Category: Historic Homes & More

The Gothic Revival House

The Gothic Revival was primarily a rural house style.

Photo: The Bowen House

The Gothic Revival began in England and was the result of new investigations of antique buildings. The Gothic had been overshadowed for more than two centuries by Renaissance and classical styles, but in Britain countless spectacular Gothic buildings survived. Westminster Abbey was among them, yet even a national monument like the Abbey remained a mystery, with little hard knowledge about the evolution of the Gothic style or what portions of the building had been built when.

Decades were required for researchers to sort it all out and, in the meantime, a not-so-scholarly but highly popular variation on the Gothic theme came into vogue. A writer named Horace Walpole published one of the first Gothic romances and proceeded to Gothicize his country house, Strawberry Hill. The domestic style he and his advisers pioneered became an overnight sensation in England but, initially, it didn’t travel to the United States. When it did, it was thanks to an architect named Alexander Jackson Davis and a landscape designer named Andrew Jackson Downing.

When it comes to popular taste, timing is everything and the arrival of the Gothic is no exception. The Gothic was primarily a rural style, as is suggested by the titles of Davis’s 1837 book Rural Residences and Downing’s immensely popular Cottage Residences (1842) and The Architecture of Country Houses (1850). These books illustrated not only parts of houses, as Asher Benjamin’s had done, but added floor plans and even atmospheric perspective drawings of the houses set amid verdant settings. These books were popular among homeowners as well as builders, and led to the appearance of Gothic “cottages” from Maine to California.

Technology played an important role in the emergence of American Gothic, as the decade of the 1830s was a time when the steam-powered scroll saw was developed. Early versions of this saw look like a large sewing machine, though the device had a reciprocating blade rather than a needle. It was this tool that made the Gothic Revival possible in the United States and gave it a character different from its English forebear.

While most English Gothic homes had been built of stone, in America the material of choice, as usual, was wood. The scroll saw made it possible to cut elaborate wooden trim into curved patterns that echoed the tracery work on Medieval Gothic windows. The bargeboards or vergeboards that decorated the rooflines, along with the porch, window, and doorway trim, came to be known as gingerbread. Downing didn’t like the term because, as he put it, “gingerbread” made the decorations sound as if they were “flimsy and meager decorations which have a pasteboard effect.” Despite his objections, however, the name stuck and, though this and other Victorian decorations were for many years dismissed as grotesque and even ugly, more recently homeowners have come to admire the elaborate detailing that often decorates the roof line of the Gothic Revival House.

Earlier house designs tend to sit solidly on their sites, as if a low center of gravity was basic to their design. In contrast, the Gothic house seems to reach for the sky. Verticality is the word architecture critics like to use to describe the effect of buildings that direct the eye upward. The spires of Medieval Gothic cathedrals convey this sense very directly, but there is a similar effect in American Gothic houses. The steep inverted-V of the gable ends are frequently topped by finials. Window trim and even the windows themselves may have the characteristic pointed top of the Gothic arch. American Gothic buildings aren’t especially tall, however, usually one and a half or two stories in height.

Another innovation found in the American Gothic house is an asymmetrical floor plan. Like many of the Greek Revival houses built in the same era—these styles overlapped in the United States—the Gothic Revival house often had an L-shaped floor plan.

REMODELER’S NOTES. Gingerbread is back—more than a few new developments across the country have reintroduced Victorian styling and put elaborately sawn trim to effective use. Conserve the original gingerbread where possible, replicate it where necessary, and use its shape to unify new additions to older structures.

Symmetry is no longer a watchword: In fact, Downing himself characterized the ideal rural residence as having “… a style marked by irregularity of form and outlines, a variety of effect and boldness of composition.”

In earlier houses, clapboards were the rule, but the American Gothic house popularized board-and-batten siding. This siding method used vertical boards, nailed to the frame of the house, with narrow boards (called battens) applied over the joints between the boards. One good strategy is to use the detailing of the original house when remodeling.

The Greek Revival House

Uniquely America, the Greek Revival House is proudly linked to great historic tradition.

James L. Kemper Residence, Madison, Virginia. Photo: Flickr

The Greek Revival captured the American spirit as no other style had done. To visit an unspoiled town that prospered in the years between 1820 and 1860 is to see democracy at work. There are grand Grecian houses with freestanding columns that frame gracious front porches (some people think of such places, in a small simplification of architectural history, as “Gone-with-the-Wind” houses). But there are also simpler dwellings for workers. Take one of these plain structures, strip it of its Greek Revival details, and what would emerge would be the Basic House, perhaps a Cape Cod in disguise, that highly adaptable eighteenth-century design. And these Greek-inspired buildings were found all over the nation, moving from the East Coast in the 1820s westward where, as late as the 1860s, Californians were still building Greek Revival houses.

The same writer-carpenter, Asher Benjamin, who helped get the word out about the Federal House, lived long enough to play a role with the Grecian style, too. His later pattern books reached builders who would never travel to American cultural centers like Boston, Philadelphia, or New York and see the major Greek Revival buildings in those cities, much less go abroad to visit the Parthenon. They didn’t have to, thanks to Benjamin’s careful prescription for Grecian proportions, window detailing, staircase construction, and much else. The Grecian mode had patriotism going for it, too. Just as the Greek Revival Style was gaining popularity in the United States in the 1820s, the Greeks themselves were fighting for independence. Perhaps that parallel to their own revolutionary history was part of the appeal to Americans of Greek architecture.

For a lot of reasons, the Grecian style appeared on streetscapes from Connecticut to California. The single most apparent characteristic of the Greek Revival House is its exterior trim work. A generation earlier, wide expanses of trim would have required much hand planing, but new planing machinery produced wide smooth boards at reasonable cost. Suddenly even people of modest means could afford homes that replicated the appearance of a Greek temple. There were pilasters or wide corner boards defining the corners of the structure. Above, a broad horizontal frieze board with molded trim separated the wall of the Grecian house from the overhanging cornice of the roof. Bold moldings added shadows and scale. The effect was to create a style that was at once uniquely American yet proudly linked to a great historical tradition.

The classic Greek Revival House has a main facade with a gable that faces the street. On top of a boxy base sits the triangular roof, supported either by columns or pilasters. The roof isn’t steeply sloped. Greek trimmings were also applied to houses of many different shapes and sizes, including the compact, single-story Basic House and the larger Classic Colonial with its two stories.

While its designer might have wanted to allude to the ancient Greek ideals of democracy, the Grecian style house had a distinctly practical bent. Symmetry was quickly abandoned—an ever-popular configuration of gable-front Greek has the entrance not in the central bay but on one side. Known by the rather misleading name of “side-hall colonial” (the colonies having long since won their independence and become a republic), this proved an enduring formula. Often Greek Revival houses had an ell that extended from one side, fronted by a porch.

Porches were new in this era, but the tradition of the front door being a bold statement remained, and doorways on Greek Revival homes generally have heavy pilasters or columns, as well as rectangular sidelights and transoms. The scale of the moldings in general may seem to a student of Federal design very heavy and even clumsy, but in a sense they were a celebration of the lumberman’s new ability to produce wide, machine-planed boards.

REMODELER’S NOTES. Where there were farms in the nineteenth century, you’ll probably find Grecian farmhouses. Most are sturdy, practical homes. The details aren’t fussy, and these houses are easily restored and repaired. Greek Revival houses often have been added on to over the years, and adding on again is easier than with earlier symmetrical houses. If you plan to add on, try to replicate the moldings, frieze, corner boards, and other trim to unify the whole. The Greek Revival House has less of the handmade charm of earlier homes, but these are practical, sturdy houses that speak honestly for their time.

The Victorian House

While named for the English Queen, the Victorian House is an eclectic blend of popular styles.

Victorian Houses


The name comes from the English queen who assumed the throne in 1837 and remained in power until 1901. Victoria wasn’t a designer. As with her four immediate predecessors, the kings named George, her name came to be applied to the houses of her time out of chronological convenience rather than any true aesthetic connection between the monarch and the buildings of her age.

In fact, her long reign saw more architectural styles rise to popularity than had developed during the years of all the other British monarchs put together. If it weren’t for the far-flung influence of the British Empire in all parts of the world and in all manner of trade, art, culture, and industry, another name might well have evolved to describe the diverse building styles of the nineteenth century. Perhaps “The Eclectic Age” would have conveyed more precisely the fluidity and variety of domestic architecture in her time, but the name that has come to be applied is “Victorian.”

If Victoria cannot be credited with instigating the fruitful architectural experiments of the time, the advent of the machine must be given some of the credit. Steam- and water-driven machinery made it possible for more people than ever before to afford well-made basic house parts like windows and doors, as well as decorative details like moldings and trim. Eventually stoves, plumbing fixtures, all kinds of millwork, and other goods were delivered via a growing network of canals and railroad tracks. Raw materials were also shipped inexpensively and new markets were opened up. In the forty years preceding the Civil War, America’s population tripled. All of which resulted in the greatest construction boom the world has ever seen.

The world was changing at an unprecedented pace. Not surprisingly, people’s tastes changed, too, and not once but again and again. The first great style of the Victorian age in America was the Greek Revival. In the eighteenth century, the new science of archeology had revealed that ancient Greek and Roman buildings were not indistinguishable but dated from different eras altogether. Archaeologists found that Greek architecture had come first and that Grecian building was a key source for all subsequent European architecture In America, the Greek Revival found fertile ground and grew into the dominant style for some three decades.

The Gothic Revival developed at about the same time. Its popularity and affordability was in part the result of advancing technology, as new power saws could shape the decorative woodwork (gingerbread) characteristic of the style. A wonderful Victorian eccentric named Orson Fowler dreamt up the octagonal house (he also was a practitioner of phrenology, a “science” that claimed to be able to assess character and mental abilities on the basis of the patterns of bumps on peoples’ skulls. The Italianate House was broadly popular before the Civil War; the French-inspired Second Empire Style reached its peak after the Civil War. Primarily German sources and the proliferation of inexpensive building materials produced the Stick Style, and students of early eighteenth-century English architecture developed the Queen Anne style. The Shingle Style was the last great style of the century. There were styles to suit almost any taste.

The Basic House

The Basic House is an elemental style whose simplicity and practicality are to be respected.

Photo: Herbert Hoover

The generic, early American house is known by many names, among them the English Medieval House, the Cape Cod, the saltbox, and the double-pen log cabin. While each of these differs in detail from one another, they are simple, rather plain houses that collectively represent America’s most enduring house designs.

Seventeenth-century settlers arriving from England adapted the Medieval cottages they had known at home to conditions in America. The earliest houses consisted of one room with a hole in the ceiling to allow the smoke from the fire to escape. A chimney was soon added on an end wall; the addition of a second room came next. This new configuration was called the “hall-and-parlor house” because the two principal rooms were a “hall” for cooking, eating, and working and a more formal “parlor” used as a master bedroom. Later, larger versions often had a narrow kitchen to the rear of the two front rooms, a one-and-a-half room deep configuration we know as the Cape Cod house. Early log cabins typically followed a similar evolution, with a single unit or “pen” followed by chimney construction and the addition of a second pen.

Building the Basic House was (and is) quite simple, with a shoebox-shaped first floor and a plain gable roof rising from the front and back. As originally laid out, these houses consisted of living areas downstairs and unfinished sleeping or storage spaces above in the tall attic. While these boxy houses have never gone out of favor, the range of variations on the original theme multiplied with the passing decades.

Because of the harsh climate on this side of the Atlantic, the Basic House in New England typically had a central chimney stack that contained two or more fireplaces. This functional design provided a masonry mass that absorbed the heat from the open fireboxes and radiated warmth to the entire house. In Virginia and other southern states, a variation evolved with chimneys in the end walls, in order to dissipate unwanted heat in the warmer southern climate.

Over the centuries, the Basic House assumed still more guises. The earliest Basic House probably wasn’t symmetrical—that is, the entrance was not at the center of the front of the house and the number of windows flanking the door on either side often differed. By the early eighteenth century, however, symmetry had become standard. These houses were originally found in rural settings surrounded by farm buildings. In New England, the bam and the house over time came to be connected by shed buildings, producing a progression of linked structures off the back of the main house.

The roof pitch of the Basic House flattened and, by the late nineteenth century, dormers often poked through, adding light and space to what had become upstairs bedrooms. Another common variation was a shed addition to the rear. Second stories appeared as well. A Basic House with both a second story and a shed addition at the rear became another familiar form of the Basic House, the Saltbox.

REMODELER’S NOTES. In remodeling a Basic House, it’s important, first of all, to be sure that your house isn’t actually a Georgian House, a more refined and decorated style common in the eighteenth century. The configuration I like to refer to as the Classic Colonial, for example, is a two-story, two-room deep house with a center entrance and five sets of openings across the front. The Classic Colonial is, however, a descendent of the Georgian House rather than being a Basic House. Some Victorian styles, too, apply different detailing to the same volumes as the Basic House.

In thinking about your house, don’t forget whence the inspiration came: Primarily English settlers arrived in America in need of simple, economical shelter. I visited a house a few years ago on Cape Cod. Its owner told me it had started life as a ship captain’s house in the eighteenth century. I don’t know about the ship captain, but the handmade nails, the hewn frame, and other details told me the house had been built about the time of the American Revolution. The rooms in the original house were small but comfortable, which made the addition its owner had built all the more shocking. It was essentially one great room, with a handsome coffered ceiling, bold cornice moldings, and tall windows. It was a lovely room—but it didn’t relate in any way to the original house. It was as incongruous as a Wall Street investment banker would be if he wore sneakers with his gray flannel.

Basic Houses consist of four walls and a pitched roof to shed the rain and snow. Their builders may have added paneling, moldings, or other trim to decorate the house but the enduring appeal of these houses comes not from the way they echo other styles and cultures. These are elemental houses whose simplicity and practicality are to be respected.

The Queen Anne House

All pretense of symmetry has been abandoned in the Queen Anne House style.

Milton Slater Brown House,. Photo: Flickr

Many Octagon, Second Empire, and Stick Style houses survive, but it was the Queen Anne House that inherited the mantle of Most Popular House Style from the Italianate House in the 1880s.

Again, we have to reach back in time for the origins of the style. Anne ruled England between 1703 and 1714, and there was a revival in England during the nineteenth century of the architecture popular in Queen Anne’s time. Following the 1876 Centennial Exhibition in Philadelphia, at which half-timbered designs of Englishman Richard Norman Shaw were displayed, the American variant of the Queen Anne style began its run, which lasted until the turn of the century. Queen Anne and her contemporaries, however, probably wouldn’t have recognized the houses that bore her name.

All pretense of symmetry has been abandoned by the builder of the Queen Anne House. The steeply pitched roofs are irregular, typically a complex fusion of hipped and gable roofs, chimneys, dormers, and turrets. Seemingly at random, bay windows protrude from the side walls. Porches add to the asymmetrical effect but the main facade of the typical Queen Anne House usually features a gable that dominates the elevation, giving it a single center.

The details of the house are a complex mix of shapes, textures, and colors. Like the Stick Style House, there are miscellaneous walling textures, often including varied clapboard treatments, shingle patterns, and moldings. Combinations of spindles, brackets, finials, and columns are also common. Paint schemes add to the busy effect, as bold, rich, bright colors gave the Queen Anne visual impact.

In the same Queen Anne House, a number of different window designs are often found. Most would be double-hung sash windows (2/2s, sometimes 6/6s or 6/ls), but round-headed windows and round (oculus) windows are also common. Windows with colored panes of glass (“picture windows” they were called at the time) were also an element of many Queen Anne homes. The Palladian window also made a big comeback in the Queen Anne House, with its central arched window flanked by two shorter, flat-topped windows.

REMODELER’S NOTES. The Queen Anne House was widely popular—so popular, in fact, that many earlier houses were updated at the end of the nineteenth century, and had turrets, bay windows, or porches added to make them appear to be Queen Anne Style homes. In inspecting your house, be alert for inconsistencies in the house that suggest a Victorian renovation that might have transformed the place, such as a timber frame or the traditional geometric shape of a Basic House or Classic Colonial to which later Queen Anne elements have been added.

The Queen Anne House is typically large so additions may not be what you require; more often, interior renovations can address changing needs without affecting the exterior. On the other hand, these houses tend to have such a variety of features that thoughtful additions can actually add to the character of the house without calling attention to themselves.

Miami Beach’s Newest Green Home Goes For Platinum

The Florida Green Home Design Group strives for LEED Platinum certification with its 2020 Alton Road Project.

2020 Alton Road - Rendering

2020 Alton Road, Miami Beach, FL. Photo: The Florida Green Home Design Group

Almost everyone by now should be familiar with the phrase LEED-certified—a program developed by the U.S. Green Building Council to promote Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design. With respect to residential design, a LEED-certified home accrues credits (points) based on the degree to which mindful design and sustainable performance considers region, site, non-toxic and local materials, and the implementation of systems that conserve and reuse water, manage waste, ventilate air, and promote wellness.  According to the USGBC, as of August 2011, 12,690 homes have been LEED-certified and more continue to be built to meet the latest green building standards.

While Gold certification has been the ultimate goal of many builders, a new breed of architects, developers, and contractors—like the visionary team building the house at 2020 Alton Road in Miami Beach, FL—are now pursuing Platinum, the next level and highest LEED category.  To qualify, this home must score at least 90 points. With high performance and efficient power-making and -saving systems, this home aspires to operate at “net zero,” meaning that it will produce as much energy as it consumes.

For the principals of The Florida Green Home Design Group—architect Ari Sklar, general contractor Robert Arkin, and developer Matt Lahn—the building of a sustainable house like 2020 Alton Road has become an aphrodisiac of sorts. Arkin is all consumed and claims to “eat, sleep and dream green.” Sklar is on a natural high over state-of-the-art advances in green design. And, Lahn confirms its uniqueness by declaring this is “more than just another job!”

It didn’t start off that way five years ago when Sklar purchased the lot with his father- in-law. They considered the “2020″ address to be a good omen since there were two optometrists in the family. Their intention was to build a large luxury home on the site and turn a profit. When the recession hit, however, Sklar sat tight. He took notice of the advancements and tax incentives in building green and studied to become a LEED-Accredited Professional (AP). The wait afforded him, together with Lahn and Arkin, the opportunity to not only set a new standard of green building in Miami but impact the community in a relevant and responsible way.

Indeed, official interest in the greening of Miami Beach started in 2007 when Commissioner Michael Gongora founded the Miami Beach Sustainability Committee. “I wanted to build a dedicated committee focused on green issues and to develop a sustainability plan to guide our city for the future,” says Gongora, who serves as committee chairman. Noting the city’s motto—Blue Skies, White Sands, Green City—Commissioner Gongora hopes that 2020 Alton Road will inspire more LEED building and that the city will develop laws to assist in future pursuits.

2020 Alton Road - Rendering 2

2020 Alton Road, Miami Beach, FL. Photo: The Florida Green Home Design Group

This two-story 3,200-square-foot, 5-bedroom dwelling is situated on a 7,000-square-foot, highly visible corner lot adjacent to the star-studded North Bay neighborhood (Matt Damon is among the local residents), the Miami Beach Golf Course, and South Beach’s Lincoln Road—the shopping Mecca for the city.

With building permits just approved, all of the major elements, such as geothermal heating and cooling, fresh air intake air conditioning, solar panels, a wind turbine, and a rainwater cistern, are falling into place. One of the myths that this team hopes to dispel is that building green is much more expensive. Arkin says, “Though the upfront costs for these systems are 10-15% more, the systems and materials last much longer and require much less maintenance. They are the gifts that keep giving.” Lahn confirms that this type of home requires less maintenance and cost to run, not to mention the tax incentive for building it. Gary Shlifer, Performance Green Building Consultant and LEED AP hired for the project, says “The real question is, ‘What will it cost if we don’t build green today?’”

From the modern design to the smart technology, this Miami Beach addition to the LEED landscape is certain to reinforce the benefits, beauty, and interest in green building today. “There’s more of a market for projects that employ sustainable components than we ever imagined,” says Lahn. Realtor Tara West agrees. Having sold “green” homes in Europe, she is excited to take on her first U.S. listing with the 2020 Alton Road project. “We started to get calls as soon as the sign went up,” says West. The asking price is $1,950,000.

The project is underway now and expected to be completed in Spring 2012. A real-time video camera will be erected at the construction site, so anyone can follow the project’s advancements day-to-day. Until then, experience a virtual tour of the home below:

For more on the Florida Green Home Design Group’s 2020 Alton Road Project, click here.

Brad Pitt’s MAKE IT RIGHT Homes

The actor's Make It Right Foundation continues to rebuild homes—and a sense of community—in New Orleans Lower 9th Ward.

Photo: Make It Right

On August 29, 2005, Hurricane Katrina slammed into the Gulf Coast, bringing category-3 winds and tidal surges that devastated scores of Delta communities, including New Orleans, where levee breaches resulted in historic flooding across 80% of the city. The now infamous Lower 9th Ward, one of the city’s poorest neighborhoods, absorbed the lion’s share of the damage. Floodwaters destroyed more than 4,000 homes, and close to 15,000 residents found themselves homeless.

Related: Make It Right: 6 Years After Katrina

Two years later, FEMA trailers housed entire families and block after block of the Lower 9th Ward still had not been rebuilt, which is why architecture enthusiast and part-time NOLA resident Brad Pitt stepped in. Discouraged by the lack of progress in the wake of the disaster, the actor created the nonprofit Make it Right, pledging to rebuild 150 affordable, green, and storm-resistant LEED-certified houses for working families who had resided in the neighborhood when Katrina hit. “These people did everything right,” said Pitt, when introducing the project. “They went to school, they got jobs, they bought their own homes, and suddenly all that was wiped out.”

Pushing Green Forward
Since its inception, Make It Right has functioned as a huge laboratory for sustainable, eco-friendly building innovations. “We had no idea we’d get such positive reception to the project,” says Tom Darden, Make It Right’s executive director. “We basically set out to build the best houses that we could build, with Brad Pitt asking some architects he respected to participate and design houses for us on a pro-bono basis. As a result, Make It Right’s become an initiative that a lot of people are watching in terms of disaster recovery and sustainable building.”

Indeed, the US Green Building Council calls the 16-block area where Make It Right has focused its revitalization efforts America’s largest green neighborhood of single-family homes, with all of the organization’s dwellings qualifying for LEED platinum certification—the highest designation for energy efficiency and sustainability awarded by the Council.

In 2008, Make It Right finished construction on its first six houses on August 29—the very day an evacuation notice for Hurricane Gustav, another category-3 storm, was issued by the city of New Orleans. “We got to see the durability of the designs tested in the real world,” says Darden. Happily, the houses survived unscathed, a confidence builder for the first families to move into the residences.

Photo: Make It Right

As the nonprofit completes its third full year of building, 75 single-family residences and duplexes have been completed. The structures, which feature jutting rooflines, elevated porches, and bright tropical colors, have been built from plans submitted by 21 high-profile design firms run by such notable architects as Frank Gehry, William McDonough, and Hitoshi Abe. All of the products used in the construction of the houses are analyzed using the holistic cradle-to-cradle philosophy, which basically means that all building materials meet strict green standards and are healthy for the people who dwell there. The affordable homes, which cost $150,000 each, currently shelter more than 300 Lower 9th Ward residents displaced from the storm.

Building Smart, for the Next Storm
While no one would wish another Katrina-like disaster on the city, making sure the new houses can weather the next big storm has always been an overriding objective of the Make It Right design process. Since the Lower 9th Ward experienced sustained flood levels of four feet in the wake of Katrina, Make It Right residences are built at an elevation of five to eight feet, a full two to five feet above the FEMA recommendation. “Every time it rains in New Orleans, it floods to some degree,” says Cesar Rodriguez, the organization Construction Service Manager. “So we wanted to help change how people managed water.”

One way is to collect rainwater in 300-gallon cement cisterns (outfitted with filters and pressure pumps), which homeowners can use to irrigate gardens, wash cars—and ultimately reduce their water bills. Capturing the storm water also reduces topsoil erosion on the properties, all of which are landscaped with hardy, native trees, shrubs, and perennials that require minimal to no maintenance. To control localized flooding, Make It Right’s houses also feature highly porous pervious concrete driveways and sidewalks, which reduce storm runoff by allowing rainwater to seep back into the ground.

Recently, the nonprofit has also partnered with the city of New Orleans on an innovative pilot program to evaluate pervious concrete as a possible replacement for major portions of traditional roadways. “We’re in the testing phase right now, but the Lower 9th Ward could have one of America’s first zero-runoff streets,” states Rodriguez. “We get 60 inches of rain a year in New Orleans and it costs the city about two cents per gallon to pump the water over the levee. Pervious concrete roads cost more upfront, but they could potentially save the city 20 to 25 million dollars a year.”

All Make It Right homes are extremely energy efficient, eco-friendly and are produced using environmentally sensitive construction methods. Photo: Charlie Varley

Home Eco-nomics
Besides being good for the planet, Make It Right’s super-efficient houses save homeowners money, sometimes shaving as much as 80% off the pre-Katrina energy bills Lower 9th Ward residents paid. The homes feature maintenance-free 266-gauge metal roofs that absorb less heat (and cut cooling costs) as well as 4-killowatt photovoltaic solar panels, which harness Louisiana’s bright sunlight to generate electricity for the homes. Some residents, according to Rodriguez, pay as little as $12 a month for utilities on a roughly 1,200-square-foot home—all in a city where the average monthly electric bill runs anywhere from $150 to $200.

Inside the houses, close-cell spray-foam insulation ensures a tight seal against the elements, tankless water heaters cut heating bills by half, and low-flow plumbing fixtures and stream-lined Energy Star dishwashers, washing machines, and fridges conserve water as well as energy. Benjamin Moore’s zero-VOC Natura and Aura paints improve indoor air quality, while formaldehyde-free plywood cabinets from Armstrong and Cosentino’s ECO countertops—made from 75% post-consumer glass, porcelain, and stone scraps—come standard in kitchens and baths. And, in true cradle-to-cradle fashion, the recycled Green Edge carpeting that softens the floors can be recycled yet again when it’s in need of replacement. (Shaw, Green Edge’s manufacturer, even retrieves the old carpets at no additional cost to the customer.)

75 Houses Built—75 to Go
As he looks to the future, Tom Darden hopes Make It Right will become a national model as well as a resource for other groups and communities considering low-income green building and cradle-to-cradle sourcing. While it’s a common assumption that homeowners need deep pockets to build green, Make It Right has proven that adaptable, durable, high-quality LEED-platinum houses can be constructed at a competitive, market-rate price point. “We think the principles we’ve applied to drive down the cost of our houses can be implemented everywhere, not just in communities that have experienced a natural disaster,” Darden says. “If all goes as planned, we’ll work ourselves out of a job at some point and everyone will start designing homes that reach Make It Right’s level of green and sustainability.”

Nevertheless, the human quotient remains the true bottom line for Darden and Make It Right. “The real success story as far as I’m concerned,” notes Darden, “is seeing these families move into an affordable green home that will shelter them safely through the next storm.”

To learn more about Make It Right, visit

The Handmade House

Handmade House


In architectural history, there is one major dividing line that separates the hand­made house from all those that came later. It is, of course, the arrival of the machine.

In America, the effects of the Industrial Revolution trickled down to almost every stratum of the building business by 1830. The advent of the circular saw— which came into general use about that time—made wood cutting more efficient and economical. Machine planers were patented as early as 1828, meaning that for the first time boards arrived at building sites having already been planed smooth. Machine-made nails superceded handmade nails shortly after 1800. And all these materials began arriving from considerable distances, pulled by the newfangled Iron Horse. Thus, circa 1830 can be seen as the boundary between the Victorian House and the earlier Handmade House.

Handmade houses gradually became a thing of the past, but their very obso­lescence is essential to what has made them so cherished. Before the railroad system developed, builders had to rely almost exclusively upon local materials (typically, the exceptions were hardware and glass, which continued to be imported from England into the Victorian era). The frame of an early house was made of wood felled on the owner’s property. On the house site itself, trees would be hewn (squared oft using a hewing axe or adze) into beams and posts for the structure. In the seventeenth and early eighteenth century the smaller lumber, too, would be cut on site, though by the time of the American Revolution, felled trees would usually be delivered to the town sawmill to be cut into boards. In fact, the standard pattern of development in the northeast was for a mill to be established on a natural watercourse—and a commu­nity to develop nearby. The process of building was very localized.

Boards cut at a sawmill had a rough surface, scarred by the up-and-down cut­ting motion of the reciprocating saw blade. Smoothing them for use as finished sur­faces involved an investment of time and skilled labor by the builder himself. In a two-step process, the rough-cut board had to be planed by hand. A large plane called a jack plane flattened out the roughest spots and eliminated the evidence of saw cuts. Next a smoothing plane was used to give the boards a smooth appearance.

Notice the verbal distinction: the boards were made smooth to the eye rather than to the touch. In fact, a slight arc on the blade of the smoothing plane meant that hand-planed stock was not perfectly flat like those produced later by machine plan­ers. If you run your fingers across the grain of a hand-planed board, you can feel its contours. This is an invaluable trick for identifying early planed paneling, floorboards, door panels, and other wooden elements, and you can master it in a matter of sec­onds. Find an old dresser that you think dates from the mid-nineteenth century or earlier. Open a drawer and slide your fingers across the grain of the underside of the drawer bottom. If it’s smooth and flat, it’s probably a later dresser made with machine-planed boards or even plywood. But if you feel a perceptible hill-and-valley texture, that’s a hand-planed surface. A flashlight held at an acute angle to the board will make the rippling texture visible to the eye.

The appeal of a handmade house always comes down to one thing: The hand of the workman. In a way that later houses do not, homes built before 1830 are the product of a craftsman who truly shaped the elements of the house. There are virtues to be admired in houses from all periods—the typical Victorian house will be larger and more elaborately decorated, the twentieth-century house will contain more creature comforts—but craftsmen are a living presence in an early house. Before the turn of the eighteenth century, the nails were made by a blacksmith, the moldings shaped by the builder, the bricks individually molded in wooden forms then fired in a nearby brick kiln, and the windows and doors were made by joiners with planes and chisels. All of the wooden pieces were fitted together individually by the car­penter, one painstaking joint at a time.

While handmade houses have much in common, they are still a diverse lot. Much of their individuality results from the building traditions within which the builders worked. Most carpenter-joiners were English, but Dutch and Spanish tradi­tions also left their marks on American housing stock. And later, the American Federal Style assumed an important place. In the pages that follow, we’ll look at each of those.

The Language of Design

Language of Design


We’ll begin by considering a handful of words that are especially useful when the talk turns to buildings.

In the last chapter, the word symmetry seemed unavoidable. The Geor­gian House was strictly symmetrical; later, the Gothic Revival House was consis­tently asymmetrical. But let’s go back to basics.

The dictionary tells us that the word symmetry describes a “correspon­dence in size, form and the arrangement of parts on opposite sides of a line or plane.” In practice, that means that if you draw a horizontal line and then a verti­cal one that intersects the first at its center point, you will have a symmetrical fig­ure, with one side that balances the other. In the same way, if you begin with a rectangle and bisect it, it too is symmetrical. Let’s add some openings to a four- sided box—windows on either side of the central axis, perhaps a door at the cen­ter. All in a rush, a house begins to emerge. All we need to do is add a roof, and a couple of chimneys and we have a two-dimensional representation, an elevation they call it in drafting class, of a recognizable Georgian House (or the Classic Colonial, as this configuration can also be described). Needless to say, the place is symmetrical.

Again, we start with a line, but this time we consciously divide it into two asymmetrical (uneven) parts. We make it a box, add a couple of openings, then put on a gable end (centered on our perpendicular). After adding a few details, we have a Gothic Revival Cottage.

This talk of symmetry may seem to imply that houses exist only in two dimensions and that, by looking at an elevation drawing of a structure, we can understand it. In fact, thinking how the facade of a house appears on a piece of paper is helpful, but other angles of approach are essential, too.

Instead of a piece of paper, think about a small waxed cardboard milk or juice carton, the kind that holds a  ½ pint of liquid. It’s a three-dimensional object, mean­ing it has width, height, and depth. It takes up space, just as people, books, and bricks do. And, for that matter, just like buildings.

Unless you stand very far away and align yourself precisely with the center of a building (or a milk carton), you will see it as a three-dimensional object. From an angled view, represented here by an isometric sketch, a simple, shoebox shape is recognizable as a three-dimensional mass and, in short order, it becomes a house.

A one-and-a-half story house has a full ceiling on the first level and enough height on the upper floor that portions of it can be used as living space. Lower the pitch of the roof and you have a ranch house, a one-story home, in which living areas are found only on one level. The Cape Cod is a popular compromise because living quarters on the upper floor are to be had for virtually no additional expense over the cost of a one-story house. To some, however, the built-in limitations on ventilation, light, and head room make it less of a bargain than at first it seems. For them, per­haps the two-story house is the answer. In this configuration, the roof stands a story higher, atop a full second story.

Thus, the same footprint can accommodate houses of radically different mass. In order to have a ranch house with an equivalent amount of interior space to a two- story house, however, the ranch will need to have a footprint twice as large as the two-story house. That makes the ranch best suited to larger lots, while two-story homes are well adapted to in-town plots or small suburban settings.

On much the same footprint, one story, one and a half story, and two-story houses offer very different amounts of living space.

Thus far, we’ve talked about houses in the shape of a box. Some are taller or wider or deeper than others, but they’re basic boxes with four sides and a top and a bottom. In the past, consolidating the living space around a chimney and within such a regular form made good sense. But changing needs, advances in heating technology, and evolving tastes led to what architectural historians often call “break­ing the box.”

The devolution of the box took time. Early houses often had ells added off their rear elevations, resulting in T-shaped plans. As asymmetry became acceptable with the Greek and Gothic Revival Styles, wings appeared on the sides of new houses, resulting in L-shaped homes. In some instances two or more secondary structures were grafted on. Many houses had bay windows, towers, turrets, porches, or other elements that broke the planes of the box. When a number of different masses are combined (think about the way some great Victorian houses seem to ramble), the term massing is applied to describe the assemblage of the various three- dimensional elements.

For a moment, though, let’s return again to the box house. After all this talk T-shapes and L-shapes and the rest, you may be surprised to find what a dif­ference a simple change in roof design can make.

Certain roof shapes—the Mansard being the best example—telegraph the style of the house (a Mansard roof means the dwelling is a Second Empire House). Some roofs are tall in order to maximize the living areas beneath them (like the gambrel or the Mansard), while others are lower and enclose little more than storage space. Some are simple, others require complex carpentry full of compound angles. The roof of a house may seem like little more than necessary weather pro­tection, but it also communicates much about the design of a house.

The overall shape and mass of a house convey a great deal about the place. Consider the contrast between two different houses that date from the same era. A Foursquare has a boxy, two-story mass with a tall roof; the Prairie Style home is low- slung, consisting of only one story with a flattened roof and broad overhangs. While the Foursquare and the Prairie Style House share similar origins, one is essentially vertical, the other horizontal. One seems to have been wiped across the landscape, the other to have grown out of it. One sits atop the landscape, hunched as if to con­front the challenges of Mother Nature; the other rests more easily, going with the flow of the terrain. In the examples here, however, they contain the same amount of living space.

All right, let’s take a short break from talking about shapes and masses, sym­metrical or otherwise. Remember that the shape of every house—whether it resem­bles a single milk carton or a dozen cartons that collided—tells a story of whence it came. Understanding the geometry of your house, even in such broad strokes as these, can help you think about changing it.

You can visualize your house in geometric terms, considering its shapes, massing, and symmetry. These characteristics can be considered from afar but, as you get closer, finer distinctions become more important. Among them are scale, proportion, texture, and pattern.

I’m a man of average height. However, a couple of the members of my tele­vision crew are quite tall. I can go into a room of modest scale and feel right at home, but they have to duck their heads going through the door and then the ceiling seems to be encroaching on their headroom. It’s all a matter of scale, what’s in scale for a 5-foot-something person isn’t for someone who’s a foot taller.

Scale is about relative heights, widths, and sizes. In house design, windows and doors, room dimensions, furniture, and other elements are usually of recogniz­ably human scale. Buildings adjacent to one another on the same streetscape gen­erally look better if they have the same scale—were the Empire State Building adjacent to a picturesque Cape Cod House, the juxtaposition would be odd indeed. In contrast, a row of Victorian brownstones with neatly aligned cornices looks very much of a piece. Buildings don’t have to be the same size but they should relate to one another.

Scale and proportion work together. Proportion refers to the rela­tionship of elements to one another. Thus, a giant window that dominates the facade of a small house with other smaller windows looks disproportionately large. A gra­cious room with a vaulted ceiling 20 feet tall may look wonderful and feel very grand indeed. As an individual space, it may be very satisfying, but if it’s been shoe-homed into a small house, it may also be asking the question, Why am I here?

As you plan your remodeling project, consider how the various new elements relate to the old. Do they share the same scale? Are they in proportion to one another? Sometimes a surprising contrast in scale or proportion is very effective, but make sure you think it through. More often disproportionate elements that are out of scale just look as if somebody wasn’t really thinking.

When you look at any symmetrical house, the pattern of its basic ele­ments probably calls out to you. Most obvious are the openings, the windows and doors. Are they evenly spaced across the facade or is there a dot-dash-dot quality to their positioning? Notice whether the openings on the house are aligned. Or do they have a zigzag quality with some higher than others? The way the openings are set into the elevation gives it its own rhythm. Often subtle variations in spacing add visual appeal.

The siding also adds to the patterning of a house. Clapboards give a house a horizontal feeling; board-and-batten siding adds vertically. Shingles add shading, while brick has its own unique patterning.

Trim can add to the pattern, as in the case of houses where trim boards frame and accentuate the clapboarded areas. Trim around windows also adds emphasis, enlarging the wall area devoted to the windows, which can affect the proportion and rhythm. Mixing different patterns can be very effective (see The Stick Style House), adding texture and interest to the surface of a house. But different elements on the same house must be handled with great care.

A common strategy these days is to use shingles for an addition to a clap­board house as a kind of acknowledgment, an honest statement that yes, this sec­tion is indeed new. It can work very well. But in general using more patterns requires more design skill if you want to avoid a too-busy look.

Another consideration from outside your house is its rela­tionship to the sun. Unless you’re planning on moving your house, its solar orienta­tion isn’t going to change. The sun rises in the east and sets in the west and, depending upon the season, brightens certain rooms at certain times of day. But if you are planning an addition, its location can have an impact on existing spaces (cre­ating new openings or closing off old ones). And where you put the addition will also determine how much sunlight it gets. A kitchen/breakfast room addition is best located on the east side of the house to gather morning light, a new dining room probably belongs on the west side to take advantage of late afternoon and early evening light.

That’s a fancy word, volume. In an architectural context volume describes space, specifically interior space. While the exterior of a structure appears to be a solid mass, it actually encloses a three-dimensional space. Consider it another way, thinking back to our waxed cardboard carton. Empty the carton of its contents and the space that once held milk or juice inside is its volume.

When thinking about the volumes of the house, most of those words we talked about earlier come into play once again. You probably want a house that has good proportions, that is human in scale, and that has attractive patterns of materi­als.

But let’s begin with proportion.Proportion can be a slippery concept. Consider a square room. It would seem perfectly proportioned, with its identical length and width. Yet as living spaces, square rooms tend to be static while rectangular rooms seem to suggest movement. That’s probably because they’re more easily subdivided into different areas, encouraging flow. So matching dimensions don’t automatically make for good proportions.

Like facades, interior spaces and elevations can be symmetrical, with bal­anced windows and doors. Shapes have an important impact, too, though the shapes and masses within the volumes of the house tend to be movable elements like pieces furniture. Concerns like light and ventilation become much more important inside than out. But perhaps most important of all is the interior layout.

Earlier in this chapter, I made a point of recommending you remain true to your original floor plan. That’s because traditional plans often make a lot of sense. There’s a basic organizing philosophy that works for most traditional families, in which the home is divided into three main areas. These include the private areas of the house (the bedrooms and attendant bathrooms and dressing areas); the working zone of the house (the kitchen, a utility room, secondary entry area, etc.); and the relaxation spaces, perhaps a living room, dining room, and/or a family room.

As you think about your renovation, keep in mind the invisible lines of demar­cation between each area. That new dining room you’ve been pining for probably doesn’t belong immediately beneath the new bedroom for the baby—the two activ­ities are at odds with each other, as happy talk and laughter are great at the dinner table but not so wonderful when you want your child to drift gently off to dreamland.

Another consideration in thinking about your house is harder to quantify than more traditional design factors. But I think it’s important for a home to satisfy the normal human desire to entertain and be entertained. There’s no one way that the theatrical can be incorporated into a house, but domestic stagecraft can include color, contrast, decoration, and other elements.

One of the favorite dramatic devices of Frank Lloyd Wright was to shift ceiling heights. The visitor to many Wright houses is ushered into a low, dark hall. Moments later, upon moving to another space, the ceiling rises, often dramatically. Cove light­ing high on the wall, clerestory windows, vaulted ceilings, or other elements add to the drama. Wright was a master at using the tools of design to add excitement to the experience of a house.

Combining the Old with the New

Modern Home Addition


Restoration, Preservation. Renovation. Rehabilitation. Remodeling. They don’t all mean the same thing. But let’s consider some formal definitions, according to the Standards of the Secre­tary of the Interior, under whose auspices are the National Park Service, the Preser­vation Assistance Division, and the Historic American Buildings Survey:

“The act or process of applying measures to sustain the existing form, integrity, and material of a building or structure, and the existing form and veg­etative cover of a site. It may include stabilization work, where necessary, as well as ongoing maintenance of the historic building material.” Loosely translated? The task is to save—to preserve—the existing bits and pieces (fabric) that survive from ear­lier eras.

“The act or process of accurately recovering the form and details of a property and its setting as it appeared at a particular period of time by means of the removal of later work or by the replacement of missing earlier work.” In other words, the restorer turns back the clock and attempts to replicate what was origi­nally in place but subsequently removed or destroyed.

“The act or process of returning a property to a state of utility through repair or alteration which makes possible an efficient contemporary use while preserving those portions or features of the property which are significant to its historical, architectural and cultural values.” Translation, please?

The rehaber ren­ovates a place the way he or she chooses without going to great lengths to preserve or restore elements exactly as they were. Rehabilitation is used more or less inter­changeably with remodeling and renovation.

Curators of historic houses rarely rehabilitate—they might adapt an old dependency or basement space for a contemporary use, but they’re more likely to be concerned with preserving what survives and, in some instances, restoring what doesn’t. Living History museums have traditionally identified a single point in the past that becomes the target date, and then restored the buildings on the grounds consistent with that historical moment (which often implies removing later work that would appear anachronistic, out of sync with the established moment when the calendar is said to have stopped). Increasingly, however, there is a trend among amateurs and professionals alike to save good old work, whatever its era.

How do you, as a homeowner, translate these var­ious approaches into action? I recommend you begin by establishing what you won’t be changing. The following should probably be on your preservation list.

In older houses, the flow between the principal living spaces is usually quite logical. The interrelationship between the main entrance, the parlor, the kitchen, and the secondary entrance typically is prac­tical and workable. In some homes, later additions changed the patterns of use (often confusing rather than clarifying things). If possible, retain the floor plan at least in the original portion of the house.

In some cases, that may even mean restoring elements removed by previous remodelers. In just the last twenty-five years, I’ve seen the trend for opening up spaces arrive and then go. In the early seventies, no one wanted a dining room, so the trend was to open them up to adjoining food preparation areas in order to create “country kitchens” or other multiple-use spaces in an open plan. Today the dining back relaxing with friends, food, and wine is high on my list of activities. In general, the trend seems to be to more purpose-specific spaces (offices, children’s play spaces, breakfast rooms) and fewer open, multiple-use areas.

Perhaps you’re thinking about enlarging the kitchen or adding a downstairs bathroom. At first, an older floor plan may not seem flexible enough to allow for such renovations and a wholesale rearrangement may seem necessary. Try looking again.

Think about the traffic flow and how the spaces are used: Can you keep the main arteries the same but add peripheral circulation? At our house, for example, we changed the kitchen radically, but kept its relationship to the other rooms the same. Often existing subsidiary spaces can be opened up, since many Victorian houses have maid’s rooms or butler’s pantries and even modest houses until quite recently often had storage pantries.
Bathrooms, especially half-baths, can be secreted in sur­prisingly small places, such as converted closets, back halls, and beneath stairs. Again, start by thinking how little you can change the floor plan rather than how much. You’ll save money as well as respect the integrity of the original design.

Up until the years after World War II, moldings remained important design elements even in unassuming houses. Baseboards and casings around the win­dows and doors were made of wide stock, often with applied moldings to add shadow lines and a bolder, three-dimensional effect. Particularly in the late nineteenth century, cornices were heavy and dramatic. Save all that you can of the original woodwork, including any early paneling, built-in casework, spindle work, and other decorative wood treatments.

Think of such wooden elements as worthy of restoration, but also as a source of inspiration. If your plan involves new elements such as win­dows, doors, or cabinets, try to replicate existing details. Using existing quality work as a source for new detailing will help give the new space a feel­ing that it is of-a-piece with the existing house.

As the cost of quality craftsmanship has soared, the quality and char­acter of the typical staircase have plummeted. If your stairway(s) have original balus­ters, rails, and newel posts, restore them. Strip them if they’re of hardwoods or so coated with paint that turnings, panels, or other details are no longer crisp. Find ways to stabilize them (if necessary) that don’t detract from their appearance.
Badly worn treads can usually be replaced with­out too much difficulty, but be sure the details are restored, too, such as the nosing returns (that’s where the rounded edge continues around the open end of the tread). New balusters to replace broken or missing ones can be milled surprisingly inexpensively if you shop around. Stair­cases are key design elements in a house, and well worth extra dollars to conserve and restore them.

Save original plaster where possible. New drywall lacks the strength, durability, soundproofing, and character of traditional plaster. Many techniques have been developed to preserve old plaster walls and ceilings, including special plaster washers that can reattach and stabilize loose and cracking plaster. When an existing partition is to remain in place, try to retain its plaster surface.

The history of change in a house is often to be read most easily in its floors. One with wide, hand-planed pine boards upstairs and machine-planed oak strip flooring down has been visited by remodelers, probably in the last few decades. A series of joints that form a line across the floor in the middle of a room for no appar­ent reason can indicate the shifting of a partition or the removal of a chimney. Unless your floors are both uniform and consistent with the style and vintage of your home, they probably can tell you something about the house.

When you select flooring for new work, whether it’s to be an addition to the house or a remodeling of existing space, consider how the new surfaces will suit sur­viving older flooring. Should you consider trying to find salvaged materials that will make the transition from the old to the new seamless? Do you wish to resurface much of the old flooring to match the new? Is there something in an original wood floor you can echo without copying its every detail—perhaps a border design, the board width, or the species and color of the wood? Or do you want to use an entirely different surface, like wall-to-wall carpeting in a new family room or tile in the new kitchen that coordinates with the old while not copying it? There’s no one answer but ask yourself the question: Will the new suit the old?

In houses with wavy old glass, windows seem to offer a view of the past. From the exterior, multiple small lights provide texture, adding to the timelessness of a period house. From the interior looking out the muntins divide and frame the view.

There are many window configurations, including awning and casement win­dows, both of which break the plane of the wall. Awnings swing open from hinges at their tops, casements from hinged sides. Less usual are fixed windows, while by far the most common is the double-hung sash window. These are the traditional slid­ing variety that, within the plane of the wall, travel up and down in their frames.

Double-hung windows also come in many varieties. These are distinguished not only by their overall size but by the number of panes of glass or lights. In the eighteenth century, windows with twelve lights in each sash (called twelve-over- twelve’s or 12/12s) were common, as were 12/8,9/9, and 9/6 windows. In the first half of the nineteenth century, 6/6 windows were the rule, before 2/2 windows took over.

There are four basic window configurations. Double-hung windows are the most common, followed in no particular order by sliding, casement, and awning win­dows. Most of the windows in a typical house will be of the same type, though other designs may be used in certain applications such as bathrooms, porches, or other spaces.

Wavy glass with bubbles and other imperfections was all that was available until about 1880 when large, optically perfect, factory-made sheets of glass became generally available. At about the same time, panes of colored glass became afford­able. Thus was born what was then known as the “picture window.” In the late nine­teenth century, the term identified a window with panes of colored glass. Only after World War II did the term “picture window” come to refer to enormous, single-pane windows.

Today, talk of windows usually focuses first on R-factor, a measure of the insu­lating capability of the windows. A single-glazed window has an R-factor of about one; double-glazed windows have an R-factor of roughly two. Storm windows and other innovations like argon gas sealed in the insulating cushion of air between the layers of glass in a thermal pane window can bring the R-factor up still higher.

If your home is a century or more old and its windows are original, the best approach almost always is to conserve rather than replace them. New weather-stripping can be added quite inexpensively, as can storms (sometimes on the inside, especially on historic houses). Old glazing compound can be repaired and even rot­ted elements can be replaced or the wood stabilized with epoxy or other consolidants. On newer houses, good copies of the original windows may well be available inexpensively.

Whether you choose to replace or restore, do try to retain the original config­uration. A homeowner who replaces the original multilight windows with single- pane sash (substituting, say, 1/ls for 6/6s) will change the appearance of a house, rather in the way that a pencil drawing is transformed when someone erases some of the shading. It’s probably a bad idea.

In the eighteenth century, doors typically had six panels; early in the nine­teenth century, four-panel doors became the rule. One-panel doors, hollow-core veneer doors, and reproduction doors are common to our time. Batten doors—which are made of vertical boards fastened together with horizontal boards nailed across them—are commonly used as secondary doors in homes and in outbuildings.

Rail-and-stile or panel doors have long been popular. They consist of vertical boards (the stiles) and horizontal boards (the rails) with panels inset between them. These doors are traditionally held together with mortise-and-tenon joints, in which tongue-shaped projec­tions slide into cavities cut into the sides of the stiles and then are fastened with wooden pins.

As with windows and other details, try to save original doors. Doors removed in one part of the house can be recycled elsewhere. Find similar style doors at architectural sal­vage—they don’t have to be identical, but if they resemble the originals, they won’t seem out of place.

The hold-on-to-the-original notion applies to exte­rior doors, too. Replacing a paneled front door that shows the wear and tear of many years may seem like just the right thing to do to save energy and tighten up the house. Yet many replacement doors today—sometimes of steel, often with faux graining stamped into the sheet metal— look like the architectural equivalent of a black eye. Think first about restoring the original door or, at least, finding a replacement in the same spirit as the original.

Most vintage houses have been altered over the years and, typically, hardware is among the first ele­ments to be changed. Hardware can wear out or break. Changing tastes may make a different style of doorknob desirable. Added security may call for updated locks. As a result, many houses have a range of hardware.

Past remodelers may also have skimped on hardware. In new construction, most contractors specify inexpensive hinges and lock sets—and they look cheap, too, as the plating scrapes off. Often the quality of hardware changes from the public sections of the house to the private—expensive mortise locks in a high-style

Victorian house often give way to simple latches in upstairs bedrooms.

Know what your house has for hardware. Make sure you recognize the evolution of locks, latches, hinges, door knockers and bells, hooks, and the rest. Hardware is too often overlooked, both as a source of style ideas and for the clues it can offer about how the house was changed over time. A simple latch from an upstairs cupboard can prove to be the inspiration for the closure on the cabinets in your new kitchen or, when removed from a door, may reveal unpainted wood beneath, indicating it is original.

The skeleton of the house—its wooden frame, usu­ally visible in the cellar and attic—may also give you some ideas Solid old beam? have been revealed in many old houses, though they often look like what they are rough structural elements that the builders never for a moment intended visitors to see

Old masonry is to be regarded with the same wary eye: always conserve what you can, but don’t be tempted to reveal surfaces if you believe that was never the mason’s intention. Sloppy, untooled mortar joints and broken brick pieces that are just packed at random into openings are signs of masonry work that was to be cov­ered up, perhaps by plaster or other surfaces.

Rehabilitating a house requires more than satisfying your own desires. The best remodeling work on old houses almost invariably involves preserving some original elements, restoring others, and identifying how the new work can augment the old.