Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Architectural "Ghosting" : What your house is trying to tell you,

I am not talking about scary Halloween ghosts or Haunted Houses. Architectural "Ghosting" relates to images that are revealed during an Old House restoration that give you clues as to the original configuration of a house or "clues" as to the appearance of original details of that house. These "ghost images" can often guide you in the recreation of important architectural details of your home.

This weekend when we stripped the 1930's era siding that had been applied over the original we cam across this image. This is the image of what was likely a porch bracket on our side porch area. Now there was a bracket on top of the 30's siding where it met the porch roof, but was much smaller and looked out of scale with the grand nature of detailing one would expect on this style of house and was, obviously a later addition applied sometime after the house was sided. Note the underside of the porch roof shows a much narrower outline of a bracket. Upon closer examination we noticed a difference in the porch paint trim paint levels and you could see the image of the wider bracket.

Sometimes a ghost image will reveal more than just a bracket as in the case of this image pictured here on this house. You can clearly see the outline of a porch roof and a post location. These are important clues when one is restoring a house. Particularly if one lives in a historic district and you are trying to find a guideline as to what an original porch column might have looked like. Porches are one of the most common areas where changes were made to a house as styles changed and most porches, due to lack of maintenance were only good for about 20-30yrs. You should also pay close attention to the siding itself as sometimes you will see evidence where newer siding "filled" in an area like a door or window. It may have a smoother appearance than the siding around it as it has less layer of paint. Sometimes a difference in color might indicate the house had awnings and areas were protected from sun fade.

Another place you will find ghost images is doors. Back in the Victorian day door locks and plates were elaborate confections designed to impress callers. Over the years these locks were replaced, Additional door locks (deadbolts added) and often its hard to tell what you door plates may have looked like. Often when stripping a door you will get clues. When you compare the "ghost outline" of the original doorplate compare to the door plate itself you can see that they are different. While this is a nice backplate and it is Victorian, it is not the original which was clearly larger.
Ghost images can be anywhere in a house. For example plaster. When you strip wallpaper or paint you may find the outlines of ceiling medallions, transoms over doors, even elaborate crown moulding ghosts. So remember "your house is trying to tell you its past, you just have to look'.