building "old" house - architect or builder

lilylchenMay 7, 2013

I want to build a new "old" house, meaning having all the character that a turn of the (last) century house had (maybe a Foursquare). I know this has much to do with the scale, proportion, roof lines, etc. But I believe what sets the better looking "old" homes from the wannabes is the materials - wood windows, casement (width, thickness), clapboard siding (I want the closely spaced 2.5 or 3 inch reveal, not the big wide planks you see on new builds). Is it the job of the architect to specify/source the right materials, or the builder? I'd be afraid to have all the architect's work wasted if the builder doesnt use material that makes the difference.
Also any recommendations on architects/builders in the SF bay area? Does your architect need to be local? I assume you wouldnt want your builder not to be local, right?

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I would say definitely use an architect that really knows your style. Our architect pulled out books/photos etc...and showed us how we had 3 competing styles (builder did the initial design). We then had to eliminate those elements that were contradictory to the style we really wanted. Make sure you bring photos, I also sent photos from Houzz to our architect so he could "get in my head" and see what we liked and didn't like. Also ask the architect to recommend a builder that enjoys building "new old houses" in your style. Our builder had already built houses like ours and knew the exact products we would use to achieve the character we wanted. He recommended real stone instead of faux stone on the columns and front of our house. He also knew which window manufacturer had the best wood clad windows so we could have heavy woodwork on the inside etc....
Ask around...interview builders and architects. I am in FL so I can't help with recommendations.

Enjoy the ride...


    Bookmark   May 7, 2013 at 4:06PM
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Yout situation is a good one, but with a simple answer:

1. Start with an experienced and talented architect who you commission to do the design and construction documents and specifications where all of these design issue, building materials and construction techniques are clearly drawn and specified;
2. Finish with an experienced and talented builder who can bring experience, needed trades and materials suppliers to the project to execute it as designed and specified.
3. Occupy and enjoy your fine new home.

Good luck on your project.

    Bookmark   May 7, 2013 at 4:51PM
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Thanks! I'm a little worried about the availability of materials, at least out here in Nor Cal (for instance narrower siding - I havent found a source out west [admittedly, I'm not in the trade, so perhaps have no idea where to look!]). I suppose being adamant about it just means more $$.

    Bookmark   May 8, 2013 at 10:26PM
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Any lumberyard can easily produce or obtain siding in any given dimension. Most don't stock very much in their yard, so almost everything will be a special order from the mill.

If you are using artificial materials for siding, these too are readily available through a range of manufacturers and their regional distributors.

If I were you, I'd be initially focused on the site planning, house design and my major wants and needs. Worrying and spending time looking for materials is a waste of time early in a project--this is what the builder does for a living, so s/he knows all the sources for major materials and equipment.

Good luck with your project..

    Bookmark   May 9, 2013 at 9:20AM
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That's good to know that the lumberyards would be able to make to order (albeit more expensive).

I just dont see any new homes around here being built today with narrower siding, and if that werent available, it would influence my design. We've all seen those quaint bungalows covered over with stucco. World of difference between those and the original story. I wouldnt want to build a colonial house unless it was with that material, because, to me, the wider planks more commonly used just make it look so blah. I would rather build a newer mediterranean with all the materials that are commonly used and readily available (though my arm would be twisted behind my back, mind you), than do an "old" house wrong/boring.

    Bookmark   May 9, 2013 at 10:22AM
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You could look at a company like Conner who specializes in delivering the whole package. I don't have direct experience with working with them, but the quality of the houses we looked at from them seemed very good, with nice attention to detail and style.

Here is a link that might be useful: new old houses

    Bookmark   May 9, 2013 at 11:25AM
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Wider lap or clabboard siding (8" or more) seem to be favored by developers and builders for siding since there are less pieces to install and less labor to do it. Thus, this wider horizontal siding is quite common these days.

The same holds true for artificial siding: the wider the piece of siding the less labor required to finish the house exterior.

To my eye, anything larger than 6 inches is simply too large and out of scale with "normal" residential buildings, unless they are very, very large buildings. I'd never use anything other than 4 inches or 6 inches. These sizes are not difficult to obtain.

Good luck on your project.

    Bookmark   May 9, 2013 at 12:47PM
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I agree with Virgil, 1/2" x 6" beveled siding is what you will want with an exposure of approximately 3 - 3 1/2" and that will give you the look your speaking of. It is availabke at most real lumber yards either in stock pr special order with the most common being clear cedar.

    Bookmark   May 9, 2013 at 1:13PM
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I'm pretty sure 3.5 inch reveal is a little too wide, and even think 3 inches is still too much. I'll measure it tomorrow on my rental house (pic below) which was built in either the 20's or 30's.

In any case, still good to know that it can probably be done locally, just more expensive (materials and installation time).

    Bookmark   May 9, 2013 at 4:06PM
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llcj00, so much in good architecture is about proper "scale". Your small house above, is...well...small. Thus small siding and other trim details are very consistent and appropriate. These small elements help your small house appear attractive, authentic and appropriate.

On the other hand, if this was a McMansion, 5,000 SF or more, several stories high (the though of this makes my head hurt), this siding material would look ridiculously busy, much too small and out of place.

Does this make sense?

Its about scale--materials and detailing in scale with the structure where they will be used.

Although I hate to say it, 8-inch horizontal siding is in scale with some buildings. Just usually not "normal" sized residences (whatever that may be).

Good luck on your project.

    Bookmark   May 9, 2013 at 5:21PM
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Virgil, Very good point. I hadnt thought about that.
It is a tiny house - only 500 sq ft. So what makes it work on this house (below)? The horizontal break across the middle? (Just a picture from the web, so I have no idea how close the boards are).

This post was edited by lljc00 on Thu, May 9, 13 at 17:45

    Bookmark   May 9, 2013 at 5:44PM
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Another example, where the lines might be clearer (another from the web).

    Bookmark   May 9, 2013 at 5:46PM
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lljc00, in the first photo: compare the siding with the house in the center with that of the house on the far left. Do they have different sized siding? The closest house has it's overall scale broken up into smaller segment due to the horizontal band board trims, the contrasting window trim and other trim features, apparently lacking on the house to the left.

Which house is more appealing?

For the second photo, personally, I find the siding a bit "busy" and "fussy", ie, too small for the scale of the house. Just my opinion. What's yours?

    Bookmark   May 9, 2013 at 10:12PM
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The small bungalow uses a type of novelty siding (type 117) that works like german siding (a shilpap joint) with the appearance of two narrow round-bottom-edges milled into one 6" wide plank.


Here is a link that might be useful: Google images

    Bookmark   May 10, 2013 at 7:59AM
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virgil, it looks to me like the greenish house has narrower siding compared to it's next door neighbor. I'm used to seeing those houses (which is either Queen Anne, or maybe just Foursquare), so know that they have narrow siding like my house, and that house didnt stand out in a funny way as not having as such. So yes, the horizontal boards do break it up. In the second, it doesnt have the horizontal boards to break it up. I dont think it looks bad, but I do prefer the greenish house.

Casey - " two narrow round-bottom-edges milled into one 6" wide plank." That's interesting. One, because I knew the edges were not sharp/straight, but wasnt sure weather that was due to years of build up of paint softening up the edge and making it "round". Interesting to know that it was originally round to begin with. Even more expensive for today's mills to manufacture $$. And two, about making two on a single board. Was that done back then, or is that a new technique to save on install time?

    Bookmark   May 10, 2013 at 10:15AM
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The 'double-board' effect of the 117 siding is an old idea. I've ripped it off old houses.

It was promoted as a cost-saving way to get the look of skinny siding with 1/2 the time and labor.

    Bookmark   May 10, 2013 at 1:45PM
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Thanks everyone for the info - more leads to help me research.

BTW, I was at my rental house today and measured. The reveal is about 3".

Interestingly, the detached garage had about 2.5" reveal, but given what Casey and lazygardens said about multiple on one, I noticed today that it almost looked like a 3 for 1 (just a slightly different gap at every 3rd row). There's history on the garage (remodeled/expanded at a later time), so this was probably an attempt to match the house at a much later time. Below is an older picture before it was painted. You can see the difference between the house and garage, and maybe see how every 3rd row is a little bit different.

    Bookmark   May 10, 2013 at 2:35PM
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