The wooden window sash that was designed and constructed in the 18th and 19th centuries is an elegant joinery solution to the problem of illuminating buildings in a time when large flat panes of glass were difficult to make and artificial light was expensive and inefficient. Historically, windows were one of the most important and expensive architectural features of a building. Utilizing little more than strait grained wood, thin glass and natural glazing putty, the double hung window in particular is able to let light in, keep uncomfortable weather out, and circulate airflow in the summer. Old windows continue to be important to the mechanics of historic buildings as well as admirable architectural and woodworking achievments.
Preservation Virginia (APVA) has listed historic wooden windows as one of Virginia’s most endangered resources. According to a statement made by APVA, “Historic windows are destroyed daily in lieu of new, inferior windows. Savvy salesmen convince owners and architectural review board members that replacement windows are superior to historic wooden windows when the truth is, in many cases, historic windows have lasted over 100 years. With some maintenance, these historic windows can be airtight, weather resistant and can last another 100 years – longer than any new wooden window or vinyl clad window.” I agree whole heartedly. Historic windows are indicators of old style craftsmanship that help define the character of a house. Wavy crown or cylinder glass graces the hand-worked joinery like facets on a jewel. Too many historic windows have been thrown out in the name of renovation and replaced with inferior products that are not designed to last. We can tighten up old drafty windows, allowing them to function even better than they were intended to function. With proper restoration, old windows can be just as, or in some cases more, energy efficient than double-paned replacement windows and still maintain your homes historic integrity. Below is a link to a recent study that concludes that, even with incentive programs, efficiency upgrades on historic windows can save twice as much money over a fifty year life cycle than high quality replacements. If necessary we can reconstruct or build replicas of old windows that will last for many generations.
The House Joiner - Arnold Zlotoff Tool Museum: Eight minute film depicting historic sash construction that may help instill an appreciation for the thing that so many replace and throw out. Click Here to Watch
Even after 100s of years, many well-built windows only need minor maintenance and improvements.
Finished product - Stinson Vineyards c.1796
Fully restored eighteenth century window. Frame was repaired, trimmed to fit better, weatherstripped, reglazed with traditional linseed oil putty, and painted. With occasional maintenance these windows will be good for another 100 years.
Nine pane sash - circa 1796
Mid-restoration, this photo shows the upper sash from previous photo. An applied dutchman repair will be carved into a tenon to accept the top rail, and new glazing bars have been spliced into the muntins to accept the original glass. With the added weatherstripping this window will out preform the original for years to come.
Six pane sash in need of repair
The design of traditionally built windows allow even severely damaged sash to be restored when considered significant. By removing four pegs, the sash will come apart and any piece can be duplicated and fitted into the original framework.
Typical sash repair
Two muntins and a spliced stile were tenoned into the existing mortises to revive a sash from the 1840's. Most historic sash tend to be in fair condition but generally a few sash in every house need extra attention.
In this case, a rotten meeting rail and stile tenons as well as damaged dividing muntins were scheduled for replacement by an architect. Sometimes an extensive restoration is necessary to save historic material, especially in museum settings. Here we used Spanish Cedar to ensure a long lasting repair. This sash is from a c. 1760 house that was occupied by Ulysses Grant as his headquarters for 9 months during the Siege of Petersburg in 1864.
Air infiltration is the primary reason that old windows become inefficient. Weatherstripping will help reduce this infiltration significantly. A properly stripped window, combined with the double glazing effect of a quality storm window, will outperform the efficiency and longevity of many replacement windows. These are some of the profiles we use. We have found many of these same stripping styles still functioning on windows after well over 100 years.
Different window styles and designs have different requirements for sealing out drafts. A lot of trail and error in addition to study of historic precedent, has helped us realize successful draft free installations. This design for a double hung sash from the 1870's, uses felt, bronze, and a fin-seal set into a kerf routed into the sash that will allow for smooth operation.
An example of eighteenth century crown glass. The earliest American glass was blown by mouth, flattened with centrifugal force, then cut. This process left irregularities that are unique to each piece. Refracted images opposite the glass often are greatly distorted but the primary purpose of glass sash in an era before electric light was to let in light. In early America, if you were fortunate enough to have glass windows, this is how you saw through to the outside world.
Probably the most common type of old wavy glass is cylinder glass. The molten glass was blown into large cylinders, then cut and flattened to make larger panes. It is sometimes characterized by small bubbles called seeds and vertical lines called reams. This was the dominant style in the nineteenth century until plate glass became the norm in the 1920s and later "float" glass.
Sometimes it is necessary to recreate a sash to match a style when the original is too far gone. We use similar sash making techniques and joinery to ensure that the new sash will be as durable as the historic windows tend to be.
Strait grained heartwood Douglas Fir and linseed oil putty hold the original glass for this sash reconstruction. Sash constructed with traditional mortise and tenon joinery needs no glue and can be dismantled for future repairs when necessary.
Sheriffs Building, Romney, WV
Original 1830 window openings stripped of paint, repaired and fitted with recreated sash. Weatherstripped, glazed and ready for paint.
Stinson Vineyards, c.1796, White Hall,Va
Front facade of a federal farmhouse with fully restored windows.
It can be difficult to find cabinets or cabinet makers that work well with an historic house. Shenandoah Restorations has experience designing and building period kitchens to fit historic homes. Many old homes were built without indoor kitchens at all. Even homes with original kitchens lacked cabinetry the way we think of it today. Butler pantries, freestanding hutches, shelves and work tables were the order of the day. Combining period details with traditional joinery and natural materials can create a look that is appropriate for historic houses and does not feel out of place.
Historically inspired kitchen cabinets
Flush mounted beadboard doors fastened on the interior with tapered sliding dovetailed battens were inspired by local precedents of German origin. A sash style upper cabinet glazed with antique glass provides contrast and highlights dishware. A 1930s farm sink was aquired locally and installed with a custom finished brass faucet.
Skillman Farmhouse Kitchen
We worked with the existing cabinet boxes and layout to transform contemporary cabinetry into something unique. Overmount doors were replaced with custom flush mounted doors and design details consistent with period furniture. A tile floor was replaced with tongue and groove heartwood pine that was re-milled from local beams.
Punched Tin Frame Doors
Doors inspired by nineteenth century pie safes and open shelving along with a beadboard backsplash changed the feel of the space entirely.
Traditional Handmade Joinery
Hand cut half-blind dovetailed drawers mounted under the cabinetry next to the stove provide easy access to pot holders, utensils, or spices. A breadbox in the corner is used for cooking oils and makes efficient use of a difficult space.
For this kitchen, early twentieth century built-in Douglass Fir cabinets were salvaged and reconfigured to fit a new space. The old cabinets had a low counter height which allowed us to work below the window sill which is a common problem in nineteenth century houses. The back-splash behind the 1949 Hardwick stove is an old tin ceiling hung from a picture rail.
Reusing old cabinets
In contrast to the previous kitchen, most of the doors and drawers were reused as well as the face frame and the counter top. However, without compartmentalized boxes as are found in modern cabinetry, it was necessary to rebuild the framework underneath. Several doors and an extra drawer were built to make them fit the new space. This was the third or possibly fourth time these cabinets have been reconfigured in their history.
Mid-twentieth century style kitchen was created in part from recycled materials.
Solid poplar wood was used to make everything from the frame and doors to the custom beadboard backs. The wood is finished with a natural milk paint.
This kitchen was designed around two salvaged glass cabinet doors. The countertop is 2 inches of solid maple finished with strong coffee and mineral oil.
Log and Timber Work
Much of the early vernacular architecture was constructed of timbers hewed from trees harvested directly from the building site. Wood in this raw form requires a unique set of trade mechanics that is uncommon in the building industry today. Some early buildings were constructed entirely from wood to wood connections and contain no fasteners or nails in their original construction.
Mike Watkinson tuning a saddle on an oak timber with a 3 inch slick style chisel. Log and timber work often involves specialized tools unique to the industry.
A pergola frames an entry way for a re-purposed flour mill granary. Timbers for this structure were reused from earlier mill parts and joinery was used that reflected the mill's essential construction. Throughout most of our building history, sturdy mortise and tenon joinery has been utilized to frame our built environment.
Spring House Repair
A bad roof caused extensive damage to this braced frame. Oak timbers and pegged mortise and tenon joinery was used here to rebuild the corner in keeping with the original frame design.
Reproduced rafter plate for an early log smokehouse. This timber was hewed from southern yellow pine that was felled near a new moon in the early winter which ensures that it will be as rot resistant as possible.
Hand hewed white oak corner being reconstructed underneath this eighteenth century log building. Much about log construction is more complicated than it appears and log reconstruction is considerably more complicated.
Christopher D. Amos roughing out what is to be an oak sill for a log building.
Logs from a dismantled house are being reused to construct an outbuilding. Unfortunately the logs had not been labeled, but careful measurements and comparisons of the notch and saddle angles helped to determine how the building could be put back together.
Mike Watkinson and Christopher D. Amos hewing yellow pine for a traditional trades demonstration at Stratford Hall - birthplace of Robert E. Lee. Juggling is the first and most labor intensive step in the timber making process historically.
The sill plate on this wash house is in a prominent location. We selected a white oak log with a similar circumference to align the natural edges of this scarf joint repair. The top was adze finished to match the original.
V-Notch Steeple Joint Corner
Careful notching and gravity are what hold traditional log buildings together. Many well made log buildings survive in the Shenandoah Valley. They were often built with a limited collection of tools and axes but a long history of building knowledge and workmanship.
From log replacement to creating proper drainage, structural stabilization is a vitally important and often neglected first step of building maintenance.
Samuel Meyers House 1760
Rebuilt Limestone Foundation
New concrete footer and interior supporting wall will stabilize the historic limestone. The stones were meticulously documented and reconstructed.
Carriage House - Shenandoah Co., Virginia
Rot and termite damage to major timbers of a nineteenth century wash house.
Carriage House - Shenandoah Co., Virginia
Framing repaired with oak timbers.
Showalter House circa 1800 - Moores Store, Virginia
Granary - Shenandoah Co., Virginia
Old termite damage had compromised the corner of this small 19th century timber-framed granary.
Granary - Shenandoah Co., Virginia
Angle brace was cut to fit into existing mortise with the hole drilled slightly offset in order to draw the joint together with a handmade oak peg.
Granary - Shenandoah Co., Virginia
Restored corner treated for termites and ready for weatherboarding.
James R Taylor house, 1895 - Staunton, Va
The east side of this porch had sunk into the ground several inches pulling the upper porch away from the house. The lower deck had suffered considerable but normal decay from 120 years of exposure.
Column Repair - James R. Tyler House
An original 1895 Mahogany column had rotted long ago, compromising the roof system and upper porch. Several short-sighted repairs had been attempted in the recent past.
This is an example of where modern materials are used to inconspicuously repair a hard to replace architectural detail and maintain structural integrity. The column was removed and a framework of load bearing staves were installed inside the hollow column. A lath system was attached to accept an epoxy repair which then was meticulously carved to blend into the fluting of the original mahogany.
With a little paint, a repair such as this is hard to detect and is structurally sound. To the right, a custom white oak hand rail was installed for a new set of stairs that matches the original 1895 design.
Samuel Meyers House 1760
Parts of this building had sagged 9 inches.
Old wooden silos have no framework and can therefore be challenging to repair structurally. Special hydraulic silo jacks were used to bring the structure plumb and repairs were made to the foundation.
Grain Silo finished
Custom tongue and groove staves were milled, installed, then reinforced internally with steel straps and cables.
Carriage Shed - Shenandoah Co., VA
New oak log sill spliced into old with a half-lap scarf joint. Adze finished to match the existing exposed framing and transition seamlessly into the rear section.
Oak beams on this braced-framed outbuilding were reconstructed in the original manner using pegged mortise and tennon joints.
Fort Valley Museum, 1841
Proper drainage is one of the most important and also neglected aspects of stabilizing a building.
Smokehouse - Mt Jackson, Va
A rafter plate was recreated and a new roof system was installed to protect this historic structure.
The floors in an old house tend to have a natural patina and color that is unmatched by anything that can be purchased today. They are often characterized by tight grain and old growth wood no longer available. Shenandoah Restorations can repair or replace damaged boards with salvaged materials milled to blend in with the existing floor. We can also finish the surface to highlight the woods natural beauty or recreate a historically appropriate topcoat.
Sometimes when other contractors see total floor replacement as the only option for repair, there can be minimalistic solutions that save the original floor. A flood caused the grooves of floorboards to split throughout a kitchen area of a mid 19th century pine floor. Recycled weatherboarding from the house was used match the original wood and create dutch-man repairs.
This type of dutch-man repair is tedious to execute but can blend well with the original fabric. Here the repair is begins in the center of the photo and continues up. This is the same floor as the previous image finished with varnish.
Front Hall - Pennybacker House
Carpet was removed to uncover a painted pine floor. Drywall mud had been used fill holes and level out any unevenness.
Front Hall - Pennybacker House
Salvaged heartwood pine was woven in to replace bug eaten and damaged boards.
Front Hall - Pennybacker House
Recycled boards were color matched to the old patina. The old dark finish and drywall mud was stripped off. Finished with a tung oil based varnish.
Some log buildings have floor systems that are independent of wall construction. These log floor joists had survived well over 100 years buried in the dirt, but without band boards to tie them together, freeze/thaw cycles had twisted and heaved the floor to the point that doors did not operate.
What was left of the original floor was removed and re-milled. Log joists were dug out and leveled on independent pier systems. Floorboards from four other salvaged buildings were milled to match the original pine floor to complete the square footage.
Shellac and wax
Shellac is an historically appropriate finish that has been used to protect wood for thousands of years. It is a natural product made from resin produced by lac bugs and mixed to varying degrees with alcohol. Due to its organic nature, the color can range from light amber to dark garnet. It was one of the most common wood finishes in the nineteenth century. Because it is less durable than modern plastic based products, we top coated this floor with an expendable but renewable coat of wax.
Varnish is a natural product that has been used for centuries to protect wood and accentuate the inherent beauty and story in the grain. Its durability is comparable to modern finishes and is easier to maintain and renew. The Tung oil based varnish we used here has been manufactured in the original formula for over 100 years.
Before the mid-nineteenth century, most floors were either left natural or painted. Often rugs and carpets were used to protect them and prevent drafts. This bedroom floor was scrubbed extensively and waxed - no sanding, staining, or varnishing.
Several coats of pure tung oil was used to bring this 200 year old rustic floor back to life. The building is a dependency of the eighteenth century Grandstaff House in Edinburg and was used as a law office during the War of 1812. Oil is less durable than other finishes but is easily renewable.
Parlor Floor Repair
Since this yellow pine floor was installed over 210 years ago this parlor floor had undergone many incarnations. After removing 5 layers of linoleum and 2 layers of plywood we found over 20 holes that plumbers had cut for kitchens and bathrooms.
Parlor Floor repair
Several damaged floorboards had to be replaced and hundreds of shims were installed underneath to help alleviate squeaks and extreme unevenness.
Parlor Floor Repair
"Dutchman" repairs were chosen for the plumbing holes where possible. Half-lap joints, glue, and matching wood make this an elegant and visually interesting solution - maintaining as much of the original floor as possible.
Metal patches are an authentic and simple solution for damaged floors when economy is prefered.
Salvaged Heart Pine Floor Repair
A twentieth century oak floor was removed to uncover the original pine at the Skillman Farm in Fulks Run, Va. The rear section was completely missing and matching salvaged boards were patched into a new framework. Once refinished, the patch is seamless and only distinguishable with careful investigation. Remnants of old paint were left along the edges for the historical record.
Re-milled Heart Pine Floor
In the rear ell of this farmhouse the original floor had been removed. Here we used newly re-milled pine boards salvaged locally from beams and timbers to match the rest of the house. Re-milled wood is easier to work with than old floorboards and is a good alternative when an entire floor needs to be installed.
Exterior Trim and Weatherboarding
Wood siding is a prominent feature on most historic residences and outbuildings across the Shenandoah Valley. It also gets the most exposure and abuse from the elements. We will repair or replace with a high quality wood replacement to match the original.
Bank Barn - Port Republic, Virginia
On this rare example of a pre-civil war bank barn in Rockingham County, over 50% of the siding needed replacement. We used southern yellow pine, the traditional species of choice for weatherboarding, locally.
Wiermann House circa 1856
Cypress weatherboading was chosen for this project and brought in from North Carolina because of its superior rot resistance. The old yellow pine siding was salvaged to use for outbuildings. Removal of the siding revealed a good view of mid-nineteenth-century braced frame construction. This project also allowed us to insulate the structure.
Queen Anne inspired styling on this elaborately detailed Folk Victorian was recreated in the front gable and bargeboards preserving a unique and important custom detail from the nineteenth century.
Victorian Porch Railing
Cedar porch railing with custom sawn balusters that match an original handmade design.
Sometimes a seemingly simple siding repair reveals more serious structural issues.
Marshall House c.1772, Woodstock, Va
Graduate student, Don Johnson, peels away boards to examine the framing issues in this ceiling. Porches get a lot of abuse from the elements and require regular maintenance and repair. The Marshall house is now the Woodstock Museum
Showalter House, Shenandoah Co.
Much of the corner joinery of this log building was failing and a steel plate was bolted on to reinforce this fragile corner. Here, pine clapboards are coped to conform to the chimney's irregularities and ensure a weather-tight fit.
Mantlels have always been a significant architectural centerpiece for historic homes. They provide the framework for the hearth which was of central importance to historic life and can be considered the essence of what home has meant to humanity. Often they are unique, artistically inspired designs based on styles representative of the period in which they were created. The hearth itself has been an evolving mechanism for heating and cooking that requires periodic maintenance and an understanding of how the fire was meant to be controlled.
Pennybacker House, 1805 - Mt Jackson, Va
One of the few original mantels to survive the Greek Revival renovation of the Pennybacker House in the mid-nineteenth century. Four color shades were used to highlight the delicate detailing of the federal style
Grandstaff House 1789 - Edinburg, Va
The original chimney and mantle had been removed in a nineteenth century renovation and replaced with a wood stove flue. Vertical tongue and groove boards outlined where the original mantle once existed.
The original mantel was located underneath a staircase but had unfortunately been cut down. 200 year old heartwood pine was spliced in to replace the missing length. Custom molding was milled and a fan design was carved to match the original design. Paint was later removed to reveal the earliest Federal blue color scheme.
The restored woodwork was finished with milk paint, the walls with shellac, and the restored floor with varnish. Because a nineteenth century kitchen addition existed where the initial stone chimney had been, a local folk artist painted a design to fill the hearth area. A stone was used to represent the location of the old flue.
Wine House, c. 1800, Quicksburg, Va
Paint and firebrick covered much of the original detail of the early and unique mantel.
Wine house mantel
Paint was carefully removed from the mantel to allow traces of the intricate original color scheme to survive. Clear de-waxed shellac was applied to protect these details. The original keystone had been cracked and, in turn, stressed the iron lintel below. Several courses of stonework above the lintel were removed and relaid with a new keystone and lintel. Brick was replaced and the back was sacrificially parged. A cast iron fireback is used to protect the chimney stone.
Munch House Parlor Mantle, 1834 - Fort Valley
A rare and unique original paint scheme still survives on this early mantle. Here we restored the masonry and plaster in the hearth as well as through out the room. The decorative paint was reproduced where necessary.
Munch house fire back - early 18th century
An interesting find that we uncovered during the restoration was this early German fire back from Pennsylvania. When we removed the iron from the masonry we found that the back side had a casting of a biblical scene and German writing. We cleaned the metal and flipped it around. Research was done and it was discovered that it was cast in the early 1700's. Later we found a match to it in another fireplace in an adjacent room.
An example of a very early rustic walk in cooking style hearth. Here the stone back was relaid and pointed with hydraulic lime mortar. Antique bricks expand out into the room.
This Victorian hearth in Strasburg, Va had been bricked off years before to improve energy efficiency. Here we added a decorative tile treatment with victorian tiles that were found in the attic - probably removed from the house in an earlier renovation.
Adella Watkinson applying finishing touches to a parge coat inside this Greek revival style mantel. The decorative painting is an early Germanic style.
Often work that we do is not necessarily historic preservation or restoration but is inspired by traditional woodworking and historic styles. This category exemplifies some of this work as well as other woodwork and joinery that does not fit neatly into other categories.
Newly constructed dependency for a 19th century farmhouse. Built with yellow pine timbers, full 1" cypress batten siding,and split eastern white cedar shakes.
Traditionally designed gate
The four gates at this museum are built of white oak and are constructed with a mortise and tenon frame. The stiles of the frame are built in such a way that from the front of the fence they appear to be part of the picket design. - Fort Harrison - Dayton, Va circa 1749
The original front steps had been removed from this Colonial Revival in the 1930's and reconfigured on the side of the porch. Upon restoring the entire porch we rebuilt the steps to match an early photograph. The right baluster was re-used from the configuration and the left was custom milled to match the original mahogany goose-neck design. All materials are naturally rot resistant.
This pergola frames an entryway for a renovated flour mill grainery used for weekend getaways. It was built in part from recycled timbers found in the mill and reflects joinery that is exposed inside the mill itself. Because of the irregularity of the timbers, an ancient form of timber framing called called "scribe rule" timber framing was used as opposed to the more conventional square rule method.
Collaborator Jeff Bartley built the screen door on the left to match the adjacent screen door. The spindles were custom turned on a lathe and all construction is mortise and tenon.
Built in Bookshelves
Wall-to-wall adjustable shelves with beadboard back designed for a collection of old books.
Truth Window-Pennybacker House
In a cavity behind a curved wall that dates from a mid-nineteenth century renovation, the remnants of an older version of the house was discovered. Underneath this high style Greek Revival is a simpler building with unpainted batten doors and bare plaster- a time capsule into the early 1800s. A curved window was built into a wall inside a closet of the front hall, and the cavity is wired to illuminate when the closet door is opened.
Wood Shake Roof
Wooden roof shakes were the standard material used for roofs until the twentieth century. The wood roof on this smokehouse had completed its useful life years earlier and the rafter system and top plate had been compromised. The pine shakes were replaced with eastern white cedar.
Hand Hewn Rafter Plate
Christopher D. Amos finish-hewing a yellow pine timber. The timber was felled in the late fall just prior to a new moon to ensure the wood's low sap content and natural rot resistance.
Three Board Farm Table
A unique find of thick, wide floorboards were used here to create a table top to compliment the cabinetry work at the Skillman Farmhouse
Historic masonry requires specialized care that differs greatly from modern masonry practice. The wrong mortar can ruin otherwise fine brick or stone work. Shenandoah Restorations has experience with traditional masonry materials and can match the appropriate mortar to blend seamlessly into your existing brick or stone work. We can also repair or rebuild any damaged masonry.
The correct mortar is especially important when working with antique handmade bricks. Traditional brick walls are designed to breathe through the mortar joint. Modern portland-based mortars are too hard for soft wood-fired bricks, forcing moisture into the bricks themselves. Without a flexible mortar, absorbed moisture will cause the bricks to expand and crack. Moisture will also dissolve sulfites inside the brick, which can crystallize into efflorescence, causing the faces of the bricks to spall.
Three Chimneys - c 1750, Nellysford,Va
Loose mortar has been carefully chiseled away and a color matched hydraulic lime mortar is tooled into the joint.
Painter Springhouse - Shenandoah Co., Virginia
This eighteenth century springhouse has almost no mortar left between the rocks. Old stone walls were often built to stand without mortar but the mortar is necessary to keep out weather, vermin and water that can cause failure in the long run.
The proper mortar joint for this work is a protruding v-shaped joint that prevents water infiltration.
Widzga House 1850 - Moores Store, Va
The wrong mortar combined with moisture from the basement caused the mortar to fail along the basement ceiling level. Non-breathable portland-based mortar was used below this line.
Unlike stone masonry, brick construction depends on mortar for its structural integrity. Not much chiseling was involved here, however below this area, the portland mortar removal can be labor-intensive.
Several withes of brick had all but fallen out of this corner. Fortunately, it was laid 4 withes thick.
Samuel Myers House - 1760, Forestville, Va
The foundation wall of the 1803 addition to this house had collapsed.
Samuel Meyers House - after
The foundation stones were labeled and removed. A concrete footer was poured below grade and the stones were then relaid exactly as they were originally and reinforced from behind with a concrete wall.
Foundation in need of Repointing
Fortunately this wall is still in good shape.
A few remnants of the old mortar allowed us to match the mortar color.
Portland Cement mortar
Not only is this an example of a sloppy job, but the mortar is too hard for the material and traps moisture inside the foundation. This is a feature commonly found on stonework we encounter.
A decorative built up joint was used here to match an early twentieth century technique used in a retaining wall. Two color matched mortars and a custom made pointing tool were used to achieve this profile.
St. Thomas Chapel - 1834, Middletown, Va
Bricks were recycled and cleaned from an earlier walkway to create one that will last a lifetime.
A combination of interesting antique pavers and limestone were used here to create a unique patio.
For thousands of years plaster has been used to finish all kinds of wall and ceiling surfaces. Here in the Shenandoah Valley many very skilled artisans worked their craft into the fabric of our homes and buildings, carefully smoothing layers of lime putty and sand mixtures into flat polished surfaces. Time, settling and moisture can cause cracking or plaster failure. Shenandoah Restorations can restore this wonderful natural material using the same techniques and natural ingredients.
St. Thomas Chapel - 1834, Middletown, Va
St. Thomas Chapel, 1834 - Middletown, Va
Traditional 3 coat plaster repair with horsehair. Traditional plaster is a layered system made from lime putty, sharp sand, animal hair and water to varying degrees. It is important to use like materials when working with historic plaster.
Well House, circa 1800 - Edinburg, Virginia
This well house space was once used as a law office during the war of 1812. Many years of soot had covered the plaster and whitewash of these soft and crumbling parged brick walls. Roof leaks had caused the plaster ceiling to separate from the hand split lath.
Much of plaster had to be removed to the scratch coat. The remaining plaster in the ceiling was reattached and the cracks were dug out and repaired. Several new finish coats were then blended into the original layers. Some base coat and brickwork was left exposed and an antique fruit jar was used to fill in an old exterior flue letting in light for a creative effect.
Some of the base coat that was originally made using sand from nearby stony creek was reconstituted and recycled to be used as an aggregate for new mortar and base coats. Keeping as much of the original material as possible also ensured a color match.
Older wood framed houses often have a system of wood or metal lath that is used to establish the planes to which plaster is applied. This photograph is of a transition from wood lath to limestone infill which is an area prone to cracking due to disproportionate rates of movement and settling. This wall has been prepared for a scratch coat, and it is easy to see the various layers of this historic wall system: wood, stone, scratch coat, base coat, and finish coat plaster. Thin lath riven from six foot long strait grained pine was common during the eighteenth and early nineteenth century.
Loose plaster can be re-attached to walls where the the original bond has failed. With wooden lath, it is not uncommon for the plaster "keys" behind the lath to fall away over time.
Picture rail molding is a good way to protect restored plaster walls from the potential damage of years of future redecorating. It is also an attractive method of hanging ornamentation that has been used historically for over 100 years.
Manufactured paneling and 3 layers of wallpaper were removed from this parlor build in the 1850's. Nails and glue from the paneling had caused extensive damage to the old plaster and wallpaper.
Early plaster walls were almost never painted but were left natural or whitewashed to help illuminate a room in the days before electric lights. When wallpaper became affordable in the late 1800s, it soon became the finish of choice. Once the plaster was repaired in this parlor, wallpaper was selected to continue that tradition. The chimney was exposed, which frames and draws attention to the refinished offset mantel.
I have had several requests to include a page dedicated to current or ongoing projects. Much of our work is comprised of long term projects that may, by design, take years to complete; one room at a time, or small manageable tasks entered upon every year or two. Large jobs can require a year or more even if we dedicate a majority of our time. As time allows, I will attempt to stay relatively up to date regarding some interesting historical restorations that are in progress.
This Fall, one of our main projects is the restoration of windows at Appomattox Manor which is located in Hopewell, Va, and managed by the National Park Service. The building was constructed in 1751 and is significant because it was used as Union headquarters during the Siege of Petersburg from 1864 to 1865. It was also shelled by the British during the Revolution. We are performing an extensive restoration of the sash and window frames.
Adam Miller House, Elkton, Va
The property associated with the Adam Miller House is comprised of three separate houses as well as several barns and dependencies. The two houses depicted here both date to the eighteenth century. There is much work to be done but the bones of the structures, as well as many original details, are in very good shape.
Historic Marker along highway 33
If the research attributed to this building is correct, this early Germanic structure dates to 1727 which would indicate that this is one of the oldest houses in Virginia. Underneath the siding is a two over two, center chimney log house.
Now the rear of the house, this elevation was originally the front which faces the Shenandoah River. It was constructed in two phases with large hewn timbers joined in a frame with brick infill. The first construction phase is most likely colonial. The addition to the right was built in the mid nineteenth century in the Greek Revival style as are many renovations made to the original building. We are in the early stages of a seven year plan to restore and renovate this building into a livable home.
Investigating a window sill leak we found extensive water damage
Jay, Christopher and Scott fitting a new girt beam with a scarf joint and dovetailed half-lap into a new corner post.
An amazing feature we found on this frame was this 20 foot long hand hewn corner post. What looks like two 4 x 12's nailed together to form this corner is actually one large, continuous timber that was skillfully hewn into an "L" shape with nothing but axes and chisels. When we checked the corner for plumb it was perfect in both directions - even after 230 years or more. Unfortunately water had compromised the lower portion. Here, Christopher is preparing this section for replacement.
Scott and Jay replacing siding after repairing a sill. Here, the brick nogging can be seen between the vertical posts. In the early 19c, General Skyler noted to Alexander Hamilton that nogging was "used to control fire and vermine". We have noticed this several times before in early German timber frames around the Valley.
Mountain Home, 1847 - Front Royal, Va
This antebellum residence is being turned into a bed and breakfast and hiker hostel for Appalachian train hikers. We a currently restoring the windows and doors.
Back Ell Addition
This 1869 addition may have been built over the foundation of an even earlier structure and connects the main house to an early outbuilding or kitchen. In all, there are over 70 sash being restored
Our main project at the moment is the restoration of this Appalachian-style log cabin located in western Shenandoah County. This photo was taken in the summer of 2014 before any work had begun. As is the case with many restoration projects, it looks better here than it does now.
The rubble foundation had been collapsing, and several logs were in need of replacement. The cementitious daubing mixture used in previous repairs had rotted some logs in ways that are hidden in this photograph.
Upon begining this project in the fall, one of the first priorities was to complete mortar and foundation repairs before freezing weather set in.
The majority of the original features had been removed during or prior to an extensive 1970's renovation. We removed the interior partitions to uncover the buildings past. We found that the floor was really a series of floors built upon each other to compensate for sag and rot within the joist system. After the layers were removed we found that most of the original floorboards were not salvageable and many of the joists were in need of replacement due to water damage.
Up on Jacks
Same view; months later; a few of the original white oak floor joists were salvageable but we elected to remove them all (along with interior walls and floors and staircase) in order to replace wall logs and better build the new configuration with new oak logs to replace the compromised joists. The interior of the foundation wall has been repaired and parged.
Attached to the main cabin is an early 20th century kitchen addition. The floor here was significantly out of level and the northern foundation wall had to be removed and reconstructed. We decided to save the kitchen floor boards to fill compensate for the bad floorboards when we rebuild the cabin floor. Tile will replace this system and therefore it was necessary to remove the joists and install a summer-beam on concrete piers to stiffen the floor.
Christopher enjoying a brief reprieve
All of the timber for this project has been harvested on the property. This white oak was felled during a November new moon to ensure it's bug resistance (low sugar content) and longevity. It was hewed on 3 sides and will be notched with half dovetails to replace what is left of the southern sill log. Six wall logs and seven floor joists were milled in the woods with about a dozen different axes; most well over 100 years old and each performing a unique function.
As it stands, December 21, 2014
The last new timber awaits careful notching and strong backs before the jacks can be removed. A fresh white oak timber such as the one in the foreground weighs over 600 lbs after hewing (and this is for the short side). Once we get to a good stopping point we will break from here to take care of a few previous commitments. Next Spring and Summer we have plans to add a front porch and a small rear addition, replace windows, maybe replace a couple more upper logs, and finish out the interior. Makes me tired just thinking about it. Fortunately we enjoy this stuff. We are in the process of designing a new kitchen/bathroom configuration for the early addition on the right. The original cabin will be restored as close as possible to the way it may have existed in it's early configuration, complete with a winding stair case and white washed log interior. A State and National Register nomination has been submitted for the Zinck Farm and is awaiting state review.
After some work in the spring and summer we arrived at another stopping point. The exterior is closed up and much work has been done to the inside as well. We plan to begin another interior phase of the project during the winter of 2016