The Cowboy Code: Using Heart of Pine to Disprove Father Time

Victorian we restored. Home dated to late 1800s and still had its layer of cedar shingles under three “newer” roofs.

How is it that houses built 100 or even 200 years ago are still standing?

Every day, I see things that amaze me.   Instead of today’s framing codes that dictate 16″ on center for roof rafters, I see framing that is sometimes 3 feet on center.  That is some seriously gappy spacing for roof rafters.  And miraculously, a lot of times, these roofs are fine, no sag, no soupbowl in the center. Continue reading

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Finding Art in the Imperfect

Refinished and patched in reclaimed floors

It’s typical that over the course of a century your bungalow or Victorian’s vintage heart pine floors have taken a world of abuse.  Atlanta’s inner city neighborhoods went through a host of hard times: old houses were portioned off into rooming houses; floors were damaged by errant water: leaking
roofs, leaking faucets, leaking tubs, inoperable windows.   Some homes had giant heaters built under the floors with large drafty grates. Add to that, heating methods were not safe and many houses suffered fires, scorching large parts of the original flooring.

These issues leave homeowners with the challenge of repairing flooring with wood that is no longer harvested, as original trees were 200-plus year old members of a long gone “virgin” forest.  And, sadly, many contractors aren’t familiar enough with old houses to know the difference between gorgeous old growth heart of pine flooring and modern day longleaf yellow pine milled from 10 year old trees.  While the wood is technically the same species, the coloration is night from day: whitish yellow from the young, modern trees versus a deep rich brownish red from the centuries old trees.

The reason for the rich reddish color is the tightness of the tree’s ring growth combined with the resins found in the slow growth.  Moreover, in an old house, where the floors
have been installed and used for 100 years, there is oxidation of the wood from
light exposure and the patina of a century’s worth of feet and furniture.

So, how do you repair these old boards?  The best solution is a simple concept but
somewhat difficult to source:  use reclaimed old boards from other old houses.
(Alternatively, you can buy boards re-milled from factory beams or trees
pulled out of the bottom of rivers.)  I’m fortunate in that I have a large stash of salvaged heart pine boards that I keep on hand for just these kinds of flooring jobs.  They go in looking like a patchwork quilt, all different colors of paint and dirt and polyurethane.   (Yet, pretty in that shabby chic way.  One client asked us to lightly sand the
boards, in their addition, to show the paint colors and just poly over the old
paint to preserve that quilt look.  It was a beautiful installation.) But after a good sanding and sealant and two coats of satin poly, the reclaimed boards blend beautifully with original boards.  Not just do they have the same patina, but because of the age and warping and use, tight spacing is impossible.  That mimics the spacing in
the original floors.  We mix together heart pine dust from the sanding with a putty and “grout” to fill the gaps between boards.  Overall, the material and process allow us to match the growth, age, and use of wood for a cohesive and beautiful floor.   And in this careful attention to detail, there lies the art of the imperfect.

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When Demo Discovery Can Drive Design

Custom vanity and mirror with Carrara marble top

Demolition is almost always interesting. Unfortunately, for clients with old houses, it isn’t always interesting in a good way. In old bungalows and Victorians here in the South, if we tear out a plaster and lath wall, we risk discovering framing that has been the feast for termites and powder post beetles long past. It’s amazing, the number of rodents that have called the walls “home” for birthing and raising young. Once, we happened upon Continue reading

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Unexpectedly Salvaging

Salvaged restored mantel with salvaged tile

I relish putting antique materials back where they belong.  Re-hanging mantels back onto raw brick openings in old houses; installing hundred year old medicine cabinets into the wall cavity of a bathroom, complete with imperfect beveled mirrors, the silvering flawed and interesting; or hanging vintage 1880s ceiling tin on a new kitchen ceiling addition to give it the shine and smattering of rust of a century past. These deft touches, even say in a bathroom with all new tile, plumbing fixtures and smooth new drywall, give the room panacheContinue reading

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An Ornate Mantel Can Be Literally Moving

When we started restoring our house, which is a Victorian/Craftsman bungalow hybrid, the sky was the limit as far as aesthetics go.  The house had been mostly robbed of its architectural treasure and converted into a triplex.  Several original mantels were long gone, the dining room stained glass was missing, and most of the original doors and trim were history.  What we had to restore was pretty sparse:  one amazingly ornate dining room mantel, a few 5 panel doors, the heart pine floors, the dining room wainscoting, and a clawfooted tub.  Continue reading

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Infuse Spaces with Warmth Using Salvaged House Parts

Several of my most enjoyable renovation projects were houses that were totally violated:  everything worth anything ripped clean out of them.  In fact, I live in one of those houses now so I’ll talk about this one.  We bought this house after watching it sit vacant for 7 years–of course, that’s not counting the occasional crack-head drifter, the squirrels that made a home in the roof rafters, the rats in the basement, or the various termites and powder-post beetles enjoying the buffet of wet wood.  Continue reading

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Old House Interior Door Styles

Typical Heart of Pine Bungalow Door

Interior doors can provide a good bit of insight to the history and style of a home.  Here in the Deep South, specifically Atlanta, we typically have six-panel heart of pine doors in our Craftsman bungalows and American Foursquares: homes built during the late teens and into the early 1930s.  Six panel doors are assembled with six beveled “judge’s panels” Continue reading

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