Wednesday, August 2, 2017

curves in all the right places

The most difficult part of the actual construction, building the two curved beams, ended up going quite smoothly.

We looked at lots of options for how to go about creating them, including cutting them out of solid stock, ordering prefab beams, or curving the trim over an angled structure.  None of the prefab companies seemed to guarantee the materials they were using, so given that and the lead times we didn't pursue that any further.

The easiest option turned out being building laminated beams on site.  They're constructed from thin marine plywood cut into strips, screwed, clamped, and laminated together with marine epoxy.  The dimensions were all determined by our engineer.  If you attempt to do this yourself, do not underestimate how many clamps you'll need!

The curve was made by attaching the strips directly to the angled floor joists.  Quite to our surprise, the header beam was built first, using the floor joists to shape it.  Once it had cured they attached it to 2x6's (on edge) to maintain the shape and help lift it, as well as a ratchet strap on the open edge.

 Once it was finished it was moved to the side, and the curved joist was built in it's place.

Lots of work and planning, but straightforward enough.  Now, if only curved handrail were as easy!

Friday, July 28, 2017

porch posts

Our original plan had been to use 6x6 posts to support the porch for the time being (due to budget, naturally).  We were going to chamfer the edges to dress them up a bit, and leave them until we had a chance to mug Toren's tooth fairy for additional funds.

We'll be reinstalling the enormous porch window (the only element saved from the porch we demolished), so we were interested in installing the permanent columns to either side of it.  We wanted to get this done at this stage because pulling out and replacing the temporary columns would be complicated and expensive.

So, quotes were obtained, and as expected, they were disgusting.  One place quoted me 1200 per column for finger-jointed pine.  Another followed up their initial e-mail with another e-mail two days later after I hadn't yet replied with a "was it something I said" e-mail.  Weird.  Even weirder was an incredibly friendly e-mail, with a reasonable quote attached!  The quote was reasonable enough that we're sucking it up and buying all the columns from them, custom 10 foot 8x8s in western red cedar for $550 apiece.  Once they're on site I'll be more specific about the quality, for now I'm cautiously optimistic.

I'm posting the enhanced images here, along with their drawings, just in case your eyes pick up on details we've missed.  You'll notice the incised carvings don't appear on the drawing, that's only because they're unsure if they'll be able to do them.  If they can't our builders will...

Tuesday, July 25, 2017


Those with keen eyes (ahem Ross), will surely have noticed that the porch we happen to be building is not quite the one the house was born with.

But in fact, the beautiful porch photo I'm so fond of posting isn't the porch the house was born with either.

Thornfield, approximately 1915

This grand ol' dame has had some serious work done over the years.

Thornfield, approximately 1886

Then she let herself go entirely...

2010, as purchased (fence was added by us)

Thornfield used to be comprised of a rather large estate, with the house facing down the hill, towards what soon became the Westinghouse Switch and Signal (where Tesla worked in 1888, Nikola Tesla has seen my house!!!).  When Kelly sold the house in 1911, he also subdivided the estate into smaller parcels, both above and below the main house.  These lots continued to be built up with small capes and foursquares until the 30's.  Looking at the historic photo with the white trim, the original porch entrance was under the gable roof on the porch, directly in front of the entry doors, with a hidden stair on the other end of the porch.  The second owners undertook a massive campaign to colonial revivalize the house, and added the gorgeous curved stairs to the gazebo, and closed in the original stairs with a paneled balustrade (and possibly extended the porch deck past the roof).

In this modern age however, neither stair will work.  The first iteration would force people to walk around the entire front of the house, into a very narrow side yard to enter the house.  The second stair actually curves away from the main walking path directly into the path of my favorite oak tree and down a very steep hill.

Hill, Tree, and a long wet walk from the sidewalk and driveway

My solution is to duplicate the original gable on what is now the main facade of the house, closer to the sidewalk and driveway, and adding a bit of detail to what was originally the side of the house.  The entry doors are being rebuilt in their original location. The stairs will be simple and cheap at this stage, at some distant point we'll duplicate the curvaceous stone stairs from the teens.

I don't often say this about substantial changes I'm making to the house, but I feel fairly confident this is the right path.

Sunday, July 23, 2017

have I got updates for you!

I've had a few too many people complement the deck I'm building...

I'm almost to the point of laminating the historic house pictures in all their glory and mounting them in the front yard just so people stop COMPLEMENTING MY FUCKING DECK!!!!

On the other hand, the porch is coming along nicely...

I haven't been writing because the whole process has been completely overwhelming.  Decisions that should be easy are all counterbalanced by our inability to afford building things as they should be.  The starry-eyed fairy me should just be able to wave her wand and have the various woodland creatures (not to mention a toddler who may as well be a wild animal) wield the tools and get to work.  I just can't fathom why people aren't lining up to build it for me.


I'll do my best to start to detail the building process later this week, but for now I need some design help.  The porch roof was originally cedar shakes, these will not be reinstated.  In an ideal world I'd use the synthetic slates, which would match the main roof, but allow us to walk on them when necessary for gutter cleaning and Christmas lights.  Those however, are way out of budget.  This leaves us with asphalt.  When we bought the house we were told that very little of the original slate would be salvageable due to it's age and how much of it was coated with tar.

We got an excellent price on new blue slates, and used these on the angles not seen from the front of the house - since we thought most of the slate would be this blue slate, we used matching blue-green asphalt on the back of the house and the schoolhouse.  Well, much to everyone's surprise, our slates turned out to be Buckingham, and were in much better condition than anyone believed possible.  So, I have a patchwork roof of blue and black. This was a screw-up of epic proportions that I can't forgive myself for, and it makes choosing shingles very difficult.  The roofs remaining are the porch and front and back of the kitchen wing.  We have enough original Buckingham for the front of the kitchen wing, so the decision is whether to match the porch roof to the blue or the black.  I'm leaning towards this shingle to match the Buckingham.  It has a nice mix of dark gray and black, with a bit of red that matches staining from years of industrial pollution.

So, am I on the right track?

Friday, March 10, 2017

the porch begins

So sure, removing a window may not seem like a big deal...  But it signifies that the porch is really, finally, thankfully, going forward.  At nearly 8x10, it's also not just any window.  Other than clearing out a spot in the schoolhouse, I did not have to be involved in the delicate task in the least, which holds a perverse sort of pleasure.

While the window isn't original to the house (it dates to the split in the 20's), it's quite lovely and will serve a valuable purpose.  As mentioned before, and in great evidence this week, the weather roars up the hill like a freight train and pummels that side of the house.  The window will be mounted on the far side of the porch adjacent to the front doors, so it will offer them some degree of protection.  It'll also help protect the mail women from the attentions of our giant dog.

Now that the window is safely away we're free to begin demolition.  We used the last warm day this week (and for the foreseeable future) to take down the beadboard ceiling.  It seems clear that this was definitely salvaged from the original porch, and is *squeal* double-sided, which means no paint-stripping!  We have two decent piles of salvaged beadboard, and we're hopeful that one of them will prove to be a match.  If so, and paired with the other front porch that's coming down, we may have just enough to complete the new porch.

And if you're wondering about the resurgence of winter, well, you have me to thank.  A couple of weeks ago we took off the stops on the triple windows in the big room on the third floor - I've been slowly finishing the room, including stripping the paint.

While I won't be able to restore the sashes till summer, I wanted to get as much taken care of now so it can get light use as a guest room.  I knew the move was presumptive, but as a couple of glorious spring-like weeks passed, I thought I had outsmarted the cold.  As it turns out, snow just laughs when you take the stops away from windows that are actively decomposing, missing glass, and have no glazing putty.  Given the snow on the floor, and the chimney effect sucking the heat out of the house, I took down the velvet portieres from the parlor and hung them in front of the windows...  Winter.  Outsmarted....

Thursday, February 16, 2017

Villa Vizcaya

My husband's grandmother unexpectedly passed last week, which brought us to Miami for several days.  We all needed to get out of the house for a bit, so we took advantage of some beautiful weather to head to the Deering Estate to clear our heads.  Although we tried to go more than once while living in Miami, it was always closed for events.  They were setting up for a huge wedding while we were there (likely costing far more than we make in a year), but it didn't ruin the visit, just the photos...  While the photos aren't great, I'd say they're not bad for wrangling a toddler, and that same teething boy is the reason not a single one is edited!

Villa Vizcaya was begun in 1914, and the main house was finished in 1916.  It contains countless antiquities brought over from Europe, including a stone console purportedly from Pompeii.  As usual, you're better off getting the history from Wikipedia, but here are some photos  including many details that caught my attention.  The estate was restored by the original decorator in 1934 following the Miami Hurricane of 1926, with the intention of opening it as a museum.

marble drain in the courtyard

the flower room

the iron fireback was a phoenix 

telephone closet

beautiful call bells throughout

you can see the toilet in the corner

even museums have water damage...

dragon curtain tieback

stunning paint color combinations 

there are no less than three butler's pantries in the house

stone console from Pompeii 

hidden air intake 

 These photos refused to behave and let themselves be put in any sort of order, so oh well.  But as you can see, the house was built in the prime time of early technologies.  Servants bells, each with a unique pull, call buttons, annunciators, dumbwaiters, a variety of electric switches, and one of my favorite things - engraved switchplates.  Not to mention a telephone closet for Ross...