Tuesday, October 28, 2014

a name in a haystack

We had an unexpected windfall the other day.  A local house historian has a facebook page which I follow for the local history.  She often mentions architect names, which gives me leads to research.  As I've mentioned before, 1886 is quite early for a shingle Queen Anne of this type, and it would have been quite cutting edge at the time. This, and the fact that it was built for a prominent banker almost guaranteed that it was architect designed, but there was nothing indicating who that architect might be, and all our research had turned up nothing.  A few days ago she posted a house built in New York by the Pittsburgh firm Charles Bartberger and E.G.W. Dietrich that was similar enough in style (and early enough) to make me do some research into the firm.  Included in that post was a lead for another house of theirs nearby...

This house near us in Shadyside ended up being key...

MacBeth house by E.G.W. Dietrich on Amberson in Shadyside

This house is the MacBeth House at 715 Amberson Ave, built in 1884 by E.G.W. Dietrich. Although it doesn't look strikingly similar now, check out the original drawing...

MacBeth house by E.G.W. Dietrich on Amberson in Shadyside

The devil's in the details in this case.  While the house itself doesn't resemble ours other than in type, there are too many striking similarities...




Alternating applied bullseyes on the trim...

Half-timbering/stickwork details in the gables....

Huge sunburst corbels...

Third floor Queen Anne windows...

Simple curved corbels on the porch with turned vase shaped columns on the first floor...

Cantilevered stair supported by corbels....

Fretwork on the Juliet balcony, and incised Eastlake square columns on the upper balcony (contrasting with those on the first floor), and similar decorative shingle work with the kicked out skirt on the second floor...

Stacked stained glass windows with aesthetic movement transoms in the stair tower...


The kicker is that early this spring I went to an estate sale behind this house, and was irrationally compelled to take pictures of it's backside (although it was too cold to walk around the block to see the front of the house).  Because of that ridiculous compulsion I can add detailed asymmetrical chimney to the list of similarities...


Everything seems to support Dietrich being the architect, and now that we have a name to research perhaps we'll find something more definitive.  But for now, I'm satisfied...  And even, dare I say, joyous....

Thursday, October 23, 2014

wood grain goodness

So the floor?  Done...


It's lovely.  Although it's too cold to go roll around in the grass outside, I'll just lounge about on this expanse of pine.


Sadly, it's not an exact match to the original graining - I didn't have enough time to experiment with the technique given our tight deadline, so the color ended up a tad dark with a less distinct grain. Truthfully this resulted in a more realistic looking floor, but it's still regrettable.  Even more so since I have to carry this through to the dining room, hallway and butlers pantry.  I had planned on writing a bit of a tutorial for getting the grain right since it's such a common treatment, but there's no point given my failure...  What we ended up using was red elm gel stain as the glazing medium over the gold paint, cutting it with mineral spirits if it got too thick.  Every graining tool I tried to use made lines that were too thin.  After trying everything I could think of I ended up buying a silicone basting brush.  It worked, don't judge me.


I was just the girl sitting on the floor of her entry room with all the curtains open flogging the floor with a basting brush for 10 hour stretches...


The cold and damp weather was the biggest hurdle to getting this done.  The stain took three days to dry enough for the poly, and in that time an enormous amount of shiba inu and ragdoll hair embedded themselves in the thick goo.  Unlike debris in poly, I couldn't just sand it out.

the fuzzy culprits...
OBVIOUSLY his nose was cold...

 So, I chose to ignore it.  Three coats of poly over the last three days and the floors are done.  I used varathane semi-gloss (semi-gloss matches the gloss of the waterlox I use elsewhere) to protect the paint, and while normally I'm not a big fan of poly, this looks pretty damn good.  The can advertises it's "aluminum oxide nano technology," which I would normally mock, but given how even the first coat resisted being sanded, maybe I'll give it a pass...

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

do you want fries with that?

I wasn't kidding when I said I was committed to restoring the original rift sawn oak faux bois finish on the library floors....
















As proof of my dedication, I present to you my Golden Arches mustard floors.

I had hoped to have to do the finish from scratch only on the middle, unpainted section of floor, while filling in the worn spots elsewhere.  Since the bonded rosin paper made this impossible, we had to decide between painting everything, or sanding to bare wood and waterloxing.  While I love the pine, it does suggest a slightly rustic and informal feel - certainly not appropriate for a principle room downstairs.  Although a painted floor wouldn't normally strike me as the more formal option, seeing the bits of finish still in good condition, as well as identical floors in other grand houses in the area of similar age, makes me sure of my decision.

Standing, the original finished looked just like rift sawn oak, pictures don't really do the artistry justice.  Also, I have lots of rugs and VERY big furniture.  So if I completely botch this little enterprise, I'll be devastated, but I doubt the rest of the world will notice.  The first step is matching the undercoat...


Easy enough when there's a stray un-grained patch (the triangle in the middle).  Even if there weren't it's easy enough to look at the rays in quartered oak to figure out a good starting point (hint - ignore all reason and good taste and choose the most obnoxious color possible).  The color ended up being the common butterscotch paint you see in many antique homes.  This makes sense if you think of floor finishing on a price schedule, the butterscotch could be painted on, and grained later if the client changed their mind or wanted to pay the additional cost.  In the case of our house, the grained finish border was present in at least 5 of our bedrooms.  Evidence points to original wall to wall carpeting in this room (stray fibers under the baseboards), and tacked down linoleum or carpets in much of the upstairs (many, many tacks pulled up and dug from between floorboards).

To prep for the paint the floors were de-nailed, then scrubbed (mostly in an effort to rid them of rosin paper), then sanded with 40 and 80 grit.  The sanding was just done with an orbital sander taped to my shop vac.  The idea of flattening these floors is a joke, so big sanding equipment wasn't called for.  After sanding I dug out all the cracks with a dental pick, and vacuumed at every stage (vacuuming around here is a lost cause, but I have to at least try to do things right).  Under the base coat of yellow were white and gray primer coats - most likely lead based - and I'd pay a king's ransom to buy more of it on the black market, the stuff is amazingly durable, as is whatever they filled the gaps with (some old timer told me it was tinted linseed oil based glazing putty?).....

After sanding this was where we were at....  Not particularly pretty is it?  Hopefully I can begin to rectify that in a few more days...

Monday, October 13, 2014

beer and pry bars

As soon as the piano left the premises, I got busy ripping up the last of the oak.  The hammer and pry bar were helpful, but I think it was the chai beer from Brew Gentleman, a local microbrewery that helped the process along....


The floor overall was in good shape, the only unpleasant surprise was how potent decades-old urine can be on a humid fall day (all those stains were there for a reason).  It meant that none of those oak boards could be saved, but it seems the enzyme cleaner (and the original paint finish on the pine) should minimize the residual stench.



The bad news is that about 50% of the building paper was fused to the shellac and paint on the floor.  My fingertips are worn to the bone after trying to scrub the paper off (hot water and a green scrubbie), but despite generating many pounds of snot like soggy paper, it's not enough to save the original faux bois finish, so I guess doing a true "restoration" is out.



And despite my best attempts at complete denial, fall is in full swing...