Virginia “1/2” I-House

The first stop on the House Hopping with Preservationists tour is in Central Virginia. Hume, an engineer,  & Ali, a historic preservationist,  bought their house four years ago and have been lovingly working on it since. With their combined knowledge and dedication, they tackle many structural projects that cause the rest of us to shudder. Read on to find out why we could call this house a “1/2” I-house, how Ali & Hume have uncovered its history and how the present interfaces with the past in this house.

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By Hume and Ali Ross

Our house was built in 1930. We have pieced together information about how it evolved from neighbors and relatives of the previous owners. We heard from the granddaughter of the original owners that the house always was meant to be based on the traditional I-house form that is common in Virginia, a two-story, three bay, symmetrical façade with a long front porch. Our interpretation is that the plan was modified – perhaps in response to the Great Depression – and half of the typical I-House was never built. What would have been the central hallway now runs along one of the exterior walls.

Three main additions have been built out from the original footprint. The clearest evidence of what is an addition is the framing style. The main “half-I-House” is constructed of balloon framed, true-dimension Southern Yellow Pine that will snap a modern drywall screw off at the head if it manages to pierce and grab in the first place. The additions are constructed of modern “whitewood” dimensional lumber with headers and sill plates.

This facade photo shows how the house really makes sense as an I-House with the location of the front door; you can just picture the door centered on a larger facade, which is a characteristic of I-houses.

The first addition, a kitchen on the West elevation was constructed likely in the early to mid-1940s, as evidenced by a newspaper found under the floor discussing ongoing military action in Corsica. The house was expanded again; we think about 10 years later, a one story “beauty salon” was tacked onto the north elevation. We arrived at this date from what appeared to be the calling card of the trim installer penciled onto the back of some crown molding: “WM 53-12-8.”

“Beauty Salon” is not a typical room name in a residential house but this was its original purpose. Our neighbors across the street have lived here for almost 50 years and they remembered lots of women coming to our house to chat and get their hair cut by the previous owner in the salon. In the attic we found a few boxes of 1950s and 1960s hairstyling magazines. The name for the room remains, although the hair washing sink has long been removed.

The third “addition” was the enclosure of a pre-existing porch off of the kitchen. This is the hardest to date – the construction methods are different from the kitchen, suggesting it was enclosed later on, even if the porch was built at the time. A marking in a concrete pad outside this porch has initials and the year “47” – although this pad could have been poured concurrent with the construction of the kitchen and original open porch.

This MicroLAM shot shows the door opening we made between the kitchen and middle room. Note the contrast of the modern header with the back of the lath and plaster showing .

Another shot without the support poles, again showing the door opening we made between the kitchen and middle room.

It is interesting to think about how future owners may understand how the changes we have made may fit in chronologically. LVL Beams, pressure treated lumber, structured wiring, galvanized joist hangers, subfloor adhesive, the pane of glass we bought at ACE Hardware next to the original wavy glass pane in the kitchen window; all are products of our renovations to the house. Which of these will become the first that could provide a TPQ (terminus post quem) for future renovators to discover when our work was done? For instance, we installed CAT5e cable throughout the house, which is already practically antiquated. CPVC pipe may be the future or may be phased out entirely as PEX improves. We have hidden some dates around the house, written in concrete or on cross bracing under the kitchen floor to help confirm their assumptions of when we did our renovations, if they happen to find them.

Our initials for future renovators to find.

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Thank you to Ali & Hume for sharing your house’s history and some of your projects!

Ali is also part of the fabulous Mary Washington Preservation class of 2006. Ali graduated from UVA in 2010 with a MA in Architectural History and a certificate in Historic Preservation. She has recently worked in the Easement Department of the Virginia Department of Historic Resources. She is also on the Board of Directors for the Thousand Island Park Landmark Society in upstate NY.

Tomorrow on House Hopping with Preservationists, we head to the Midwest: Ohio!

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