Tuesday, August 8, 2017

Screen Door Summer Time

Can you even imaging an old historic home with a screen door "that" color?

Like most homes, we have a "back door" that opens into the kitchen. Unlike many, though, we have a screen door, too, that makes airing out the kitchen after a peach jam cooking marathon a bit easier.

The screen door was painted bright teal in the late 90s when the rest of the exterior of the house was painted. It was hideous. We painted the exterior 2 years ago and I did not have a minute to remove, repair and paint the screen door. So last weekend, with a plan and a bunch of hardware, I took down the screen door and set out for a 2-day clean-and-install for the screen door. That was a great plan, but it took a full 9 days to make happen.

Heres what happened

Popping out the hinge pins easily removed the door from the jamb—there were only 2 out of 3 remaining, anyway. The first task was removing the hinge hardware (I had removed all other screws, springs and handles during the week before so I didn't have to do that on the weekend). Of course the screws had thick globs of paint in the slots to ensure a high-level of difficulty and a greater chance of stabbing myself with the screwdriver or mat knife as I scraped clean the slots to turn out the screws.

Removing trim wood and screen wasn't too tough. The slim trim used to cover the staples holding the screen in place popped right off and the mutilated screen came out pretty simply.

Once that was done I turned to scraping the door of some/most of the paint. Old latex and a super sunny day made for a sticky gummy job scraping and sanding.

Once the screen door was out of the opening, the damage under the screen trim could be seen.

The screen was barely held in place by staples, so removing them was fairly easy.

The back door has always had a doorbell. Red paint was used in combination with that bright teal (ugh).
This strip of wood was added at some point to the door jamb. I doubt it is original to the house, but makes for a great place for attaching hinges.

Under the bright teal paint I found only one other layer of paint: original black asphalt paint. Made from petroleum products and used on roads and roofs, this black paint is still available today and is a great waterproofer, as well as a sure way to gum-up tons of sandpaper if you're trying to remove it in the sun ... when It does sand, it covers you in black soot—lots and lots of black soot—everywhere black ...

Next came patching all the holes and repairing the tack area for the screen as well as I could. It had been shredded a bit from the last few times the door was re-screened, and needed a little reinforcement. White glue can do in a pinch, but I use Water Putty for most of these small repairs, now. You can mix only what you need, to the consistency you need. It's a fairly good consolidate on not badly damaged wood like this, especially if a little white glue is thrown in, and its pretty tough once primed and painted. Time to let that cure.

One odd thing I noticed while scraping and sanding and patching was that the chamfers on the upper part of the door stiles didn't end in the "lamb's tongue" as they should—they stopped dead at the top rail. After thinking on this for a while, I realized that the door had been reduced in height at some point—most likely when the glass transom above the door was removed and the kitchen exhaust fan added in the 40's. They built out a box to support the fan motor and in doing so reduced the height of the door jamb by about 18 inches. That required reducing the height of the screen door, too.

No time to rest. Attention next turned to the door jamb. The other half of the old hinges needed removing and the holes and mortises needed to be patched. Globs of bright red paint covered the screw heads. A few other patches were needed since PO had nailed something all over the hinge side. At least they removed the nails. People are weird.

Patches made, I ran down to check on how the patches on the door were coming. Since they were mostly dry I sanded what I could, left the rest to cure, and started on the hardware.

The hardware was a collection of pieces from eBay, antique shows and junk shops that I was determined should all match. All Eastlake in design, it was all purchased in bits, rather than sets, so collecting matching items was a little time consuming. 12 corner braces, 2 matching handles, 2 matching surface mounted hinges, a couple of bolts and hooks to secure the door. Most of it needed to have the paint removed, some of it needed to have the worn brass coating removed. All of it needed a good spin on the wire brush ride to add some shine and to "gussy-it-up." The hardware was all cast iron except for the screws and eye hooks, which are brass. I like the way the iron and brass look together—it feels tougher, more masculine. And in true restorer's form, I use only slotted screws when I replace things like this.

Whew ... Time for a quick run

After I got back from running I was really dog-tired. I had worked on this for 6-hours-straight and still was behind my planned schedule. I needed to at least finish the sanding, get some primer on both the door and jamb so it could dry overnight, and coat the hardware to waterproof it a little.

Finished up the day with a run to Lowes to pick up screws, screening, and those slim little strips of wood that cover the edges of the screen where it's stapled to the door.

Day 2

I woke up early and trudged out to sand the primer I put on the door the night before, without even getting any coffee. I still planned to get the door up before the end of the day. A couple coats of paint went on well enough, flipping it and moving it out of the sun. The door is painted a color I designed for our last house's front porch floor, hence it's name: "Porch Floor Green." I wanted a dark yellow-based green that was nearly black without being black, and with no blue sheen or tint. Most paint companies make their green darker by adding blue, thereby making the green too blue to work well with the other colors I used. Its a great color that ages really well and fades (in the sun) to a dull yellowish-grey-green.

The door jamb got painted, too. Oh wait ... I still need to cut the strips to cover the screen-ends ... and paint them ... ugh.

Change of plan

So now I knew I wouldn't get the door hung before the end of the day, Sunday. But I still worked till dark to get it as far along as possible, including spray painting the screen to look like it's bronze (have you priced bronze screening?  It's ridiculous, but looks so good. Spray paint is the next best thing)

On the following Saturday morning I was able to cut and paint all of the little strips of wood for covering the staples. Attached them with brass screws along with the iron corner braces on Sunday morning, and attached the handles, too. Then, started the final stage of hanging the door. With a batch of shims in hand I slipped the door into the opening and started balancing the spaces around it with the shims. Of course it was out of square, but I got it to a place where it wouldn't bind and the hinges would attach well, so that was good with me.

Just so you don't think I was taking it easy, this same second weekend of work I also bought, peeled and prepped a basket of peaches and made 11 quarts of peach jam. Why do I want so much?

Attaching surface mount hinges is pretty simple, so of course I screwed it up. When I was about to screw in the first hinge at the top of the door, one of my antique cast iron hinges slipped and dropped onto the stone step under the door, snapping off one of the arms that holds the pin in place. It was useless, since a repair would never render it as strong as it needs to be to hold up a door. After a short cry and some foot stomping, I went to the box where I have old hardware on the third floor and dug out the hinges I was "saving" for the front screen door. This time I was more careful to avoid dropping and got them successfully attached.

The one unbroken "back door" hinge. Im on the hunt for a pair of them to use on the front door (I'll need 3 since the door is so much heavier).

One of the "front door" hinges in place on the back door. Love these hinges. Love those colors. It's all pretty yummy to me.

One of a pair of solid iron Eastlake-style handles. These are pretty tough to find. Most of the handle that aook like this are hollow in back, or are reproduction. Sometimes it pays to be eBay obsessive.

The final adjustments were to add the interior handle (you have to be sure to position it so the screen door and main door handles won't interfere with one another) and add a little hook and eye catch to use daytimes when we have the main door open.

Screen door corner braces. Originally intended to add support to flimsy screen doors, these are used here only for decorative purposes. 

Back door doorbell. Yeah - it's original to the house. Apparently, in 1905, the delivery person would bring packages to the back door for drop off, ringing the bell to let the servant know the package was here, or to collect payment. One day, I might restore the wiring to it. It doesn't work for now.

All that metal ... so pretty.

Tuesday, May 30, 2017

Library's Open

 Finally some photos from the 2-year long transformation of our "new" library.

This room is the original nursery of the house: or so we believe. All decor (it has been redecorated more than any other room in the house) appear to be child-related. The most recent ones definitely were (including Sleeping Beauty, Cinderella, Harry Potter, and Star Wars themes.) And the original wallpaper was a pink and blue abstract design with a gilt pattern. That pink and blue pattern was not at all what I expected to find adhered to the bare plaster. The woodwork in the room has always been painted—there is no stain or clear finish on the wood under layers and layers of paint.

This room had a lot of damage, too. Water, plaster issues, floor damage and electrical issues add up to the reason it's taken us 2 years to (almost) complete it.

There are some paint touch ups to do. And I need to find a long (looooong) paint brush to paint the wall behind the radiator. And a yet-to-be-done electrical repair. We also have some things to put into place, including photos and other framed art.

Let me know what you think.

This is the room as it appeared when we purchased the house. That's a Harry Potter border running around the middle of the room.

Scraping layers of wallpaper and repairing tons of damage to the walls was very time consuming.
Original wallpaper scraps

The big patch on the ceiling and wall where the chimney from the fireplace below leaked - for decades. There were about 35 small patches made over the years in this one area.

More of a storage space during renovation.

Adding "panelling" and patching more damaged plaster next to the window. I use Water Putty (the tan spot on the wall) for a lot of my patching - it never shrinks and as long as you oil prime it, it can be used successfully outdoors.

It's a pretty moody room. Dark, cool and perfect for reading, studying or getting real work done. Two desks—a drop-front and a cylinder desk—allow for easy and separate working.

We love to add beautiful fireplace mantles where there aren't fireplaces (see the Parlor). I have yet to install the sconces, so for now the wires and electrical boxes are hanging out with the pelican.

Saturday, May 27, 2017

Sneaking Into the Library

Worked all day to get the library ready for the upcoming house tour. Soon I'll post a full recap of what happened in there as we turned the 110 year old nursery into a sombre library. Here are some sneak peaks until then.  Hope you enjoy.

A cozy place to sit while you work.

Look kids, a web-footed birdie.

Keeping papers in order with an Eastlake-style paperweight.

Springbok ... nuff said ...

Lighting up the desk in a nineteenth century way.

Thursday, May 25, 2017

A Quick Look Back

Over the past few months we have been working "gangbusters" to get the house ready for a house tour next week. It's down to the wire and there's still a lot to be done. (How good are you at sanding? Are you free this weekend?)

In preparation for the tour, a new photo of the house was taken. Looking at it I can see all that we have accomplished over the past 3 years. I thought you might like to see how much has changed.

  • Scraped and painted the whole exterior (ok, I have one window in the back of the house to paint, but the frame requires a little rebuild work, so it's still red. Seriously, though: who paints their house red white and blue?)
  • Removed all of the aluminum flashing, repaired and in some places replaced missing wood trim in as original fashion as possible (2 spots still hold onto the flashing, but I'll remove those soon.)
  • Pulled out, repaired, and painted the porch lattice panels (right, the one in front isn't back in place in this photo. It's in the garage awaiting some final touches.)
  • Yanked out all of the overgrown sad shrubbery all around the house. 
  • Planted rose and perennial gardens, and installed a Japanese tea garden.
  • Put a whole new roof on the day after we moved in.
  • New gutters, too
  • That's a new porch light, too.
  • Replaced a broken cement walk way with a spiffy brick one (the bricks were courtesy of the back yard where a brick garden bed edge was found under layers of soil and weed fabric. In some places the bricks were 3-deep.)
  • Those urns were installed 2 summers ago.
  • Chimneys cleaned and repaired. Some new caps were added to thwart off water infiltration.

And those were just the big things on the outside. Can't wait for a look back next spring. Here's the before and after photos, cause, admit it, we all love these things:

How sad this Google Maps photo is. 

Tuesday, May 16, 2017

Plain to Fancy

Like most old houses (in our neighborhood) we have glass in the front door. It's Oak, super strong, reinforced with old beveled tempered hurricane glass. It needs some finish work after years of being exposed to the elements (a couple years ago I slathered on a few coats of shellac just as a temporary preventative.)

Unlike most of the doors in the neighborhood, ours has plain glass. Theirs have leaded, etched, patterned designs and I am jealous of them. When we moved in there were gathered cafe-style curtains cinched up top and bottom to provide a little privacy. But they were dusty, dingy grey and came down a few hours after moving in. We've lived in plain view of all the neighbors for years since.

To provide that privacy we lost with the curtains, I had in mind an etched pattern, similar to many I see on the paired interior doors of Italianate homes. I dug through my archives of patterns and found a greco-style pattern of anthemion and greek key that would do nicely on the front door. A fanciful explosion of Neo Grec stuff. I designed it in Adobe Illustrator, but I never had the pattern cut to do the etching.

Then a spark of genius: Why etch it when I can get a gigantic faux frosted glass vinyl sticker made. I won't harm the original glass, and its so much less messy. And being the consummate DIY-er, what if I screwed it up while I was doing the etching? I could barely mess up a giant sticker.

Procrastination Pays Off

I waited nearly a year to contact a local sign maker. When I did, I got a great price for cutting the vinyl. I stopped in their shop and chose the translucent vinyl (that mimics frosted glass) and got ready to send in the Illustrator file I created.

Then I created an even better design of an Eastlake-style flower in a pot. I struggled to create the highly symmetrical design in Illustrator in a timely manner since there's that house tour coming up in a couple of weeks. I was even able to incorporate the house number into the design. Many of the old houses in my "hood" have gilt and black painted house numbers in the transom above the front door, similar to ones I know you have seen in San Francisco row houses. We have leaded glass in that location and cannot put the number up there. The number, too, is cut vinyl in a metallic gold color and black. I simply layered the vinyl to get he appearance of back painted glass house numbers (the back is solid black, just the way the original gold-leaf numbers are)

It took about 4 hours to install the huge sticker, after watching many You Tube videos of just how to do it. It's tricky, but not difficult. The flower is cut out to expose the clear glass. Thanks Chris (from Precision Signs) for sending a whole bunch of extra leaf veins. At about 1/8-1/16 of an inch thick, they tore pretty easily, so it was good to have the extras for replacement.

If I tire of this design, I can change it. Maybe one day I can buck-up and etch the design onto the glass and actually gild the number. Until then, this looks pretty darned nice.

Thursday, April 27, 2017

Enjoying Spring in the Japanese Garden

When we bought our old stone house the gardens were thicketed, dried-up, overgrown messes. The front yard was plastered with untrimmed shrubs and the back yard, wow ... what a mess. I awaited spring when we first moved in to see if I could salvage any of the plants. Except for a couple of azaleas, fully-grown Magnolia and Dogwood trees, and one tilted sad looking huge Japanese maple, there was nothing worth saving. That sad old lilac spent her life sharing root and air space with the more successful maple. Her last batch of sumptuous flowers graced the parlor that first spring.

Since I had to essentially start over, and with my passion for Japanese, I sprung for a rugged, Wabi Sabi Japanese inner tea garden. There are 3 parts to a classical tea garden, the outer, middle and inner gardens. The distinction of the innermost garden is that it is the most natural. No clipped shrubs, very little color, and it looks and feels its best sopping wet.

I sketched out a rough layout incorporating the three large trees, added in a dry creek, and created undulating surface from what was a dead-flat yard filled with bricks (2-bricks-deep edging, all over) and landscape fabric (3 layers of it with an inch of soil between each.)

The garden will take years, maybe decades, to get to the point I envision, but here are some spring photos of the textures and color I have introduced. Hope you enjoy.

This tiny fern was one my neighbor didn't want any longer.

I add moss every chance I get.

Japanese Maple Shishigashira

Prized Japanese Maple Shirisawarum Aurum

Sensitive Ferns

Japanese Maple Koto No Ito. This is a Linearlobum type, whose leaves are little more than threads.

Service Berry, a native tree that blooms sparkling white in spring, gets violet berries in summer, copper foliage in autumn, and silver grey bark in winter. Its the perfect small tree.

Lungwort, the perfect plant for shade.

Huge Blue Hosta


This is not moss ... I am looking for what this tiny volunteer plant is. its lovely and always looks waxy and wet.

The trunk of the Japanese Maple that I inherited. Its growing into a good tree, albeit, with a ton of work.

Ruby Azaleas from a neighbor.

Dawn Redwood

Japanese Maple Ryu Sen

Japanese Maple Viridis in bloom. Those intense crimson flowers are about 2 millimeters across.

Japanese White Pine