Tag Archives: architectural snobbery

Planning the Facade Post 1 – Existing Conditions

I wouldn’t call my endeavors to get rid of junk and catch up with routine cleaning blog worthy, at least not yet. So now seems like a good time to get back to what I really like writing about – obsessively scrutinizing old details and making fairly technical restoration plans. So to start, here’s the most important job I’ll do in Phase 2, restoring the façade.


The house. Facade restoration to come.

The good news is I have all the original window and door openings, the marble steps, and the cornice. None of these things are in good condition but they’re all there. Stripping these houses of their character was a thing, especially in the 70’s it seems.

Here’s a good view of all the abuse these houses get. From right to left, vertical siding on a cornice, removing lintels and sills, patching with non-matching brick, punching through holes for air conditioners, replacing facades entirely with ugly brick, and leaving the original facade in place but covering it over with new brick, formstone, stucco, or siding.



And so I snapped up something with enough left that it can be great someday. So let’s look at some of the details. At the top I have  a pretty wooden cornice.


You don’t believe me? Under that siding I’m expecting to find this.


Of course I have no idea what condition it’s in. I’m hoping that most of it is restorable. What can’t be restored can be remade, some of it in stages.

Then there are the awnings. Some people told me that they’re charming, but I hate them. They cover half my windows, block my view of the sky, leave me with a dull yellowish light. Plus they are showing their age and they obscure the charming little scallops on the marble lintels. This is one of the only architectural frills the place has. (Also note the shiny lunch truck-style capping on this house.)


So why are the awnings still up 3 years later? Look down by my front door. There’s a fair bit of water damage and they’re chalking away. I don’t care about restoring the damage, but I need to seal this area with something appropriate to stop it from getting worse.


Things aren’t rosy for the rest of the brick either. It’s been painted red, the marble is painted white, and although the original mortar joints were red, they painted white lines onto the bricks! Usually over the mortar joints but not always.


Then there are the windows. I have some of the cheapest vinyl windows you can buy here, and they’re 15 years old – near the end of their lives – and so poorly installed I had to seal the top sashes shut with caulk. I bent out the aluminum capping in 2013 to see what’s behind it.


I peeked behind the capping to see what’s there, and 3 years later it’s still bent out like this. But I don’t care. Aluminum capping is so vile I don’t think this makes it any worse. I have the original trim around the windows, but under the white aluminum capping the sills are capped with lunch truck style chrome plated capping.


The basement windows are also poorly installed and missing their original security bars. (These are next door.)


The front door is relatively new. I wish it were old. It’s in a style that comes pretty close to Victorian but misses the mark slightly. But it’s solid mahogany so I don’t plan on replacing it. The glass, however, is not authentic and I’d like to replace it with something plainer before refinishing the door. And the latch that was on the door wore out. This interior door knob gets the job done but it’s not long for this world.


Next up, we’ll get into the nitty gritty with historic masonry.


Let’s just pretend the stripping is done now

I had a goal to be done stripping, all the stripping, before July came. That’s not going to work out. Because of course everything is slow. Incidentally, I’ve been watching houses getting thrown up  by the dozen on my way to and from work every day. Except that I know a mansion that was in the DuPont family came down to build them. (The crazy one who killed someone.) I was of course mad about that. Especially since half the development is townhouses anyway and you’d think there’d be a way to subdivide the mansion without leveling it. But I was surprised to see that they’re not that bad. Until I saw this. (And yes, I drove the beater car with the junkyard hood that’s the wrong color into the subdivision to take this photo.)


I may be putting 2 years and all my money into the Crooked House. I may have let my social ties lapse, my clothes fall apart at the seams, my hair turn grey, and my parents’ house fill with junk, but at least I will never suffer the indignity of owning a cantilevered chimney veneered in fake stone. If they hadn’t bothered with the stone it would have been better, no? For comparison, here’s the house across from my parents, which shows you that there is a correct way to build a chimney on the same wall as a flat foundation. But a cantilever ain’t it. Cantilever a bay window instead.


Alright, back to my house. I want to say all there is to say about stripping now and be done with it, even though it’s not finished. I’ve been using the heat gun, Klean Strip, and SoyGel. Yup, all 3. The heat gun gets most of the paint off clean, but then I burn the wood if I have teeny bits left, so for these, out comes the KleanStrip. But for what I’m stripping stain grade, the SoyGel works as well as anything, stays wet a long time, doesn’t burn my skin, and cleans up with water. Plus, I paid dearly for it and want to justify the expense. I’m doing the railing stain grade, using only chemicals. There are too many curves for the heat gun to work. Here’s what I’ve got now:


Those little paint chips aren’t stuck to it either. So this is about ready to stain!

Except inside the teeniest crevasses of that volute. You can see them from the underside. And they might drive me insane. Any ideas? I’m talking about inside the crevasse; the flat bottom will practically strip itself.


Then there’s the basement stairway door. Someone busted the panel out and then replaced it with plywood that wasn’t cabinet grade. I busted that out and will replace it again and it’ll look almost as good as new. I was gonna leave the back side because who cares about the basement stairwell. But then I couldn’t fight the urge to make it look decent.


And under the paint I found definitive proof that the door was not free!


And remember how I used a highly alkaline stripper on these scrolly things under my stairs? I’ve finally neutralized them with an acid wash and then (lol) used a heat gun to get off what that complicated process missed.


So there you have it! I’m almost ready to move on to prettier, (hopefully) less labor intensive things!