OLD HOUSE, NEW FLOOR PLAN

The appeal of Victorian era period detail is undeniable, but their floor plans are in conflict with modern tastes which prioritize light and access. We marvel at their lofty ceilings, small room footprints and locksets on every interior door. It was a different world, clearly - - so down come the walls.

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OLD HOUSE, NEW FLOOR PLAN

MODERN BATHROOM, HISTORIC HOUSE

An historic house is under constant pressure from changes in the culture, which require interventions to accommodate modern tastes and technology. Nowhere is this so evident as in the kitchen and bathroom, where the space required seems to expand decade by decade to provide room for more cabinetry, appliances and fixtures.

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MODERN BATHROOM, HISTORIC HOUSE

STRIPPING HISTORIC EXTERIOR TRIM

Exterior paint layers build up over time, and accumulation of paint films will eventually fill and obscure original millwork details. An example is this Brattle Street Colonial Revival style house built in 1887. Built for Annie Thorp, a daughter of Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, it was inspired by her father’s eighteenth century Georgian house nearby. The “revival” style was exactly that, a late Victorian homage to a much earlier traditional style. Even so, 1887 to the present was plenty of time for 18 layers of paint to accumulate, effectively filling the gaps in the small dentils in the cornice and likewise distorting other details.

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STRIPPING HISTORIC EXTERIOR TRIM

REFINISHING VICTORIAN WOODWORK FOR MODERN TASTES

The modern knock on the Victorian style is that it is both too busy and too gloomy, like the Addams Family. The modern taste runs to simple and light. Still, it is hard not to be awed by the lush craftsmanship that went into this paneled Victorian wood staircase, the rich, heavy panels and generous proportions and dimensions. And yes, it did need to be refinished, one way or the other.
 

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REFINISHING VICTORIAN WOODWORK FOR MODERN TASTES

HAPPY ACCIDENTS IN HISTORIC RESTORATION

Change happens to every building, as styles and standards evolve. Where to draw the line between preservation and evolution is a matter of judgement and taste. An example of this was the abatement of asbestos floor tile from a concrete floor in a classic mid century modern residence, by the noted architect Paul Glaser.

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HAPPY ACCIDENTS IN HISTORIC RESTORATION

REPRODUCING HISTORIC SPACES WITH VENEER PLASTER

After a century and a half or so of building settlement and aftermarket alterations, the walls of any wood framed structure will be somewhat misaligned. When those walls are behind a mansard type roof, and intentionally tilted inward, then the forgiving virtues of a skim coat veneer plaster wall system becomes a critical tool for rendering wall planes in a faithful and consistent way.

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REPRODUCING HISTORIC SPACES WITH VENEER PLASTER

MANAGING A HEARING BEFORE THE CAMBRIDGE HISTORICAL COMMISSION

The Cambridge Historical Commission is the official historic preservation authority for the City of Cambridge. If your property is in a formally designated historic or neighborhood conservation district, no permitted work can proceed without a Certificate from the Commission. 

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MANAGING A HEARING BEFORE THE CAMBRIDGE HISTORICAL COMMISSION

SATISFYING CONFLICTING AGENDAS FOR HISTORIC WOOD WINDOWS

In order to preserve the integrity of historic city neighborhoods, the Cambridge Historical Commission has the responsibility to oversee updates to architectural details on “places and buildings that are significant for their history or architecture.” This mandate most particularly applies to exterior details that are visible from a public way. This can present a balancing act when it becomes necessary to replace historic wood window sash with units, which must satisfy modern requirements for energy efficiency.    

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SATISFYING CONFLICTING AGENDAS  FOR HISTORIC WOOD WINDOWS

PRIDE AND THE MASTER CARPENTER

By Doug Hanna

Recently, the guy who does web marketing for our company, John Corbett, suggested that I write a blog post about the role of pride in producing top level craftsmen. Having worked at S + H maybe 20 years ago for a year or two, John recalled that every carpenter that he knew at S + H aspired to be the best, and had definite opinions on what constituted quality work. The carpenter’s trade requires vision, patience and total focus. Any lapses in attention are punished immediately as the work must be torn back and corrected. Intense pride in the result helps to keep the master carpenter’s head in the game.

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PRIDE AND THE MASTER CARPENTER

LISTENING TO A BUILDING TO RESTORE PERIOD DETAIL

History is a funny thing. Sometimes, it gets erased. In construction, we call that a “gut job”, meaning that the existing finishes have been demolished, from the framing studs out. Times change, tastes change, but the spirit of a building remains the same, and calls out for restoration of its original purpose and intention.

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LISTENING TO A BUILDING TO RESTORE PERIOD DETAIL

THE OLD IS NEW - - WALNUT LIBRARY

The interior of this elaborate Victorian in Harvard Square had been gutted in the early 60’s. The new owners had a vision to create a room, a paneled library, which would feel as if it had been entirely original to the building itself. Their designers procured a couple of period architectural objects which provided focal points for the design of the room.

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THE OLD IS NEW - - WALNUT LIBRARY

DESIGN FLEXIBILITY AND RENOVATION OF HISTORIC BUILDINGS

Sometimes historic buildings can take their time giving up their secrets. In such a case, it is well to have a flexible project design, one that takes account of the surprises and opportunities that renovation of an older building can furnish. An example is this 1840’s Gothic mansion on Beacon Hill, designed by Richard Upjohn, who designed the main entrances to the Boston Common. Originally a single 23,000 SF unit, in 1965 it was gutted and entirely stripped of its original finishes and trim in order to partition it into 15 modern residential units. As part of this work, the ceilings were dropped from a lofty 13 feet down to barely 7 feet.

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DESIGN FLEXIBILITY AND RENOVATION OF HISTORIC BUILDINGS

Old, Virgin Growth Lumber and Alternatives

By Doug Hanna

Having worked on old homes and structures in New England for the last 40 years, we continue to be impressed with the durability of the lumber used before the 20th century. Most of the exterior trim installed in the 17th, 18th and most of the 19th century came from virgin timber. These were trees that had grown close together, undisturbed, sometimes for centuries. The result of this "slow growth " was a tree with much tighter ring patterns, which created a harder, stronger piece of lumber that had more resistance to rot and insect damage. One of the most remarkable common places we still see this type of trim lumber is in window sills. Though window sills take a beating, and they might look worn and rutted, many sills continue to remain almost completely sound, sometimes centuries after they were installed.

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Old, Virgin Growth Lumber and Alternatives

Local Historical Commissions - - On Your Team

You just purchased an historic house in an historic neighborhood. You have planned some needed improvements to the building and now your contractor or designer informs you that you need to meet with the local historical commission in order to get these changes approved. What is going on here? Isn’t this your property? What right does some unelected commission have to tell you what you can do with your own property?

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 Local Historical Commissions - - On Your Team

Cambridge Historical Marker Returns to Original Location

On April 30th, S+H Construction assisted the Cambridge Historical Society and placed a historical granite marker, from the year of 1880, to its original location after being uncovered at a construction site, where it previously sat for 66 years. The marker was inscribed in 1880 by the city of Cambridge as a part of their 250th anniversary of their founding. The marker was at the corner of an 1869 building at Dunster and Mount Auburn and it marked the site of the first meeting house erected in 1632. When the building was demolished in 1929, the marker was dumped in a landfill near Fresh Pond. In 1947 the Continental Can Company built a factory on top of the marker and there it sat for 66 years until its discovery this year at the Fawcett Street construction site.

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Cambridge Historical Marker Returns to Original Location

Historic Roxbury Puddingstone - True Native Stone

One of the most beautiful and interesting local historic materials found in the greater Boston built environment is what is called Roxbury Puddingstone. This is a native sandstone inlaid with granite pebbles and fragments of quartz and then metamorphisized into something hard enough to build with. Historically, it was used to build masonry walls and foundations throughout the Boston area and quarried in Roxbury, Brookline, Brighton and Newton. In many cases, quarried is too formal a word, as the stone used was often blasted out of the building site itself, in the process of excavation. 

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Historic Roxbury Puddingstone - True Native Stone