Sunday, September 4, 2016

Royal Barry Wills Crush

Looking for a house that is oozing with charm but also works well for today's living?  The classic Cape Cod homes that dot our landscape were an inspiration for the renowned architect Royal Barry Wills.  Though he also designed cutting edge modern homes, his traditional designs helped to catapult the Cape style home to the forefront of Colonial Revival American architecture during the first half of the 20th century.  Wills, born in Melrose Massachusetts in 1895, established his architectural practice in 1925.

Historic New England has Royal Barry Wills archive

A graduate of MIT in architectural engineering, Wills pulled inspiration from the language of traditional architecture for his cape style homes.  They evoke the feeling of a quieter time but incorporate modern kitchens and baths and the necessary garage of the mid 20's century.  He was a master of proportion and his homes can be recognized by their easy relationship with the surrounding landscape.

Online Archive

Now antiques in their own right, they can be the perfect home for someone looking for a unique, high quality home complete with nooks and crannies, without having to shoehorn a bathroom under the stairs.

Royal Barry Wills died in 1962.  However, if you want a new home, the company Wills founded continues designing magnificent homes today as Royal Barry Wills Associates.

Already have a Royal Barry Wills home? Lucky you!!  You can research original plans and drawings at Historic New England's archives.  Royal Barry Wills Associates generously donated their archive to Historic New England in 2014.

For a current list of pre 1962 Royal Barry Wills homes:

pre 1962 Royal Barry Wills for sale on Cape Cod

More info:

Jeff Wilkinson, "Royal Barry Wills"; Old House Journal July-August 1992

November 2009, Retro Renovation blog post Royal Barry Wills

Friday, April 1, 2016

The White Pine Series of Architectural Monographs

This post should be subtitled "How did I not know this was a thing".  I was rummaging around my favorite book store, when I came across a jewel in their used book section.  The object of my desire was a worn portfolio of architectural essays, entitled "The White Pine Series of Architectural Monographs", which was barely held together with a clip.  I brought it home and upon researching further, found that the bi weekly series, edited by architect Russell Whitehead, had a long history in documenting historical architecture in the United States.

The White Pine Series was born in 1914 and was supported by the Northern Pine Manufacturer's Association of Minnesota, Wisconsin and Michigan and the Associated White Pine Manufacturer's of Idaho as an advertising vehicle for using Eastern White Pine in building.  As such, the focus was initially on exterior details and highlighted colonial New England Architecture to capitalize on the colonial revival fever sweeping the nation.

When, in 1924, the White Pine Bureau ceased its sponsorship, the series continued with other advertisers but broadened its focus to include interior and public buildings as well as southern buildings.

In 1940, the series was discontinued, largely because many of its contributors began working on the Historic American Building Survey (HABS) created by the New Deal.  Whenever I am researching the history of a property, HABS is usually my first stop as it is a wealth of history, photographs and architectural drawings of historic properties, especially 17th, 18th and early 19th century buildings.  I also look up info in the Massachusetts Cultural Resource Information System (MACRIS).

However, this series was new to me and so exciting because it often relates structures to a theme, such as 19th century entries, 18th century mantels, etc rather than taking a building in isolation.  Also, the detailed drawings and photos in this series of interior features are a delight.  This series could also be very useful to people building a new home who want a classic look.

If you are wondering what the chances are of your finding the series in a used book store, fear not! Much of the series has been reset and printed and can be purchased on Amazon.  Also, the series is in the public domain so you can see many of the bi weekly publications at online libraries.  Also, publications from 1914 through 1931 are available online (with printing capabilities) through Eastern White Pine sponsored by NELMA.

Saturday, October 17, 2015

Barnstable Village Antique Homes Open House

Now this is how to spend a beautiful crisp fall day!  Tomorrow, Sunday Oct 17 from noon to 3 PM, join us for a multi broker antique homes open house!  I'll be at 3688 Main St. w/Ellie Claus, armed with cookies and cider.

Thursday, October 1, 2015

When Getting Plastered is a Good Thing

Newly plastered walls and ceiling
If you haven't had work done to your home in a while, you may be surprised to learn that the dominance of sheetrock with mud and tape has slipped as many builders and homeowners choose blue board with a plaster veneer as their finish of choice for walls and ceilings.  This is especially good news for old house owners whose plaster is damaged or was removed and replaced with sheetrock.
If you do have original plaster, it is worth noting that in many cases it can be restored and resurfaced for less cost and better quality than replacing with newer materials.  Original plaster has a flexibility that modern replacements lack. Properly maintained it can last many years and have the added benefits of mold inhibiting characteristics and an unparalleled authenticity.

Though our house has much of its original plaster on lathe, the original plaster was removed on the ceiling and badly damaged on the front interior wall.  We felt that smooth modern sheetrock with mud and tape would stand in stark contrast to the subtle texture and visual movement of the original plaster.  So, we turned to Leigh Draper, a local plasterer with many years experience to help us with our restoration.  (Leigh services the Southern Massachusetts and Cape Cod area.  His phone number is 508-264-3497).

Though Leigh seemed a bit surprised by our request to leave the surface of the plaster less than perfect (he could make it as smooth as a mirror), he used his ample skills and talent to match the original plaster in our living room, dining room and entry.

Applying veneer plaster requires both knowledge and skill.  The plaster must be mixed and applied before it becomes too hard and unworkable.  Ambient temperature and humidity also play a large role in the success of the plaster finish.

Living room wall original plaster and blue board on right wall
and ceiling.

The top of the original plaster was badly damaged where
it met the ceiling.  Leigh filled the gap with plaster prior to the finish coat.

Mesh tape covers the joints on the new blue board on
the ceiling and right wall.

The plaster is mixed when ready to apply.

Detail of infilled area at top of wall where
it meets the ceiling.
First coat is put on seems

Finish coat turns a light grayish white when dry.
Ready for primer!

The ceiling reflects the light.  Plaster can be left
without paint and pigments can be added
to the plaster.
Painted with Farrow and Ball Slipper Satin on walls,
Elephant's Breath on trim, and Off White on floors

Dining room painted with Farrow and Ball Slipper Satin on walls,
Old White on trim and Off White on floors
For more information on the history of plaster and restoration of plaster:

Article on benefits of old plaster in Period Homes Magazine article "Plaster Perfect", March 2007.

The National Park Service has created this brief on the history and maintenance of plaster walls: "Repairing Historic Plaster Walls and Ceilings"

Saturday, July 11, 2015

Open House at The Isaac Davis House in Barnstable Village 8/1/15 from 11 AM to 1 PM

Put aside your beach towel and suntan lotion (I know, its hard, but you'll be glad you did!) and join us for an Open House at The Isaac Davis House, located at 3688 Main St. in historic Barnstable Village, Saturday August 1st, from 11 AM to 1 PM.  This beautiful house has a rich history.   Beginning as a Federal style home, it underwent substantial updating during the Greek revival period.  Feast your eyes on the generous, inviting rooms and imagine sitting in front of one of the fireplaces with a good book and cup of tea.

This remarkably well preserved house has had many fans over the years.  An article in the Barnstable Patriot, June 22nd, 1858 described Isaac Davis' house as "one of the most tasteful residences in town":

But this house started its story long before.  On the property, there stood an earlier home from the mid 1600's belonging to Elder Thomas Dimmock and memorialized with a plaque in the scenic stone wall:

An article in Yankee magazine mentions the secret trap door leading to an underground tunnel that could have been used as a stop in the underground railroad. There were Davis' at that time that belonged to the Religious Society of Friends (Quakers), known abolitionists.  Hmm, could Isaac have shared their sentiments?

From an article in the Barnstable Patriot by Nancy Rubin Stuart, May 23, 2013:

Isaac Davis' daughter Mary, married a ship captain, Otis Hinckley.    Mary lived many years after Otis and stayed in her father's house until her own passing in 1917.
From Edward Handy's book, Barnstable Village, West Barnstable and Sandy Neck, Arcadia Publishing July 14, 2003, p.13.

From Edward Handy's book, Barnstable Village, West Barnstable and Sandy Neck, Arcadia Publishing July 14, 2003, p.13.Obituary of Mary Freeman Hinckley, December 17, 1917, Barnstable Patriot:

The Isaac Davis house is a strong link to Barnstable Village's past. And now, you have the opportunity to view this character filled home in person!

Monday, April 6, 2015

Farrow and Ball paint on Cape Cod

Photo from Farrow and Ball Inspiration page
If you like the beautiful historic paint collections from Benjamin Moore and California paints, you're going to love the new Farrow and Ball showroom in Hyannis.  The showroom, housed at the Toby Leary Fine Woodworking location, 135 Barnstable Road, is painted in gorgeous Farrow and Ball chalky shades.

Photo from Farrow and Ball Inspiration page
I have several books by Ross Byam Shaw that include character filled homes in the English countryside.  I always sigh at the soft quality of the paint and am not surprised to check the resources and find that it is another Farrow and Ball confection.  She has also written two inspiring books that specifically highlight Farrow and Ball paint, Farrow and Ball Decorating with Colour and Farrow and Ball Living with Colour.  Pure eye candy.

Photo from Farrow and Ball Inspiration page
If you would like to see customer's uploaded photos, check out their Inspiration Gallery - full of photos of real life rooms.  You can even sort by the particular paint color that you are interested in to see how it looks in different applications.

Stop by the Hyannis showroom and take a look.  They even have these itty bitty paint can samples for $7 of all 132 color (or should I say colours?) so that you can try one on for size in your own home.

For a historic home enthusiast, you'll appreciate that many of the colors are derived from historic samples.  I love the names of these colors too - Elephant's breath, mouse's back, Mizzle…

The website and facebook page offer advice, from current trends to considering the direction of light in your color choice.  

Photo from Farrow and Ball colour trends 2015
Photo from Farrow and Ball website
I'll be using some of these lovely colors in my own house - Do you have any favorites?

Saturday, January 24, 2015

Home Improvements using a HUD Title 1 Home Improvement Loan and Mass Save Energy loan

Our house being re-roofed

If you've purchased a home that needs a wee bit of work, but you don't have equity (umm, because you just purchased it), here is a nifty loan that can help.  In my case, we purchased our house at the height of the market, and the price still hasn't recovered to the point where we have enough equity to do an equity line of credit.  I had written a post previously about a 203k loan which bases the loan on the projected finished value of the home.  However, few homes have sold in my neighborhood and those that have needed A LOT of work (one was marketed as a tear down!).  On paper, the finished value of my house did not support the work that I wanted to do.  Whats a gal to do?

I searched for loans that do not require equity and stumbled upon the HUD Title 1 Home Improvement loan.  It sounded too good to be true.  The maximum loan on a single family house is $25,000 and can be used for building alterations, repairs and site improvements.  Now here is the best part, there is no home inspection or appraisal!  The loan is secured by your home (like a second mortgage) but they do not consider the equity that you have in your home.  The only catch is that you need good credit, and of course your income must be sufficient to support the loan.

The paperwork was so easy and streamlined that I honestly wondered during the process if it were some kind of scam.  I checked out the bank and could find nothing nefarious so we went ahead with the loan.  From the time we applied, to the time we closed, was 10 days.  10 DAYS I tell you.  And we were never asked for the same piece of information more than once. The attorney came to our house, at OUR convenience, to do the closing.  We have 6 months to make the repairs (or ask for an extension) before an inspector comes out to verify that the work was done.  Easy Peasy.  The loan officer we used is John Rodriguez, Admirals Bank, Office #401- 248-7267, Mobile #401-439-6236, 15 Park Row, West Providence, RI  02903.

I can't believe that more banks don't offer this.  In fact, many loan officers that I spoke with don't even know that the program exists.  We used it to finance a new roof, some work to our chimney and to fix rotted trim boards.

Is there a downside?  The rate is higher than a traditional refinance.  I'm not sure how it compares to a home equity loan though.  However, we combined this with a 0% long term loan from the Mass Save Energy program to get the rest of the work that we wanted done.

If you live in Massachusetts, I highly recommend getting a MassSave Energy Audit.  If for no other reason, you get free light bulbs.  Our audit revealed that our house was 10 TIMES more drafty than a modern house. It's no wonder we've been hemorrhaging money to pay for our oil heat.  They identified some easy, low cost ways to improve our energy loss, like insulation in cracks, door sweeps, and changing out light bulbs.  And they identified some more involved work like converting to gas and changing out windows (ours are NOT original, but are the result of a 1940's renovation).  

Click here for a pdf report by the National Trust 

for Historic Preservation

Preservation Green Lab Report

A note about windows, if you have original windows in your historic home - keep them if you can!  People are often worried about energy loss, but the truth is, studies show that you can get near to, or equal, the energy efficiency of modern insulated pane windows by adding good quality storms on the exterior or interior of the window.   And few things change the character of your house as quickly as removing the original windows.  For great information on energy efficiency of historic windows, click this link to a post by California's Office of Historic Preservation.  I am disappointed that the MassSave Energy program does not allow for a 0% loan if you are restoring your windows - only for replacement.

Sitting here with a light snow on the ground, it's hard to believe that within a couple of months, the daffodils will be poking their heads out of the ground accompanied by the sweet sound of buzzing saws and nail guns : )