Saturday, July 21, 2018

An Improved Step Up

No, nothing was wrong with the carpet runner on the stairs. Sure it was old and dirty, but I could have cleaned it. Its worst offense—it was ugly. Right off the Home Depot rack. Uninspired. Ordinary (I do not have time to be ordinary). Not really in keeping with my aesthetic for the house.

This is what the previous owners put on the stairs. Sure it's better than the wall-to-wall light beige carpet that was there (threads of that carpet were still clinging to the stairs under this one.) but it's so uninspired and ordinary. 

Armed with ebay and a few evenings time, I started looking for replacement runners for both flights of stairs (the shorter, wider flight from the main floor to a landing, then the longer, narrower flight continuing up to the second floor.) I was not about to buy something off a huge roll at a big box store.

I carefully measured a tread and riser, did a little math, and figured the length of the runners needed.

What I discovered online were myriad amazing, colorful, rich and affordable rugs—I felt like a sultan as I imagined myself wrapped in these gorgeous colors, patterns and textures. I dreamed of myself in Eugène Delacroix  and Jean-Léon Gérôme paintings. I started looking for rugs for other rooms .... ok, back to the task.

Finally, as with most of my fantastical dreams, reality dumped on me. I forgot to measure the width of the stairs. where in the hell was I going to find a 2 x 16 foot runner? This proved to be pretty disheartening since 100% of the rugs I loved were a few inches too wide.

Start over.

I became a little obsessive, but determined. A few long rugs started showing up that suited the super-narrow width of the second flight of stairs—a rug for that flight proved to be the more difficult task. As runners get longer, they tend to get wider, too, but more beautiful. Wider rugs offered more visual space for complex patterns and color relationships. 

I carried on.

Finally, I found 2 rugs that would fit and were reasonably related to one another visually. One is antique, the other new. Both are woven in north west Iran (the BEST, most beautiful rugs are from Iran ...). The antique Heriz I chose will go on the lower flight. The new Karajeh is installed on the upper flight. We saved the old rug because both of these runners are so beautiful that if ever we move, we're putting them back on—these 2 runners are coming with us.

During my online search I discovered many informational websites helping me better understand the rugs of Iran's patterns, colors, textures and traditions. I am severely novice and hope to continue learning more about this fascinating art.

Tearing off the old runner took all of 5 minutes. Picking out all of the remaining staples took 2 hours. The tread padding was in good condition and the tack strips were good, so I kept those to reuse for the new runner.


The stairs were filthy. I vacuumed, washed and finally recoated them with shellac. The red scratchy looking paint above the baseboard will be covered with Lincrusta and finished to look like carved wood, so no worries there.

After removing the old rug and cleaning the stairs, existing rug pads and tack strips (both in good shape so I reused them), I quickly recoated stairs and baseboard with shellac. Best time to do that kind of stuff is when nothing is in the way—start fresh and clean. Ya know?

Next came getting the runner positioned. It is about 12 inches longer than needed. Following both Nineteenth Century and current recommendations, I folded under the excess at the end in the event I need to reposition the rug later—exposing fresh pile. I loosely placed the rug on the stairs, adjusted it so the edges were reasonably straight along the wall and spindles, and began fitting it into the angles and smoothing it out by hand.

Finally, once I had it in place and looking pretty good (adjusting the rug up and down to get some of the medallions placed strategically, I began pushing it onto the tack strips. I added a few staples to each stair—mostly in the intersection of the tread and riser to hold it in place. A quick vacuum and voila - new gorgeous stairs.

Overall after photo of the Karajah rug in place

Closer photo showing the patterns and colors. My stairs are pretty dark, even in the daytime, so this image is a little under lit.

Photo from the top down so you can see how intriguing the pattern appears as it falls together across the up and down of the stairs.

Friday, December 29, 2017

Am I Beginning To See Chandelier Doubles ?

Not long ago, I was super fortunate to not only find, but win a pair of 1880s kerosene chandeliers in an online auction. Best of all, they were at an auction house that was within driving distance from my house.

Untouched since they were hung in the 1880s, the glass is in perfect condition, save two chimneys that need to be replaced. Fonts, shades, burners, all working and undamaged. It was pretty exciting for me since I have wanted a pair like this for a while.

Photo from the auction site of one of the pair of matching lights.


Hung on large hooks in the ceiling, the lights have a pulley system that permits the person refilling the fonts with kerosene, cleaning the chimneys, or trimming wicks, to lower them so they can be reached from the floor.

The pulley system is pretty cool, and it still worked when I got the lights. A "button" on the bottom of the light allows the user to raise or lower the light. Pretty remarkable after 140 years.

So Now What Do I Do With Them?

As the owner of some pretty fantastical things, I often contend with the question: how do I incorporate these into my everyday living conditions? For lights, of course, electricity is far easier and safer than burning kerosene. And I can flip a wall switch with electricity to see into the room, rather than walking in, lowering the chandelier, lighting each burner, raising it, then worrying about soot, fire, damage, etc. But ... Here are untouched period lighting pieces—who am I to damage them to make them serviceable, today?

I have been carefully researching the best way to electrify them since we picked them up in a rented SUV. I talked with a professional chandelier dealer who restores the lights herself. She had cleaned and electrified a few in a similar style, about which she shared her expertise.

After much soul and internet searching, I concluded that the best and safest way is the following. This will leave the in nearly untouched condition and they quickly can be put back into kerosene use at any time.

How Lucky Does this Invention Make Me?

Thankfully, a small patented interior hunk-o-hardware makes restoring these so much easier. Each arm of most chandeliers is permanently fixed to the body of the light by solder or screws (that typically rust and corrode over time and tend to be nearly impossible to remove.) In spring of 1882, a small invention was patented to hold chandelier arm in place. This little device is used in these lights and hides within the central body of the light to hold each arm of the chandelier in place with a tiny thumbscrew. The device as well as the end of each hollow arm is accessible by lifting a small "cap" (I think it's called a break) in the central cluster body. In fact, each thumbscrew is labeled with a tiny, numbered tag. How fantastic was the person who did that?

Close up view of the patented chandelier arm device. the blue stuff is "twisties"to mark which arms belong where.

With this device in place, coupled with the hollowness of the arms of the chandelier, I have a pretty direct approach to adding electrical wiring through the arms and into the body of the piece. Within that space, I will be able to connect the wires from all four arms into a single wire that will go up to the electrical box in the ceiling from where the chandelier is hung.

As noted in blue, the cap of the central body easily lifts (its a bit wonky in the photo) to expose tiny thumb screws that permit each of the four arms to slide out of the chandelier.

Adding new screw-in electrified kerosene lamp burners to each font then wrapping the electric wire around the font and down to the chandelier arm, I can run the wire through the arm into the cluster body.  I do, however, need to do a little damage. It makes me sad that I will need to drill a tiny hole in each arm to permit the wire to drop into it. With care and a good bit of disassembly, I can position the hole so if returned to kerosene use, it will not be seen. The hole does not interfere with nor change the use of the chandeliers for burning kerosene.

Parts of the first disassembled chandelier washed, but not cleaned.


What About the Glass?

Before beginning the disassembly of the brass parts of the chandeliers, I took apart the glass shades, chimneys, brass burners and glass fonts. All parts were cleaned but no brass was polished (I kept the aged appearance of the fonts, even though they will be replaced by new electrified burners in the final chandelier assembly.) Dawn dishwashing liquid removed a century of smoke, dried kerosene and gunk without the need for other more aggressive cleaners. Many feel Dawn is a fairly aggressive cleaner, but I find its almost necessary when things are as filthy as these were (not just plain dirt, but greasy, staining kind of dirt.)

There are more than 250 crystal prisms and I washed and dried each one. All will be inspected to see if the tiny wire connectors need replacing. The chains of crystals are in good condition with a few small repairs needed.







The shades are made in a pattern generally termed hobnail, or coin dot. The shape of each shade is commonly called a fishbowl (the shape I find most appealing) and is fairly uncommon. The four glass shades on the lights are each a different color and both chandeliers have the same set of four mixed color shades. The colors are typical nineteenth century colors: cobalt blue, ruby red (which gets its color from the addition of pure gold to the glass), amber gold, and acid green, also called Vaseline or Uranium glass because it contains radioactive Uranium. It glows incredibly bright green under black light.

Shades in Acid Green and Cobalt blue shine in the afternoon sun after a quick wash.

The fonts were crusty with old kerosene. It cleaned out pretty easily with some Dawn dishwashing liquid and a stiff bottle brush. The chimneys are very fragile and of an unusual shape. Original to the chandeliers, there are 2 that need to be replaced. They are small and squat and as far as I can see, not reproduced. Guess I'll be haunting eBay and online auction sites for a while. Thankfully, I can hang and use the chandeliers without the replacement chimneys.

Next Steps

To complete reassembly of the lights I need to get some threaded lamp pipe to connect all of the parts. The original pulleys and central poles will be archived in the event they ever are needed. The fonts sit within shallow brass cups at the end of each arm. In my rebuild, I am looking at using museum putty, a very sticky clay-like substance, or some kind of archival glue to hold the fonts in the cups so they don't accidentally fall out. A fall would put extraordinary stress on the electrical set up of the lights and possibly short out the system. I don't need a fire hazard like that.

Stay tuned for the final assembly and hanging. I cant wait to flip that wall switch and see these light up.




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.