Thursday, March 13, 2014


Marblehead house being restored.
House before restoration
Back of house after structural damage fixed. 
Rear ell
 In a previous post I talked about the importance of decoration in antique homes of any period. I say any period because most people took pleasure in making their homes look nice if they could. In Saying that I realize that not everyone had the money to do more then paint a surface or hang a curtain, especially since most people living in the early times were living in very small one or two room houses filled with family. It is always surprising to me when I see a room, in a house built in the early part of the 18th century, that has evidence left of some amazing paint decoration and/or wallpaper.

 In Marblehead, a good friend and his wife , are restoring a circa 1740 house in the old part of that town. This house was built by a man who was a merchant. It isn't especially huge or mansion like, but it was and is a beautiful home. When my friends bought this house, it had evidence of many years of hard living!! As in most cases, this house early on, was owned by two sides of a family. It had many tenants over the years and gradually each side of the house saw changes that impacted the structural integrity of the building. Lucky for this house that my friends ended up buying it. What drew them to it was the fact that even though it had been through a lot , there was a great deal of original left! Always exciting to the antique house lover. I have tried to post pictures that show what an extensive restoration this has been . The house had suffered some major structural damage when many years ago, part of the original kitchen fireplace was removed along with part of a post next to it.  The back of the house started to sink. It took many years, but by this time, the back was a good foot and a half lower then it should have been and was rapidly getting worse. When looking at the pictures, you can easily see that this is a major undertaking. The new owners feel that because of the amount of original parts left, it was worth doing.

 The house started out as a one room deep, gambrel, twin chimney, Georgian design with a rear two story ell on the right side. In the federal or early nineteenth century , it got an additional ell on the left side. In the end, the house had three staircases , two of which go all the way up to the third floor and twelve, yes twelve, fireplaces, and twelve rooms. Hopefully I counted all the rooms. It is a bit confusing sometimes when walking through and trying to see everything. There is almost too much to take in!

 One of the first things to be discovered was a nice big piece of Wallpaper found on some early sheathing. My friend immediately contacted Richard Nylander , expert on wallpaper and author of "Wallpaper in America", and showed him a picture of it. Mr. Nylander said it was a Gothic style paper, popular in the 1760's. He was very excited to see it. This paper was made most likely in England and imported to America. It was very fashionable at this time. If you own Mr. Nylander's book , you can read about the history of Wallpaper and this particular style of paper. Very interesting !

 The next exciting discovery was the sheathing boards the paper was covering. They were paint grained in the style of cedar wood, which was also very fashionable during the 18th century. Mahogany and cedar were both woods that were expensive and popular at this time. I have seen quite a few 18th century houses decorated with cedar graining. As it turned out, it was discovered that almost all of the interior woodwork was painted with this technique. My friend was able to figure out where things originated by following paint sequences on woodwork that had been removed and reused elsewhere in the house.

  Next came the early stencil decoration, which was found in the upstairs Parlor chamber and also in the front hall. It is a paynes gray on white in the bedroom and it looks like the same stencil in the hallway using a paynes gray on either white or yellow. Not sure about the background because the hallway had several layers of later wallpaper which covered the stencil and left a yellowed film from the paste on the plaster.

 Upstairs in the Garrett or attic, where there were two rooms with fireplaces, there was evidence of window seats and dormers. It up here that my friend found some of the cedar grained sheathing that actually originated downstairs in a little room next to the original kitchen. In a partitioned off little space, you could also see where the sheathing was painted blue to look like wainscot and white above. I thought this was a very interesting treatment .

The pictures show what the house looked like when it was first purchased and now that it has had a years worth of restoration. There is still work to be done on the interior but the exterior is almost finished. With the new reproduction 18th century windows and the shiplapped and rosehead nailed clapboards, it's look has greatly improved. Next up is the front entry. Unfortunately, my friend was not allowed to restore the doorway back out flush with the front of the house. He is, however, compromising by making a surround that is compatible with the original and when it is completed, will look great and be in keeping with the rest of the house.

The greatest thing about this house is the fact that it had several different types of decoration all there to be discovered, stenciling, paint graining, and wallpaper.  There is so much, that it was hard to choose what to show. I can't wait to see how this looks when the restoration is complete. I am hoping to be able to go back in a couple of months to see it and maybe take more pictures.

This house has had the good fortune to be restored to it's former glory and as you can see from the pictures it is glorious!

Cedar grained sheathing boards

Gothic Wallpaper , circa 1760's

Stenciled Wall in Parlor chamber.

Stenciled wall in front upstairs hallway.

Beautiful front staircase. Evidence of stencil along the wainscot.

Damaged kitchen fireplace, before restoration.

Kitchen fireplace after restoration.

Back door in Kitchen and new lath for plaster.
Dining room paneled wall
upstairs back bedroom 

More paneling in bedroom
Garrett chamber after restoration

Garret chamber fireplace before restoration 

partitioned room in Garrett with painted wainscot

Evidence of dormers with window seat in Garrett.