Wednesday, January 05, 2011

Oh no, your house would have had...

Good friends whom I genuinely like and respect start many sentences with the words above. It goes something like this.

Me: I stripped my house back to bare wood and found that the original color was white.

Them: Oh no, your house would have had an earth toned color scheme made up of at least five colors.

Me: It looks like these redwood floors are the original floors and maybe they were just shellacked and then had large rugs over them.

Them: Oh no, your house would have had wall-to-wall carpeting.

Me: I don't see any evidence that there was picture rail on the second floor of my house.

Them: Oh no, your house would have had picture rail in every room and hallway in the house.

Most of these statements are based on the fact that my house is a cut above a lot of the homes in Eureka from the period. Don't get me wrong, The Petch House is no mansion. What it is is a very nice, upper middle class Queen Anne home built in 1895. From an architectural stand point it has a lot of bells and whistles. That doesn't mean that it had every little detail that was available, though. Few, if any homes did

Because I have crawled all over this house like a monkey for the last 8 years no one living or dead but the builder knows this house better then I. When I say there is no evidence that there was picture rail on the second floor it is a qualified statement. I don't care if every single house built in Eureka in 1895 had picture rail on the second floor, mine did not.

How this relates to the front door window I'm working on now is that I have been assured by these same friends that my front door windows would have had leaded stained glass or acid etched glass in the windows. In this case there is really no way of knowing what was there because glass leaves no witness mark, nail hole, or residue with which to observe and base a theory on.

In the end I must make an assumption that their assertion is based on something. My friends are very knowledgeable about what could have been, so there is always the possibility they are right. Maybe many houses of the period had these varied accoutrements or maybe only those that were photographed had them. Maybe my house was the only house ever built that had no picture rail on the second floor. Maybe my house is the only house painted white. Maybe all of the other homes did have wall-to-wall carpet. Maybe all of the other homes did have something more than just cottage windows in the front windows on their homes.

Now though, a few people have posted comments indicating that cottage windows are very common on Victorian homes in their area or that they don't see a lot of leaded stained glass on the homes of the period. So, maybe I was wrong when in my last post I indicated leaded stained glass was very common in Victorian homes. I mean really, what the hell do I know about homes in Cincinnati, or for that matter, any other city a 100 years ago. I can only speak authoritatively on The Petch House. Beyond that I'm spouting rhetoric, conjecture, and hearsay.

In the end, what does it really matter. Anybody can do what ever the hell they want. There is no rule book to home restoration and renovation. Last I checked I still lived in a free country and if I want to gut my house, build a giant pyramid inside, sit under it and eat dog poop I can. I don't think I'll be doing that anytime soon, but you never know. If I want to put cottage windows instead of leaded or etched glass I can do that was well. In the end they are both period appropriate and neither could be considered a hack job.

I like my friends, I really do. The only reason I get uptight about it is because these comments are made while they are standing in my house. If you are going to say I'm wrong and insist that my house had picture rail on the second floor then at least take 2 minutes to inspect the bare plaster walls for nail holes or inspect the corner blocks for witness marks.

I think part of this comes from looking at books with pretty pictures and assuming they were the norm. It is like thinking that every home in America today looks like the homes in Better Homes & Gardens. Those places are the exception and not the rule. A photographer in 1895 probably would not have gone in to Joe Buggy Whip's home and taken photos of uninspired interior details. What would be the point of that.

Now, what is really bothering me about this is that I am now falling in to the trap of thinking that my house was unique because it did not have every detail known to 19th century man. I now am under the impression that every house East of the Mississippi had every imaginable detail known to the period. My mind has become coerced and corrupted by my well intentioned friends. It's like the peer pressure of high school all over again. That is, if I had gone to high school. I guess I can feel fortunate that my friends are only obsessed about Victorian homes and not heroin or bank robbery.

The debates are lively and a lot of fun. I now can't wait to finish the windows so I can have them over for dinner to argue about the front doors.

16 comments:

benningtoncolonial said...

If you could convince the Great Granddaughter of Thomas and Phillias Petch to allow access to a deeper scan of the old photo she has, you might be able to put to rest the notion of etched/frosted or clear glass in your front doors once and for all... You're lucky in that the photo has one door open and one closed. Any variations in what you see through the glass straight-on versus at an angle might give hints as to what was there originally. Just a thought...

Greg said...

You are so right! I would kill for a high-res scan of that photo.

Adam said...

As you say, it is up to you, and I for one have seen doors similar to the one you propose at the salvage yard. Many of the homes of the period (as I understand it), especially the middle to upper-middle class would not have custom details, but the owner would pick what they liked out of catalogs. A drive through San Francisco will bear that out, when two identical homes have wildly different flourishes. If it is up to the owner- and you are the owner here- you are going about it entirely the right way.

Paul Wilham said...

I have the exact opposite problem. I have a 'simple cottage' or so everyone told me. We found high end stencilling in EVERY room, Gold leafing on our picture rails, based on the 'ghosting' on the fireplace walls every room had high end cast iron/slate mantles.

It turned out our 'simple cottage' was built as weekend cottage by a very weathy family who spared no expense on their weekend getaway. I am constantly informed I'm 'over restoring'. I sense your frustration!!!!

Sean said...

I have worked on a large number of vintage house in California (both southern and Northern) and have found a large juxtaposition of details - Since a large number of older houses were not tract built but spec built, people would add or subtract the options based on taste, budget, etc...
Even if it was built as part of a tract or as a kit house, there were ALWAYS options - think about new homes - you can pay extra for upgrades from the standard to suit your taste and budget. Consequently, as a responsible owner of an old house, we have the same range of choices - I have added a number of "High end" features to my 1923 beach cottage that are period appropriate but just were not included in mine. On the flipside, there was evidence built in bookcases and a buffet that I choose not to replace, because it didn't suit what I wanted to do, even though almost every house in the area had one - I say so what! The details are up to you, and anyone who is claims to be an "expert" can be an "expert" in their own house....

Jesse said...

well Greg I don't have an old house so I am not in the position to say anything about what your house would have had. However, I know all about High School and people who talk to much. I love every thing you have done and I am confident it is done to the best of your ability and knowledge. As long as you are happy with what you have done don't worry about what other people say. Just remember it is your house now not the Petch's. You have to live there and not your friends. There are museums that operate with a lower standard of authenticity than you do. Please don't become discouraged my friend be true to your self and you cant go wrong.
Just think how history is misinterpreted every day by those same people just look at Thanksgiving hahaha
Jesse

Amanda said...

I think you are doing a fabulous job! :)

Karen Anne said...

There was wall-to-wall carpeting back then? I thought it was a modern excrescence.

I just looked and learned that sort of wall-to-wall was used early on to cover less than wonderful floors. But it isn't clear to me if it was wall-to-wall as we think of it today, or a large carpet that was about the size of the room.

Greg said...

There was tacked down wall-to-wall carpeting available. It is my understanding that carpet was made in 27-inch widths and then stitched together to cover a room. It was stretched and tacked at the edges just like modern carpet.

In fact, today they use those yard stick looking pieces of wood that are filled with hooks to attach the carpet to the wall. These are called "Tackless Strips" because they now use them instead of carpet tacks.

One of the dead give aways that a room had wall-to-wall carpet was the hundreds of tack holes. The carpet tacks used on my front stairs runner were inch and a quarter cut nails.

If they had used them to tack down carpet in the rest of the house I should see hundreds of tack holes along the perimeter, and most likely several old tacks still in the floor.

There are no tack holes and no tacks in the house except where the 27-inch wide runner went up the stairs.

Jamie said...

We have a 1927 Bungalow in NSW Australia. There is real evidence of wall-to-wall carpets in most rooms, especially the hallway. I was surprised to see this as I had expected there to have been only rugs.
I can see a definite line marked into the wood about 1cm above the modern carpet line. There are also lots and lots of what look like staples hanging out of the wall. I'm going to get my husband to pull all the sharp tacks out when we repaint in a few months (we've just finished fixing up all the cracks in the plaster).

A T said...

My great-grandfather was Joe Buggy Whip.

;)

Greg said...

You must be very proud.

(Best comment I've had in a while. Thanks!)

Hayduke said...

The "ALL redwood floors in Eureka Homes were intended to be carpeted adage is one of the familiar "facts" I have heard from some of my preservation friends. Yet as you point out, ever so often you run into a nice original redwood floor with no tack holes. So while maybe it was intended to be carpeted, it never was, and survived for a well over a 100 years in fine shape. The picture molding story is one I have heard as well and know of quite a few cases of homes like ours only having picture molding in the front and back parlors. Love all those experts.

Greg said...

Right. I think it is important to remember that people didn't walk in lock-step 100 years ago, just as they don't today. I mean, if I was being "normal" today I would not have bought this house.

I would also debate as to whether my floors were intended to be carpeted our not.

Marilyn said...

My Michigan house was built in 1892 by a building contractor--so you would expect to see all the best bells and whistles. Not so. There are two quite restrained mantels and a pocket door. The two parlors and probably the bedrooms were carpeted wall-to-wall, but the kitchen and dining room and bathrooms were maple. There was a very large leaded stained glass window on the landing and stained and leaded casement windows on an upstairs porch that have "disappeared". The walls were papered and there were picture rails in every room and hallway except the bathrooms and maid's room. The only opulence left is the beautiful brass door hardware. Some of this restraint I put down to changing fashion, and the other to Germanic thrift. In my part of the world the Queen Anne Style windows you have are usually relegated to the servant's wing or more modest homes. You can see some of the attic windows at this site http://www.flickr.com/search/?q=hackley&w=42533999%40N00

Preservationista said...

Many 19th Century Suburban homes were built on spec, or had some owner involvement in customizing one of a number of plans, just like developers in subdivisions do today. Last time I went through a modern subdivision, the builders weren't putting in all high end everything. Just like they didn't then.

@Paul

Your simple cottage is beautiful, I've seen it. I imagine people are referring to the addition of the bay window w/ stained glass, and the front porch when they say "over-restoration." It's simply adding elements that you want for your home, that's not "restoration." Those two elements weren't there when the house was built, but they look nice. Violette Le-Duc added the current flying buttresses to Notre Dame, because that's what the contemporary Parisians would've done if they'd really though about it. Now they're iconic.