Sunday, December 30, 2007

What The Hell Do These People Want

That is the question. What do they want from me in order to get my house on the National Register of Historic Places. Well, there are several things that can get a house listed. One way is to think of it in terms of George Washington.

Did George Washington sleep here?
Did George Washington live here?
Did George Washington shoot somebody here?
Did George Washington sign something here?

For most properties listed it is not going to be George or anyone like George that had anything to do with the property. So than it must be size, right? If no one important had anything to do with it, then it must be a grand home, right?. Well, that’s not really all that important either. It was years ago that I read the criteria for considering a house to be listed, so this is my interpretation of it, but I seem to remember them talking a lot about Context.

A house, place, or building can be listed because someone important is associated with it, but it can also be that it is a good representation of a particular style that was constructed when that style was popular. And more importantly, that the house is still in its original context. It hasn’t been moved or changed drastically and it still retains a lot of the characteristics from the time it was constructed. Essentially, when you look at the house, you should be able to see it as it was and how it exists now in the same environment, even though the environment may have changed.

The style does not necessarily need to be true to some nationally recognized style because that would disqualify many regional variations of style. That is also, I think, where the whole Context thing comes in. If the property is a good representation of a regional style then it is a good candidate for listing. This could be an 1,100 square foot bungalow or a 16,000 square foot mansion.

I’m submitting two papers for the listing. One is a detailed description of the property itself. Mine is about 6 pages, single spaced. I describe the house in architectural terms, starting with all 4 elevations of the exterior and then each room of the interior. Along the way I do my best to point out what I think are important details that either help define the style, Queen Anne Revival, or elements that put the house in a regional context.

The second paper, which is also about 6 pages long, tries to express why the house should be listed. Here is the key sentence in the first paragraph that I use to plead my case.

“The house meets National Register Criterion C in the area of Architecture because it is an exceptional example of late Victorian architecture and it posses the craftsmanship of a regionally prominent master builder.”

In the next 6 pages that follow, I do my best to clarify that point. There are 4 areas of consideration that you can use to try and get your house listed. Obviously, I’m going for C. Below is a list of the 4 areas of consideration.

A. that are associated with events that have made significant contribution to the broad patterns of our history; or

B. that are associated with the lives of persons significant in our past; or

C. that embody the distinctive characteristics of a type, period, or method of construction, or that represent the work of a master, or that possess high artistic values, or that represent a significant and distinguishable entity whose components may lack individual distinction; or

D. that have yielded, or may be likely to yield, information important in prehistory or history.

You can see that the way C is written it really opens up the door for just about anything. I think what it really comes down to is how well you plead your case. Any house in Levittown could be said to “represent a significant and distinguishable entity whose components may lack individual distinction”. A lean-to shack on the Ozarks could be said to “embody the distinctive characteristics of a type, period, or method of construction”.

Aside from the two write-ups, there is a cover sheet that gives a lot of basic information about me, the property, and its location. And then there are the photos, and I need to make a bibliography to site my sources.

Good news on the photo front. Three years ago when I looked in to this there were only a few ink jet printers listed on the National Parks site that were considered good enough to print archival quality photos. It really comes down to the ink and paper, and not so much the printer. The caveat is, only certain printers use certain inks. It was really a limited combination of ink and paper that made the grade. At the time, the least expensive printer was an Epson printer that used a 8 color, UltraChrome K3 ink. It started at about $900 just for the printer. The high-end ones go for a couple of grand. I went back and looked at the site this morning and they’ve add the Epson Picture Mate printer to the list. It must be a home version that uses the same ink and paper as the high-end Epson printers. This one goes for around $200!

They have also reduced the required size. Three years ago it was a minimum of 5X7 photos. Now is it 3½ x 5, which is great because the Epson Picture Mate only produces 4X6 photos. They do mandate that digital photos be accompanied by a CD containing TIF (Tagged Image File) images of the photos. These must be at least 1600x1200 pixels at 300 ppi. I’m not sure if my camera produces that resolution.

Once I submit the application, I have no idea how long the process takes. I fully expect to be asked to makes some changes or to clarify somethings. That is, if I’m not turned down immediately. I’ve been told that one thing that can kill an application right out is if the building has been moved. Mine hasn’t, but this would take the house out of its original context. I am a little concerned with the fact that the exterior had asbestos siding. Even though it is mostly original and has been fully restored, that still worries me.

I’m going to shoot for February 1st to mail off the application.

Saturday, December 29, 2007

Going National

That’s that plan, anyway. We’ll see if The Nation welcomes me in to its open arms. I started this project a good 3 years ago, and the recent developments of finding an architect and builder’s name has brought it back to the forefront. Well, that, and the fact that it is too damn cold and wet around here to do anything else. If I can’t bang on wood with a hammer, I might as well bang on the keyboard with my fingers.

This is all about getting The Petch House the recognition is so sorely deserves. I’m going to try and get it listed on The National Register of Historic Places. As I said, I started this several years ago, but after writing and editing for months the whole thing sort of petered out when it came time to get pictures taken.

The historic preservation people demand - yes, thats right, Demand! - that the pictures that accompany the write-up be archival quality, black & white photos. These run $300 to $500 to produce. At the time, I was hemorrhaging cash on wiring, plumbing, paint, and tools trying to get this old shack in to a livable state. Spending that much on photos was not in the budget.

Before anyone writes and says that their $129 inch jet printer produces very nice B&W photos, I just want to say that that is not good enough for the listing application. When I was researching the whole process of submitting the application to the State Office of Historic Preservation (SOHP) I found that 99.9% of what is referred to as “Archival Quality” is not really Archival Quality. That term is tossed around so much these days that it has really lost almost all of its significance. The use of the term seems to have really taken off with the whole Scrap Book craze that has swept the nation over the last 5 years or so.

There is the term Archival Quality that is plastered in eye catching letters on packaging in stores, and then there is really Archival Quality materials used by professionals in the trade. The photos must be the latter, and they are not cheap. Now that I’m not building kitchens and bathrooms, though, I think I can find it in the budget to get the pictures produced.

So what does it mean to have your house listed on The National Register of Historic Places? Well, it doesn’t mean much. It is really little more than a feather in my cap and a nice plaque on the front door. In fact, I’m pretty sure I must buy the plaque myself if I want it.

The recognition is little more than just that – a recognition. There are no other restrictions placed on me, the house, or future owners, unless I get any type of Federal or State funding to maintain the property. If the house is listed on The National Register of Historic Places I could gut the inside, build a giant pink pyramid in here, sit under it naked, and eat dog poop. No one cares.

If you’ll notice, in order to list my house on The National Register of Historic Places, I first submit my application to the SOHP. Each state in the Nation has a SOHP. These offices do all of the vetting for the National Parks Service that maintains The National Register of Historic Places. Ninety-nine percent of all applications that make it past the SOHP and are submitted to the National Parks Service for listing, are placed on The National Register of Historic Places. The tricky part is getting past those bastards down at the SOHP. {Me shaking fist at screen} Damn you, SOHP!

I think some people confuse National Landmark Status with The National Register of Historic Places. A National Landmark would be a building or place that is significant to the nation on a cultural or historical level. It could be a battle field or building where an important event took place. The National Register of Historic Places is just a list of buildings and structures that largely only have significance at the local or state level.

Both lists are maintained by The National Park Service. They are in a way just an inventory which archives the architectural history of the Nation. There are currently about 80,000 places in The National Register of Historic Places, and of those, about 2,400 are considered National Landmarks.

The reason there are no restrictions placed on the current or future owners of homes placed on The National Register of Historic Places is because if there were, only nut jobs like me would ever place their home on The Register. It would defeat the whole purpose of The Register. If individual property rights weren’t insured, then The Register would be all but empty.

It is only really when you get down to a local level that cities can place restrictions on structures deemed historically significant, and that has nothing to do with The National Register of Historic Places. It is really no different than the city preventing me from turning my house in to a 24-hour tire shop or strip club. This is what cities do. They create ordinances so that it makes it easier for us to co-exist. If anyone could do anything they wanted with their private property in the city limits the place would be chaos. As far as city ordinances go, preservation ordinances are some of the most benign and benefit the city in the long run. My house could be listed at a National and State level and still not be listed at a City level. These are all separate things.

Even then, if I’m listed locally in my own city, any restrictions are only placed on the facade that faces the street. The level of ignorance about this is astounding. Just tune in to a City Council meeting when they are discussing local preservation ordinances and you will see what appear to be otherwise intelligent people lose the ability to read and understand simple language that spells out the ordinance. For the last time people, NO ONE CARES WHAT COLOR YOU PAINT YOUR BATHROOM!

My own house, which is on the Local Register of Historic Places has very few restrictions placed on it. Only changes I make to the front facade that faces the street has any restrictions on it, and even that has nothing to do with paint color. It pretty much only has to do with windows, porches, and siding. That’s pretty much it. These ordinances are only designed to maintain the historical look and feel of the home as it is seen from the street. Your house, when listed locally, can be little more than a Disney Land façade on Main St. As for the rest of it: Go Hog Wild and butcher your place as you please. Right now, if I wanted to, I could gut the inside, build a giant pink pyramid in here, sit under it naked, and eat dog poop. No one cares.

Hey, maybe that will be my next project.

Hmmmm, eating dog poop under a pyramid. Grrrrllll

Friday, December 28, 2007

Home Invasion

The whole experience has been a nightmare. I’m just so glad its all over. Over for now, anyway. I feel vulnerable now. Like it could happen again at any minute. I feel I need to change my habits to prevent this sort of thing from happening again. It is hard to be myself in my own kitchen now.

When I saw the first 2 I killed them right out. Then I saw more coming in, and more, and more. They were like an invading army laying siege to my kitchen. Soon there were thousands and no matter how fast I slaughtered them, I couldn’t keep up. This was a massacre of Biblical Proportions and it wasn’t enough.

The recycling bin was attacked first. There was a trail of them an inch thick that lead from an empty can of soup I neglected to rinse out. The trail went down the side of the bin, out the door of the kitchen, in to the butler’s pantry, and down through a small crack at the base of one of the plinth blocks.

I killed as many I could before emptying the recycling bin and the garbage can, and then swept out the closet under the stairs. Even after all of that, it took them another 12 hours to realize there was no more sustenance waiting for them in there. Several times that day I killed as many as I could and still they came like so much fodder for my broom.

After the Battle of the Recycling Bin they laid siege to the sink. Again I killed them by the thousands and again they continued to attack in hordes. They were relentless. After I cleaned everything out of the sink that I thought they were after, they then turned their attention to the faucet. For the next two days, every time I tried to drink some water my glass was filled with their squirming bodies. I think some are trying to sacrifice themselves for the greater good. I think they are trying to poison my water supply with their dead bodies in an attempt to get rid of me once and for all. Maybe they’re not just mindless drones after all.

Saturday, December 22, 2007

A Builder's Name

Its funny how things come together sometimes. It is rare, I think, that you stumble on to a treasure trove of information about the history of your house, or the first owners. More often than not it is a long process that takes years, with little tidbits sometimes revealing themselves when you least expect it. Just recently another piece of the puzzle came together.

The local paper has a monthly insert called Restore & Preserver. It is about local architecture, and several years ago they did a write-up on my house. The most recent issue had an article on the other Petch House in town. While I was researching my house I found that the Petch family first lived at 1025 J Street.

I had an opportunity to speak with the current owner once. He is a very nice man, and he is doing a very nice restoration of the house, but knew nothing of the Petch family's time in the house. Not too surprising really. No matter, it is still fun to talk about old houses and local architecture. There are other houses in town, that while they have no connection to the Petch family, they do have connection to The Petch House, in architectual terms anyway.

The house above on Hillsdale has an almost identical window to The Petch House. It is a fairly unique design, so it has always seemed that there must be some connection to my house, but I could never prove it. It could be the same architect or the same builder. If nothing else, surely the window came out of the same mill.

This other house above, which is considered the sister house to the Hillsdale house, also has the same front window. This house was a full two stories at one time, but caught fire and was rebuilt as a story and a half. I’ve been told that at one time it was identical to the Hillsdale house.

The Green Book, a local inventory of historical structures in town, credits these two homes as being built by a man named Mowry. My house, even though it has the same front window, has no builder or architect credited to it in The Green Book. In fact, the book goes as far as to say that my front window is a later addition. Gasp! The Nerve!

I’m not exactly sure where this idea came from that my window is a later addition. Obviously it is a mistake. The only thing that can possibly explain this mistake is that my house was covered in asbestos siding at the time The Green Book was compiled back in the 1970s. Regardless, this obvious mistake in the book has become a bit of a running joke among my friends here in town.

Download in the Play Store
So anyway, back to Restore & Preserve. I was excited to see the other Petch House on J street getting a write-up in the paper. It is a very nice little Eastlake cottage, and it too was once covered with asbestos siding. The current owner – it was his dad who covered the house in asbestos back in the 40s – has been doing a faithful restoration of the exterior for about 20 years. The house looks great.

The article went on to talk about Mr. Eugene Mowery, builder and architect of the J street house. It said that in 1884 he and a partner owned a mill at the corner of 3rd & B streets that turned out lots of gingerbread, fancy doors, and sash. It also said that he was a builder and architect and built several prominent structures in town. Not only did he build the house on J street, the Hillsdale house, and the 2nd street house, but he also built and lived in the house at 135 J St, right next door to the first Petch House at 1025 J St. In fact, he built his house first and then built the house next door as a rental. And guess who he rented it too? That’s right, the young and growing Petch Faimily!

So in the late 1880s we have The Petch Family living at 1025 J street. Right next door is his neighbor, landlord, close personal friend, and prominnet local builder and architect, Mr. Mowery. In 1895, 2 years after the Mr. Mowery builds the Hillsdale house, The Petch House gets built on M street with a nearly identical window.

Well, a blind man could connect the dots at this point. Not only did Mr. Mowery build The Petch house, but all of the millwork most certianly came out of Mr. Mowery’s mill at the corner of 3rd & B streets.

It is just one more tiny piece of the puzzle, but I find it all very fascinating.

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

More Spectacular…

Yes, that’s right, more spectacular than you can possibly imagine. Last night was the big dinner party at The Carson Mansion (You’ll notice I no longer jokingly refer to it as a shack). For me this was like going to church.

First, as you get closer to the house, you are struck by the scale of it. I think the copious amounts of gingerbread on the house makes it look smaller than it actually is, when viewed from far away. It tends to look like a doll house, and not quite real. In the picture above, each of those discs on the large brackets are probably about 8-inches in diameter.

In this other picture, on the sunburst detail at the far end, each of those rays is probably 1 and a half times the diameter of a baseball bat. And the scale continues inside the house as well. Door casing looks to be milled out of 2X8 lumber. Everything is meaty, over-sized, and over stated.

I learned from Ron, our host for the night, that the light wood in the foyer and right parlor is South American Mahogany. The left parlor is done entirely in redwood, and I think the dining room is oak. There are two columns at the far end of the left parlor that are milled out of the finest burl redwood I’ve ever seen. Each turned column must be close to a foot thick. Every where you look small sections of columns and panels are intricately carved with flowers and vines. It is just stunning.

The fireplace above is in the left parlor. That is an onyx mantle with redwood surround. The chimney flew splits in the wall and goes on either side of the stained glass window. The relief cravings around the mantel are stunning and all done in redwood, which would seem to indicate that all of the work was done on-site and not ordered from back east.

Opposite this fireplace, the entrance to the room has incredible wood work with carved egrets above the door. The wall coverings are the original silk wall coverings from the 1880s. They sit off the plaster walls by an inch or so.

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The right side parlor is where we had cocktails and hourdevours. Ron said that the people who did the restoration on the room painstakingly stripped the paint off the plaster cornice to reveal the true colors. The bright yellows, blues, and reds are true to the period, believe it or not. Some questioned the choice of these colors, but it just so happens the colors are identical to the colors in the two statuettes on the mantle, which are original to the room.

In the parlor above, notice the stained glass panels above the large, double-hung sash windows at the far end of the room. Almost every single exterior window in the house has some stained glass aspect to it.

Almost all are done in this same random, geometric pattern, with thick balls and diamonds that sit proud of the rest of the glass. Many have the painted panels in them. There must be several dozen of them through out the house.

Of course, some of the stained glass work is more impressive than other glasswork in the house.

Naturally, we were served dinner in the dinning room. I sat at the far end on the left. The ceiling in this room is gold. I don’t mean gold color, I mean gold. Flakes of gold suspended in paint and applied to the ceiling. That is the man himself, William Carson, in the photo on the wall at the right.

Three words: Third Floor Ballroom. I've some how managed to live with out one. I mean, if you can call that living.

Upstairs, it just goes on and on. And its not just the opulence that blows you away, it is the level of craftsmanship. And it is just all so unique. Every place you look you notice little details and elements where they just thought of everything. Surprisingly, it is only a 3 bedroom house and very few bathrooms. Of course, you had to leave room for the THIRD FLOOR BALLROOM!!!

The ballroom has what must be soaring 25 foot ceilings with a large skylight at the top. And of course, no mansion would be complete without a billiard room and an elevator. The billiard table is original to the house.

And to top it all off - literally - there is the forth floor tower. Spectacular barely scratches the surface. The tower has 8 large single-hung sash windows that roll up in to the ceiling. And of course, each sash is topped with a stained glass panel, any one of which would be the highlight all by itself in any other home in the city.

And if you can draw you eyes away from the house, the view from the tower is the best in the city. What a night. Thanks Ron!

Monday, December 17, 2007

Rip, Burn, Skin

It sounds painful, doesn’t it? Given that this is a house blog one would naturally think I’m writing this from the emergency room, or maybe even a hospital bed. No, this the lingo of media files on computers. Its like they got a bunch of stoned snowboarders to come up with the lexicon of media when it comes to computers.

You no longer download and copy files, you rip and burn them. You don’t change the look and feel of a program, you put a new skin on it. This is the same reason we no longer wear stocking caps, but instead we wear skull caps. Its like, totally rad, to give mundane objects and tasks names that sound menacing and intense. It gives the allure of danger while sitting in the comfort of Mom and Dad’s basement.

So I pent my Sunday ripping CDs on to the Media Vault. It was a lot easier than I thought it would be. I pictured countless hours of selecting files, navigating through folders, copy files, er… I mean burning files. Then I would need to rename them all to make them legible, and make sure the player knew where they were. I thought I was going to be a painfully arduous task and I was dreading it.

It turned out to just about the easiest thing I’ve done on a computer in a long, long time. Someone actually did not have their head up their ass when they thought this through. I used Windows Media Player 11 to do the cop… Ripping. Once I told the Media Player that I would be storing the CD files, er…daggers of music, the process was surprisingly automated.

It turns out there is a lot more information on the CD than just the music. There is an image of the CD cover, the genre of music, artists name, song name, the year it was recorded, and the total running time for each song. Once the CD was ripped, the tray opened and I just popped in another one. I barely had to pay attention to it. I was able to blast through more than 50 CDs while watching football on Sunday.

The CD s are also rated as they are ripped. I’m not really sure what the rating is based on. They all started out with 3 out of 5 stars with the exception of one Velvet Underground CD that has a rating of 4.5. At least who ever rated that one knows what they are talking about.

Once they’ve all been ripped to the media vault they can be viewed by just the CD cover, or viewed with the song list for each CD. You can sort alphabetically, or by genre, time, rating, or year.

To play, uh, I mean BLAST the CDs you just double click on a CD cover or individual song. You can also open a play list and drag and drop songs from multiple CDs to the play list. Play lists can be saved and played again. The whole process was surprisingly simple….er, I mean totally wicked and awesome.

Sunday, December 16, 2007

Kingdom of Media

I got the HP Media Vault in the mail about a week ago. I’m not going to say it is the best thing to ever happen to home networking, but I will say it is easy to set up and use, it does what the advertising claimed, and it didn’t cost much.

So far so good.

For those not familiar with it, The Media Vault is a NAS (Network Attached Storage) device. If you have DSL then you most likely have a router. The media vault plugs in to the router and gives you a way to share files with any other computer plugged in to the router. The idea is to store all music, video, and photo files on the vault and then be able to access them from any PC in the house.

The unit was $214 delivered to my door. It is about 4-inches wide and stands a little under a foot tall. It looks like a very small computer. You plug in the power, then plug in a network cable from the router, and then turn it on. That is the extent of the set up. There is software to install for some bells and whistles, but the software is not necessary to use the device. It has a web interface for tweaking the settings, but there are very few to tweak and the web interface is simple and easy to use.

Tech Lingo Alert
It can also act as a web server and FTP server. This means that you can set up a web page for the house, or configure it to be able to allow you to access files from a computer outside the house. Individual folders can be password protected and the web interface for settings can be password protected. All folders are blind shares by default.

You create folders on the device either through the web interface or with My Computer, and access them by mapping network drives, just like any other network. You really don’t need to know how to do this because the software that comes with it does this for you. When I first set it up I tried to access it from my laptop, which has a bad CD Drive in it. I was not able to install the software and the 4 default folders are set up as blind shares, so I couldn’t see them to be able to map them. Instead, I pointed my browser to HTTP:\\HPMediavault and after that I knew the folder names, so I could just map to \\hpmediavault\foldername\.

Expanding the storage is done through a pull-out tray on the front panel. Any internal, 3.5-inch SATA drive can be put in to the tray to add more hard drive space if you need it. It is not a USB type set up, but a real hard drive installation, only made simpler. No opening the case. It does have 3 USP ports on it and it can act as a print server by plugging any printer in to one of the three ports. Again, very simple to do.

The one potentially bad thing is that the OS is a stripped down Linux kernel that is proprietary to the media vault. If there are hard drive problems there are no tools available to try and salvage some of the data. Any failure is absolute failure. The up side of this is that the kernel is built for speed. It does nothing but file I/O.
End Tech Lingo

It has 300 gigabytes of storage, which is enough for a lot of videos and music. One full-length movie runs about 1 gigabyte in size. The device came with The Bourne Identity preinstalled, which was supplied by CinemaNow.Com, a movie download site. It also came with an offer to download two more movies from CinemaNow.Com. At CinemaNow.Com you can buy or rent movies. The prices run $2-$5 for renting and $5-$20 for buying. It seems like an OK service, although the selection seemed a bit limited. I first tried to find the movie Children of Men, which came out last summer, and it wasn’t available. A few other movies that have come out in the past few years weren’t on the site either. I ended up getting Crash and Kingdom Of Heaven.

The movies play beautifully off the media vault. I watched them on a 20-inch flat panel monitor, with external speakers and a small sub woofer. The picture and sound are very nice. You forget that you’re watching the movie off a computer. The next step will be to get the movie to output to the TV. That will happen next month.

All in all, I’m very happy with it. It seems to accomplish a lot of what I wanted, without having to fool with a full-blown networking server. I still may play around with that idea, but for now, this will go a long way to getting my home network up and running, and it is extremely easy to set up and use.

Sunday, December 09, 2007

Carson Zoom In

I was being lazy and bored today so I downloaded some of the high resolution B&W photos of the Carson Shack from 1960. I zoomed in on some of the detail and cropped a few of the highlights. Enjoy!

I think I need to stop looking at these photos. My house looks so plain and boxy to me now.

Useless Below 40

The afternoon temps get in to the low 50s, but overnight it drops in to the 30s. The house seems to stay right at about 40 with no heat running. I only keep a few rooms heated, so most of the house is like a meat locker several months out of the year.

I really need to do some winterizing, but it is just too damn cold to work. How’s that for irony. Several of the double hung windows upstairs have the top sash open a few inches. I push them up and put a wedge in there, but eventually, with the high winds, the windows rattle and the wedge falls out and the sash drops again. Some of these rooms I go in to so infrequently, that weeks can go by before I notice. This is one reason why I don’t heat any of those rooms. Well, that, and the fact that I have no real heating system to speak of.

The other problem is the stairs that lead to the third floor/attic. They are wide open and there is no door. There is also no framing for a door. Back in the 1920s they took what was mostly likely a 32-inch doorway and doubled the width. They then lopped off the bottom 2 steps to the stairs that lead to the attic and boarded over the entrance. This became a closet for one of the apartments.

I was never really sure why they did this. Ok, I can kind of understand removing the bottom steps to make it look more like a closet, but why widen the entrance. Closest with single doors are the norm. It was an odd choice. The only thought is that it became an alcove for an armoire or something. This was the early 20s, so closets in every bedroom were still kind a novel idea.

I rebuilt the stairs years ago, because I needed access to the third floor, but I never reframed or hung a proper door to close off the stairs. Any heat that makes its way up stairs is sucked up those stairs like a chimney drawing smoke. I had hoped to fix this problem, and get the attic insulted this summer, but the whole bathroom thing took a lot longer than I thought. And then I started the new job, and all. It just never happened.

So now its winter again and its going to be another cold one at the old Petch House. If I could get motivated I would fix the door and insulate the attic, but I just can’t seem to. I don’t like working in the cold. For more irony, if I did start to do the work I would most likely warm up. Hauling tools and lumber up and down the stairs is a good way to warm up a body. Of course, sitting in the front parlor with the doors closed, and watching football with the heater running is another way to warm up a body.

Maybe I’ll get to it this spring.

Friday, December 07, 2007

Feak Out...Far Out...

In a Moon Age Day Dream....

It kind of reminds me of The Carson Shack. Both are extremes of their style. I just love them both. Oh, to be in London in 1973 or Eureka in 1889...Sigh!

Keep your 'lectric eye on me babe...

Thursday, December 06, 2007

Christmas At The Carson Shack

Some years it seems like there is a party to go to every other night of the week during the 2 weeks preceding Christmas, and other years it is just one or two. If the truth be told, I’m not much of a party person. I enjoy smaller gatherings. Still, it is nice to join the crowd now and then. So far, I will only be attending just two Christmas parties this year. Whew!

One party will be at The Carson Shack just down the street from me. I found these photos on-line a few days ago. The photo above is from 1902, but the interior shots below are 1960. The place still looks pretty much just like the pictures. These are from Historic American Buildings Survey/Historic American Engineering Record at the Library of Congress.

I’ve posted shots of this place before, but I never get tired of looking at it. This is the first time for some interior shots. At the highest resolution a single photo is a 17MB download.

Monday, December 03, 2007

So This Is How It Is

I’ve changed my mind again. Can you believe it? I know, it’s a shocker.

Anyway, I’ve decided to put off the ClarkConnect server for now. I will be doing it, but I’ll wait until I’m further along in the process. I think I can do most of what I want with the HP Media Vault (See earlier post). As I’ve come to learn, the Media Vault falls in to a category of products referred to as NAS, or Network Attached Storage.

They are basically mini-file servers that are tuned to just serving files on a network. They can be plugged in to a router (This could be a DSL or cable modem/router) and serve media files to any other PC on the router. At least this is my understanding. We’ll see if I understand this correctly sometime next week when I get it.

If I’m wrong, and I really do need the server to use the media vault, well, I was planning to do that anyway, and the media vault is only $214.00 with shipping and taxes. That is a pretty amazing price, if you ask me.

So, lets say I have a PC in the parlor hooked up to the TV, and some external speakers. I can stream video to the TV and music to the speakers off the media vault. I should then also be able to surf the web from the same PC. In theory this should work. I could be wrong about this, and we’ll just need to wait and see.

The server would give me additional benefits, such as act as a web and email server. You can set up user accounts, and just manage the whole system better. The dream is to one day stop paying money each month to another company to host my web site. With a server running ClarkConnect, I could do that myself.

The draw back to this is that if I have other PCs in the house I could use them all for email but I would need to make sure one PC is dedicated to downloading mail to an inbox on the PC. If I have three PCs all downloading mail, it would get confusing. This is where the server would come in handy. What I will need to do is set other PCs to leave a copy of the mail on the server and have one download the mail and delete the mail from the server.

I realize, that to the non-tech person reading this, it all may seem a bit much, and frankly, I agree. This gets back to my very first post on this subject. It is just all too complicated. Once it is set up and running, it needs little maintenance. The issue is setting it all up and trouble shooting it in the event that something goes wrong.

Someday, someone is going to come up with a box that you have on a wall in the garage. You plug in a phone line and a cable TV line and then you run a single cable to any number of smart devices in the house. You turn them on and identify yourself by either a thumb print or voice recognition and then you have access to TV/video/music/internet/phone and what ever else comes along. It someday needs to get to that point, because this is no way to live. One hundred years from now someone is going to stumble on to these series of blog entries and think, “Wow! What savages!”

Saturday, December 01, 2007

I’m All Over The Place On This One

It seems like I’ve fallen in to a tech world black hole of acronyms and emerging technology. The more I read, it seems like just about everyone out there is either doing some form of what I’m trying to do, or trying to sell something that will do it. There is just soooo much to chose from out there, it is a little bewildering.

This is a quote from one forum threads I read, and this is one of the better written ones…

"I've been doing this exact same thing for a while now with opensuse, but Ubuntu would work just fine as well. Just be sure to install SSH before you dump it in the closet

You can use samba to share files with windows and NFS to share files with linux. This is how I do it. For the streaming, you dont really need to stream the A/V, you can just use samba/NFS and play the files like they were local. If you really want to stream, you can use VLC, but I beleive you'll have to leave it running on a VNC session on the server.

For RAID, you can use linux software RAID. This is what I use and its worked great. I was confused at first with it because it RAIDs partitions rather than drives. So you have to make RAID partitons on the drives, and then create the array with whatever partitons you choose, and then create a filesystem on the array."

Two weeks ago I would have gotten very little of that, but now a lot of it makes sense. The one thing I am almost entirely sure of now, though, is that I will be doing a Linux based file server for the home. I’ve drifted away from that idea a few times over the past few weeks. Why, just Thursday I envisioned a house filled with Ipod enabled devices. I could just carry around a 30 gb Ipod with music and video on it and plug it in where ever I was. That idea quickly died a few hours later.

I’m not entirely sure on the cost yet, but it seems that I can have a robust file server, with plenty of storage, and with all of the routers and cabling for the entire house, for around a $1000. This would enable internet, TV, video, and music to the 6 rooms that will have cable running to them, and to a lesser extent, the entire house with some wireless additions. It may sound like a lot to some, but really its not. This should be suitable to do what I want to do for several years. I would imagine that once the infrastructure is in place, there would need to be minor upgrades every 5 to 10 years.

Of course, this is just the supply side of it. Even though the rooms would be enabled, there would be additional cost (TV, computer, etc) that would be needed in the individual rooms. I’m not really concerned with that at this point, because most of the rooms in the house aren’t at that stage yet. Really, just the parlor, kitchen, and one bedroom are there. You need to think of this part of the project as more of an infrastructure part, like electrical wiring and plumbing, rather than the end user stage.

I have found some more cool devices to think about. Most of the content below is marketing copy directly from the product site. This is not me endorsing it.

HP Media Vault mv2010 (300GB) - $199
* • Expandable home network storage for data backup and sharing
* • 300GB—holds up to 139,000 photos, 69,000 songs, or 90 hours of video in best mode
* • Media streaming to home entertainment center
* • Supports up to three printers
* • Automatic backups 24 x 7

Seagate® Mirra™ Personal Server – Price Unknown
The Mirra Personal Server lets you:

* Access—Retrieve digital content via the Internet any time.
* Share—Share files with anyone simply and securely.
* Sync—Sync content automatically between networked computers.
* Protect—Continuous data protection for networked Macintosh and Windows computers.
* Enjoy—Connect to your content from wherever you are.

Video Lan – Free

VLC media player (initially VideoLAN Client) is a highly portable multimedia player for various audio and video formats (MPEG, DivX, Ogg, and many more) as well as DVDs, VCDs, and various streaming protocols. However in recent years it has also become a extremely powerful server to stream live and on demand video in several formats to our network and the Internet.

It started as a student project at the French École Centrale, Paris but is now a worldwide project with developers from 20 countries. (more).

VLC is built in a modular way. This means that you can choose from a range of different modules to decide how to control VLC and how to display the video output.

ATI TV Wonder™ 650 Combo PCI Express –$120

This is another TV Tuner card for the PC. From what I’ve read about the few PC/TV tuners, most are not really good enough to replace a TV. This one has promise though. This is the most recent review I could find. This card also has 2 tuners on it, so you can watch one and record off the other.

ATI Wonder 650 Review

Twonky Media – $40

The PacketVideo MediaServer enables you to share your multimedia throughout your home. It is available for many different platforms and interworks with a large variety of client devices including XBox 360™, Sony PS3™ and Sony PSP™. TwonkyMedia requires fewer resources and is faster than other UPnP media servers, and provides more features that help users enjoy large media collections. If you care about usability, TwonkyMedia is the right choice. It even enables you to define your own personal navigation structure. Whether you are an end user or a device manufacturer - we have the right license model for you.

So much to chose from….

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

What The Heck-a-Roonie For

I’ve gotten a few emails and some blog comments asking why I would even want or need a home network. It’s difficult to say, exactly. I guess more than anything, I just want it. I’m a geek, and I’m proud of it. I think it would be cool to have a home network and be able to stream music and video to every room in the house. Wireless will never cut it for that. At least not at the moment.

I’ve decided I need a better plan of attack, though. I’ve been kind of all over the place with hardware and software ideas, and not really sure which way to go. As I hinted at in my last post, I don’t think there is One Way to do this, on the hardware end. That is to say, each room, or type of room, is different. What works in the parlor may not be appropriate for the kitchen, and that may not work for the bedrooms.

I need to start with the basics so I can try things out. I think the over all success of this is going to come down to software. Hardware is an important part of the equation, but you can only do so much with cables and routers. Poorly written software will sink any project, I don’t care how good the hardware is.

Of course, I can’t really play with software until I at least have a basic server up and running, so that is where I need to start. The good news is, I was wrong about the cost of the ClarkConnect server software. I said it was $375 for a 10 user license, but it is really free for someone like me. There is a small business edition that is $375, and an Enterprise edition that is for larger implementations that costs more, but the homer version is free. This is fairly common in the Linux world. The caveat is, you get no technical support with the home version, but there is an active user base that is there to help.

So that part is taken care of. I downloaded the 475 MB ClarkConnect distribution today. Now what I need is the box (e.g. a computer to load the software on and act as a server). Once I get that I can set up a mini network and play around with it to see what works and what doesn’t.

Sunday, November 25, 2007

Dear Santa,

So, I’ve been working on my Christmas list the past few weeks. Now, I don’t want to get duplicates of some of the items on the list, so we need to coordinate here. Once you’ve picked something from the list that you want to get me, email me to make sure someone else hasn’t already selected it. I think if we all work together, this can be a very nice Christmas for all of us….Especially me.

I’ve been looking more at my options for bringing The Petch house in to the 21st Century. I want something that will work, but I also want to avoid what I call the Ma & Pa Kettle syndrome, and I don’t want this to cost more than the kitchen remodel. It’s a balancing act.

If you’re not familiar with Ma & Pa Kettle, they made several movies in the late 40s and early 50s. They were dim-witted hicks with more kids than they had teeth. They always seemed to get stuck in these ridiculous situations because they were just so stupid. (Google Ma & Pa Kettle Math to give you some idea.) The one movie I remember was “The Further Adventures of Ma and Pa Kettle”. They win a 1950s House of The Future where everything is automated, push button, and ridiculously overly complicated. Match that with the Kettle Clan and hilarity ensued.

I’ve been getting some comments from people that have been very helpful, but some of them really over shoot the mark on what I’m want. That doesn’t mean that I want the comments to stop. The Myth TV link is very nice, but way too complicated. If I need to fish through menus to watch a TV show, it seems to complicated to me. Part of this comes down to the fact that I’m not a big TV watcher. It’s not that I don’t watch more than my fair share of TV, I do. It is more that I think the vast majority of it is so crappy that I have no intention of ever recording something for playback later unless it is a one time shot.

I don’t need 500 gigabytes of storage to store TV shows that are crap. I can’t see ever subscribing to a service like TiVo because nothing on TV is really worth that much money or effort, and what ever is worth watching will be playing again within 6 months. They just don’t write as many TV episodes as they used to. You get 12 to 15 new episodes a year of a popular TV show. Every episode will get played several times over a 52 week period, and sometimes even twice in the same week.

I’m a geek but I get easily frustrated with complicated interfaces. I think some of this comes from the fact that I write software and I pride myself on interface design. There is this need among a lot of developers to throw the kitchen sink at the software. It gets to the point that it becomes exhausting to use when you just want to do something simple. Not everything needs to be developed for the super geek. It is OK to sometimes dumb things down and give them ease of use and basic functionality.

{Four paragraph technology rant deleted here}

To get a better idea of what I’m thinking about here, think of the DVD players on a computer. You can watch a full length DVD movie on just about any computer you buy today. The old laptop I’m using even has a set of buttons on the face designed just for playing DVD movies. I’ve never used those buttons. I’ve never watched a 2 hour movie on my laptop. I’m willing to bet few people have ever sat in there home and watched a full-length movie on their computer. Why would you when you have a nice comfy couch, with a nice big TV, with a DVD player, with a remote control.

The DVD player on computers enhances the computer experience, it does not replace the TV/DVD player in the living room. What I think would be nice is to enhance the TV experience with basic computing abilities like browsing the internet. And since I’m going to be running a home network, why not throw in music that can be played in any room off the network. That is pretty much it. I have no intention of getting rid of my computer, nor do I have any intention of sitting on the couch to work on spreadsheets. Its not conducive to that sort of thing, just as the computer is not conducive to watching full length movies.

So the options are to have a TV that acts like a computer a small part of the time. Or have a computer that acts like a TV the majority of the time. I still haven’t figured out which is best, and I don’t think there is one answer to this question. More on that later….

So, here is a few of the goodies I found on-line. Some were through comments left after some of my other rants…er, I mean blog entries, and others I found by surfing. Remember, the goal is TV, Music, Internet on one screen. It needs to reasonably simple to use and not cost a lot.

Gigabyte’s HDMI & HDCP Graphics Card – It has several video output types. This would be used to get the computer video signal out to a TV, if the TV does not have VGA support. HDMI is the newest if Hi-Def sound and video technology for TVs and DVD players. I’m not sure how much this one is, but others start at around $100.

MVP Media - This gets video and music on to the TV over a LAN connection. It comes with a remote control and costs about $100. It is interesting, but I’m not sure if this is the way I would go.

Squeeze Box - I liked this idea. For around $300 you get a music player that plays streaming music over TCP/IP from the server. It has a remote, server software, and some nice features. I can't see putting one in every room, but I can see some applications for it.

TVBox 9 – This will turn an LCD computer monitor in to a TV. It is basically tuner with a remote. I runs about $200. This same company makes a plethora of TV/Computer type products with prices that are sub $100 to well over a $1000.

VideoLAN – This is an open source video streaming (server) and VLC media player (client). This one I need to read up on a lot more, but it looks like it has promise, but it does have an awful lot of bells and whistles.

MythTV – This is another open source PC Based TV system. It is just jammed packed full of features. This would be for viewing a TV signal through a PC. I can’t see doing that at this time. When the TV is so easy to use, the last thing I want to do is make it more complicated.

PCTV HD Ultimate Stick – This one I thought was interesting. It is a TV tuner on one of those USB memory sticks. You plug it in to a USB port on your computer and then hook up the coaxial cable. The stick can record up to 2 hours of video from the TV signal and it comes with a remote. $129.00

ClarkConnect – This is a Linux based, open source server software. I think it was $375 for a one-time 10 user license, or you can pay $75 a year for regular upgrades. I need to do more reading on this, but already I like it better than having to buy Windows Server 2003.

Home Network Supply – This is an Ebay store that has what seems to be – to my untrained eye, anyway – a good selection of basic hardware stuff for home telecom.

Thin Clients – This is sort of a throwback to the old main frame days when you had a drone on your desk and pulled everything from a main frame computer. I really like these. These are small computers (about the size of a 4 port router) with no hard dive. They often show them mounted on the back of the monitor. Basically it is a processor, ram, network interface card, and some ports for video and what have you. The HP ones start around $200 and go up to $500.

LCD Monitors – You can get a 19-inch one for around $200 these days. Not much more to talk about there.

Wireless Keyboard and Mouse – Take your pick. Maybe $50.

Friday, November 23, 2007

Bathroom: Before, In-between & After

There is not much to the before. It is just a couple of pictures of the room from different angles. It is a small room and tough to get pictures of it.

In the photo above, that is the bathroom at the far end, beyond the water heater. This shot is taken from the dining room, looking through the butler’s pantry, and in to the scullery. The scullery is what eventually became the bathroom. As I’ve stated many times, these three rooms went through the earliest of modifications when they became Mrs. Petch’s apartment in 1915 when she turned the house in to a boarding house. The dining room and butler’s pantry were originally separated by cabinets, and that was a solid wall between the butler’s pantry and scullery.

The two big windows were removed and the small stained glass window is now centered on that wall. You can see the tub in the picture as well. That was going to be the original location of the tub. I ended up flipping it 90 degrees and it is on the wall to the left, out of the picture. There is now a solid wall were the water heater is. The medicine cabinet is on the other side of the water heater with the toilet next to it. The door to the bathroom is on the right, just out of the picture.

Here is another shot of those two big windows. While they are original to the house, this was not their original location. I won’t go in to how know, but it was very obvious.

And here is the same shot with the stained glass window. Below are three videos. The first, a tour of the room just after the rough in plumbing was finished. Then a very short video after the tile was up but not yet grouted. And finally, a video I shot three days ago of the finished room.

A note on You Tube Videos: They basically suck. Its like you get 10 pixels that smoosh together. It seems to me that the videos play better when you reduce the size. Changing the width & height parameters dosen't seem to do much. I did notice that if you click on the "Menu" button on the You Tube window the video will get smaller. To keep it that size, hover the mouse pointer over the "Other Video" images at the bottom of the You Tube window. It seems to play better for me that way.

Monday, November 19, 2007

More On The Future

"You have some options. Personally I've avoid having to switch inputs on a display and just have everything streamed. This would also allow for centralized DVR functionality. It also removes the requirement for a tuner in the display.

You might want to check out the open source project MisterHouse ( This is really geared towards home automation and not media distribution, but interesting none the less.

I think what you should really look at is MythTV ( You setup a MythTV backend to handle tuners, recording, etc. while multiple fontends can then access the content. There are also many available modules to check the weather, email, surf the web, play video games, and much more. It's also possible to netboot the frontend software ( so that you can easily manage deployed software to all your displays. Just think, running one CAT6 gigbait wire to each room, rather than CAT5 and coax.

Above is exactly the type of response I was hoping for. This was a comment left yesterday after my disjointed description of what I hope to achieve in the way of telecom for the house. I don’t think anything here actually achieves my goals, but then, they may not be achievable at this point.

I haven’t actually had the time to look at the different links, but it is a great start and I wanted to thank Rwohleb for taking the time to post the comment. You can be sure I’m going to be investigating all of this over the next few months.

The real issue that may be a stumbling block is the issue of the cabling I have in place. I must work with what I have. It is hard to believe that CATV is outdated, but that is just the nature of the industry. Four years ago I pulled 2 CATV and 2 Coaxial cables from under the house, up through 3 floors, and in to the attic. It is there, and it is going to stay there, and I’m going to use it. If I took the time to rip it all out and pull in CAT6 cable, by the time I got the whole system up and running, there would be CAT7 cable available.

As I write, I writing on a 6 year old lap top that has not had new software installed in years. I’m not an early adopter. I don’t play the hardware/software upgrade two-step. This goes back to my original post yesterday about wanting simple to use stuff. I don’t want to tinker with it and tweak it and then need to worry about replacing it in a few years. I just want to use it. keep it simple.

After I wrote my blog entry yesterday I started to think about all of the old and new technology in the house. The old stuff is simple to use and instantaneous. Flip a switch and the light comes. Pick up a phone receiver and the dial tone is buzzing away before you can get it to your ear. You turn on a TV and the sound and picture come up in a second at most.

My new DVD player/recorder takes a good 20 seconds to boot-up. With an old VCR you could go from power-down to be recording a tape in 10 or 15 seconds. The DVD needs to be formatted first. If I wanted to quickly start recording a DVD it would take a good 2 to 3 minutes from the time I turn on the unit until I can actually start recording.

Computers are even worse. Think of the wasted hours we’ve all spent staring at an hour glass on the screen. It’s true, they save a lot of time in that once they get going they can do some things really, really fast, but it really needs to get better. And it’s changing all of the time. The last time I replaced my TV I did it because the old one broke not because the technology was out-dated. It must get simpler and faster if I’m expected to integrate it in to my life.

In the idea above, the central idea is to have several tuners connected to a network and then stream the signal to monitors. It sounds good – hell, it sounds great – but is the technology there, and if it is, is it affordable and easy to use. If 3 people turn on TVs watching different channels, and other is playing a game, and yet another is listing to music, could the network keep up? Could you imagine getting and hour glass in the middle of a TV show.

This was why in my dream set-up the TV signal still comes in the old fashioned way. I wouldn’t want to build a whole-house system only to find out that it falls so short of the mark that only a few of the aspects of it are really usable.

Who knows where this will end up. There are a lot of options out there.

Sunday, November 18, 2007

The Future Is Not Now

So this about a first look at a project I plan to start after the first of the year. I'm just sort of thinking here, with no clear plan at this point, and there is a lot of dreaming. I have an overall concept, with goals, but there is no telling what the end results will be. Basically, I want to give the 4 bedrooms, the parlor, and kitchen access to internet, TV, and music. Ideally it would be all pulled from a central location - a hub, or brain center of the house. For me this will be in the butler's pantry. I like ease of use over functionality. I think of it in terms as designing a system my Mother could use, and my Mother is about the least technologically advanced person I know.

The backend can be advanced and will need someone who knows what they are doing to maintain it, but I imagine that for the prefect system, the-end user side would be fairly simple and without a lot of hardware. When I was staying at a Hyatt hotel last month they had an in-room internet service that was pretty crappy, but fairly easy to use. You accessed the system with a wireless keyboard and the use of the TV remote and there was no username/password necessary. As I said, it was crappy, and slow, and it was also very proprietary.

I picture something like that, but hopefully done better. Ideally, in the kitchen and bedrooms there would be a small flat screen monitor, 2 small speakers, and a wireless keyboard and mouse in each room. The parlor would be the same setup, only with better speakers and a larger monitor. In a perfect world there would be no computer to turn on and wait to boot-up, and no username\password to log on. The computer side of it should be as quick and simple to use as a TV. Internet, TV and music would always be on, and email, if it was needed would be a generic account that anyone could use at anytime without a user name/password. Much like the telephone.

If a more robust system is needed for a home office or for gaming, and it most certainly would be, there is no reason why a full computer system couldn't be set up in a room where it is needed and this system could be used for TV, music, and generic internet use.

It seems what I need are monitors with a TV tuner, a CPU, memory, and network interface card. There would be inputs for cable TV and LAN, and outputs for audio, and I suppose a few USB slots would be nice. The computer part would by just another input selection. Right now my TV has input selections of TV, Component Video, HDMI, DVD, Video 1, and Video 2. The HDMI is to give a simulated high definition signal from the hi-def DVD player. I think the Component Video is another way of getting better definition form a DVD, VCR, or video camera, but I've never used it. I use HDMI.

There wouldn't need to me a hard drive, because everything would come from the server. There would be a limited OS that would be read from flash memory. It would always sit in standby mode when the unit is turned off, but still plugged in. This is not something that I would ever want to pull the top off to put in more memory, and upgrade the video card, or install new software. My days of wanting to fool with computer hardware and software are long over. I want to be able to turn it on and use it quickly and easily. The OS would be small and just run a two applications that can be upgraded from the server. First there would be a web browser. The email client would be just your basic SMTP email client run through the browser. The email would be passed to a server side application that would assign user name and passwords based on admin settings (e.g. The Smith Family The other application would stream video and music from the server.

Maybe something like this already exists. If it doesn't, I'm staking my claim to the idea right now, and I'll sue the pants off anyone that markets this idea in the future and does not pay me royalties or give me stock options.

The server side will be like a small office server set up with a high speed router to stream video and music. Video and music could either be run from the hard drive or from a CD/DVD player. The TV/Web Computers in the rooms would basically have a robust guest account and would be logged on automatically. Other more traditional user accounts could be set up and managed like in a traditional networked office. Users would have private email and folders on the server that would be accessed from a real computer, but also be able to access video and music from their computers.

So far what I have is 2 coaxial cables and 2 CATV cables run to each room and they are all in a bundle hanging from a joist under the butler's pantry floor. As I said, this is just a start at think about what to do. I have a long ways to go, and something tells me the end product will not look like what I described above.

Saturday, November 17, 2007

Mini Plinths To The Rescue!

I had an epiphany of sorts last night about my marble/backsplash/casing dilemma. I had decided to do the wood backsplash, but the problem was still with the casing. Even with the marble backsplash, the problem was with the casing. It has always been the casing. The issue with the marble was that it was too thick and heavy for the backsplash. Even if I got thinner marble, or switched to thinner wood, the casing would still come down and meet the marble. This is an inappropriate, and an inelegant way of doing this sort of thing.

Extending the backsplash out to the edges and having the casing come down on top of it does not really solve the problem either. I can’t just have the casing come down on top of the backsplash because the backsplash would have some sort of routered detail on the top. Even if it is just a simple round over, the square casing can’t come down on to the round-over. It just wouldn’t look right.

I started think more about how casing is usually dealt with. In this style of house – High Victorian Queen Anne – trim work just doesn’t come to end. There is a transition piece of sorts. For casing, it is usually a plinth block. Ding! The light went off. Why not have plinth blocks on top of the marble. The casing and backsplash can meet the plinth blocks, just as casing and baseboards meet the plinth blocks for a traditional doorway.

I got lucky in that the plinth blocks in this house are fairly simple raised panel blocks. The plinth blocks in the rest of the house are 12-inches high. Too high for the top of the counter. The backsplash is only going to be 6-inches high, so keeping with the reveal in the rest of the house, the mini plinths for the marble should only be 6.5 to 7 inches high.

The reveal is very important. This is the portion of one piece of trim work that sticks out a bit farther than the adjoining piece. It gives a shadow line and adds definition to the trim work. It makes it appear more substantial, or more correctly, it defines just how substantial it is.

If the casing is ¾ of an inch thick, then the plinth blocks and corner blocks should be at least a full-inch thick. Just as well, the plinth and corner blocks should be a bit wider than the casing and baseboards. Also, the plinth blocks should be a bit taller than the baseboards. The plinth blocks should “sit proud” of the casing and baseboard.

As I said, the plinth blocks in the rest of the house are 12-inches high. If I did 12-inch high plinth blocks on top of the counter I would need an 11.5-inch backsplash. You want the plinth block to sit proud of the adjoining trim, but not so much that it is offensive to the eye. I could not have 12-inch plinth blocks and a 6-inch backsplash. It would just look odd. Instead, I made diminutive sized plinth blocks to go with the smaller backsplash.

The plinth blocks are 7-inches high and the backsplash is 6.5-icnhes high. The plinth blocks are a total of an inch and a quarter thick, but there is a quarter inch raised panel in the center, so the outside edge is 1-inch thick. This meets up with the three quarter inch thick casing and the three quarter inch thick backsplash. The proportions are correct…..or, as correct as they are going to get, given the circumstances.

I’m really very happy with this. I think the design of the corner cabinet was problematic to begin with, and had I been able to think all of this through to begin with, I might have done the whole thing different. As it is, I think it will look ok. I had to remove the casing and cut it done, so I went ahead and pulled out the marble, and polished it up a bit. I never really finish the edges, and just sort of slapped it in there for the party.

I think I’m go to like this. Here is a “before” (not really “before”, because I never finished the marble) and the After.

Meaty Marble Before

Mini Plinths After!