The Alison House

It’s a week of House Hopping with Preservationists! Continuing on from stop one in central Virginia, let’s make our way to Columbus, Ohio. Maria, a historic preservationist, is busy researching, planning and prioritizing restoration and other projects for her house. Read on as Maria shows us the significant architectural features and shares the first projects she and her husband have undertaken. 

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By Maria Burkett

About a year ago, my husband and I purchased our first home, a beautiful little two-story brick vernacular house constructed in a working class immigrant neighborhood in 1914. The house is one of the newer buildings in the neighborhood, which dates to the 1860s, although most of the neighboring buildings on my street are from the 1890s and early 1900s. We are located north of downtown Columbus, Ohio and many of the early homeowners worked at nearby factories or shops. One of the early owners of our house (the Allison family) was an auto-mechanic and had a large garage in the rear of our yard, off of the ally. The garage is long gone, but the 1921-1922 Sanborn Map shows the location of the garage as well as the mixed development in the area with several multiple dwelling units and businesses mixed together.

Sanborn Insurance Map, 1921-1922.

One of the things that attracted us to the area was the diversity. The factories and garages have been replaced by restaurants and art galleries, and the area continues to change with many new developments planned for the neighborhood that will reuse the older buildings or appropriately in full the vacant urban lots. It is an exciting place to live.

It was love at first site for my husband and me with our house. First of all, it is one of the most unique buildings I have seen from the exterior. Although its form is rather plain, the buildings materials are unique. The front of the house is a beautiful yellow brick with red mortar and red brick details, and the other sides are a darker red brick, much darker than normal. Luckily for us, little repointing has been done, and we still have most of the original red mortar. The house has no additions and most of the windows are original, although all three of our doors have been replaced.

Front corner of our house—you can see the original 1/1 window, yellow brick façade, and red brick details and red brick side wall.

The interior is just as extraordinary; the house retains the original reddish hardwood floors and wood trim. The trim in the kitchen and first floor bathroom was painted, but one of my jobs this year is to remove the paint and refinish the trim.

The original floors and trim really excited us about the house when we were looking.

One of my distant projects is to remove the drywall in the firebox and find and appropriately sized gas insert.

My favorite part of the interior is the upstairs bathroom. Most of the bathroom has been redone (which I think is pretty ugly and will be giving it a makeover eventually), but the original clawfoot tub is still in place and there is a curved wall detail to accommodate the tub.

My beautiful bathtub—I can’t wait to rip out the tile and flooring.

We have done relatively little in the ways of improvements to the house so far. One of my husband’s requirements was that we did not, under any circumstances, purchase a fixer upper. Our house was move in ready, but like all houses, a person can dream up many projects. I made a three page list of every dream, which is why we delayed beginning work – in order to prioritize these projects. This past fall, we took the first step and insulated our attic. We like to think our house is warmer this winter, although the winter has been so warm it really is hard to tell.

After the insulation = a nice warm house. None of this existed in the attic before.

This spring we are going to start the task of repainting our exterior trim (one reason a brick house is so great, so little to paint!) and fix our gutters and front porch. The roof was incorrectly built and years of water and ice damage have left a considerable gap between where the roof ends and the gutters begin. I would also like to get some storm windows up and restore all of the rope and pulley systems in our double-hung windows, but that may have to wait another year.

One of my favorite details-a corner guard! We have several of these upstairs, although others are painted (for now).

In the meantime, I am anxiously awaiting the arrival of spring so I can continue work on my yard. For a house that is closing in on its 100th birthday, it had almost no landscaping to speak of until we bought it. I spent last summer putting in raised garden beds and planning perennials, azaleas, vinca, and whatever else I could get my hands on.

My nice garden last summer.

Our dog posing by a newly planted azalea.

The beginning of the garden. We later discovered that the dirt path running through out backyard is actually a concrete walk buried under several inches of mud. That is a project for this coming spring.

We are looking forward to continuing my battle against grass and installing a back walk this year. We love our old house and are constantly surprised and gratified by what we find and complete to make it our home.

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Maria works in Columbus, Ohio where she lives with her husband and dog. She is part of the fabulous Mary Washington Preservation class of 2006 and a flamingo enthusiast since 2005. 

Thanks, Maria!  You are a great inspiration for how to carefully plan restoration and other home renovations. Good luck with this year’s projects. Last year’s garden looks beautiful.

Next stop on House Hopping with Preservationists, we’ll head further west to the Great Plains: Montana!

A Life in the Trades: December 2010

Series introduction. October 2009. November 2009. December 2009. January 2010. February 2010. March 2010. April 2010. May 2010. June 2010. September 2010. October 2010. November 2010.

By Nicholas Bogosian

A Photo Diary of the Fall Quarter at Belmont Tech’s BPR program.

Metals class introduced us to the art of blacksmithing as well as the deterioration and preservation of various metals. Jeff Forster, guest instructor, owns a decorative ironworks and metal restoration business in Wheeling, WV.

The author at work.

Our Field Lab class in Morristown, OH gave us the opportunity to carry out sandstone foundation repairs. Improper face-bedding of the stone as well as the use of a Portland cement had caused some noticeable deterioration of the stone. The joints were repointed with an appropriate Virginia Lime Works mortar and one significantly damaged stone was given a plastic repair with a Jahn restoration product so that its cavernous face could be made sound again.

Jahn repair.

After Jahn repair.

In Windows & Doors class, damaged sashes and sills were removed from an 1880s one-room schoolhouse in Pleasant Hill, OH for repairs back at our lab space. Repairs included documentation of conditions, wood consolidation, paint removal, and re-glazing. Our final project was the creation of a paneled door with traditional mortise and tenon joinery and raised panels.

Graining & Marbling Class introduced us to the art of faux painting. Projects included sample boards of various stones and wood species. Final projects involved the creation of a “Pietra Dura” panel or stone marquetry as well as a panel with a graining and marbling combination.

And finally, my advanced material science class, which I elaborated on in my last blog, involved the conservation of structural timbers. Various techniques were carried out, including: splices/ dutchmans, WER (wood epoxy reinforcement), as well as mechanical repairs.

 

Carving out interior wood rot.

Splice/dutchman of knee brace.

 

BETA system repair to end rot using fiberglass rods and epoxy.

All photographs courtesy of Nicholas Bogosian.

A Life in the Trades: October 2010

Series introduction. October 2009. November 2009. December 2009. January 2010. February 2010. March 2010. April 2010. May 2010. June 2010. September 2010.

By Nicholas Bogosian

I have now reached the fifth quarter of my training at the Building Preservation & Restoration Program of Belmont Technical College.  That’s five out of seven.  I started this series at the beginning of my training with the intent of highlighting the trades function in the preservation of our built environment and as an open scrapbook of my experiences through the duration of the training.  I am happy to say that the zeal I came into the process with hasn’t wavered a bit.  Now the time has come to begin seeking out internships and think more forwardly about my place in the field.

Sistering rafters in historic outshed until necessary structural repairs can be made. Photo courtesy of Nicholas Bogosian.

It’s a true challenge to define preservation, let alone decide where you fit into its expansive net.  Preservation is not something most of us hear about growing up, or see on career placement tests.  While attending a plaster demonstration at Sarel Venter’s plaster lab in Grafton, WV last Spring, he asked us what we wanted to do when we graduated.  A few of us only had vague ideas:  “I’m not really sure” to which he replied, “That’s probably a good thing.”

Renata Bruza working iron over an anvil in Metals class. Photo courtesy of Nicholas Bogosian.

I know, like most of my peers, that I find satisfaction in making an unhealthy structure healthy again.  I enjoy even more knowing why it is healthier and why it was unhealthy in the first place.  This maintenance ethic may seem concrete in our minds, but I bet most of the world doesn’t view maintenance as a technical skill, a science, or an art (or even a priority).  The beauty of the craftsman is not only their ability to work with their hands – truthfully, their handiwork would have no value without the intellectual understanding of the materials they are working with.

Windows & Doors class repairing windows at an 1880s one-room schoolhouse in Pleasant Hill, Ohio. Photo courtesy of Nicholas Bogosian.

It is not enough, however, to be proficient in the historic building trades (i.e. plastering, blacksmithing, masonry, timber framing, faux painting, etc.)  A modern preservationist (or conservator, or preservation technician) must take their knowledge of these highly specialized professions and view the building holistically and understand the process of deterioration.  What good is a plasterer’s handiwork in repairing cracks in a wall when significant differential settlement is taking place in the building?  A preservation-sensitive structural engineer would do more good.

Sandstone erosion due to face-bedding & improper Portland cement mortaring. Photo courtesy of Nicholas Bogosian.

At this point, if I had to describe my dream job in preservation it would be something like working for an Architectural Conservation firm that not only carries out laboratory testing of materials, but also completes the process of sensitive repairs.
I love the resolute and grounded quality of stone and the inspiring durability of wood and the careful chemistry of arranging a sophisticated three part plaster.  I love the investigation, the clues:  the face of a sandstone block exfoliating like pages of a book, the cambium layers of a hand-hewn joist letting go and falling to the ground, the way the paint bubbles on the clapboards during a heavy rainstorm.

Removing a corroded cast iron grate for repairs in metal lab. Photo courtesy of Nicholas Bogosian.

So I suppose the conservationist shares in the same delight of the chemist, in knowing something at its atomic and molecular level – to know something through and through.

Burned Out Log Cabin

Photograph courtesy of Maria Burkett.

Photograph courtesy of Maria Burkett.

Photograph courtesy of Maria Burkett.

Ah, the perks of friends who have lots of fieldwork and survey assignments are evident when I receive intriguing photographs in my email.

These photos were taken recently in Belmont County, Ohio, which was one of the first areas to be settled legally by people in the Northwest Territory. Maria writes that it was just outside of her survey area, so she does not know more about it, other than it may be as early as the 1790s. Thanks for sharing, Maria!

Anyone else have some information? Any log cabin experts out there?

Death of a Barn

By Nicholas Bogosian (author of the series,  A Life in the Trades)

Tim owns an old barn near Fairpoint, Ohio. We tried reaching each other by phone for two weeks. I was needing some old rotten timbers for a wood conservation project in my advanced materials science class. Tim said he had some lying in a stack.

Dirt road after dirt road brought me closer. My cell phone rang. “Hey, this is Tim – wondering if we could plan a different time. I need to talk to some guy about my bulls. Have you already left?” I had. “Yeah – I’m almost there.” “Well, I can show you where the barn is real quick and come back.”

It’s amazing I found his house: “…a gray farmhouse on the left.” I swerved quick to the left when he waved to me from his silver SUV. Two dogs approached my car – a big yellow lab and a tiny black chihuahua with a pink cast for a leg. I quickly grabbed my gloves, my camera, my moisture meter, and my tape recorder. I got into his car. “The barn’s probably a hundred years old. I really wanted to preserve it.” “So what’s wrong with the timbers? Insects? Rot?” “I’m not sure. They’re laying in a stack. You can dig out what you need.”

We pulled up a steep hill. He paused and pointed off to the right to a wall of thick trees: “It’s right through there. I’ll be back in a half hour.” I got out of the car. I was expecting some expansive hill with an aged barn sitting neatly at its top. Nevertheless, I began walking through the high grass. Slowly, pieces of sun-damaged timbers started showing up, strewn on the ground around me. I finally got past the trees and saw the barn.

Photo by Nicholas Bogosian.

I was not expecting for the stack of timbers to be so large or for the barn to be non-existent. Initially, despite his helping me, I was a little aggravated that Tim hadn’t once mentioned that the barn had fallen down and that this was the “stack” that I was to find my experimental pieces. Green vining plants had overgrown the stack, trees were sprouting through summer beams, spiders had webbed homes in knee braces, hand-wrought nails were breaking off beams like chalk as I stepped over them.

Photo by Nicholas Bogosian.

I looked to my left and saw a tall wall of stacked limestone creating a shoring wall to a plateau of trees. A massive joist had fallen from its ledge within the wall. It was hard to make sense of anything. The debris was so confusing, I would never be able to salvage anything quickly. I continued walking across beams like a high-wire walker looking down to the crawl space beneath me. The slate roof had fallen. It had all fallen. The pieces were scattered like the bottom of a creek bed. They snapped beneath my careful steps.

Photo by Nicholas Bogosian.

I kept waiting for Tim’s arrival – suddenly appearing behind a camouflage of trees. Everything became still. It all felt very quiet except for the bird that occasionally greeted me with an enthusiastic, “Hey!”

I realized I had never seen anything like this before. I remembered Dave’s lectures in our Theory of Structures class and the simple truth that all acts of building are in opposition to nature. We store its members with potential energy when we hew down the logs, when we hoist the timbers, when we hammer the treenail into the joint. But nature works from day one to bring it down.

Photo by Nicholas Bogosian.

And so there I was in the middle of nowhere standing on top of the last remnants of what used to be something. Nature had not depleted the barn of its energy. It still held the memory of before. It was as if the whole thing would have picked itself back up again if it could. But that was not going to happen, and I was not particularly hopeful of it either. Despite the confusion of letting an old barn (more like 160-years-old) get to a state where it could topple over, I was happy that I got to witness its burying grounds, to stand on its beams and feel the rush of memory – that distant memory of peeking inside old abandoned homes as a kid, that respectful hush that falls over us, and the uneasiness of our intrusion.

A Life in the Trades: June 2010

Series introduction. October 2009. November 2009. December 2009. January 2010. February 2010. March 2010. April 2010. May 2010.

By Nicholas Bogosian

The Spring quarter is coming to a close and many of us are busy putting the final touches on a slew of school projects. This month I figured I’d just share some photos and let you in on some really exciting work students and I have been a part of in the last few weeks.

Field Lab: Wall Plastering

Field lab: wall plastering. Photo by Nicholas Bogosian.

Abbe Popescu applies the browncoat on the chimney wall of the Morristown House. Jon Smith, our field lab instructor, has done plaster work on major projects including Edith Wharton’s ‘The Mount.’ It was thrilling to watch him mix his ingredients and apply the plaster with such ease and fluid technique. Abbe quickly became the plaster queen and has also plastered another wall in the house.

Field Lab: Plaster Stabilization

Photo courtesy of Abbe Popescu.

Photo courtesy of Abbe Popescu.

Photo courtesy of Abbe Popescu.

Abbe and I endeavored on a plaster stabilization project under the stairs in the Morristown house as well. One section of the ceiling was missing a significant section of plaster. We were wanting to stabilize the remaining historic plaster and apply new plaster to the exposed hand-hewn lath. We chose the washer method where a metal washer is counter-sunk into the loose plaster with a screw to help hold the plaster firmly against the lath again. A more conservation-oriented method involves drilling holes in the existant plaster and injecting acrylic fills to bind the loose plaster to the lath again.

Paints & Clear Finishes

Photo by Nicholas Bogosian.

In my paints and clear finishes class I’ve been experimenting with creating different paints, stains, and “clear” finishes from “scratch.” A large part of this is just understanding the major characteristics of each and the varieties of components one can use in the final recipe list. All final experiments are displayed on wood sample pieces.

Of the many historic paint finishes I experimented with, egg tempera was one:

Egg tempera. Photo by Nicholas Bogosian.

Plaster: Medallion

Molding tooth. Photo by Nicholas Bogosian.

In Plaster class, the creation of my medallion continues. Most all of the aplique has been cast. Now that I’ve made my tin tooth, I can now begin the process of running my medallion base. Once all aplique has been set, I can prime and paint.

Field Lab: Timber Framing.

Photo by Nicholas Bogosian.

Photo by Abbe Popescu.

Photo by Nicholas Bogosian.

The basement at the Morristown House has been supported for a while now with shoring devices until we were able to re-build the timber brace supports. This morning we worked on creating mortise and tenons and fitting the final pieces together. All final pieces are fastened with treenails.

In other news, I’ve begun the planning stages for my project in Advanced Material Sciences class. We can choose any material we want and design an intensive preservation project based around it. I’m interested in wood conservation, specifically the conservation of early framing styles. Jon Smith, our field lab instructor is a timber framing and covered bridge aficionado and he told me about a local Farmstead with some really amazing (no, TRULY amazing) old timber construction.We went and looked at it, and it was one of the most amazing experiences I’ve had since I’ve been here in Ohio. Floyd, the current owner of the farmstead talked to me for at least an hour and seemed to have such a deep connection with the place and with what it represented of early rural vernacular life. It’s still an operating farm and a popular site on the Drover’s Trail. It’s called the Kinney Farm and dates to the 1860s.

I’m still in the process of learning more about it, but there are currently five structures on the property all on the National Register. With Jon’s guidance, I’m going to document the Carriage house on the property (which is falling into quick disrepair) and repair the rotted sills and any other timber conservation needed. I am excited because this will involve some structural shoring techniques which I have yet to have any experience with. It will also be great because we will be dealing with early American building techniques/joinery/tools – all for a Nationally Registered structure! Can’t wait to share the experience with you PiP readers.

A Life in the Trades: May 2010

Series introduction. October 2009. November 2009. December 2009. January 2010. February 2010. March 2010. April 2010.

By Nicholas Bogosian

Everything is green in Ohio. The hydrangea and the dandelions have sprung. The buds of Sugar Maples have turned to drooping tassels of flowers and finally to green leaves. The seeds have been sown and little chard leaves have peaked from the soil. The onion is taking root. The birds are happy.

I have to admit that I’ve been a little distracted from school lately. There’s been a severe case of burn out in the program at Belmont Tech among many of the students. Winter’s “state of emergency” snow load and intensive winter projects took their toll. It seems many of us are still trying to recuperate.

My classes this quarter include: Construction Management, Mechanical Systems, Field Documentation, Paints & Clear Finishes, Plaster, and Field Lab. In Mechanical Systems we’re doing hands-on exploration of electrical systems, plumbing systems, and HVAC systems – historic and present-day.

Mechanical Systems Class. Soldering of a copper supply line. Photo by Nicholas Bogosian.

Field Documentation has us at an 1870 one room school-house where another classmate and I are documenting the landscape. Our work will culminate in a sort of Cultural Landscape Report within a broader HSR.

Documentation Class. Rear view of the Great Western School House and surrounding property. Photo by Nicholas Bogosian.

In Plaster I’ve been doing an augmented reproduction of the Drayton Hall ceiling medallion. The process includes modeling from clay, molding the clay pieces, casting with plaster, and creating tin profile jigs for the running. The wall plaster and scagliola components to the class are to follow.

Plaster Class. Design of medallion applique. Photo by Nicholas Bogosian.

Perhaps my favorite class this quarter has been the Field Lab. We’re required to take four quarters of Field Lab where we work at an actual site applying our lab work experience under the guidance of either Dave Mertz (director of the program) or John Smith (superintendent to Allegheny Restoration).

The Spring quarter has us at the 1840s Swaney House in Morristown every Friday. We’ve begun with several projects: stone lintel crack repair, hanging of exterior window shutters, wall plaster, gutter hanging/soldering, and finish carpentry for the porch. John knows quite a bit about the preservation trades. His first trade is carpentry, but he seems to know just about everything. Working beside him feels much like working as an apprentice at times. You feel he’s giving you invaluable information, trade secrets, time-tested techniques. For example, using a coping saw to cut your inside mitre joint to allow for imperfect corner flexibility. Or that the “scratch coat” for wall plaster need not have any scratches. Or that the joint on metal downspouts should always create a 90 degree angle to a brick wall to avoid the brick being damaged when the metal expands in changing temperature.

Soldering gutter joints. Photo by Nicholas Bogosian.

Soldering gutter joints. Photo by Nicholas Bogosian.

Lime putty. Historically left to hydrate for many years. Photo by Nicholas Bogosian.

We’ve been able to see quite a bit of historic “apprentice work” throughout the house – brick walls laid in a bond one can only define as “apprentice bond.” This past Friday it felt like I was only adding to the collection of apprentice work with imprecise wood measurements while cutting some wood molding. My friend Abby, who was helping me, mentioned the old “measure twice, cut once” adage to which John replied that we actually just need to measure once. Correctly. He also informed us that the old “practice makes perfect” adage is a fallacy as well. Practicing the wrong way doesn’t make anything perfect, after all.

John perpetually keeps us laughing throughout the day. Always an anecdote for every step in the process. Always a story from preservation-assignments-past. This is the one day of the week we get to relax a little. Though we have to keep a log of what we’re doing and document the process, there’s usually no strict time frame for what we‘re doing. No note-taking. No textbook. No tests.

And believe me: I’m fine with that.

Abby and I taking pictures while the others are working. Photo courtesy of Nicholas Bogosian.

A Life in the Trades: April 2010

Series introduction. October 2009. November 2009. December 2009. January 2010. February 2010. March 2010.

By Abigail Watson-Popescu

Belmont Technical College’s hands-on approach to teaching building preservation breaks into two divisions: the construction track and the decorative track. While I learned quite a lot in my carpentry class this past quarter and found it to be good fun, as a student with a keen interest in historical interiors, I have chosen to pursue the decorative track. The decorative track focuses primarily on teaching the preservation and restoration of interior decorative work. This line of focus features courses in wall finishes, gilding and composition, marbling and wood graining, ceramics and plaster, as well as introductory courses in model and mold making and paints and clear finishes. As our director Dave Mertz likes to say, if you repeat the information often enough and there is enough repetitive practice using the information, it will hopefully stick once the students are out of the program and in the field. I find this to be entirely true regarding the building block sort of architecture upon which this program is designed.

In the introductory courses of Model and Mold Making and Paints and Clear Finishes, students have a chance to explore and experiment with a particular medium, whether it is molding rubbers, plaster, aniline dyes, milk paints, or the production of homemade walnut dyes, to name a few. These introductory courses allow us to plunge into the process of getting our hands dirty all the while learning the chemical properties of each component and media, resulting in an understanding of what works with what (and often vice-versa). This occasionally requires learning the hard way, involving extra work to make up for novice mistakes. (For instance, learning never to use a nylon brush for oil paints, or a natural bristle brush for latex!)

Dave Mertz also likes to say that students usually don’t believe they have a free hand to experiment (often because there is grading involved)—but in these intro classes, we really have been given free reign to plumb the great unknown (once armed with a great deal of encyclopedic knowledge from our sage professor, of course). This process of experimentation in the introductory courses allows us to really find out how the various media work for ourselves. Once we’ve got a handle on the media, students in the decorative track then go on to employ their knowledge of paints, stains, molding rubbers and plaster in more refined ways, with the end goal of reproducing historical finishes and plaster decorative features.

As a student pursuing the decorative track, I have, up to this point, delved into producing rubber molds of three-dimensional objects, from which I then produced plaster reproductions.

Mold and plaster cast derived from model created by Abigail Watson-Popescu. Photo by author.

Three-dimensional plaster cast from brush on mold by Abigail Watson-Popescu. Photo by author.

This spring, I will take my experience of creating molds and producing plaster casts to a more practical and applicable level in the advanced plaster course. In the forthcoming plaster course, we will learn how to repair and reproduce decorative plaster elements, such as the components of a plaster ceiling medallion, via the mold making and casting process. In this course, students will also learn how to repair and reproduce traditional three-coat plaster, as we work on our ongoing restoration of Belmont Technical College’s Field Lab house in Morristown, Ohio.

Plaster medallion reproduction from original, Belmont Technical College. Photo by Nicholas Bogosian.

Another pair of advanced material science courses encompassed in the decorative track that build upon knowledge learned in the introductory classes include Wall Finishes and Graining and Marbling. Having taken the Wall Finishes course this past Winter Quarter, I found it grew organically from the knowledge I acquired from the Paints and Clear Finishes class. My final project for Paints and Clear Finishes involved producing a wood sample board, featuring various types of wood in a variety of finishes.

Paints and clear finishes wood sample board by Abigail Watson-Popescu. Photo by author.

I experimented with making dyes out of natural earth pigments such as Prussian blue, as well as producing homemade dyes from walnuts that I picked in the fall. I even went so far as to make my own encaustic paint out of beeswax and pigments from a recipe I discovered in The Painter’s Handbook by Mark David Gottsegen. I relished the experience of making traditional finishes, which allowed me the feeling of putting myself in the place of a historical artisan, even though I occasionally found it to be very hard and frustrating work (particularly in producing the very labor-intensive traditional French Polish!)

French polish on mahogany by Abigail Watson-Popescu. Photo by author.

This experimental introduction gave me a familiarity with paints and clear finishes that enhanced my creativity when it came to producing an interesting and visually pleasing finished wall in the more focused course. The wall finishes course taught me the intricacies of a variety of paints and decorative finishes, which culminated with the production of a finished mock-up of a room, including walls, moldings and ceiling. When it came to deciding how I would undertake developing a color and decorative scheme for my wall, I took my instructor Jeff MacDonald’s advice to heart: “Never underestimate the power of a limited palette.” And, indeed, I chose a limited palette of golds and sage-like greens. I found that choosing a limited palette allowed me more room to experiment with a variety of finishes to produce a visually interesting but cohesive wall.

Finished wall by Abigail Watson-Popescu. Photo by author.

In going with a historical sort of feel, I decided to depict a parchment paper-like effect for the main portion of my wall. I did this by creating a glaze treatment made of raw sienna oil paint, primer, and an oil-based glazing liquid, which I thinned out with mineral spirits in order to achieve the appropriate weight (not an easy task!) This resulted in a yellowish hue that was lighter than my gold wall. The weight and hue of this glaze would give just the right effect of crinkles of parchment paper, when ragged on with crinkled newspaper-weight paper. I chose another glazing treatment for the portion of the wall below the chair rail. For this treatment, I used the sage green oil paint of my trim, glazing liquid and mineral spirits, which I applied in a horizontal wave pattern using graining combs. Lastly, I turned to the traditional stencil (which I traced and cut out of Mylar) in a thistle pattern for the corners of the ceiling to add the finishing touch to pull the whole scheme together.

Top view of finished wall/ceiling by Abigail Watson-Popescu. Photo by author.

My work on finishes will culminate with the Graining and Marbling course this spring. In this course, I will learn how to create marbling, or stone-like effects, on wood using paints and glazing liquids. The wood-graining portion of the course will likewise involve the use of glazes and combing techniques to produce a faux-wood grain finish, much favored in many historical buildings.

I was pleasantly surprised by a wonderful and expansive example of traditional wood graining of the late 19th century while I was investigating the Italianate YWCA building in my hometown of Titusville, Pennsylvania for my building pathology report last quarter. The cabinetry and woodwork in the kitchen and main office of this building is beautifully finished in wood graining, albeit unfortunately suffering from serious damage over time. Seeing the damage to the original wood graining in this building has piqued my anticipation for learning how I might combine my knowledge of repairing the damaged wood (which involves epoxy-consolidation and sanding) with restoring the artistic element of the traditional wood graining.

Detail of traditional wood-graining in YWCA building, Titusville, PA. Photo by author.

What I enjoy most about pursuing the decorative track of Belmont Tech’s BPR program is that reproducing or conserving artistic decorative elements enables me to share in the historical process, allowing me to walk in the shoes of the historical craftsperson, as it were. While I certainly would not consider myself an accomplished artist by any stretch of the imagination, learning to preserve, repair and reproduce decorative elements allows me a certain appreciation of the work of the craftsperson at a level which I could not have had prior to this hands-on experience. In many ways, I feel that regardless of a person’s level of craft, having the experience of producing a decorative piece with one’s own hands gives one an in-depth appreciation of the level of skill and labor that has gone in to the making of so many of our incredible historical buildings. And while interiors might not be a number one criterion for the National Register (although it seems the tide is changing a bit on that front), I believe that the preservation of interiors is central to the preservation of the fine artistic accomplishments of the past. The decorative track of Belmont Technical College’s Building Preservation and Restoration Program cultivates not only an appreciation for the work that went in to the production of historic interiors, but also an ability to preserve and repair these interiors wherever they might be failing. In this way, the spirit of the historic artist lives on in those who practice and conserve their work going forward. As a student on Belmont Tech’s decorative track, I am proud to be a member of this movement.

By Abigail Watson-Popescu

A Life in the Trades: January 2010

Series introduction. October 2009. November 2009. December 2009.

By Nicholas Bogosian

It didn’t take too long after my move to St. Clairsville, Ohio to realize that the community’s architectural pride rests on two structures: the Belmont County Courthouse and The Clarendon Hotel. Both are a short walking distance from my home. The Belmont County Courthouse, as it stands today, is a mammoth Second Empire sandstone structure replete with Corinthian capitals, tall arched windows, and Justice statues. Built in the late 1880s and designed by Joseph W. Yost, it is still used today as the county seat’s courthouse and boasts some of the area’s high-profile cases.

Belmont County Courthouse. Courtesy of Nicholas Bogosian.

Across the street from the Courthouse stands the Clarendon Hotel, which was constructed in 1890 by Thomas Clark, superintendent of the Courthouse construction. It’s a 15,000 square foot Romanesque Revival brick structure which became a transient property over the past forty years. The city purchased the building and began to stabilize it in the 1990s under the direction of Dennis Bigler, Director of Public Services. Mr. Bigler has been the major proponent of the city’s downtown revitalization. Just having moved here, I can enjoy the fruits of their long labor. Coming upon St. Clairsville’s downtown through the winding and hilly Ohio Valley is a refreshing sight. Though passage of the Main Street Program never materialized here, the city has done well to implement a majority of the program’s phases.

The Clarendon Hotel. Courtesy of Nicholas Bogosian.

The Clarendon Hotel. Courtesy of Nicholas Bogosian.

The purchase of the Clarendon was the beginning of an effort to reuse the property and bring it back to its original function. The entire façade has been restored and the city hopes a developer will turn the building into a boutique hotel with a restaurant on the first floor. Though 12,000 vehicles pass the hotel daily on 40 (the Historic National Road), St. Clairsville’s downtown is not what one would call a tourist destination. This appears to be the biggest obstacle in finding developers. The city’s traffic is in large part due to its location on the Historic National Road – a main thoroughfare for the valley. Though lodging could be useful for out-of-town business people and scenic drivers, the city is really setting their hopes on the development of National Road scenic tours.

I recently got an inside peek into the Clarendon Hotel and got to see fragments of its past and current rehabilitation efforts. Most of the interior walls have had their plaster removed because of the extensive foundation work. Some ornament remains. Old wiring splays out from between joists. Walls reveal sandwiched layers of wallpaper and paint. The original framing remains, but very little else. Everything is bare and cold.

Foyer stairwell recently stabilized. Courtesy of Nicholas Bogosian.

Second story hall. Courtesy of Nicholas Bogosian.

Faux marble decorated fireplace. Courtesy of Nicholas Bogosian.

Felt wallpaper. Courtesy of Nicholas Bogosian.

Eastlake Door Knob. Courtesy of Nicholas Bogosian.

Third story parlor room overlooking old sheriff's building. Courtesy of Nicholas Bogosian.

Shag carpet covering the baseboards. Interesting. Courtesy of Nicholas Bogosian.

Historic window frames kept intact in newly constructed emergency escape. Courtesy of Nicholas Bogosian.

Tubs, sinks, heaters, and piping are organized in the basement. Courtesy of Nicholas Bogosian.

This was my first experience witnessing a massive rehabilitation effort which is utilizing Historic Tax Credits. Granted, the progress is slow moving, but the pride that the community has for the Clarendon is vivid and immediate. Lucy, who operates Sipper’s Café down the way, talks about her teenage daughter‘s ambition to write a history of the hotel. I recently served the mayor and his wife at a local restaurant. The Clarendon came up in our conversation and he told me he’d be happy to let me in anytime to look around. An original timber from the hotel with an impressive span of growth rings resides in my classroom at Belmont Tech. The Clarendon is hope for the city’s future vitality. Its completion will bookend a long list of rehabilitation efforts in the city and revive a nostalgic landmark to its original glory.

Special thanks to Tom Murphy, Dennis Bigler, & Brian Kralovic of the City Council as well as Mayor Robert Vincenzo for their assistance in my curiosities.