Saturday, August 28, 2010

I Might Have Screwed Up

If you ever watch Antiques Roadshow, you know about some of the astronomical prices antique American furniture can bring if it is in original condition. That last part being very important, especially for 18th century furniture. An 1875 Philadelphia made Highboy Dresser, with all of the bells and whistles and with the makers label still attached can be worth in excess of $250,000 - if it still has the original finish and brasses. If you take that same dresser, strip the shellac off and refinish it, the value plunges to around $25,000. People who buy that sort of thing love the deep, rich patina and grunge that comes with 200+ years of use.

So if my foyer were an 18th century Philadelphia Highboy, I would have screwed up.

This rule does not apply to woodwork in The Petch House, though. I suppose if the place had not been a rental unit for 80 years, and had not had interesting things carved in to the woodwork, an argument could be made for just wiping everything down with a damp cloth and calling it a day. Sadly, the woodwork needs much, much, much, much, much, much, much more work than that. If I’m wrong, then in another 100 years, future owners will shake their heads and lament, “If only Greg had known that in another 40 years highly advanced aliens would come to Earth and give us the technology to restore this woodwork without resorting to caustic chemicals”.

What’s done is done. I’m in the home stretch. Today I did the door and casing above and the casing around the entryway to the dining room. Tomorrow I will need to do the jamb to the dining room and the front doors and casing. The front doors are tall and they are a pair of double doors. There is also a 3 light transom above them. I was able to do the door and casing above in 2 hours, start to finish.

I think I can do the front doors and casing in less than 4 hours. Both doors have a large piece of glass, so even though they are larger than the door above, there is less wood. It is the raised panels with the reed detail that really takes a lot of time. The casing goes fast.

If I finish that tomorrow I will be officially done with the shellac stripping. Whew! A quick check of the blog shows I started stripping the stairs on August 2nd. If I finish tomorrow that means it will have taken me 28 days to strip the stairs, all of the baseboard, and doors and door casing. Not bad. Four weeks to do all of that? I thought it was going to be closer to eight.

After this I will mark the walls for the picture rail and then paint. Woo! Hoo!


Anonymous said...

it looks gorgeous, yay.

Greg said...

Thank you!

Karen Anne said...

Well, in another 100 years, the patina will be back :-)

I don't think you had any choice, but the patina in the first picture is amazing at least as far an my monitor displays it. I think the lesson from this is that people who carve things into woodwork belong in some circle of hell. Maybe the same circle politicians belong in.

Greg said...

The finish on that door was probably the best in the house. The door never got direct sunlight and it existed in no-mans-land during the apartment days, so no one hardly used it.

Sean said...

In Historic circles there is a difference between PRESERVATION and RESTORATION - Preservation is stopping the clock an keeping as is - which in my opinion is only a viable option if the house is totally untouched. In your case, you are returning the house to its orignal appearance, and in 1895, they had freshly shellaced trim, not dirty, scratched and dark wood...

Joosmeister said...

Don't worry Greg.

When DIY nanobots are invented in the future, advanced digital forensics will take your before shot and reconstruct the possible perfect original finish... which the little nanintes will reconstruct to the molecular level.

Until then, you have fixed what may have been unsavable.

Greg said...


Well put, and to take a step further, you don't necessarily need to restore back to the original construction date. An 1850 house that had a major Victorian make-over in 1900 could be restored back to either year.


Oooo, nanobots! Much better than aliens, and far more likely. I wish they were here now.