Monday, October 12, 2009

Knox Hill Project: Weekly Update (Great Finds)

A good friend of mine , and fellow historic preservationist, recently commented to me that this house just keeps "rewarding" us for bringing it back to life. Certainly it is a house no one wanted in a neighborhood no one was interested in(then), had we not come along when we did it is likely this house would have been a vacant lot now, and its history not known or forgotten. This weekend the house rewarded us again!


I have been working on the parlor the last couple of weekends, trying to get us a 'clean room' in which to relax in while working on the rest of the house. One of the problems with the parlor was several layers of paint on the wall and a crazing or cracking of the surface. This is generally cause by a failure of the paint bonding between layers of older paint. You most often see it when latex is put over an oil paint or sometime (rarely) due to special finish or glaze. At any rate people generally just keep painting over it and unfortunately it just keeps coming back. The only real solution is to scrape the surface or sand back to the problem layer.

As we plan on using a combination of stencils and wallpapers in this room, both walls and ceilings, so this had to be corrected, otherwise we were just wasting our time. So we were faced with the "daunting' task of doing this entire room. I began scrapping this paint and found if we went all the way down to the original first painted surface we had a good base. It is rare to be able to get down to an original painted surface on a 130 yr old house. The only exception might be if the walls were wallpapered a few years after the walls were painted. In this case, the incompatibility of the paint layers made this possible.

The wall was originally a Lt Reddish "terra cotta" color. This was extremely in fashion in the 1870's. What we didn't expect was what I found next! while scraping a couple of inches below the wooden hanging rail, I suddenly saw a darker red paint! I immediately slowed down and did a careful inspection of what appeared to be part of a stenciled design. Some very careful removing of the top layers of paint revealed this Neo Grec/Renaissance Revival stencil design! I was elated. Given that 'revelation" I wondered if there was anything above the hanging rail, ( as wood have been fashionable at the time), sure enough I was rewarded with a larger more elaborate design above the handing railing.

For someone who restores old houses, this is "holy grail' type of find. It is rare to be able to actually find something like this in a an old house, because it is usually impossible to get at the original paint layer. More importantly with a cottage and not a "Grand home" this was not an everyday feature although you did see it from time to time. Some thing I might "expect' to find on a Dayton Street Mansion, not a humble cottage.

AND it looks like it is in overall good condition! That is because the plaster under it is in good shape. Fortunately having restored work like this as a historic restoration artisan, I can 'fix this up as good as new and restore it to its original glory.

It will of course mean a 'modification" to our decoration design for the walls. What I will do now is restore this area and treat it as a "top frieze' for the wall. I will run a stenciled line below the lower section and then continue down the wall with wallpaper. I originally planned a stencilled and papered ceiling so what I will now do is take the top design and "flip it up on the ceiling with the same background color as a border band around the ceiling, then transition into the other stenciled panels I planned and the center wallpapers. It will add another incredible chapter to the house restoration!

I will carefully trace this design, scan it, and then print it for transfer to a stencil laminate. We will no doubt add this along with several other period designs from other house I've restored, to our period line of historic stencils that will be available when we get our Historic design shop next year.

Work also continued on the removal of plaster where the new doorway to the kitchen will go and some door frame removal and relocation on a old doorway that will become a solid wall in the first floor bath. Things are humming along now and I wonder if other pleasant surprises are around the corner with our restoration?

1 comment:

Marilyn said...

Great find Paul! I had fun like this back in the early 1970's while working on the Hackley House in Muskegon, MI. We found the stencilling in all the rooms and restored them. (Actually, we saved a portion of the originals in each room and stencilled with new paint the rest of the rooms.)
Hold off on your ceiling plans, as you may find something up there.