Friday, August 29, 2014

the lottery, luck and helpful ghosts...

I won the lottery folks. Not the kind that will pay for carpenters and fancy woodwork, the better kind. The kind where a few days after firing an e-mail off into the aether I get a few scanned documents back. AND PICTURES! (And let me preface this post by saying please don't pin these images yet - we're not clear on permissions and such, and only have these for research purposes at the moment).

The J.G.Kelly house just after it was built
Courtesy of The Frick Collection

Every few months we do a variety of searches online to see if anything new has appeared, which happens frequently as libraries continue to digitize their collections. Last week we found some promising leads through the Frick Collection, a collection of Henry Clay Frick's correspondence in New York City. Mr. Frick sat on the board of Braddock National Bank, and so we were hopeful that they would be able to provide us with business letters etc... While they had that in spades, what we didn't expect were several stray pictures they had that were simply labeled "Edgewood." The suspense as we downloaded them was excruciating.

Isabella Coleman around 1890, our house, the J.G. Kelly house is in the background
Courtesy of The Frick Collection

Most of them were extraordinary interior photos of our neighbor's home before the turn of the century. Everything from young women in togas (maybe for May Day), to handsome cross dressing men with guns and guitars. My jealously is absolute and knows no bounds. And yes, I'll post them once I get proper permissions.

The wonderful thing about the photos of our house are that since it's likely they were taken by the Colemans, they show what was the back of the house. We can now confirm the placement of the original paint colors (dark red and mustard primarily, with two as yet unknown lighter colors). More importantly, there's no kitchen wing! This resolves so many questions for us, why there's evidence that the basement was finished, why the addition seems so awkward in how it attaches to the house etc... Sharp eyes will notice that instead of a kitchen wing there's what looks like a three sided conservatory coming off the dining room on the left. It looks as though it sports large half-round stained glass windows, with lattice work in the lower sashes. I would consider living on take-out for the rest of my days if someone offered to rebuild it for me.

Courtesy of The Frick Collection

We can also see the reason for the mismatched windows in the guest bedroom and library - it's because they're not original! Actually, they're original, they're just not in their original locations. After the addition was tacked on they took the windows that were blocked and added them to other locations on the house. This also explains why the bedroom is missing it's linen press, and why there are so few built-ins downstairs - they were removed in favor of additional windows.

We're also able to see our front stained glass windows on the stair landing for the first time. Staring at them till my eyes bled revealed that the middle sashes are a branch and leaf design (the pair are inverses of one another), while the lower sashes seem to have a garland design. I have no idea what the transoms could be though. These pictures reveal just how much stained glass has been lost from the house - the only remaining pieces are the third floor windows, which are blessedly intact. Besides those, we're missing at least 11 stained glass windows. The shards of colored glass in our yard can't account for that many windows - the thought that there were likely sold off and are now installed elsewhere brings me to tears...

Courtesy of The Frick Collection

A quick rundown of other changes, there's one dormer instead of two, obviously the porch (although you can see another set of stairs winding under the stair bay which is very interesting), the enormous wrought iron fence on the stone base, the shed over what used to be the basement entrance (again explaining some strange architecture), and the terracotta cresting. The cresting is still visible on the initial antique photo we found, although the corner pieces are gone by that time. We can be fairly certain now that our initial photo dates to around the second time the house was listed for sale around 1915, since it was sporting a considerable number of Colonial Revival "updates," including the cream paint job and paneled porch railings.

In the distance through the snow, now with the kitchen addition
Courtesy of The Frick Collection

The last thing worth mentioning is the strangest tidbit of all. The day before we found the Frick Collection I had a dream in which Mr. Kelly took me on the tour of the house - I've never had a dream like this before. It was quite clear to me in the dream that this tour was something special (akin to a behind the scenes historic home tour). The only thing I remember quite clearly is Mr. Kelly walking me around the back of the house, and my thinking of how lucky I was. While I don't remember what I saw in my dream, I do remember being absolutely ecstatic about it. A few days later, and these pictures are mine....

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

finishing up

So, this may be the first time that I've ever written an appropriate follow up post. I was trying to convince myself that I should wait on the picture taking until I had done things like clean the floor and dust - but realistically, that would just have delayed a post indefinitely. So, pictures????

redwood burl clocks made by my grandfather

armoire not tall enough? add leather trunks!

As you can see, we're halfway done with repainting (dark reddish brown to blue). The dark brown was done to make sure we could live with that color when the time comes to replicate the original anaglypta.

poppy pods, sparrows and moths - aesthetic movement designed just for me

We actually love the color, but once we started refinishing our temporary woodwork everything just blended together. This won't be an issue in the future, between the cherry woodwork, and the luminescent metallic wallpaper, this room will be dark and elegant once more... In the meantime, the tealish blue will do nicely (the color is juniper ash).

still need another coat of shellac and paint.... and so much stripping....
check out my dog gate and dead plant!
a stunning church pew recently given to us

one of many overloaded barristers at our house
Finally found this print at an estate sale, so filthy I had to clean it with a razor blade

Obviously we're still missing things like an entry door, vestibule, overmantel and too many other things to list. But in the meantime, I'll settle for refinishing the floors and rest of the woodwork and getting the painting finished. Small steps (at least until I win the lottery or inherit the estate of a Nigerian prince).

Friday, August 22, 2014

finishing (something)

Finishing projects isn't something that happens around here.  Every square inch of house requires major work, much of which will be costly future projects.  In the meantime we work on the structural and stabilization aspects, and then apply a bit of lipstick and salvage to make everything look passable in the meantime. Our stairs are a prime example of this.  We lived in the house for a year before deciding that the roundabout route to get upstairs was intolerable.  As I've mentioned before, the house was split into a multi-family in the '20's, at which time the ornate stairs, entryway, and most of the woodwork was removed (see this post and this one if you've not read along from the beginning).

the route to get up the stairs

looking up the stairs in the addition
looking down into the addition
After finishing the first round of structural work we didn't touch the stairs for over a year besides just patching the plaster.  It was only when we had friends with a baby coming back in March that I got the itch to make them prettier.  What we were working with were the very beat up pine treads we reused from the 1920's stairs that were removed, a salvage newel post, and qswo handrails we had salvaged from two different houses.  

As you can see, they were rough...  They still had the outline of the rubber treads I had removed, and were covered in worn paint (as well as the requisite holes and splintering wood).  The treads got sanded by hand with my orbital sander, with 60, 80 and 120 grit.  Since the risers would have been a bear to clear finish, they got sanded with 80 in preparation for paint.  

 As you can imagine, this turned my house into a dust bowl, since there is no feasible way of sealing off two runs of stairs that span a three story house.  Obviously I was thinking very clearly when I decided to undertake this project two weeks before we had guests.

Did I mention I also decided it was the appropriate time to strip the ornate newel post and the handrails?

Needless to say, it's six months later, and the project is only now finishing up.  Hopefully the sun will come out today and I can try to take some halfway decent photos - hey, there's a first for everything right?

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

in the churchyard

We've been working!

But there are no pictures as yet, so you'll just have to take my word for it....  But in other happenings, last week things were on fire!  Literally....

We felt a strange vibration in the house, and the lights flickered so we went to look outside.  A few houses up part of a tree had come down (on a sunny calm day) bringing down a power line.  The line proceeded to catch fire, and eventually the transformers on either side caught fire as well.  While our local fire department was there almost immediately, they couldn't do anything except watch the flames until the power company showed up over a half hour later.  Thankfully there was no damage to cars or houses, but it's a strange feeling to watch ones power lines burn and spark....

When we walked by the next day there was another discovery, there was an active honey bee colony in the tree - we joked that maybe this was where all our swarms were coming from, only to witness an epic battle of the swarms the following day at our house.  It looks as though the bees from the fallen tree attempted to move into our current hive in the porch column, resulting in utter chaos and all out war.

As for the last of today's updates, while I was going though my hundreds of Charleston photos I came across something interesting - I mean, you can't walk through countless cemeteries without capturing at least one ghost right?

Charleston Unitarian Churchyard ghost?
In the center of the photos you can see an odd cloud of mist behind the headstones, forming in the first photo, and thicker in the second.  My favorite part?  I believe this was in the Unitarian Churchyard, where the story goes that Poe's Annabel Lee (Anna Ravenel) is buried in an unmarked grave.

There will undoubtedly be more Charleston photos in the future, but hopefully I can manage to take enough photos for a real post shortly.  I know the anticipation must be killing you....

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

the back porch

When we bought the house, one of the first things we had to shore up was the two story back porch.  While it was a large and glorious space, the wood was rotting, it was home to thousands of honey bees, and had a variety of odd patches and makeshift walls.  There's no way of knowing what would have been here originally, but we did find a fair number of artifacts in the dirt under the porch, including the decorative iron brackets to the original screen door.  Our guess is that the brick replaced the original decorative woodwork...

Luckily, the three brick columns added in during the 1920's conversion to multi-family were stable and well-built, and the brick used was even a good match to the original brick of the house.  The first thing we did was tear off the bizarre attempt at a stud wall and remains of the fence picket railing on the second floor (first that is after taking care of the bee problem)...  After that we patched the rotted original floorboards on the second floor, and rebuilt the first floor porch from scratch, reusing as much of the original wood as was possible and moving the stairs from the side to the front, giving us a nice sitting area.

second floor "railing" there was only this one section...

Although the ends of the fir tongue and groove boards were rotten, we figured out that they were all reusable if we cut off the rot, and made up for the shorter lengths by laying a border around the perimeter - doing this just required extra framing underneath to attach it to.  This wood is far better than anything you could buy today, it was a shame we ended up painting it.  

After building a railing to satisfy the bank's requirements, we let it sit.  And sit and sit and sit.  At the time we did the work there was no money to buy nice materials, so we had to make due with 2x4's and salvaged spindles.  Coming up with a design that looked decent and met building code was more than a little bit aggravating.

2x4 Victorian railing with salvage spindles and newel posts

Truthfully, I'm not all that pleased with it, which may be the reason I put off doing any more work on it.  Now that it's not falling off, we won't be investing any money into it anytime soon, so it was time to try and prettify it somewhat.  We straightened some of the pieces that had warped, and renailed others with the better nail guns we now own.  After that we scrubbed the railings with bleach (actually my mom did last time she was here), and after everything was dry we primed and caulked all the joints.  Finally, 2 years after we built them, we painted....  Although we still haven't finished the second floor since some bees have moved back in *sigh*

Next time, the door...

But as ugly as the porch has been, it's had to argue with view like this out your kitchen window while you're doing the dishes....

Friday, August 8, 2014

paint it black

If I learned one thing in Charleston, it's that anything in a garden looks better painted black.  Were it not so late in the summer already I'd be playing out a goth version of Wonderland's Queen of Hearts, only with a black paintbrush instead of red.  Being that we've made little progress on the schoolhouse, that little fantasy will have to wait until next year....

Although we've been getting back into a new routine around here without Jack, I'm too lazy to try and formulate an actual post.  But in an effort to not let the blog whither and die, some pictures from Charleston's Magnolia Plantation...  I still owe them a letter after nearly choking at the sight of the docent walking, and rocking back and forth, on the cracked Victorian hearth tiles (yes, of course I said something) - but other than that it was enchanting, and worth a visit, if only for the adorable petting zoo (I almost took a friendly bantam rooster home in my purse)!