Monday, March 27, 2006

Building Conundrums

If you live in an old house that had early modifications to it then you can appreciate this. It’s not always easy to tell what was original and what was added to it when the part that was added could be pretty darn old itself. Case in point is my kitchen. It was first modified back in about 1915 and then had major modifications done to it 1926. Because the changes were done so early, and done well, it was really hard to tell what was 1895, what was 1915, and what was 1926. To make matters worse, everything was hidden under layers of paint, wallpaper, and then later plywood. Believe it or not, I found 15 distinct layers of wallpaper in the kitchen. It was like an archeological dig.

The kitchen was by far the most confusing part of the house. Other rooms were easy to decipher but the kitchen was a real brain teaser. The key turned out to be the bead board. I think I wrote about this in a post last year. Anyway, it was obvious that the room was not meant to be in the configuration as it existed when I first bought the house. I started by removing the plywood from the walls. When I did that, in one area a big chunk of wallpaper came off with the plywood. Much to my surprise there was bare wood planks under the wallpaper.

Wood plank walls with wallpaper tacked up was a common practice all over the country but not something you would normally see in an upper middle-class house like mine. As I pulled at the wallpaper the planks ended and I hit plaster. When I studied the bead board just below where the planks turned to plaster I discovered that the bead board below the plaster had a 3.5-inch face and the bead board below the planks had a 3.25-inch face. This would prove to be The Rosetta Stone for the kitchen.

It turned out that the 1926 bead board was slightly narrower than the 1895 bead board. From then on it was just a matter of measuring the width of the bead board to determine when it was installed. Another interesting thing is that the 1926 bead board was all exactly 36-inches long. The 1895 bead board sort of varied in length from about 35-inches to 37-inches, and it was cut irregularly at the top. It was as if they were cutting from longer pieces and they new they new the top would be hidden behind a cap so it didn’t really matter that it was all exactly 36-inches.

So now I’m building my own conundrums in to the house. Back in the butler’s pantry I’ve added a wall to create a utility room. As I mentioned in an earlier post this is the first time I’ve deviated from the original floor plan of the house. I decided I wanted it to look like an old wall though. As I mentioned a few days ago they used a very unique method to plaster the walls in the house. Because doors had been cut in to the butler’s pantry walls I did not have enough of the T&G plaster planking, nor did I have enough of the 48-inch double-bead bead board to do both the reduced size butler’s pantry and the new utility room. Instead I salvaged all the plaster planking and bead board from the utility room side and created a complete butler’s pantry. On top of that, I still had enough of the redwood 2X4 to frame the wall, and I used a redwood door jamb from the addition I dismantled. I have, in effect, created a new old wall.

Now, I’m pretty proud of myself, and I think it’s very cool, but of course, it will all be covered in plaster and paint and no one will ever know. Maybe 100 years from now when the house is going through another major restoration they will open up the wall and think, “Wait a minute, this doesn’t make sense. I was sure this was a new wall.” On the other hand, maybe they’ll just go at it with sledge hammers and pry bars and not really give a shit how old it is or when it was built. I’d better leave a note. I’ll just write something like, “Suckers!” It’ll totally blow their mind.

Here's What I Started With a Few Weeks Back.


Then After The Demo (Thank You Grunt Work!)


New Wall Framed With Old Lumber


Sheathed In The Plaster Planks.
That is roughly where that sink will go


This cabinet came out of one of the old rental kitchens, although I think it pre-dates the 1926 rental kitchen that it came from. It will go above the sink.

2 comments:

Shawni said...

I love that cabinet! You should definately leave a note, though I can't imagine someone ripping apart your quality work. It's coming along great.

HouseMouse said...

Fascinating, Greg. Your old house blog is one of my top favorites. Definitely leave that note!