Saturday, July 31, 2010

Facelift: Middle Bedroom

The exterior project continues but when I got home from work yesterday, I found a sculpture had fallen off the dining room wall. I thought I had thoroughly considered everything I needed to do to prepare for the project but I missed taking down artwork that might get banged off walls from the outside. I have several pieces of artwork on shelves up in the middle bedroom that should come down for sure, but it reminds me I've never shown this room.

It may seem weird that this "middle" bedroom is accessed only through one of the other bedrooms and, although I've seen it before in old country farmhouses, I guess it is rather unusual. It does appear that there was an original doorway from the hallway into this bedroom but remember Jennie Ray who owned the house from 1897 to 1937, turned the upstairs into an apartment after her husband died around 1900. The "apartment" was accessed from the front bedroom. I would guess the front bedroom was probably a living room...
.and this middle room was probably a bedroom. The back room (now master bedroom) was the kitchen of the apartment. I can still see the outline of the old apron sink on the back wall of the master bedroom. But I can only guess how the three rooms were used for a family of four people as we saw in the census of 1910.
This room needed the least work. It was the only room in the entire house that had no wallpaper but was painted what I call "Virgin Mary Blue." I think everyone can envision that color. The brown wall-to-wall carpeting was ripped out to reveal white oak floors that were refinished by me just before moving in. The windows, which are really low on the wall, made the room feel very short. In the other upstairs rooms I just hung the curtains higher on the wall but there was something really sweet about the shelves over these windows so I decided to leave them.

This room is a now multi-purpose room that's my office, studio, gym and junk room.
And this is the room today. It's painted with Benjamin Moore "Bali" which feels like a nice vintage color that works with the turquoise I have in the two adjoining bedrooms. It also reminds me of etched beach glass. The trim is "Decorator's White." I've placed artwork and other pieces up on the shelves in lieu of curtains to bring your eye up higher in the room.
I've put some paintings, sculptures and a raku vessel on this shelf.
This is one of my favorite pieces, a sculpture by Truro (Cape Cod) artist Breon Dunigan titled "Hope Pipe."
On the other side I have a few other pieces including a pitcher of old, well-worn paint brushes that belonged to Provincetown artist Karl Knaths. (I can't afford a painting.)

But now all of these things need to come down for safety's sake.

This is my desk made of two file cabinets and a large door. I should paint it but I just haven't gotten around to it. All of my art supplies are in boxes under the desk.
Here's my elliptical trainer. Yes, it's a little dusty.
This is a closet which is packed with art books. It's most likely one of the original doors. It's pretty funky...
...but it has a great old glass knob from which I chipped many layers of paint and a neat old clasp that has worn away the door over the years.
Here's a view from this room into the front bedroom. I'll eventually close off this door to make a formal closet in the front bedroom. Off to the left, I have a large painting sitting on the floor and this is where I'll put a new door into this middle room. But for now I enjoy this view of all three rooms every morning when I get up.
And standing in the front bedroom, this is the view into the back bedroom.

So that's a tour of the middle "bedroom." It's not an exciting transformation but gives you a better idea of the upstairs.

Thursday, July 29, 2010

D-Day 2, The Greek Ruins

Imagine coming home to find this. I wasn't ready for it and I'm quite sick to my stomach at this moment.

The whole front of the house is stripped to the sheathing except up on the pediment...and my little test area for the new paint colors. I'm seeing the colors for the first time out from under the cover of the porch and I still love them.
I was hoping to see the clapboards underneath the shingles to see the outline of the original porch. Jared said the entire front was covered in clapboard so he ripped them off. So either they weren't the original clapboards or the clapboards were filled back in after the porch was removed.

170 years peeled away in 2 days.

This dark line just below the upper window is the only evidence of the angle of the original porch roof we can see.

A view of all the layers still visible at the front corner.
This fence post was originally tight to the vinyl siding. Can you imagine the weight of all of that material on the house?

I think she's breathing a big sigh of relief.

I got a few questions about the colors so I thought I'd share that. Here are a bunch of the colors I considered. I'd read a lot about Martha Stewart's Bedford Gray being a "nice neutral gray" so I went to Home Depot to get her color palette, not that I would use her paint (sorry, Martha) but I could at least use the color chip to match it to something in the Ben Moore fan deck.

I have to admit, the woman has some really beautiful colors in her palette. Maybe I could give it a try in one of my bathrooms or something. Each color card has two coordinating colors on the back that you can fold over to see what they would look like together. I think that's a really, really smart idea.
Here's Martha's house painted in her Bedford Gray. I think it's kind of a beige gray. There are some other nice grays like "Cement" "Zinc" and an almost-black brown gray called "Seal" that I think would look great in lieu of a true black accent.

I've discovered that the exterior color schemes I find the most pleasing are when the body of the house and the trim are same hue but just about two shades apart. I think grays are tough. Considering I have two neighbors whose houses are yellow, I really wanted to avoid any gray that could be interpreted as purple. Without getting into a color lesson, yellow and purple are complementary colors (opposites on the color wheel). Complementary colors intensify each other so a gray that might have more purple (red and blue) in it, would look more purple when juxtaposed with yellow. I know. Blah, blah, blah. I also really dislike the "cooler" grays that sometimes just look like a bad blue.

Long story short, I thought more of a browny gray would be safer and after narrowing those down, I chose the following Benjamin Moore colors:

House body: Graystone #1475
House trim: Silver Chain # 1472
Porch ceiling: Clear Skies #2054
Door: Black #2132-10 (and eventually the shutters)

I've chosen the black color so it matches the window mullions but there's a color called "Dragon's Breath" #1547 that's a really dark brown/almost black that I think would look awesome. Until I get the windows, I can't really make that decision.

Here's a photo I found, maybe on Flickr, of a room painted the "Graystone" color. If it's possible, I think it looks both modern and historical at the same time.

That's it for today.

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

D-Day 1

Jared arrived yesterday afternoon and started ripping off some of the vinyl siding. Sam hadn't dropped off the ladders yet so he did what he could reach.

I hung around this morning waiting for the dumpster. We weren't sure if it would maneuver into the driveway but it's a real pain getting a permit to put a dumpster on the street....and I've had my fill of bureaucracy. So I've been reserving a spot across from my driveway so I could move when it arrived to allow more room for the truck to back in. The joys of renovating in the city.
If you're joining us in progress, this is a photo of the house I took to accompany my variance application in late April. I spent the weekend digging out the shrubs and a bunch of hostas that were planted in front.

And this is what things looked like when I got home. (I skipped out of work early.)
The driveway side of the house is pretty much stripped of the vinyl and the shingles look pretty good. This side of the house is going to be scraped and painted...that's all for now. There's still a lot I need to figure out. I'd like to restore the window that *should* be under the window you see above the dumpster. It was covered up at some point along the line. The chimney on that side needs to be ripped out and new kitchen windows will go there.

The painting on that side, the back and onto the back porches may start any time.

If you look really closely in the above photo to the right of the front door, I'm testing my new paint colors. I'm famous for going through seven shades of browns before I decide the room should be blue. But I've had two Ben Moore fan decks, a Martha Stewart color palette and at least 40 different color cards sitting around my living room for the past several weeks whittling them down to just a few.

I had a few friends come over last night for a "color caucus" (and few glasses of sangria) and the colors were decided. I ran to Ben Moore when I got home and slapped a few coats on the front of the house where the door is already painted black.

You're getting to see them first. The wide light gray trim is where the sidelights will be so there won't be as much of it. The photo doesn't totally accurately show the colors but you get the idea. The gray has just the slightest bit of brown in it. I think the mahogany porch deck and oiled bronze hardware will look great with it.

And I don't know why I spent so much time looking at front porch lights because hidden up inside the little porch roof... the greatest vintage light.... could ever want... looks hand-forged to me...'s called the "Mrs. Smith's" light.

I just love the simplicity of it.

This is a closeup of the front of the house. It's my favorite color combination from the poop and pee color collection. Everything is in remarkably good condition. The frieze boards above the windows look perfect. Maybe we can keep these so I can upgrade to copper gutters on the front porch.

On the right above the old porch roof, you can see the original clapboards under the shingles. The original cornerboards have been ripped off and filled with scrap wood but at least we know exactly how big they were.
Going on to the the back porch, the vinyl has been stripped.
These are the kitchen windows that overlook the porch and garden. All of this will just get a paint job and will wait for Phase 2.
This wall just outside the kitchen door has been stripped to the original clapboards. The thing that's interesting to me is the porches were supposedly added in 1940. If that were true, these clapboards would have been exposed to the elements. They're so perfect, I can't believe it's possible.

That's it for today. I'll be sure to take lots of photos and post as often as I can.


Hot off the press. Demo has started.

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Chinoiserie for Your Porch

In my last post, we toured East Cambridge where I noticed that many of the early-1800s-period homes had chinoiserie light fixtures. Chinoiserie is a french term meaning inspired by Chinese design or reflecting a Chinese influence. The Old China Trade, a name given to an active period of commerce between China and the United States, occurred between 1783 and 1844. So it makes total sense that a Chinese influence might be seen in the fixtures and furnishing of early American homes.

Since I'm doing more of a classic vintage but eclectic look (with a mix of antique pieces) on the interior of the house, I was planning to use a porch light something like this schoolhouse fixture. But after my field trip to East Cambridge, I'm rethinking that idea. Here a few of the fixtures I found that are considered American Traditional but have a distinctive chinoiserie feel.

All of these light fixtures were fun to look for and consider, but I don't think any of them will work for me. First, my house is very petite. it's the smallest Greek Revival I've seen anywhere in the city. My interior ceilings are 7'5" and although I can expect a little more head room out on the porch, I don't think I have enough head room for a pendant.

If I want to have shutters on the front windows, there's no room left over for a wall sconce.

But if I really pimp out the back porch... might be nice to have a light source that isn't overhead.

Another problem is they vary in price from a few hundred dollars each to over $1000 for the top one. I would need three lights: one for the front porch and one for each of the back porches.

I'm on a really tight budget with this project so anywhere I can save money right now is really important.

So now that I've studied the details of these expensive fixtures, I'm better able to look for something cheaper that might express the same feeling. I can always swap them out later when I'm a little more flush with cash.

So I found this ceiling mount fixture which solves the potential head room issue and I think has a little bit of that same chinoiserie feel. I realize I'm compromising here but at $26 each, I'm able to buy three so that all of the exterior fixtures will now match.

I'm happy with this choice. I think these will look appropriate and won't steal the show on the front porch. They'll have a good supporting role.

But don't tell anyone they were so cheap. It'll be our secret.

Monday, July 26, 2010

Variance Finalized in East Cambridge

The area of East Cambridge was declared an official Port of Entry by Congress in 1805. Had it not been for President Jefferson's trade embargo of 1807, Cambridge may today be a major city that overshadows its quaint suburb of Boston. In 1809 East Cambridge opened for industrial development. It's proximity to an elaborate system of canals, the Charles River, Boston Harbor and the Atlantic Ocean made a sensical spot for industries to locate. Andrew Craigie, one of the large Cambridge land owners attracted the county courthouse and jail by offering to donate new buildings in 1814. By 1880 it was the industrial center of Cambridge.
Large soap, glass and furniture factories attracted thousands of Irish immigrants who provided labor and sought housing in the neighborhood. Today, East Cambridge is a mecca for biotech companies but is still a mix of industrial space, county buildings and many historical homes.
Unless you live or work in the neighborhood, even many Cambridge residents may not frequent the neighborhood unless they're going to jury duty, getting a divorce, serving time...or filing a Variance Decision with the Registry of Deeds. Two entire city blocks of commanding brick buildings house the county offices and courthouses and my trip to the Registry reminded me how beautiful this area of Cambridge is.
The Middlesex County Registry of Deeds houses property records going back to 1649. Can you imagine? If there's any metaphor for going through the variance process, I felt it a bottom of this imposing staircase and monumental columns. It seems like a long arduous trek but if you just take one step at a time...another step...and another step...and another step....well, okay, maybe there's more steps here, but taking each little steps gets you closer to the end. (As it turns out, this is the back door, damn it; and the door is locked!) So as soon as I walk back down and around the block to the front entrance, I'll get to the end.

Once inside the building and through the metal detectors needed for the Probate Court, there's a huge open marble space with more massive columns, ornate wrought iron railings, decorative plaster covered with cheap plastic signs about where to go, what to do--mostly what not to do--and overwhelming directories for all the offices in the building. Inside the Registry, a huge open space swarming with activity, filing the Variance Decision was really quite easy. There's an information desk where you take a number, my number was called within 5 minutes and after writing a check for $75, I was on my way with the final document that I can take to the building department to get my building permit.

I'm done! I'm Done! I'M DONE!!

But before we start the party, let's poke around the neighborhood a little bit.
I absolutely love this block of townhouses with Greek Revival porticos. I looked them up in the Harvard database and they were all built the same year as my house. They've got some great details but upon closer inspection, there's some really crazy twists and tilts in the structures.
This porch leans a little to the right. You can see it the most at the bottom left-hand side of the door. The sidelights are original but the door is 1940s I would guess.
This porch leans a little to the left. It's a very nontraditional color but I think it works in this group of homes. It has the same original sidelight with the tiny mullions. Beautiful but not too energy efficient.
And the next one is leaning to the right again. These are definitely replaced sidelights. And all those wires. Can't they do something about that?
This row of brick townhomes are really lovely.
Right now I'm really focusing on sidelights, doors and lighting fixtures which I have to order this week. Remember this combination?
This is actually a Greek Revival--you can tell by the triangle (the pediment) at the top and the wide pilasters (cornerboards) at "hold up" the triangle--but it's been "Victorianized."It still has the original sidelights and transom window but the original columns have been replaced with thinner, decorative columns, dainty fretwork on the corners and sweet railings around the porch. It's totally wrong if you're a purist but it's really sweet in a way.
A local Urban Cottage follower that lives in this neighborhood--hi, Anne!--recommended that I swing by this place to check it out. It's an 1820 building, originally a bank, turned church in the 1920, and now carriage-house style property. I would LOVE to see the inside of this. Can I leave them a note on their door?
And check out the gorgeous light. Doesn't it look like a Chinese ginger jar? I'm noticing a significant number of chinoiserie light fixtures on Greek Revival homes. (Go back and look at the light on the pink "Victorian" Greek Revival) Obviously there was no electricity at the time but the Greek Revival period is still during the time of the Old China Trade so it somehow seems believable that chinoiserie of some kind would find its way into or onto a Greek Revival home.
Here's another house, not really a Greek Revival because there's no pediment or pilasters but it definitely has a Greek Revival Porch. Notice how tightly the houses are packed in. This seems very common in this neighborhood.
They've painted half of the entablature (the massive beam above the columns) red which is really unusual but I'll admit that it beautifully highlights the ionic columns. And I could see in the windows. I'd like an invite to this one too!
Here's another beautifully restored Greek Revival. One thing I notice is that there are many more ionic columns in this neighborhood. They're fancier. And this is one of only a few in this neighborhood that have the front windows that go to the floor. I'm glad I decided to add that detail.
I don't like the sidelights not having mullions but check out the light. A little like an Asian lantern, don't you think?
I'm not sure if this is an authentic Gothic Revival but I love the windows, the amazing sunburst detail up on gable and the bright red door.
And although I focused on public buildings and homes in this post, I just wanted to point out the extremes of the neighborhood by showing you this Frank Geary building at MIT. Geary is more famous for his Walt Disney Concert Hall in Los Angeles and the Guggenheim in Bilbao, Spain, but it's pretty cool to have one in the neighborhood.

So there's a little tour of East Cambridge.

Oh, and if you work at the Registry of Deeds and you're reading this, can you put a stupid sign at the bottom the steps outside your back door?