Saturday, January 2, 2010

Choosing Our Architectural Direction

Okay, bloggy friends, I'm gearing up to show you our progress with the new trim! Well, it's really Sam's progress :) First, though, I'd like to give you a little bit of the background thought behind our choices.

Sam and I have a vision of sorts for this place that I'm not sure I've really talked about much, yet. Partly because it's a little unconventional (in our circles anyway), and mostly because I had zero evidence that we were actually going to move forward with our ideas - zilch to show as proof (for you or me). Now that we have the ball rolling, and there isn't much turning back, I'll share our thoughts and plans :)

We're going to try to take our 1983 split-level house that has absolutely no architectural interest and add some. That's not so weird. The potentially weird part comes in when we specify that we want that architectural interest to be historical in a way...period-inspired. The first question that readily pops up is, what style of historical architecture can you possibly add to a 1983 split-level without it looking completely weird - like earrings on a monkey? Ummm, how about Craftsman? We hope we're making good choices here. When our friends replace trim, they go the pretty straight-forward route - more along the lines of what a new construction would have these days. They "update". We're kind of "down-dating" or "back-dating" or whatever. Like I said, it's all a little... different. I just wanted to warn you before we posted pics :)

The first year of living in this home was all about Perseverance. This coming year is going to still require a decent amount of that, but it's also going to be the year of Imagination. In 2010, we hope to start really seeing the house transform as we imagine it as an older home, full of charm and character. In the interest of Imagination, for this post, I'm going to pretend that we have this huge, deeply interested readership, okay? I'm going to pretend that I've received tons of emails asking all sorts of questions about our plans for this house. This is my pretend Q&A post, the result of all of those pretend emails from those pretend readers. Actually, there's quite a lot of pretending going on all throughout today's entry, so get in touch with your inner 4 year old and keep reading :)


Q: What made you decide on Craftsman architecture as a starting point?

A: Several things, really. The first was that our area of Ohio has quite a lot of homes built between 1905 and 1930. There are lots of Craftsman homes around - but they are either 1) not in our price range 2) on teensy weensy lots - like 1/8 of an acre teensy weensy 3) still 30 minutes away from work, church, and family 4) completely run down beyond what we're willing to take on in this stage of life. Said another way, the only older homes we could actually afford were on teeny lots, too far away from the rest of our life, or in really bad condition. So, we didn't buy one. Obviously :) But, they're around. I'd even say that Craftsman architecture is a defining style in our city. Maybe someday we'll buy a reasonably nearby home built in 1920, in great condition, on an acre or two of land. But, considering the fact that even in this low buyer's market those homes go for around $450,000 - at the very least - probably not.

Also, the Craftsman style fits our home more than any other traditional style we could think of. Greek Revival? Uh, not a chance. Federalist? Nope. Colonial Revival? Uh uh, not in entirety. Victorian? About the furthest thing from it. Craftsman? Well, let's see...
  • Craftsman homes were traditionally modest in size - check (although, ours is larger than a city bungalow, it's still not huge at 2300 sq. ft.)
  • Craftsman homes were often built in naturalistic settings - semi check (we have an acre of woods)
  • Craftsman homes traditionally had low ceilings - BIG check, and one of the deciding factors for us (8 ft. on the main level and slightly LESS on the upper and lower levels = low)
  • Craftsman homes traditonally have widely slanted rooflines. Like this...

I just love this house in the photo above. It's exactly what I'm envisioning for our exterior someday. We probably won't be adding a front porch, but the stucco, the exterior wood trim, the color scheme, the flower boxes, the details in the eaves all appeal so much to us both and they are details that could conceivably be added to this house without looking out of place.

Low-slung rooflines - check, again.

I know it's probably hard for you to imagine. I'd love to show you a photo of our neighbor's home, but I feel sort of funny waltzing out front, photographing their house, and then posting it on my blog for anyone and everyone to see. So, you'll just have to take my word for it. Our South-side neighbor's home has a definite Craftsman flavor. They have the vertical wood detailing and stucco-like exterior (although, I think she told me it's wood all around). Craftsman details on our house would compliment their house nicely, and vice versa.

Q: Okay - getting to the changes you're making. So what about the new windows you just put in? Aren't traditional Craftsman windows divided lights on top and a single pane below? Like this...

A: Yes, you are right. We did not choose Craftsman windows at all. We chose Colonial Revival windows.


We're sort of merging the two movements (Craftsman and Colonial Revival) together in some ways. If we're pretending that this house was built around 1925 - the Colonial Revival style might have won out in some ways. Scan back up three photos to that grayish Craftsman house that I loved. Hey, what do you know! Colonial Revival windows :) Okay, yes, I'm pretty sure they're wood, too. But, remember ours is hardly an exercise in authenticity. Our house clearly wasn't built in 1925 - it's a split-level! And our windows are clearly not windows from 1925, either - they are vinyl replacements windows and the "grids" are embedded in the glass. We couldn't swing the price of wood. But, in the interest of adding charm and character, we're adding in a mix of "elements" that are all aesthetically consistent with the 1925 time frame and compatible with the general style of our house. I'm pretty sure no one had sliders in 1925, either, but the house's overall architecture didn't allow for double hung windows in all the window locations. Where we could put them in, we did.

Q: You mentioned 1925. Why did you choose that date?

A: Actually, I think it would be more fun to pretend 1923. That would be exactly 60 years before the house was actually built. Or, 1928 because we bought the house in 2008 - and that would be a nice round 90 years. We chose the 1920-1930 timeframe because it encompassed all of the features we were drawn toward. If we had gone earlier, we would have been able to include Craftsman elements, but it would not have been common for those elements to be "Colonial Revival-ized" at that early date. By the 20s, homes were less commonly dark and filled with less wood tones. That's why so many of the poor souls renovating Craftsman bungalows now have to strip all the wood down. Homeowners in the 20s and 30s (and I'm sure later, too) painted over it all to lighten things up.

Q: How far are you taking this 1920s bit?

A: We aren't putting in clawfoot tubs if that's what you mean :) We'd like the house to look like it's been through changes and renovations over time. Which, I guess you could say, is really happening - just in fast forward. Let's pretend that it was built in 1923 instead of 1983... because I think pretending that is fun. The trim is consistent with a Sears kit home from that time period. The kitchen cabinets, although not period, don't really scream modern, either, and their oil-rubbed bronze hinges and bin pulls are influenced by 1923. So, we'll pretend that the kitchen has had appliances updated, lighting changed (like the 1983 renovators lowered the ceiling and put those flourescent lights in, for instance), and a few more updates - like sink hardware, but we hope to choose plenty of materials that would've been used in the 20s, too. The bathrooms will be the same thing. A "base" room that might have been from 1923 with changes that may have been made in 1983 and then again in 2010. So, the tile choices, sink choices, hardware might be more 1923, but the toilet and bath will be updated. Again, once in 1983 and now, by us, in 2010. So, to sum up, the house will wind up being a mix of 1923, 1983, and 2008-2011... based on successive imaginary renovations to give it a "this house has evolved over time" look. We hope.

Q: So the trim you're putting in now is the first step to sort of retro-date it?

A: Have you ever read the book Creating A New Old House? I have and, although the houses in it are amazingly beautiful and authentically built, they are completely out of the realm of possibility for most of us. These are homes that literally cost millions of dollars to build. No kidding. The best craftsmen in the nation - no, the world - work on these homes, and no penny is spared in making them completely top-notch. It's an interesting book, but I'm not sure how useful it is for the general homeowner who just wants some of that "old house" charm added in.

I guess you could say the trim choices we've made are retro-dating the house. But, they aren't really intended to fool anyone. We realize that there's no way to make this house really and truly look old. But we love the old-house elements like hexagonal tiles, thick baseboards, porcelain doorknobs, and built-ins. We think they add character, charm, and warmth, and so - Lord willing - we're planning to add them. To be honest, the trim looks a little out of place right now with nothing else in the house really matching up with it, yet. The hallway is a world unto itself at this point. It's a little bit of a leap of faith to just trust that it will all come together in the end and not wind up looking completely random.

Q: But aren't you painting your trim? How on earth is that Craftsman-influenced?

A: Here's where I'd stress the word "influenced". We aren't copying the Craftsman look by any means. We love the shapes and styles, but not the darkness. The new trim and doors are inspired by what we can call the later Craftsman Period, around 1920-1925. By the mid-1920s, Colonial Revival influences had more than a few Craftsman homeowners painting their woodwork white. I've also read in multiple places that the upstairs trimwork of Craftsman homes was often constructed with lesser quality wood and
actually painted from the beginning. White was the most common color for the bedroom and bath trim, and also often showed up in kitchens by the 1920s. Plus, we can't afford stain grade wood. Sam's got skillz, but not crazy stain-grade skillz, and we like the bright and light look of white trim. So, the painted wood isn't 100% Craftsman, but it is 100% 1923-appropriate.

Q: Okay, so the Colonial Revival period is coming through in white trim and your window style. What else?

A: Not a whole lot else. Maybe lighting? Those are basically three areas in which we didn't want to adopt the Craftsman style. We've read that Colonial Revival "trends" often showed up in traditional Craftsman houses throughout the 1920s. Before that time, the two movements had been rather separate. My guess is that the Craftsman homes were too dark for certain portions of the country, and homeowners liked the lighter, brighter Colonial Revival interiors.

Q: Are you going to put in hardwood floors?

A: We would really like to put in hardwood all through the house, but if we're going to go that route, it's going to be something that happens over time, and we will have to be pretty much convinced that we're staying here for the long haul. We're planning on it now, but if we put in hardwood, that's going to put our spending over what we could ever hope to get back out of the house from a sale. We'd have to be doing it for us, planning on enjoying the hardwood for a while.

The wall-to-wall carpet upstairs would not have been my first choice, but it is brand new. The previous owners put it in before they put the house on the market. We have so many other things to do to the house, yard, and woods that tearing up perfectly good, new carpet seems rather extravagant. Wood floors are very costly to install when you're talking about an entire house, even when using Lumber Liquidators and other discount sources. At the very least, we hope to install hardwood throughout the main level (living room, entryway, kitchen) sometime within the next 5-6 years. Next to the trim, I think hardwood is probably the most critical feature for giving this house true character. I was recently encouraged to see that a nearby neighbor had installed hardwood throughout her main floor. That's not particularly common in this neighborhood, but not unheard of. My sister has hardwood in her living room and throughout her upstairs and she lives pretty close to us. We'll see :)

Q: Are your furnishings and interior design choices going to mimic 1923, too?

A: Nope. I really love homes that have "old bones" but art, accesories, furnishings, and colors that are completely updated. That old-meets-new quality is what we're after. There will be plenty of traditional, classic pieces, but nothing that's chosen just because it's "period". This is not intended to be a period reproduction. The details of the house itself, though, will - we hope - be period inspired. A side benefit of choosing details based on historical movements like the Craftsman style is that they won't "date" in a negative sense. They are purposefully already dated and the charm is in the fact that they are older.

Well, there you have it! Any more questions out there from our wide, wide readership? Or from bloggy friends? We'd be happy to answer any and all of them :) Trim pics coming super soon.

I found this the day after I published this post. Not exactly what we're going for, but interesting still :)


Windlost said...

Wow, what an incredible undertaking!! Your tastes seem so similar to mine in many ways - and I love all your thinking and logic shared out loud with us!

Good luck with everything. xo Terri



Love the post! Probably because I can't imagine a house style that I love more than the Craftsman. I grew up in Tacoma, WA and Craftsman homes are totally common. Totally understand the crazy price range of them. I had my heart set on a Craftsman, when we looked for our first home this spring, (between Tacoma and Seattle) but we didn't get one. Fortunately, I LOVE the house we did get; not a craftman, but a brick Cape Cod. However, it was built in 1948, so while I had to give up the beautiful porch of a Craftsman, it had all the elements of character we wanted. Arches between dining and living room and hallway, coved ceilings, all original hardwood floors, angled ceilings in the upstairs bedrooms, etc. Plus, I could bore you with all the other great details of the home (big yard, basement, location, etc). Keep up the good work. Your kitchen looks amazing by the way. I'd love to replace our hardware (though everyone but me seems to like it) but that would require painting all the cabinets (they're not bad, just off-white now). Not a priority right now. But eventually. We've removed 3/5ths of the wallpaper and painted and replaced doorknobs and ceiling lights. The little things DO make the biggest difference. Here're some links to what we got:

Sorry if I shouldn't have included the links, but wanted you to have some idea of what I was talking about. LauraC

Jacci said...

Laura, thanks so much for the links! I added them both to my favorites :) Funny you should include them because I wrote our trim post this afternoon and included pics of the lighting and door knobs we plan to use, too. Just thought it would help everyone visualize the finished hallway better. I **do** wish you had a blog, though! I'd love to see photos of your place and the changes you're making. Sounds fantastic!!!

Any word on when your husband might be coming home? Hope it's soon!


cousin Deb said...

This is a great post! I'm excited to see you carry out these ideas. We have a 208 year old house and are trying to make it seem as if it has evolved over the years as well. Good luck!

Anonymous said...

i, I came across your interesting blog searching for something about our American Foursquare. I read a little and thought you might like to know an interesting fact - American Foursquares often did have painted trim. During that era it was seen as more sanitary. Many people remove the paint in restorations and find the wood is mismatched. I learned this in a conversation with a restoration pro, specializing in craftsmans. I'm in Portland, OR - in a neighborhood full of classic American Foursquares. (You can search "Portland Irvington Home Tour" - there's a resource guide).