This past weekend my wife and I attended the Historic Home Show, a trade show and convention held conveniently ten minutes away from our home at the Valley Forge Casino in King of Prussia, Pennsylvania. It was sponsored by the folks who publish Old House Journal magazine and other magazines of similar theme. Being neophytes in the old home renovation game, this show occurred at an opportune time for us. Until now, our work consisted largely of activities that did not require many special skills, including paint scraping, clapboard replacement, exterior painting, installation of a sump pump, and installation of flashing along the foundations of the outbuildings. The most skilled activity performed to date was the fixing of an old rim lock, which was more on the order of solving a Rubik’s cube than it was in applying the knowledge of an experienced artisan. Next summer begins more challenging work: re-pointing stone walls, window repair and rehabilitation and dealing with plaster walls. Thus, it was a good time for an education.
The events started on Friday with a series of seminars that were bundled into what was termed “Old House University”. This provided a good overview of home styles, exterior and interior, through American history and identified a number do’s and don’ts when it comes to remodeling and renovating old homes. The trade show that followed allowed us to speak to a number of artisans about renovation methods and products. Of particularly benefit were the speaker sessions held on Saturday and Sunday which provided methods and examples of the right way to fix wet basements, paint historic homes, repair old wooden windows, fix rotted wood, and re-point stone walls, of which the Neebor Lee has many.
Examples of period kitchens to match the various styles of historic homes were also presented, thereby providing my wife and I with ideas for a future kitchen renovation. The message presented during that session was that if you style your kitchen to match the period of your home and the design elements already existing in your home, it would never become outdated. Thus, a light bulb went off: why not bring the style of our butler’s pantry into the kitchen, which is original and has beautiful beadboard cabinets and antique hardware.
During these sessions I finally learned the style of the Neebor Lee. What was originally Georgian architecture in 1785 was changed to Dutch Colonial Revival in 1903 with the addition of a gambrel roof. A heavy dose of Federal revivalist architecture was added in the rear of the building after 1918.
Also of benefit was meeting couples like us who were crazy enough to take on old homes with all the issues that come with them. We all appear to be in the same boat, with big challenges ahead and a desire to perform renovation work correctly. It seemed, though, that the future renovations needed on the Neebor Lee and its outbuildings are tame compared to the work being done by a number of the other attendees who we met.
I now feel emboldened, which may turn out to be dangerous considering how little knowledge and experience I still have. After speaking with several artisans, I now know that the re-pointing I started last summer was all wrong and that I now have to go back to chisel off the Portland cement that I used. Fortunately, I was using leftover cement from repairs on the Mason Lodge’s front porch and not much was used for re-pointing. Portland cement is apparently the worst product to use in re-pointing because its high strength and relative impermeability will cause masonry walls made of brick or stone to degrade faster. Lime cement, which is breathable and more plastic in behavior is the correct product, we’re told. After all, the proof is in the structures themselves, which in our case have held up for over 200 years with the use of lime mortar.
Also, I’m now convinced that I can save my 110-year old Workshop annex which I was convinced had to be demolished. The upper parts of that structure are in decent shape, and the roof construction is solid and is nothing that I would be able to duplicate if I were to rebuild it. All I need to do is to underpin the roof, remove the clapboard and wall beams, raise the stone foundation above grade, install a new sill, replace the rotted joists, and then replace the wall beams and clapboard. Once done, it would be as good as new. Yea, call me crazy.