Tuesday, March 15, 2016

Bath Remodel (Part 4 of 4)

Finally the last bits of stuff are in place in the first floor bathroom redo.

See previous entries: Part 1Part 2; and Part 3

The upper part of the walls was covered in a textured wall covering that needs to be painted. I tried a wash technique to emphasize the texture but it just looked dirty. I ended up painting it a tint of the lower wall color. The lighting in the room is strong enough to let the texture show clearly.

The first floor bath primarily is used by guests so we gave it a slightly more formal, and age-appropriate, style. To that end, I found a great ebonized hanging cabinet to repeat the other ebonized furniture in the house. All it needed was a good waxing and it looks great. Now to find some goodies to show off on the shelves and in the glass cabinet. 

The antique cast iron oil lamp sconces on either side of the medicine cabinet/mirror were wired for electric. They originally burned oil/kerosene. The milk glass shades are antique, too. 

We weren't able to afford a new floor (rip out the old tile, put in new) so we kept the not too threatening white and maroon tile floor we inherited. I'm not a fan of the particular shade of maroon—very 1980s, so to decrease its appearance I added a good bit of dark walnut wood items and am using only deep amber (brown) glass for storing toiletries (soap, mouthwash, cough drops, etc.). This has a net affect of making the maroon of the floor appear to be purposeful, more of a dark brown and less offensive/dated.

The huge walnut mirror was hung to add some dark walnut coloring as well as some formality—the gilt Liberty head at the top really is pretty grand and helps to carry around some of the gold and brass that shows up here and there in the room (new plumbing fixtures are all brushed nickel). There's also a walnut toilet seat to carry around that dark walnut color.

The medicine cabinet is still to be completed. When the wainscot was added it shortened the hole in the wall that was sized for a standard, off the shelf, medicine cabinet. I couldn't just buy one from Lowes in a correct size. There is also electric in the wall that I want to maintain access to so I built my own medicine cabinet to suit the space available. It's smaller in height and width than others, but its more than twice as deep as usual. The rear panel can removes to access the electrical connections. Finally, I'll add a door/mirror made up from one of my (many) antique walnut frames (more walnut, of course).  

All in all were pretty pleased, even if it was a LONG and sometimes rough road. Obviously, I still have work to do to get it completed, but some things just take a whole lot of time.

Monday, March 7, 2016

Parlor Photo Album 1

English Rosewood Settee, 1874

Moorish Side Chair, 1885; English Ebonized Mahogany stand, 1870

Seth Thomas Adamantine Clock, 1889; Chenille Embroidered Silk Velvet Mantle Scarf, 1890

French Bristol Glass Oil Lamp, 1880s

English Ebonized Mahogany stand, 1870; Ceramic Umbrella Stand, 1900

American Walnut Settee, 1875

Ebonized Faux Bamboo Folding Chair, 1875; English Ebonized Corner Cabinet with Marquetry, 1875

Aesthetic Movement Picture Frame, 1880s

American Walnut Parlor Chair, 1875

Friday, March 4, 2016

Under Porch Lattice

Like most old house porches, ours is build on piers that raise the floor about two feet off the ground. Unlike most, ours is made of brick and stone piers, steel structural beams and poured concrete with terra cotta tiles on top.

100% original to the house, the porch is suspended 26 inches above grade on brick and stone piers. The piers support decorative steel beams which in turn support the eight-inch thick concrete and tile floor. In the open spaces between the piers sit three original, wooden lattice panels which block the space beneath the porch from intruders (such as raccoons, cats and errand neighborhood children) but permit airflow to prevent damp, rot and mold build up.

Interestingly, the panels were not intended to be removable, as other panels are. Most others are screwed in place to a second wood frame or other supports. The ones on our house sit within masonry slots: brick on one side, stone on the other, cement floor on top and earth below. Additionally, there were wedges driven in behind the panels to prevent movement back and forth within the slot. the only way these could have been placed within the confines of the porch piers was to slot them in before et floor was constructed.

The Challenge

When we started work on the porch, scraping and repainting the panels was, of course, on my list. I didn't realize at that time that the bottom rail of the framed panels was fully covered with soil and almost fully rotted away. We dug out about 8 inches of soil, reestablishing the original soil level of the yard around the porch, and exposed the full lattice panel. Getting them out of the brick and stone slots was far more troublesome.

I want the panels to be removable in the future, since electric and water lines run under the porch. To maintain the proportions of the panels, and ensure they look as original as possible, I ended up carefully detaching the tenoned frames and lattice strips along the joints so I could rebuild them  to be a little shorter and be able to remove them in the future.

Boy is the Space Under the Porch a Mess

After the panels were removed we had an opportunity to clean up under the porch. Thankfully, the yard drains well so the porch was (cough) super (cough cough) dry (cough) and soooo dusty. Crazy dry in fact. We found a lot of leaves that blew through the lattice openings over the years, along with rocks that must have been thrown there during the building of the house. One was a cut stone that must not have been needed form building the house. Dust and tree and vine roots were everywhere and needed to be cleared out as much as possible. We also made a few "discoveries" of an old 13 foot ladder, a bunch of original window screens, some old gasoline and oil tins, and a strange contraption the size of a coffee table with folding legs that looks home-made. I think it was supposed to give the workers building the house a small platform to reach higher things. These treasures are now in the garage awaiting clean up and reuse somewhere.

Cleaning, Scraping, Priming and Painting

Once the opening and space behind the panels was cleaned up we turned to upgrading the panels. I set up a workstation in the driveway and started vacuuming thousands of spider egg sacks and cob webs off the panels (yuk). Next came scraping and sanding - no need for details on that. and finally rebuilding. This was a little more difficult that I anticipated since I had to maintain the space between the lattice strips as well as the thickness of the wood frame, while reducing the size by just a couple of inches. I hesitated to disassemble and rebuild the frames, but in the end that was the smartest and fastest way to re do them. I adjusted the openings by a fraction of an inch, sliding the lattice strips a bit to one side till I accumulated the 2 inches of space I needed. Then I was able to reattach the end frame timber. 

In all cases, the bottom framing member needed to be replaced in full. The frames originally were mortice and tenoned together, something I just don't have tools for, so I opted to use metal brackets to attach the new bottom to the sides. Im ok with that since they appear and are nearly as durable as the originals.

Right before I installed them I stapled screen fabric to the backside so no more leaves or other small stuff would blow behind them. This also better hides the remaining rocks and dirt under the porch, but still lets in plenty of air to keep it dry.


In the end I am really pleased with the cleaned and reinstalled panels. They are removable, look great and no longer do I have to worry about rotten wood.

Thursday, March 3, 2016

The Victorian Period and Associated Styles: Part 2: The Aesthetic Movement

Today I'd like to share this short video on the Aesthetic Movement. This dramatically important 30+ year period influenced and altered 20th Century design and art. Unknown to most Americans, it begat the Arts & Crafts Movement in England that quickly emigrated to the United States, becoming a strong influencer of style and design throughout the past century.

The images shown and spaces visited in this video are some of the most sumptuous and decadently beautiful things human-created from the past 200 years, you would be wise to watch it full screen for the most impact.

Cult of Beauty: The Aesthetic Movement 1860-1900
from Victoria and Albert Museum on Vimeo.

Tuesday, March 1, 2016

The Victorian Period and Associated Styles

note: my purpose here is not to convey every single bit of information about Victorian Period styles, but to showcase the differences to help you begin to understand some of the more popular decorative styles of the 19th Century/Victorian Period.

Queen Victoria ascended the throne on June 20, 1837, where she remained the Queen of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland until her death on May 1, 1901.

As with the British monarchs before her, she lent her name to the period of time when she ruled.  This 64-year time frame is known as the Victorian Period

"Victorian Style"

Most importantly, there is no "Victorian style." This term refers to something that just plain doesn't exist. Style and Period are not the same.

Can you imagine if only one style of clothes lasted for 64 years? Style changes faster and faster as time goes on. There were many changes in style during the 64 years of the Victorian Period.

The industrial revolution gave us telephones, telegraph, gas light, and electric light: nearly all of these achievements associated with the Victorian Period. Even paint didn't escape development: The first artificial colors and latex paints were developed in the mid and late 19th century. Technology impacted style just like it does today (think of how much the original iMac influenced the style. of the 1990s) Advances that were novel, fantastical and insanely modern, then, look old-fashioned to some now. In ten years, you'll feel the same way about those pants you're wearing.

Victorian Styles

To give you a quick primer on the many styles of the Victorian Period, let's look at a few chairs. Chairs are great. They always embody almost everything about the nuances of a particular style. In every style, era, or period, chairs were and are a necessary part of daily life. You can find a chair to represent even the most fleeting sub-styles.

Here are a handful, in rough chronological order, with some of the technology that made that style possible. I hope that you'll see that everyone of these styles is really, really different from the others—crazy different. But they are all "Victorian." 

Gothic Revival

The Gothic Revival, one of many revival styles, looked back to the original Gothic (medieval period) style and displayed Gothic arches, trefoils and clean, geometrically patterned fabrics. Colors, too were influenced by the original style when primary, flat colors, like blue, yellow and emerald green, were used in fabrics, stained glass and, most notably, in church decoration. Often, modern viewers of this style think that everything in a Gothic Revival style was in a church. The Gothic Revival was commonly used for public buildings of all sorts and often in homes.

Rococco Revival

The Rococo Revival, like the earlier Gothic Revival, looked to the historic Rococo period (a short-lived period immediately after the Baroque Era) and it's associated florid shapes. Straight lines were banished and natural curves are used to produce visually delicate furniture. Strongly associated with the south, this style was common throughout the country and often was used in Italianate style homes, contrasting with the geometry of this Italian-Renaissance-inspired style. Laminated woods, a technological development tied to the early part of the 19th century, enabled those huge swaths of wood for the fully carved and curved backs of this feminine furniture. Fabrics were sumptuous and red is commonly associated with this style. John Henry Belter is the most well-known designer of this style.

Renaissance Revival

This whollly American style grew out of observed Renaissance era motifs and French furniture design. Architectural and impressive, it was most popular in the industrial north where Victorian era robber barrons put their newly earned wealth on display. Impressive, richly colored fabrics in silk and velvet were popular. Deep button tufting was revived from the Rococo Revival to adorn these often over the top pieces. Often associated with the late-Italianate and Second Empire architectural styles, the furniture and buildings shared common massing and motifs. John Jelliff and Thomas Brooks were popular designers working in this style.

Neo Grec

Sometimes thought of as a sub-style to Renaissance Revival, this was a short-lived high-style movement that influenced elite brownstone townhouses in New York and the furniture that wealthy tastemakers chose to place within them. Sometimes referred to as New Greek or incorrectly as Greek Revival (a wholly different period some 20-30 years earlier), inspiration for this style was derived from Ancient Greek and Roman sources such as anthemion, greek key and acanthus motifs, as well as Ancient Roman and Japanese sources. Polychromy, coloring the furniture in multi-colored finishes, was popular, as was ebonizing, a finishing technique meant to imitate ebony wood or Japanese lacquered items. Leon Marcotte created some outstanding furniture in the Neo Grec style.

Neo Gothic

Even revival styles were revived. The Neo Gothic style is sometimes called Eastlake since Charles Eastlake, the Martha Stewart of the late 19th century, espoused this simple, functional and Medieval-inspired style. Kimmel and Cabus worked in this style and their furniture is highly desirable now. More simplistic and without the "churchy" association of other Gothic styles, this style proposed to authentically reproduce the furniture and architecture of the Medieval Period and often includes coloring by fuming and a simple finish of wax.

Colonial Revival

Yes, indeed, the Colonial Revival was a Victorian Period style. Begun about the time of the United States' Centennial in 1876, this style has had many variations of it's own, all looking back with varying degrees of authenticity to various aspects of Colonial America for inspiration. It continues, uninterrupted, to this day.

Louis Revivals

To some, this style is closely associated with the Colonial Revival, since the variants are still popular with interior designers, today. Imitating the various French styles associated with a line of Louis monarchs, this style uses feminine forms, pale fabrics and a great deal of gold and white. Typically used in the parlors of homes of Victorian "old money" families, such as the Vanderbilts and Astors, this style is always an indication of conservative wealth.

Innovation Style

Capitalizing entirely on new technologies developed during the Industrial Revolution, this style can be super modern in appearance, even after 100+ years. As machinery made possible new treatments to shape wood and metal, designers showcased these technologies in furniture design, such as this Hunzinger-designed rocker that doesn't fold, but looks as if it does. The "upholstery" is novel, too, made up of flat wires that are wrapped in brightly colored fabrics and meant to be shown. The rocker even has groves cut into the wood that are colored to match the fabric wrapped wires. The bent-wood armchair is by the Viennese furniture maker, Thonet, who steam-bent wood to create curvaceous furniture that feels like summer. Hunzinger and Thonet both hold many patents on their furniture technology.


This style came about in the 1870s but became super popular in the late 1890's and into the 20th century. It is often simple in design and commonly uses Renaissance Revival massing with faux graining and scene paintings to decorate the simple pine furniture, carrying on ancient European traditions of decorating cheap furniture to appear more expensive. It was popular with normal Victorian people. Also included are wicker pieces, even though some wicker was produced within the styles listed above (yeah, its confusing, I know). A wicker chair by Heywood Wakefield is shown. Cottage furniture was often used in bedrooms and sunrooms, or a piece or two added to a more formal room to show visitors how cozy the family was. After the turn of the 20th century wicker pieces moved outdoors and the painted pine pieces all but disappeared.