Woodwork & window questions

kerrygwFebruary 19, 2009


We're renovating a 1906 Arts & Crafts house, and trying to figure out some woodwork/trim issues. The current house is in pretty poor shape aesthetically - the vast majority of the woodwork has been painted over numerous times and banged up pretty well. We are also doing an addition to the house that we would like to mesh as well as possible with the original house. And on top of that, we are redoing the heating and electrical systems, so walls (and the trim that is with them) will be ripped up all over the place, and the windows are being replaced as well. (Not our preference, but in this case because of significant damage and lead paint issues, it was the best choice.)

All of that said, we are looking to replace the existing woodwork on the 1st floor with new stained wood trim. The 2nd floor will be patched and repaired (and trimmed where necessary) but it will be painted and thus is not a big issue at the moment. On the 1st floor, we are putting in Marvin windows with pine sashes, and since we want to stain all the woodwork, one person we've talked to is recommending to put in new pine woodwork. But since we're staining it I'm hesitant to use pine for all the woodwork - I thought it wasn't great for staining? But if we put in another wood, will it be difficult to match with the windows? Here are some pictures of the few areas that are not currently painted (inside of the closet & the staircase - a total mess but there is a lot of work going on at the moment). Is that oak or another kind of wood? I'd like to keep it as true to the original house as possible but within reason. Any thoughts/experience/ideas would be greatly appreciated!

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This probably isn't what you are looking for, but please reconsider trashing all of your old woodwork. Sure, it has been painted and dinged over the years, but that is par for the course. It is impossible to replace once it is gone though. Restoring an old home is a ton of work, but it is more rewarding than ripping everything out and replacing it with something brand new.

    Bookmark   February 19, 2009 at 2:54PM
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It looks like oak. If so, it would be worth keeping and stripping it everywhere if you liked the look. Stripping would obviously get rid of the lead issues as well. If you decide to throw away all of the hardwood trim, at least advertise it on freecycle or craigslist so some dedicated old-house person can put it to use, and keep the irreplaceable old hardwood from going to waste.

    Bookmark   February 19, 2009 at 3:01PM
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Actually, those are not things I don't want to hear - I want to hear everything. Personally, I'd love to keep it all - windows, trim, the whole nine yards. But we've been advised (by more than 1 person) that getting rid of the trim may be the best way to go. That said - here are the issues with keeping it. The woodwork needs to be removed around the windows for the new windows (as amicable as I am to keep the old trim, the old windows are no longer an option so although I know it's blasphemy to many to remove them, it's not a point of discussion any longer). Is it really feasible to remove and then replace the same wood, or will it get too damaged? I'm attaching a pic of one of the rooms - another issue is the in-wall radiators are being removed - how can we add in new trim where the radiators were without it looking ridiculous in the middle of the old trim? And the crown molding doesn't fit the house (in my opinion) - I think someone along the way wanted everything to be very colonial, so they came in and added the more colonial crown molding and painted everything over. To me, Arts & Crafts molding should have been a different profile, and that molding was never stained - I don't have a pic, but close up it looks like painted pine. I can't imagine the original owners would've had painted pine crown molding and stained oak everywhere else.. would they? So whichever way we go, I'll still need to figure out what kind of molding to do along the ceiling to make it all work.

Believe me, I am all over freecycling at the moment - but I'm having enough trouble getting people to want practically brand new vanities and toilets - we'll see if I have any luck with the older house stuff.

And here's a pic of the house so you get an idea of the style..

As long as I am posting about wood - does that wood floor look like Douglas Fir to you guys? We're in the northeast so that would be consistent, but we're pretty new to this.

Thanks again - really, all opinions/advice really are appreciated!

    Bookmark   February 19, 2009 at 4:11PM
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The first comment is on the windows. Why do you want to rip and replace the windows? If they are the original windows to your house please seriously consider retaining the original look of the house and keep the original windows. Window replacement companies will push they "energy savings" numbers but those are based on houses that have no other insulation issues you will gain much higher return on your heating/cooling costs by addressing the other areas of loss such as the attic, etc. Your house is gorgeous and the old windows are the "eyes to the soul" of an old house. I teach a windows restoration class here in Sacramento and you can easily weather strip and seal your old windows. If your in a cold area, exterior storm windows will add additional protection. Old window have lasted 90- years or more already and are meant to be repaired, etc. New windows will only have a life span of 10 years and you'll be replacing again. That being said if the windows have already been replaced and you are dealing with crappy replacements, then that is another story

As far as the finished woodwork, don't give up yet. The old growth wood that you have can not be replaced. You may be able to get some old growth replacement but it's going to be horrendously expensive. The stuff that is called "stain grade" that is available now would have been used as low grade framing material when your house was built. I would look around and see if you can find refinishing folks that can either do it for you or give you guidance. There are numerous folks on the web that have refinished and repaired their interior trim so seek them out for tips. Folks are eager to share. A house like your and the fantastic exterior deserves to retain the interior details that it has. You wouldn't rip and replace the shingles with vinyl siding so why would you rip and replace the interior trim. I found a guy that refinishes cabinets for a living to help do my trim.

Also try and retain the original plaster as much as you can. even if loose and detached there are techniques to re-adhere the plaster. Nothing beats the feel that original plaster gives. Some basic plaster skills can fill and repair the holes that you have.

My last caveat is that part of the skills you need as an old house owner is screening out those contractors that are not used to working on old homes. If you ask a drywall person how to repair the plaster, he's going to tell you to rip it out and replace with drywall. If you ask a plaster guy how to repair it he'll repair it. Most contractors are used to working on modern houses and have no clue on how to address an old house. If someone doesn't give you the right answer or says it can't be done, kick him out and go to the next guy.

Sorry for the ramblings but wanted to throw my .02 in...


    Bookmark   February 19, 2009 at 9:56PM
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Ditto about the windows and wood trim. When we moved into our 1910 house not one window worked, and our house is almost as big as yours is. The contractor we chose, recommended by the local historic preservation group, took out and repaired every window as well as rehanging the interior weights. Some were refinished and others were repainted. Most of them are the original wavy glass and are just fine. If I lived in a cold area I would add storm windows in the winter, end of story. Your windows are priceless. In our neighborhood replacing windows is now illegal, since we have a Historic Preservation Overlay Zone.

All that wood will refinish beautifully, based on our experience and the combined experience of about 300 members of the group I mentioned. Absolutely no need to take it out!! Maybe you need a new contractor. Or a brand new house.

    Bookmark   February 20, 2009 at 12:36AM
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New Marvin windows will never be as nice as what you have. And the more high-end, custom, ones cost a bomb. For that kind of money you can pay to have your original ones rehabbed, off site, so the lead issues shouldn't apply.

Your house has very special, and style-specific, windows made of dense older-growth wood that Marvin can't match. I think you'd be nuts to toss 'em.

Can you say where in the NE you are? There are good window rehabbers in some areas, perhaps we can help you find one.


    Bookmark   February 20, 2009 at 1:07AM
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Circus Peanut

It definitely is possible to remove the trim from windows, baseboards, etc, strip it and put it back in place, refinishing either while down or after it's re-installed. It's a beastly DIY job, but I did this in my own (much more humble) craftsman bungalow. It's been SO worth it for the beauty and coherency of the overall look.

Your trim looks like oak, fir or even mahogany - in any case very valuable, sturdy material that will refinish beautifully. If you frequent architectural salvage places in your area, you're likely to find a number of pieces in the same profiles to replace any spots where you will want to match stained wood. Your floors look very much like my fir floors, and my trim is all fir as well, but that varies regionally.

New stained pine will have an entirely different look - far less rich, far more 1980's. The original builders could obviously afford higher quality material, so you may want to consider other woods if you're going to go for all new. But please do consider a trial refinishing of some of your original trim before making a final decision!

(I agree that the crown in the pic doesn't look original - if it's just cheap painted pine, it's not original. Tear it out with impunity if you don't like it.)

Happy trimming! What a drool-worthy house.

    Bookmark   February 20, 2009 at 1:39AM
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Circus Peanut

Oh, I just saw that you asked about your floors. Yes, I'd guess (from the picture) doug fir. I'm in Maine - if you're around these parts, I also know a couple of FABulous pros for restoring your windows.

My douglas fir floors & trim:

    Bookmark   February 20, 2009 at 1:54AM
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I agree with everything sacto diane has said, particularly the last paragraph about moving on to contractors who know how to work with old homes. "Tear it out and throw it away" are words, which when spoken, result in folks walking to the door in my home.

    Bookmark   February 20, 2009 at 6:10AM
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I hesitated to post on this board for the simple reason that I knew the window issue would come to the forefront. I very much understand everyone's point on the windows. Truly I do. I am a huge old house lover and tearing out the windows was our last resort and was only decided after talking to window restorers and doing a lot of research on our own. However, they are coming out. As I've mentioned above, it's not a point of discussion anymore. Some of them were replaced with very very bad replacements back in the 50s, so those are obviously coming out. Most of the remainder have cracked panes (and not small cracked panes - large cracks with missing pieces). Only 2 of the originals still open. Most of the interior pieces (the ropes, tracks, etc.) have been painted over numerous times and many of the ropes/chains are broken. And there is a significant (as verified by several old house cronies) lead paint issue, and the paint is peeling. In addition, in the back of the house we also had water seep inside the walls in a few places and the windows are rotted. We are not tossing them in a dumpster and I am hoping we will be able to reuse the glass that isn't cracked in some places inside the house decoratively. I realize that many would argue that all of the issues can be fixed if we simply give it a lot of time and a lot of money. But the windows are being replaced, so I will ask that that piece of the discussion stop here. Again, I appreciate and understand everyone's opinion, but this decision has already been made and not easily, so I'd rather not rehash it all over again.

I'm also going to remind everyone that I bought an old house, want to keep it an old house, and would like to make it feel like it should feel - an old house with woodwork that fits. I'm not looking for a new house with new drywall, so please don't tell me to get a new house. I'm looking for other's experiences/expertise on the trim and woodwork.

That said, thanks for the advice and tips on the woodwork. I'm outside of NYC, but there are a decent number of architectural salvage places that are on my list for doors & decorative windows - I will check them out for trim as well, I hadn't thought of that. I'm glad to hear I'm not losing my mind on the crown molding not fitting - it looks so out of place. Many of the books I've checked out from the library have great examples of the moldings, so I'm hoping to find something that fits. We're hiring contractors on our own (i.e, for most of the project there is no GC) so finding people who match our vision isn't a problem - and though we don't live in a historic district (there are none in this area) we do live in a neighborhood with a lot of great old houses, so thankfully we have a lot of good brains to pick for ideas.

Circus peanut - your pictures are beautiful, and that trim is to die for - I'm hoping that when we start uncovering ours it's 1/2 as nice!

Thanks again!

    Bookmark   February 20, 2009 at 10:34AM
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kerrygw -- your house is amazing.

Ours is similar vintage (1905), also with lots of arts & crafts details, and does not have any crown moulding at all. Is it possible that someone added it at some point to try to change the looks of the house?

Your floors look like either douglas fir or heart pine. Your woodwork looks like either oak or chestnut (the blight that killed the American Chestnut trees occurred around 1907, so it was available when your house was built). Our woodwork is chestnut and I think it looks a lot like oak:

When you build your addition, you may want to consider using reclaimed, re-milled wood for your flooring and trim. Reclaimed wood comes from old buildings being demolished. They re-mill beams etc. into flooring and dimensional lumber. There are a number of companies that do this. If you look in any issue of Old House Journal, you'll see lots of ads. Expensive, but wonderful if you can swing it.

It's too bad about the condition of your windows. But sometimes it just is what it is. I've heard good things about Marvin as replacements for historic windows.

    Bookmark   February 20, 2009 at 11:52AM
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Circus Peanut

I hear you on the windows, and it's a shame, but can't be helped. And thankfully you're not doing what my previous owners did, which is to slap in some ugly cheap white vinyl, so big kudos to you for allotting the cash to really make it look good.

In place of the Colonial crown molding, look to see if you can't find some picture rail for your upper walls. This can be installed right at the ceiling/wall joint or a bit below. My local arch. salvage has TONS of older trim, as does the local Habitat for Humanity ReStore.

And even Craig's List is a great resource for older wood trim and such -- this weekend I snagged 80 linear feet of my exact t&g doug fir flooring for $20. (To have it made new costs about $10/ft .. ask me how I know!)

My craftsman bungalow was also "colonialized" by the previous owners; this is the same room as above, same view, when I bought it:

I spent two months stripping all the woodwork and added a 'new' picture rail about 20" down from the ceiling, using reclaimed fir wood. There are also companies that specialize in arts & crafts moldings, so you could get some ideas from them?

Here is a link that might be useful: windsor mill moldings

    Bookmark   February 20, 2009 at 12:11PM
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Just on a practical note, you really don't have to jump in with both feet. All it takes to remove a small piece of trim is a pry bar and some patience. Once it is up, you can use a heat gun or chemical stripper to remove the paint. You don't need any real skill, just determination - especially if there are lots of layers of paint.

If you do that, you can get a general feeling for the amount of work that it would require to do the whole downstairs. Of course, if you were planning on hiring it out, you could get a quote of how much the restoration would cost. Generally, they would not do it by hand but instead take it off site to be chemically stripped. It is a lot easier to just dip a whole piece in stripper. You aren't going to save any money that way compared to new off the shelf molding, but you would end up with a far superior product.

    Bookmark   February 20, 2009 at 3:51PM
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Thanks everyone. Arlosmom - that is bee-yooootiful woodwork. I would love to do reclaimed wood flooring & trim - we'll see if it fits into the budget. Thankfully I think we'll be able to repurpose some of the existing flooring (that we will be pulling up to move a couple of bathrooms) into areas that got damaged or pulled up (and replaced by plywood - gee thanks) by the previous owner. I think you are probably correct that the crown was added later.

Circuspeanut - more beautiful pictures - gives me hope!! I love the picture rails - I was thinking about putting them up and possibly putting one of those arts & crafts inspired "frieze" wallpapers (by bradbury & bradbury maybe) above. Still trying to figure it all out, but we are definitely trying to add in some details that have either been pulled out previously or that hopefully would've fit with the original idea of the house. Thanks for the link to Windsor Mill - completely helpful!

Bill - appreciate the insight. When the house is viewed as a whole it does get overwhelming. I'm looking forward to doing some tinkering in a couple of weeks when I have a babysitter (3 little kids + construction = bad bad bad) and when they stop replacing the roof (shingles raining down on my head - ouch). We have someone who is very good at woodwork so hopefully he'll be able to help us out with it soon so we can get a better idea of what we are dealing with.

Anyone have an idea of how difficult it's going to be to get the new pine windows to somewhat mesh with the (I'm guessing) existing oak trim? I had just assumed that I could mess around enough with stains to get them to match (relatively) but is that just naive?

Thanks again!!

    Bookmark   February 20, 2009 at 8:00PM
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Pine is not the easiest wood to have stained to match. It's the wood, not the stain. Pine can get blotchy so I'd absolutely suggest using a wood conditioner first. However, with work and finesse, the windows will turn out nicely, but they will not be a perfect match to oak. The grains are very different so they're destined not to match.

    Bookmark   February 21, 2009 at 6:34AM
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Circus Peanut

My best advice on getting the pine to match is to use aniline dyes in whatever finish you're using (poly, shellac, varnish, etc) - that way you don't worry about the blotchiness of oil-based stain soaking in to the soft pine, and you can exert a lot more control over the finished depth of color. You can get the dyes at any woodworking store. We had to replace one windowsill with pine, and with a little experimentation got it to match our fir trim almost exactly.

    Bookmark   February 21, 2009 at 9:32AM
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Just food for thought...our A&C house has plate rails in the dining room. I don't think the height would work with the wallpaper friezes you mentioned, but I always liked the heft and think the chunky details are nice.

    Bookmark   February 21, 2009 at 1:14PM
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As someone who helped wet-strip every inch of the woodwork in our former home...(the PO's painted latex over oil without priming in-between...it was a MESS.)

Strip the wood. Even if you repaint it...it will be worth it. They don't grow trees like that anymore. Seriously.

I understand about the windows. GAWJUS house. I love our current home...a 1960's ranch...it lives well...but that is my idea of the perfect home.

Good luck!

    Bookmark   February 21, 2009 at 5:35PM
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Thanks for the woodwork help everyone - I appreciate the suggestions and insight. Love the plate rails arlosmom - hmm.. might work nicely in our dining room... I really like the colors you picked! Thanks mjsee - it's always nice to have some encouragement! We'll see how horrible the woodwork is - I went over the other day and it looks like that for some (unknown and I'm sure ridiculous) reason they replaced part of the original baseboard trim with pine at one point (there's a small unpainted strip at the bottom where I guess carpet was installed - sure doesn't look the same as the rest)- I'm hoping it's just the one section but we'll see!

    Bookmark   February 22, 2009 at 4:22PM
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When we bought our 1700 farmhouse ,it was pretty run down,rented a few times anyways we hired 2 guys that specialize in restoration.any trim that needed replaced they made trim to fit you cant even tell where,then when all that work done we had 20+windows replaced they took the glass out and made all new windows about 1,000 ea to match what we had,then we put the new electic,new heating under floor radiant water.love it,then we got a man who specializes in antiquing paint,staining he did great job,he has since passed away.love it."Have fun,just think what youll have at the end.

    Bookmark   February 22, 2009 at 5:26PM
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hey Kerry!
i love your house. our own little 1920s house has vinyl windows and more than half of the original molding on the first floor was stripped out and replaced with pine molding at some point. oh and yes, the original doors are gone and the PO also removed the only closet on the first floor.

some of these changes were probably justified. i believe that sometimes not all can be preserved. i hear you about the windows. we started with what we had and are moving forward re-using what we can and replacing the rest.

still, there is one aspect of replacement that you have not considered....removing original molding requires the person replacing it to make many many precise cuts. this is very expensive and time consuming...more so than just putting back the old molding, once it is stripped-- or even patching the old. our PO did a beautiful job cutting the replacement baseboard moldings to size....it's just a shame that he used knotty pine in the wrong width. yes, big knots. we are now in the process of re-replacing this stuff with wider poplar molding...we are painting, not staining. it's an incredible amount of work. and expensive, if you use real wood..even poplar.

good luck, whatever you decide. kren

    Bookmark   February 23, 2009 at 2:56PM
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This can be taken any number of ways, but I am irked (vexed?) when folks buy a really well-built older house that admittedly has much in the way of deferred maintenance, and proceed to embark on plans to drag it down to the level of a newly-constructed house, stripping away all the character in the process.
They will end up with a forlorn and bastardized building in the end, if they get that far. A successful old house owner sees the value in it when he/she buys it, and acts so as to reveal the true spirit of the house by peeling away layers of bad new work, neglect, and some (but not all) of the aging process.
A fine old house has a combination of materials, craftsmanship, and design that cannot be duplicated today.

    Bookmark   February 23, 2009 at 5:12PM
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Thanks everyone for the helpful tips. Casey - I guess one of the downsides of online posting is I really can't read into the message whether you are truly irritated by what I am doing to my house, what others have done to their houses, or just at the state of preservation in general. I do know that I value keeping things as intact as possible whenever feasible. And I also know that I can't possibly understand all the issues others have had with their homes, nor do I expect anyone to fully understand all the highs and lows of my house without significant first hand knowledge. I do know I'm doing my best, and I have no doubt that when all is said and done, my home will be far less "bastardized" than it is now, and hopefully it will reflect what it was originally meant to be.

In any case, I'll be busy for awhile cleaning up woodwork and trying to figure out the best way to proceed. Thanks everyone again for all the new knowledge you have passed along.

    Bookmark   February 23, 2009 at 7:40PM
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Something that has not been mentioned is Architectural Salvage stores. They have been great resource for us. Our home is a 1920's craftsman. We were fortunate that most our trim work was not painted. However one bedroom had painted trimwork and had the only replacement window in the house. (We thought this was odd) At a salvage yard we were able to find a double hung window and enough trim that matched our original trim work in other windows. It was such a perfect match stain wise we only had to do a few touch ups. Sometimes you can replace old trim with old trim and it turns out perfect. Good luck.

    Bookmark   March 18, 2009 at 10:41PM
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kerry I'm in your boat too - I know people on this board hate what we did to our house, but it was so neglected when we bought it, so poorly "renovated" over the years preceding that we ended up basically starting over. The woodwork had been chewed by dogs in every room, so we had custom duplicates remilled (at $10/linear foot) to replace it. Not old growth wood, but better that what was there. The wiring was a hazard (you should have SEEN what we found POs had done with "wiring" when we started pulling it out.) The plumbing was a mess, had previously caused damage that was poorly fixed. There was no insulation. The plaster had been (poorly) replaced by drywall in half the home, and what was left came off in chunks when we tried to remove the wallpaper that was covering it. I could go on and on.

Could we have saved some things? (new casing on this side of the door, original on the other?) Maybe, but in the big scheme it seemed futile. So everything we do we keep in mind the age of the house and what's appropriate, and seriously spend alot more money than necessary getting "right." (expensive custom millwork, etc. etc.)

We are saving our windows, even though many don't work properly, some have rot, they all have lead paint, and we'll need custom storms along with the new weatherstripping. We looked in to doing custom wood sash kits (which you should look into b/c it will save your trim) but in the end decided that even though we're going to have to do it ourselves and it was going to be a major PITA, it was the best thing to do.

In the end you have to do what's right for you - not everyone will agree. We all have different perspectives, and in mine we are doing the best we can to restore the glory of a home that had lost it for good long ago. It's not going to be original, but in the end it will be beautiful.

    Bookmark   March 19, 2009 at 8:41AM
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Thanks everyone. We definitely need to check out the architectural salvage places - I keep thinking of them for windows & doors but not as much for trim, so that gives me a bit of hope. And thanks kpaquette for the encouragement - it's appreciated. The windows are already a done deal (though the old sashes have been safely stowed away) and even though I fought to keep the old ones, I have to admit the new ones are not as bad as I had feared (blasphemy everyone, I know - please don't start). We are working hard to save as much of the trim as we can and to make anything "new" that we are adding feel like it belongs (as much as it can) - I guess we'll see in a few months if we were successful! :-)

    Bookmark   March 19, 2009 at 10:56AM
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