Work continues to progress at the Keys House project, even if somewhat sporadically. Finishes are being peeled back in some rooms, shedding more light on their original appearances. On the exterior, the north and south walls have been relieved of vinyl and are being painted in their original colors. In the process of working on the north gable, new discoveries show that my earlier conclusions about the gable color were flawed; the true color was more of a pale mint green than seafoam.
Winter is fast approaching; it’s already snowed twice. Today was warm and wonderful so we took down the scaffolding and put the ladders away. We’ll resume work on the exterior in the spring, but until then all work will be focused on the interior. Fortunately, there is lots of fun stuff to do inside! Let’s take a look at some recent progress…
Removing 1970’s wood paneling from a wall in the kitchen revealed the mid-century appearance of the room. The perky wallpaper features mantel clocks and kitchen items in pastel hues. A wainscot of what appears to be a linoleum-like product was likely installed in the 1950’s. Probably intended for use in bathrooms, this stuff was glued to earlier wallpaper as an “upgrade” and pretends to be ceramic tile.
The vast number of wallpaper layers we found remains mind-boggling. Jim has painstakingly removed samples of each layer to preserve in order to document the evolution of the kitchen since 1886. The fact that people in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries updated so frequently with wallpaper — rather than paint — says a lot about that period of time. What does it say to you? Here Jim is seen dampening a section of wallpaper prior to its removal for the “archives”.
The same kitchen wall after the removal of wallpaper layers. Just below the ceiling you can see the flue hole of the chimney which vented the original cook stove. It is filled with decades of debris.
An ornamental thumb latch in the bathroom was buried in paint. Jim removed it for cleaning.
Just like new! The hardware awaits re-installation.
Removing the drop ceiling revealed the abrupt transition from the original kitchen to the portion which was added around 1905 – 1910 to enlarge the space. The addition originally had a flat roof. Later, it was built up to provide a slope — presumably after leaks began!
The ceiling of the expanded kitchen shows a curious blue-green finish painted on the plaster (which itself was later covered by ceiling paper).
In the back parlor, Jim uses a scraper to remove the bulk of compressed foam carpet backing which had been glued to the floor. Simultaneously we were able to determine that the oak T&G flooring was original to the house — and not an early upgrade as we had believed previously. We’re ecstatic that we can keep this floor! It was never sanded and has a slightly irregular finish beneath the darkened varnish.
Jim restored the floor, one section at a time, over a period of about four weeks.
Cardboard at left protects the newly restored sections of flooring. I couldn’t wait to remove the closet which was built into a corner c. 1960! One of the most interesting discoveries we made was that the casings and baseboards were originally painted in the pale yellow-green you see here. The doors, however, were all faux-grained. We will restore these finishes in the future.
Here, Jim’s newly restored floor gleams as it did when new. I was not keen on restoring the floors before the walls and ceilings, but agree that the psychological lift it provides makes it a smart move. The room feels much larger without the bulky closet.
This door (one half of a bi-fold pair) was originally hung in the opening seen at right (opening into the dining room). We suspect that these doors were ordered with the faux-grain finish already applied as many millwork catalogs of the era offered this option. The design is a bit repetitive, clumsy and loud, but we really like it! This door spent roughy seven decades upside-down in the basement… it is a miracle that it has survived at all! There is definitely damage to the finish, but we will live with it rather than attempt to fix it. We may change our minds down the road, but for now we will focus on more pressing issues. This patterning will serve as a guide for recreating the faux finishes on the other doors.
This is the toilet niche in the bathroom. With the 1990’s toilet removed, we are able to see the outline of the base of the original toilet. Now we know what to look for when shopping for a period replacement! The marble slab has suffered some abuse in the past, but it will clean up and be presentable in the future. Horizontal boards on the back wall at wainscot-height reveal the size and location of the original toilet tank.
Outside, original paint colors begin to replace the hideous white vinyl on the north wall.
The north wall receiving its second coat of original colors. The corner boards will eventually be painted brown (next year) but will remain partially clad with vinyl during the winter months.
The south side of the house is nearly finished at ground level. Next year I will deal with the upper portions which remain white or powder blue (dormers, gable, etc.). The storm windows of the bay will eventually be painted black to match the sash. The pink flags in the yard mark the locations of new trees which will be planted soon. The house needs shade in the summer!
This is the south door. Originally considered the side of the house, this door was used in recent decades as the front door. We painted it like this for the short term when we discovered that this door, like the interior doors, originally featured a faux-grain finish on both sides. Eventually we will re-grain this door. The knob and keyhole cover are original, but the mechanical doorbell is from the early twentieth century. Note that the returns of the casing’s header were hacked off by the vinyl installers. Jim has replicated many of these and we will be installing them soonish!
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Re the multiple layers of wallpaper says to me that folks from the first half of the 20 century were very good at that sort of home decor. I cite my mom’s brother and his wife who, when I created an apartment for my mom came up and meticulously removed multiple layers of wallpaper, repaired the plaster, and hung new wallpaper perfectly matching the complicated pattern all in a day. They worked on it like a well oiled machine and did 3 large rooms and the bathroom . It’s just what that generation could do.
I have to say that some elements of this highly unusual style just seem jarring. Your picture that shows that bay window with that unusual roof over it makes it look tacked on like an afterthought or a feature they felt they had to have for the period but doesn’t really fit well with those unusual roofs.
Another question- why was the oak flooring left rough. Did they plan to cover it right from installation. My old house had maple (made from trees cut on the property) which they covered in the 20s first with a layer of roofing tar, then tar paper, another layer of roofing tar and then asphalt tile. This floor lasted in relatively good condition until the mid 90s. I managed over the course of a week of 12 hour days to get the tile off then rented a floor sander. It took 3 passes with 36 grit to get down to the wood and then multiple passes with 80 and 150 grit. Then 6 coats of polyurethane hand sanded between coats. Did I mention my kitchen was 15×24 feet. So kudos and HUZZAH to Jim.
One last thing – are those round things on the door pattern supposed to be knots? It’s knot a look I would choose.
I agree that previous generations excelled at a lot of things — including wallpaper hanging! I’m impressed with the thought that people put into their walls and ceilings at the time, and the astonishing variety of options available then. Present-day interiors seem greatly lacking in imagination and refinement by comparison.
The oak flooring, while slightly rough and uneven, is not horrible. We’re guessing that the installation was sufficiently smooth that the final step of sanding was simply skipped; it’s likely that these rooms originally had large area carpets in them. The floor was varnished, so we believe it was always intended to be visible. There is also a subfloor beneath the oak.
The little dots on the grained door do appear to be someone’s interpretation of a knot. It would look more believable if they were staggered or varied somewhat! I can only imagine some guy in a factory painting an endless stack of such doors, nipping at his bottle from time to time to alleviate the tedium!
I cannot wrap my mind around how much work you guys have done.
Thanks, Lara! We are both having a blast with this place and would prefer to work on it all of the time instead of just now and then. Jim is a real workhorse; he puts me to shame!
That plastic tile and wallpaper combo in the kitchen is a dead ringer for what I found under a layer of drywall in mine
Hmmm… that “look” must have been more common in kitchens than I would have guessed! I’m hoping to find some information about the manufacturer on some of the pieces yet to be removed, but so far everything has been covered with adhesive. I’m not surprised that someone covered your kitchen’s walls with drywall; it would be a lot easier than removal and wall repair!
Also, the walls are solid brick so they glued up the cabinets!
We had to frame them out with 2×3’s, OSB, and new drywall so we could hang cabinets correctly without a lot of fuss.
The vestibule and bathroom also had plastic tile. In the vestibule it was pink and burgundy, and in the bathroom it was pink and black. The only surviving remnants of the bathroom tile were in the rubble under the floor.
It’s nice that those earlier finishes are still behind the new wall for someone else to discover in the future!
Man, you guys have done a ton! This was a fun post, but made me feel a little tired looking at all the work! Well done – it is looking really great!
We’re both looking forward to working on inside projects for a while. There’s so much to do both inside and out that if we get bored with one thing we can just move on to something more interesting. The positive feedback keeps us going, thanks!
Amazing progress. I am always happy to see a Keys House update! And this one was full of great pictures. If I had the time and the ability, I would spend all my time fixing up old houses like this one. Instead, I live vicariously through folks like you and Jim.
One question: why did so many people install drop ceilings in old houses circa mid-century? To hide HVAC and other mechanical systems? To make it look more like a ranch house?
Thanks for another great update!
Experiencing restoration vicariously is preferable in many ways, and we’re happy to provide an opportunity to do so! The reasons for the popularity of drop ceilings mid-century were numerous and include the reasons you mention. In addition to perceived modernization and the concealment of ductwork, plumbing or wiring, one of the most common selling points was that of energy savings. Lower ceilings (which were often insulated) not only kept heat closer to a room’s occupants but reduced the cubic footage of the space to be heated. It’s hard and expensive to effectively heat a room with high ceilings!
In the case of this kitchen, the primary benefit for the former owner was likely gaining a uniform ceiling height; the addition’s ceiling is considerably lower than that of the older half of the kitchen. Also, drop ceilings often go hand-in-hand with wood paneling. Why? Because paneling comes in standard 8′-0″ lengths and many houses (like this one) have ceilings that are well over that height. If a drop ceiling is not used in such rooms with paneling, then short sections must be cut to extend the paneling (requiring a seam or molding to conceal it).
We’ll be exposing the original wood floor in the kitchen soon; it will hopefully reveal clues about the original location of the cabinet now in the pantry. We’re also looking for evidence of a former door location and original sink location. Should be fun!
Thanks for the info about the dropped ceilings! Very true about the difficulty of heating houses with high ceilings. And yet, high ceilings are so very nice to have. I can aesthetically enjoy my ceilings while I reach for another blanket, haha. Can’t wait for the next update!
Thanks for the update; it’s great to see the progress!
The exterior paint scheme is really going to look great. Especially with some roof cresting on top 😉
The toilet niche is interesting; the trim between the marble slab and baseboard is unusual. Is it stamped metal? I have not seen it before; perhaps it was the installers “creative” solution for a slab that wasn’t quite wide enough to meet the baseboards?
Lastly, maybe it’s an optical illusion, but is the eyebrow window in the north wall slightly off-center?
Yes; the arched window in the north wall is off-center. The issue wasn’t as apparent when the wall was all white; the new colors call attention to the quirk! Fortunately, the window is centered on the interior wall of the bathroom.
The wide and decorative molding around the marble slab is of pressed wood and not metal! It must be concealing a wide gap between the slab and the baseboard; it’s the only thing that makes sense! I’m still trying to figure out if Mr. Keys ordered it from a plumbing supply catalog or had the area guy who carved grave markers make one for him (possibly out of scrap).
Wishing you and fans of obscure architecture everywhere a very happy Thanksgiving!