From the Guestbook Saturday, Aug 24 2013 


“This diagram is intended to convey a faint idea of the manner in which Mr. Carleton’s bedroom door was barricaded on the morning of July 31. The Besieging parties being Miss Nellie Rounce and her fellow conspirator Miss Nellie Yale.” July 1876

We don’t do that to our guests these days!  Mr. Carleton was Julie’s publisher and frequent summer guest.  I suspect that the ‘Miss Nellie Yale’ is Helen Yale Smith, not her namesake Helen Yale.  The latter was a close friend, but was not referred to as ‘Nellie’.  So, two teenage girls cheerfully making Mr. Carleton welcome!  It is the plethora of bottles that I find most interesting in that sketch…

Note that the door trim matches the Little Parlor, nice confirmation that the trim on that room was not modified when the fireplace was redone at the turn of the century.  The trim also suggests that Carleton probably had the long vanished bedroom where the main hall now is (as the only other possible bedrooms upstairs have plainer trim).  The main hall and the north end would not be built for another 17 years.

Note too our mysterious bird signature once again.

Architecture that didn’t Friday, Jul 26 2013 


“Our artist, on hot, hotter, hottest afternoon in July, after a mild claret punch under the trees, dreams that a Swiss chalet sort of roof like the above would look rather nobby on the little Bow Window to the library”

From the 1879 guestbook. The bay window and the library (it would cease to be the library in 1893, when the present library was added) are on the second floor at the south end. The bay window is a simple one, in keeping with the classical lines of the rest of the house.  It looks exactly like the window in the sketch, minus the Swiss chalet top which was Not added!  The question is, ‘nobby’ is that a good or bad adjective?

Things that work Monday, Jun 3 2013 

or the beauty of double-hung windows.
We are slowly opening Esperanza’s windows for summer. That sounds distinctly peculiar, but it is the best way of doing it here. First a few doors, here and there, get the storms taken off the rest of the doors, then a few windows, then a few things in the attic, then a few more windows. By mid-June most everything that can be opened will be opened.
Remember this is a house with 17 doors (and two french doors) to the outside.* We are talking about A Lot of doors/windows, and every one is unique.
In any case, double-hungs, are my preferred window. There are problems: the biggest drawback is that, unless you have storms (which we do) you cannot have weather tight windows. I had an office with unsealed double-hungs, newspaper was useful. They also require carpenters with an actual grasp of…you know…Carpentry. However, the configurations of the storms, double-hungs, and screens are numerous. It is quite possible to have an open window that does not ship water, or a window that creates a constant, subtle breeze, or a truly open window. Furthermore, some of those configurations are, while not ultra-secure- very close to it; especially in double-hungs that are opened by means of interior catches in the casement. You can have an open window that is still as secure as an unopened window in that case. Which is rather nice.
It is a Project, of course, I just wrestled open a double-hung that has neither catches nor weights. It will stay open all summer. So five minutes now and five minutes in the fall. I think that is manageable…
*do I have that right? You’d think I’d remember.

Cleaning Old Glass Thursday, Mar 14 2013 

Cleaning a few kitchen doors today; both are multi-paned with exterior storm doors.  It struck me that the old glass was more interesting to look at for any length of time.  The small lights are much, much harder to clean, as they have four times the number of edges.  The big outer panels are just flat pieces of glass.  They are entirely forgettable.  We generally assume that glass is supposed to be see-through, the modern triumph is invisible walls.  And yet….they are most assuredly walls.   I have to admit, I have always found the massive panels of perfect glass with minimal framing to be jaw-dropping, no doubt, but clinically cold. 

I was admiring one of the door’s lights, about the size of a shoe-box.  This small piece of glass had so much life in it.  The bubbles, the ripples, the multitude of imperfections, every single one of them caught the light.  At exactly the right angle and level a rainbow flashed and vanished.  This wasn’t a see-through wall; this was an (admittedly inadvertent) celebration of the sun.  

Now, I am sure that the people who built the house would spring for the modern, perfect glass; they went for modern whenever they could afford it after all.  But, studying the old glass ignites the artistic sensibilities.  Stained glass, painted glass, rippled, spun, blown, fractured; the possibilities are endless.  It is a pity we believe that flat, flawless, colourless, and large is perfection.

Architectural chronology Saturday, Jan 26 2013 

One of the interesting aspects of the house is its growth over time.  This is fairly common with New England houses; the classic farmhouse that keeps getting lengthened.  It is not common with the surviving summer houses/estates built in the post Civil-War era.  This is a permanent tension in the house’s history, generated primarily by finances, no doubt its level of charm depends on the bank book.  The questions of identity so beloved of curators spring immediately to mind.

But a bit more on simple (ha!) dates:

c.1790-1810 for the center section, your classic post and beam cube.  Two and a half stories with a full height basement.*  Ceilings are sevenish feet.

c.1830-40 for the first dining room/southern extension.  At this time the facade is changed.  The house now appears as a Georgian farmhouse with a small southern kitchen ell, which is as long as but only half as wide as the cube.  This extension has a full-height basement, but is not as tall as the cube, being only one and a half stories above-ground.   The basement is now daylighted at its south end.

1874: the dining room is expanded on both sides; the two rooms above are created by popping the roof.  The height of the extension now matches the cube.   The dining room is painted PINK.  The length of the house does not change.  The southern extension is now about two-thirds the width of the cube. 

1875?: the extension to the west of Opposite-To-It, one of the rooms in the original box, its west wall is popped out by about four feet, creating a lovely, sunny bay…unfortunately it leaks cold air like a proverbial sieve.  The west and south sides of the cube are now obscured.

1878: the South End is added.  What was a three-story barn originally is refinished inside and tacked on to the south wall of the kitchen/dining room.   The bottom two stories are post and beam, presumably the third is as well.  It is the same width and height as the southern extension.  Three sides of the basement actually open at ground level.

1893: the North End is added, along with the porches.  It adds another quarter in length and is the width of the cube plus a bit.  It is a true three and a half stories in height, putting it a story taller than the cube and southern sections.  This massive section gives the house its distinctive appearance as an apparent early Shingle-style building instead of the rambling Georgian/Federal farmhouse with a few Queen Anne flourishes.  This section is not post and beam, rather it is balloon-framed and consequently a very different building to work with.  This building buries the original cube almost completely, it is now only visible on the east facade.

1890s-1960’s: the three-story porch on the west wall of the South End is gradually enclosed, making it wider than the dining room section.

?? Now, those of you that know the house, should spot a missing bit: ‘Hole In the Wall’ the distinctive feature built out over the east porch with the round red window.  There is a problem.  Lucy Creevey puts it down to 1881.  The photographs and oral history have it placed around 1873-75. ..this requires some research.  And is what I get for trying to run the dates off the top of my head???

However, having happily confused all of you who don’t know the house!

*what’s the ‘and a half’ story? Attic crawlspaces, really simply the roof structure above the ceiling of the rooms below.  Unfinished and uninsulated.



Perceptions of space Saturday, Jul 21 2012 

Esperanza is a large house.  However, it is also an old house and the size is sometimes deceptive.  There are a lot of windows, doors, interior trim, and immovable mirrors*, bookcases, or pieces of furniture.  The end result is surprisingly limited wall space.  This was brought home the other day following a visit to an artist in a very modern studio: cathedral ceiling and no interior trim.  In her space large paintings (3 feet by 2 or bigger) looked reasonable in size.  The same painting would be impossibly large in this house.  There isn’t the wall space or the ceiling height.  Yet, you don’t realize that most of the pieces of art are fairly small in Esperanza because they are in proportion to the house.  It is an interesting aspect to the problem of figuring out why something looks correct in one space and not another.  And why double-checking is always a good idea…

*There are six mirrors that are full height or more.  There are at least three other mirrors that are both large and critical for boosting light levels in rooms, plus various dresser mirrors…

Architectural definitions Friday, Jul 20 2012 

Sometime back I gave a rapid introduction to the house’s architecture:

I am most amused, the tax assessor has given up on classification.  Queen Anne wasn’t correct, nor Shingle Style, nor Greek Revival….so…. ‘Antique’ it is!  I can’t recall encountering that as a building description before.  Furniture, yes, buildings, no.

On Roofs Wednesday, Jul 11 2012 

One of Esperanza’s signature features is the use of red roof shingles, everything except one side of the barn’s roof (corrugated metal) and the flat porch roofs (rubber) is done in red, asphalt shingles.  Matching the red is a bit of a job, we never do things the easy way.  But it is much more elegant and interesting than acres (not literally, it just feels that way) of black.

However, earlier roofs varied.  Wood shingles, ideally of cedar but not necessarily, were in use well into the twentieth century.  The 1929 inventory of all the buildings records another, somewhat surprising, interlude.  Most of the barns/outbuildings listed have wood shingles.  A few sections of flat roof were made of tin.  But Esperanza, Minnietrost (one of the small cottages), the farmhouse, the help’s cottage, and Appleby all had paper roofs.*  In the photographs it is apparent that this gave the buildings’ profiles a distinctly raw, unfinished look.  Perhaps more our modern sensibilities, since tar paper was a common roofing material at the time.  Unfortunately, I can’t determine either the color or if it was actually paper or felt that was being used.  I do wonder how long they lasted.  It can’t have been long, since I don’t have, I believe, any other photos that show that…but then I haven’t really looked.

*The farmhouse had been Satis Bene, by the time of the inventory it was no longer given a name, though the other named buildings were.  That half of the property, which included the massive dairy barn, several other barns, a creamery, and the help’s cottage was sold in the 1960’s.  It is now a winery.  Appleby was sold by World War II, it is now in disrepair, but is an elegant c.1800 farmhouse.  At the time it had an apple orchard, hence the name.

Brief Meditations on a Barn Tuesday, Jul 3 2012 

Esperanza’s barn, the barn that is still part of the property that is, is actually two structures: a purpose built horse barn and a standard, English style, barn now used as a garage.  The two are attached to each other, the dates are entirely uncertain.  The carriage/garage section could be anywhere from 1800-1875, without careful examination I wouldn’t care to guess; the horse barn (despite family lore) is almost certainly 1873.  Dating barns is hard, recycled timbers were the order of the day and styles for general purpose barns changed only slightly.

In any event,  having reason to wander in the horse barn, I amused myself by examining the actual structure.  It is a post and beam build, and a big one.  Three east-west beams carry the hayloft: at 48 feet long, and 8inches by 8inches.  The barn floor is carried by another three beams of the same length, but closing in on 12 inchx12inch dimensions.  There are a another set of north-south sills, close to thirty-five feet in length, plus two floors of joists: 38 to a floor, thirty-five feet long, three inches by ten…plus corner/side posts….and the sheathing, and the flooring…in no case can you drive a heavy and very sharp knife in more than two or three millimeters, even with one’s full body weight behind it.

You can’t build them like that today…

Contemplations on Windows Tuesday, May 29 2012 

An aside from Esperanza.

Working on a minor architectural history project today, documenting some windows in a potentially historic building before their replacement, got me to thinking about the ‘why’ question of historic preservation.  Not too surprising, given that the building in question is a gym and the people I was dodging in their devotions to the gods of exercise wanted to know what I was doing.

There are a number of possible answers, all more or less applicable depending on the circumstances.  These may be long-term economic considerations, environmental considerations, sentiment, aesthetics, or the inability of the modern age to rebuild a replica (cost, rarity/or complete lack of material, and the lack of the skilled labor).*

Now this building, already heavily modified on the interior, has a relatively low level of historic integrity and the windows are nothing unusual.  They are precisely what one would expect in a public building, in New England, built pre-1920.  They are big, double-hung windows using the pin and pulley system, with full arched fanlights above.  The fanlights are hinged at the bottom with the top of the fanlight swinging in.  The window is stopped by chains which are attached at the balance point located a bit below the middle of the curve, so that when one closed them (using a long pole hook) you never had to deal with the entire weight of the window.  Most of the fanlights are missing already, chopped out for air conditioners or hidden in a dropped ceiling, yet the chains and the top hook were still in place on two of the old frames, poignant reminders.  The pulley/pin system of the double-hungs, judging by the paint layers, had fallen into disrepair before the arrival of those air conditioners.

These utterly standard windows were an ingenious, mechanical, solution to the problem of ventilation.*  And here is where historic preservation, or at least good documentation, becomes valuable in this situation.  How does something work?  Not a question we ask as much as we should.  Ideally, if one didn’t want to, literally and metaphorically, close doors; a renovation or new construction could use that fanlight/clerestory window design, and maybe even in the double-hungs, in tandem with its modern climate control.  Historic preservation preserves Options as much as it does the past.  ‘Learn from history’, what a cliche!  Only, is it really?

The replacements will, of course, not open.  I hope the power stays on…

*It has been shown that, whether a window or a building, you triple your carbon footprint when you tear it down and replace it with one of similar size.  Basically construction of Building A, plus demolition of Building A, plus construction of Building B equals three buildings, and associated material/fuel costs.  Refit/Renovation generally has a carbon footprint of a half to one additional construction. It has also been shown that historic renovation/reuse is a much better economic engine than new construction in the short term and has long-term, indirect economic benefits as well.

*Yes, I realize that the air conditioner is a more effective cooling system…but what would the bill look like if you ran the AC during the day, and opened the windows when the ambient, exterior temp dropped at night(as it generally does in New England), or on other days?  Options, you wouldn’t have to, but you could…and in a builidng occupied around the clock, why not?

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