009.)  This is also the wall that originally had a window facing out on the former side porch. That window was closed in by the previous owners when they enclosed the porch to expand the bathroom. But we still have most (all?) of the walnut trim from the original window.  If you go back and read that post from Nov. 2009  notice that at the end I wrote we were "still trying to figure out what to do about baseboard".

Well, this is what the wall currently looks like:

Um, yeah, we're still trying to figure out what to do about baseboard.  Putting baseboard up sounds easy enough, but in reality it’s posing something of a problem. The pictures below are recycled from a post last April.  They show a before and an almost after of some baseboard on the south wall of the living room:

Notice that the paneled area under the window takes the place of the baseboard. Although we saved all of the baseboard we removed from the east wall, because that wall originally had a window (with a full paneled bottom) there is not enough of the original baseboard to now cover the entire length of the wall. Thus the problem.

Despite having access to two woodworking shops, it appears that successfully recreating the profile of the molding at the top of the current baseboard is going to be something of a challenge. And there’s also the problem of what wood to use for the new baseboard. I’m semi-confident that we can match the color of the EH’s existing wood but matching the old lumber's grain is a bit more difficult.

If we put back up the original baseboard I’m worried we will wind up with a piecemeal effect – two short sections of the original walnut and a third newer section (that, for the reasons explained above, I fear would stick out like curly fretwork in a Frank Lloyd Wright house). The other option is to recreate the entire length of baseboard in one piece of new wood – but we would still have to find a way to match the existing baseboard's color, grain and profile before I would be willing to do this.

Now, even though actual work on the house has basically been at a standstill for the last few months, the planning and plotting in my head never stops. And so, after six months of living with a baseboardless wall, I’ve come up with two other options for dealing with this dilemma.

The first possibility occurred to me a couple of months ago when I noticed the picture at right while flipping through This Old House magazine.

Hmmmm…Our wall had a window in it originally. And like I mentioned before, we still have most (all?) of the original trim from that window. What if we put back up the original window trim, bottom panel and all, and simply replace the actual ‘window’ part with a mirror? If we did, then the remaining original pieces of baseboard should be enough to complete the wall. Hmmmmm…….

After pondering this idea for a few months I’m still not sure if I like it or not. I do like the fact that it would put more of the beautiful original walnut back into the room. And it would create a focal point. But I worry that as a focal point it would draw attention to a feature that has obviously been altered from its original appearance. After all, even if we put the trim back up we can not recreate the depth of the original window. And would a single, solid mirror look misplaced next to three other 12-paned windows?

Then while browsing the houseblogs site I noticed this "Faux Fireplace" entry at Petworth Row House. And I thought, "Hmmmmm…..". Using the existing trim pieces from the former window, I suspect that we could make a mantel that would blend perfectly with the rest of the room. Couple that with an electric fireplace insert and we could really dress up that east wall. And with a fireplace eating up a good chunk of the wall space, the original remaining baseboard would be enough to finish the job. I’ve always felt that a fireplace is the one feature that seems to be ‘missing’ from the Einsel House. (And based on how often visitors ask, "So where is the fireplace?" it’s obvious that I’m not alone in my feelings on this matter.)

But, but, but…an electric fireplace insert?!?! Am I in my right mind? In the kitchen I wouldn’t think twice, that room has already been altered way beyond its original condition. But the living room still exudes vintage 1840’s charm. We might be able to create a mantel that would not spoil that authentic feel, but what about the rest of the fireplace? 

I admit, at first blush I was quite smitten with the thought of a mirror-window or of a faux fireplace, but in the end I suspect the best fit for this house will be recreating the original baseboard as best we can and nothing more.  The living room isn't lacking for drama - the remaining three windows and the front door provide plenty of that.  And we're striving for a renovation here, not a remodeling.  So, after a great deal of mental energy, I'm back where I started from.  Still trying to figure out what to do about baseboard. 

Friday, December 10, 2010

Not on the Homes Tour

We had about an hour of uncommitted time left after leaving the last stop on the holiday homes tour last Sunday, so Cecilia, her grandma and I headed north to drive by a particularly adorable abandoned house that I've always admired.  My mind clearly was not on the blog, because I failed to take any pictures. 

But, we decided to take back roads on our way home, and we stumbled across some more amazing abandonment.  And I remembered my camera. 

This Second Empire was unbelievable:

Check out the details along the eaves and in the slate roof:

One of the doors on the porch was hanging wide open, and my mom and I couldn't resist looking into the house.  (No, we didn't go in.) 

I never quite know how to feel when I see a house in this condition.  On one hand, I'm glad to know that the original trim and other material have been salvaged and will presumably live on in another home.  But on the other hand, I know that a gutted interior greatly decreases any chances that this house has at being renovated.  Realistically I know most of these houses will never be saved, but looking through the doorway to that gutted interior just seemed to drive home the sad fate that is most likely ahead for this home.

And about two miles down the road we found this little gem:

This house had a sign posted on the porch door so we didn't venture out of our car, but I really wanted to peek through those windows.  I suspect this house is close in age to our own home, and the original windows in this brick house make me drool.  Notice that the first story windows are 9-over-6, while the second story are 6-over-6.  Like this house, the Einsel House's first story windows are taller than its second story windows.  We know the EH's original second story windows were 6-over-6, but the original first story windows were replaced long ago and we do not know their original design.  I would love to know if the windows from this brick house would match what was originally on our own home. 

I think this spring I'll have to find a day just to drive back roads looking for more old abandoned houses.  : )

Thursday, December 9, 2010

Holiday Home Tour

My mom's birthday is this coming weekend, but we treated her a week early by buying her a ticket to the Holiday Homes Tour sponsored by the local preservation society.  So last Sunday afternoon she, Cecilia and I spent several hours driving through the countryside to tour various houses.  I was most eager to see the two 1830s Greek Revival homes included in the tour.

I had my camera along, but did not take any pictures of the homes' interiors.  There were two reasons for this - first, I didn't want to take advantage of the homeowners' generosity; and second, every house was packed with people.  Any interior picture I took would have revealed more about current trends in winter appearal than it would have about the architecture of the homes in which the pictures were taken. 

But I did take a few exterior pictures.  : )

The picture below is a bit bittersweet for me.

That is very similar to the side porch that our house used to/should have.  Granted, our side porch was smaller and a bit less ornate.  Our porch had only one window with the door (although my picture cuts it off, the house porch pictured above had two windows with a centered door) and our porch had only two pillars (compared to four), but still the idea and the feel is exactly what I hope we can someday bring back to our house.

This is what we've got now:

But in my mind... 

I'll start by taking out the paneled wall with the window.  Put two simple square pillars flush against the stone walls to the left and the right.  Give the pillars some simple molding on the very top and bottom.  I might even add some decorative wood trim like pictured above, but it's nothing too intricate or ornate, this isn't the Victorian era yet.  The porch is, say, five or so feet deep.  Its back wall consists of a door (into the dining room) to the left and a window to the right.  Now - I'll put a divided pane window back into that shuttered hole in the small stone wall.  Add appropriately-sized louvered wood shutters.  (Yes - they have to be wood shutters.)  With shutter dogs.  (I love shutter dogs!)  Now, I'll settle into a rocking chair on my lovely porch.  There's a terra cotta pot on the top step in front of me with some red flowers in it - geraniums, maybe, or begonias.  My handsome husband steps out from the dining room, joining me with a glass of cool lemonade to sip while we enjoy the view.  (It's almost always mid-June in my imagination.)  The kids are laughing while playing on their swingset to our right while to our left a barn cat or two - or five - lounge on the stone walls in front of the springhouse.  Our whole view is framed by the tree lined creek, which can very faintly be heard gurgling in the background....

It's going to happen someday.  Might take 30 years, I'll admit.  But it'll happen.  Even if it's my grandkids playing on the swingset.

(Which reminds me of one of the guests at our open house last October.  While looking at some pictures of the house taken just after we bought it she looked up at me and said, "Wow.  You must have had some, uh, imagination when you bought this place."  If she only knew!)

But - back to the present.  And the home tour.  The second 1830's home on the tour was my favorite.  I've driven by it (perhaps a bit too slowly I admit) multiple times to admire it.  After seeing the interior and hearing the home's history my admiration is even greater.  Vandals started a fire in the house in the mid 1950's and it sat vacant and boarded up for over 30 years.  The current owners began their renovation in 1989 and have done a remarkable job. 

They reconstructed that front porch from original pieces fished out of a gulley alongside the house. 
Here's a side profile of the house:

One of my favorite features is this picket fence along the west side of the (new) garage:

I want to do something similar in front of our kitchen - a picket fence surrounding the area in front of our home's frame wing, with the sidewalk down the middle dividing the area into a small herb garden to the right and a small vegetable garden to the left.  (And I hope to turn this daydream into reality well before 2040.)

But as cute as the picket fence and little front porch on the yellow Greek Revival are, neither is the home's focal point.  The house's most stunning feature can not be seen when driving by.  You've got to get behind the front door to see this:

I really didn't take any interior pictures during the tour - this one came from the local newspaper.  But that staircase was just too stunning not to share. 

All in all it was a lovely afternoon, and I'm grateful to the homeowners who were willing to open their homes for the tour.  It's such a joy to see old homes celebrated as old homes and not remodeled to within an inch of their lives.  Perhaps someday, quite a while from now, we'll have the Einsel House polished up enough (and stuffed with enough antique furniture) that we can return the favor open our own front door for a holiday homes tour.