1920's Restoration

1920s restoration front door and walkway


The home was originally built in the 1920’s along the south side of the Alleghany River following the completion of the Hickory Street Bridge in 1919. A beautiful building influenced by the Victorian style; the restoration sought to preserve the classic character of the home while modernizing the windows, kitchen and mechanicals. As the project developed, it expanded to include: refinishing the garage to match the style of the house, rebuilding the front porch, redesigning and enhancing the small side porch, and redesigning the third floor attic into an open bedroom complete with a captain's watch, a ¾ bath and built-in furniture. The restoration was grounded in the client’s classic taste and commitment to detail. The project has been an ongoing affair and has taken several years to fully accomplish.


The design work unfolded in two separate stages. The initial stage focused on rethinking the side porch, the second centered on converting the attic into an additional bedroom and bath.

The porch design was based on three main goals and in order to arrive at the best design possible, a detailed model of the existing home was created, followed by several different models of the porch itself.

The first major goal of the porch design was to seamlessly integrate the new structure with the house. The original porch was far from an ideal match, and felt more like an afterthought than an integral part of the building. The design of the new porch sought to change that; both by bringing it into proportion with the existing building, and by matching trim details from the existing home and the column and railing style of the front porch.

The second goal was to create an ideal proportion for the new structure and to frame the best view of the Alleghany River possible. One constraint on the design was the small size of the lot and the close proximity of the neighbor’s house. After modeling several versions and determining an ideal size for the new porch, it became apparent that it would encroach slightly on the property line. Working with the local zoning office, we were able to attain a variance that allowed for the larger size. Time was also spent on determining the best way to frame a view of the Alleghany River. Through experimentation with the model, it became evident that clipping the corners of the porch at a 30 degree angle would achieve the most expansive view possible while also maintaining privacy; which brings us to the final design goal.Privacy was created through the shape of the porch itself and through the use of a custom built lattice integrated with both the columns and railings.The second stage of the design was focused on remodeling the third floor attic into a large bedroom complete with it’s own bath. Once again, one of the main goals of the attic design was to maintain the original character of the home. A focus was placed on identifying and maintaining the essential angles and proportions of the space. In this case, the most critical lines were those of the roof and the windows. The dominate window theme of the house is based on simple square and rectangular shapes. The horizontal lines of this theme met some resistance in the attic where they contrasted against the 45 degree angles of the roof planes. In order to better integrate these two dominant lines, the new design maintained the essential square/rectangular shape of the windows, but turned it on edge to create diamond shapes. This square / diamond motif then became an essential element of the attic design that was repeated throughout the space. It can be found within the windows themselves, the roof, the skylight, the floor, the ceiling and the tile work of the large custom shower.

Another major design goal for the attic remodel was to create a dynamic and light filled space. To that end, one of the more dramatic elements of the new design was the addition of a crown of clearstory windows with a large center skylight. Not only did this captain's watch significantly increase the natural light, but the awning windows in the clearstory were fitted with powered remote openers allowing for easy and robust ventilation. Additionally in order to convert the attic into a functional bedroom, it quickly became evident that the old central chimney of the house had to be removed. The chimney itself was connected to an old fireplace that had long ago been abandoned, and the only real function that it served was as an element of the buildings exterior composition. In all of the initial elevations and models of the home, the removal of the chimney from the exterior definitely imparted the feeling “that something was missing”. The addition of the captain’s watch helped to fill this space and allowed for a more integrated exterior by repeating the central trim and molding elements as a third tier of the composition.Another way that the natural light in the attic was enhanced was by substantially increasing the size of the windows in the three gabled attic dormers. This was most significant in the stairway dormer which had to be substantially enlarged in order to meet the height clearance required by code. A large six foot tall window was placed in the stairwell’s heightened gable end wall. The addition of this large window significantly increased the natural light, of not only the attic itself but of the lower second floor as it filtered down through the stairway. Through their use of custom divided lites, all three of the new and larger gable windows maintained the diamond / square motif central to the new design.And finally, the last major theme of the attic remodel was to make the new living space as functional as possible. To that end, most of the major furniture was custom designed and built in; including an integrated bookshelf/desk/bed, the bathroom vanity and three dressers. The queen sized bed sought to repeat the central elements of the space by making use of the same trim and ceiling materials. It also incorporated large pull out drawers on the sides for increased storage. In a continuing effort to maintain continuity throughout the space, the desk, dressers, stair shelves and bathroom vanity and shower bench all make use of the same gold flecked quartz tops.


Work on this project unfolded over the course of several years; but it began simply with the replacement of several old and inefficient windows. The old original double-hung windows had single pane glass with an exterior storm window that had been added at a later date. These were replaced in the stairwell and master bedroom by an efficient (double pane, low-e, argon filled) vinyl new construction windows. Great care was taken to preserve the original interior trim. The windows were reframed and replaced from the outside in, allowing the trim inside to be left largely undisturbed. The exterior wood trim, which had weathered and deteriorated, was replaced by durable PVC to match the same look and style as the original. Following this first window replacement, the large double-hung windows within the living room and dining room were reframed and replaced with Marvin windows. Marvin utilizes an extremely durable aluminum cladding on the exterior with choice of wood species on the interior. They are also completely customizable and care was taken to closely match the classic style of the originals.

After replacing windows, work commenced on updating the home’s electric service and wiring. The biggest wiring challenge centered on working with the original plaster and lath walls (thin wooden strips or laths covered by several layers of plaster and in this case stabilized with a wire mesh). The layers of plaster combine with the mesh and wooden strips to create a monolithic surface that is very durable. It is also difficult to cut into or to remove sections without affecting the entire wall surface. As a result, updating or replacing the electrical wiring within a plaster & lath wall can be a difficult and time consuming process. In order to avoid rebuilding the walls, two strategies were employed. The first was to remove the base and crown molding and to create a channel in which wiring could be run and then concealed behind the molding. The second identified a chase-way from the main electrical panel in the basement to the attic. Once inside the attic, a sub-panel was installed from which wiring could be top fed into the wall cavities.In addition to the plaster and lath walls, the home was originally built with knob and tube wiring. This early standardized method of electrical wiring consists of independent hot and neutral lines supported by cylindrical porcelain knobs and passing through joists and studs via protective porcelain tubes. In this case the wiring was insulated with rubber and splices were made by twisting wires together and wrapping them with friction tape (asphalt saturated cloth). While state of the art at the time, K&T wiring lacks the safety of a dedicated ground wire and generally makes use of only a few simple circuits that are often incapable of supporting the electrical loads of a modern home with all it's attendant devices and appliances. All the K&T circuits within this home were replaced or abandoned.In conjunction with updating and expanding the wiring, the home’s kitchen was restored to match the original character of the building. The kitchen had actually been replaced sometime within the early 80’s, and it didn’t completely fit. The ceiling was especially out of place. It consisted of a stable-up fiberboard tile within a wooden frame. Not only was it out of context, but the tile had discolored and was beginning to deteriorate. The tile was removed and replaced by a bead-board wainscoting which was then painted white. Other upgrades to the kitchen included modernizing all of the electrical circuits, installing GFI outlets and low voltage under and over cabinet lighting, replacing the window over the sink with a bay window, repainting the cabinets, and installing a black glass pencil tile on the wall above the countertops.The next stage of the restoration was focused on rebuilding the front porch. The front porch had been originally built with a tin roof. The tin had eventually started to leak and several of the major ceiling and floor beams had been subject to water damage that had progressed into advanced stages of rot. Before contacting us, the home owner had replaced the tin roof with a painted steel one. While this had stopped the leak, irreversible damage had already been done to the structure. The challenge in restoring the porch rested in keeping the new metal roof intact while replacing everything else.The front porch was almost entirely rebuilt from the ground up. After supporting the roof and removing the rotten framing, the first step involved rebuilding the brick lattice enclosing the underside of the floor. Originally the bricks had been laid on the ground and had been subject to frost movement; several had broken loose and/or were missing. A new concrete foundation was poured below the frost line and the brick was rebuilt on a stable footing. Also a new foundation was placed under the front steps. The original front steps were formed from large hand chiseled pieces of sandstone. Over the decades the stones had settled unevenly due to the disproportionate weight on the taller back-half of the stairs. To solve this, the stones were removed and a large stable foundation was constructed. The stones were then repositioned to align with the porch floor. After securing the foundation, the porch floor framing was rebuilt using pressure treated lumber and a mahogany tongue and groove flooring was secured using hidden fasteners and then painted grey to match the character of the original. From here, all of the columns were replaced with a molded poly/fiberglass composite. Fiberglass columns are extremely durable and also capable of carrying significant loads. After consulting with the client, it was decided that the columns would look best tapered with a fluted profile and with Doric capitals and bases. A new railing system was then installed and custom cut to match the fluted columns. Following the columns, the roof framing was rebuilt as a shallow cathedral ceiling. Custom lighting was installed along with outlets in the eaves for Christmas lights. The ceiling was then covered with a T&G mahogany and given a clear finish. The last significant detail was the custom construction of a dentil molding under the eaves of the porch roof. This molding was made to exactly match the profile of the original molding encircling the upper eaves of the home. Repeating this strong aesthetic feature helped to visually unite the porch and the house. This tactic was employed in refinishing the garage and also in rebuilding the side porch.Construction of the side porch involved several distinct features. One of the more dramatic was the creation of a custom curved handrail that followed the curved profile of the sandstone steps. The design called for the side porch steps to curve back towards the house requiring a different radius for both the inside and outside railing. In order to create these separate compound curves, a hollow section of urethane molded handrail was cut into small sections. These sections were “strung” on steel rebar and bent along custom forms into the desired radiuses. Keeping the sections aligned, the center core was filled with a cementitious urethane resin composite and allowed to harden into one solid piece. The exposed edges were then filled and sanded. Finally the handrail was cut to length, painted and installed.

Another notable side porch detail was the construction of a water proof second floor. Since the side porch consisted of two levels and was exposed on both floors to the elements, there was the potential that water could drip from the second to the first floor; making it difficult to sit below and also causing damage to the ceiling and furniture of the lower level. In order to prevent this, the second floor joists were cut at a taper that sloped to one central point. Pressure treated plywood was then installed and covered with a rubber membrane and directed to a center drain. This drain was connected to a pipe concealed within the hollow core of a fiberglass column and eventually directed out under the porch. Finally, shims were installed on top of the tapered joists allowing the floor of the upper level to be perfectly level.

The last stage of the construction to date was the extensive remodel of the third floor attic into a new bedroom and bathroom.

Work on the attic remodel began with the demolition of the chimney and the installation of the new mechanicals. In order to allow for the bathroom plumbing and wiring, the existing attic floor was removed and the joists beneath were exposed. The hollow center of the old chimney was then repurposed as a chase way to the basement, allowing the new plumbing and drain lines to be run relatively easily. Reworking the attic floor itself was a little more difficult. Parts of it had sagged disproportionately over the years and needed to be replaced and reinforced. New LVL beams were installed and several of the joist were redone. In conjunction with the new plumbing and the updated framing, the existing electrical sub panel in the attic was repositioned and new electrical circuits were installed. Also in the course of working on the mechanicals, several interesting discoveries were made. The most alarming was of an energised gas line that had been part of an initial gas light system from when the home was first built in the 1920’s. Since it posed a risk of eventually leaking, the old gas line was disconnected and removed. Also several old knob and tube electrical circuits were brought to light and replaced.Following the mechanicals, the attic stairway was reconstructed and its roof was rebuilt. As mentioned earlier, the stairway roof needed to be rebuilt in order to meet the necessary height clearance required by code, but rebuilding the roof was only one part of the stairwell’s reconstruction. As originally built, the stair was a cantilevered projection that extended several feet beyond the wall of the main building. Due to inadequate support, the entire structure had sagged over the decades. This was evident in the attic section of the stairwell where the old plaster and lath walls had cracked and pulled loose. In order to correct the sag, the broken plaster and lath was removed and the entire stairwell was jacked back into place. Two large LVL beams were then built into the wall framing and projected back into the attic as cantilevers. And then to finally secure the framing, the walls of the attic stairwell were sheathed with ¾” plywood to create a rigid cantilevered shear wall.In conjunction with rebuilding the stairwell, the top flat section of the roof was removed in order to allow for the addition of the captain's watch. LVLs (laminated veneer lumber) were used to create a perfectly straight and level opening and then the old rough sawn 2x6 attic rafters were reinforced and strengthened using 2x8s. Since the 2x8s were deeper than the existing rafters, they provided the added benefit of being able to help correct the roughly framed interior planes of the attic. When the home was originally built, the attic was only intended for ventilation and storage, little attention was paid to precise framing or in allowing for any type of interior finish. The deeper rafters also allowed for increased insulation. The entire attic was completely reinsulated using a closed cell urethane spray foam. The foam is not only structural, but provides good r-value and is a great infiltration barrier. And finally to finish the framing and bring the new bedroom space up to code, an egress skylight was framed into the south facing roof plane. The large eight foot tall skylight opens in two directions and allows one to stand “outside” the roof almost as if on a balcony.

Following the completion of the mechanicals and the framing, work commenced on the interior finishes. A tongue and groove poplar beadboard was selected for the sloped ceilings. The beadboard was painted a warm ivory and the strong horizontal lines of the beadboard help to accent the pyramid shape of the ceiling planes. The wood is also much more flexible than other finishes like drywall and allows for a large degree of movement in the roof itself. In contrast to the ivory, a red/brown t&g mahogany was selected for the ceiling of the skylight. Additionally, the ceilings of both of the exterior porches make use of the same material and for continuity's sake (since the all three ceilings could be seen together from the exterior) it was decided the best look would be to repeat the mahogany once again.Another integral part of the interior trim was the integration of built in LED strip lights. The LED strips are located around the central skylight, in the peaks of all three gabled dormers and around the large rectangular opening of the captain's watch itself. These powerful strip lights work to indirectly illuminate all of the major roof planes and help to make the ceiling “glow”. These built-in LED strips have the added benefit of being dimmable, very energy efficient and have a very long lifespan (50,000 hours). They also help to avoid peppering the ceiling with can lights (which create a hole in the insulation) and track lights which are much more noticeable and cumbersome.


PVC Trim & Lattice, Urethane Molded Millwork, T&G Poplar Beadboard, T&G Mahogany Ceiling & Floors, Marvin Windows, CertainTeed Cedar Impressions Siding, Stamped Concrete Patio and Walkway, Quartz Countertops, LED Strip Lights, Marble & Porcelain Tile

Cast & Crew