Sunday, December 30, 2012

The Dutch House at Bucksteep Manor by Laurie Smith

 Laurie Smith's book, The Dutch House at Bucksteep Manor, A Geometric Design and 18th Century Hand Tool Workshop covers the workshop he gave in Massachusetts in 2009 for the Timber Framers Guild.  Laurie Smith is a timber framer, historian, and researcher of the use of geometric design in medieval England.
His workshop with Jack Sobon brought together "geometrical design methods and the use of 18th century hand tool techniques for the major timbers". (quote from the foreword of his book, p.iv)

Laurie Smith begins with analysis of the geometry used to design and frame 6 colonial Dutch houses in the Hudson River valley of New York. That understanding, based on measured drawings, became the basis for the frame built at the workshop.

Following the workshop Laurie Smith spoke at TFG's Eastern Conference in Saratoga Springs, NY. The frame of the Dutch house had been erected in the hotel auditorium, but Laurie did not refer directly to it, the course, or the research he had done to prepare. Instead he spoke about his work in England and Wales. It was fascinating.

I attended the conference specifically for his talk as I had read his articles in Timber Framing, the TFG  journal. Later we began to correspond by e-mail. Our latest conversations have been about the Old First Church and the Luykas Van Alen House, both of which I have written about in this blog.

The drawings in the book of the regulating lines, the circle geometry of the 6 houses are clear and beautiful. For me they are a tutorial.
The measured drawings are also a gift. I am very familiar with colonial houses in eastern New England where I spent most of my life. I do not know as well the Dutch framing used in these 6 houses. It is similar to what I see in the part of the Hudson River watershed where I live today. Drawings such as these are not easy to come by, so I am reading them carefully. My thanks to Jack Sobon for the documentation.

For more information, and some pictures, about Laurie Smith and his work see:

Monday, September 3, 2012

Geometry of the Old First Church, Bennington, VT, part 1 of 2

The Old First Church in the Old Center of Bennington, Vermont, was built in 1805. The congregation, needing a new building, hired the master builder/architect Lavius Fillmore of Connecticut. He had already constructed several churches in Connecticut. He built 2 more in Vermont. 

The church as been in use since it was built. It has an active congregation.

I am one of the docents (tour guides) for the church. We open the church during the week for visitors. We answer tourists' questions about church customs in 1805, theology, local and New England history, and sometimes even its architecture. We encourage people to walk around the church and the cemetery.
When there are no visitors I am just in the space. It has wonderful proportions, light, and curves.

One part of the building I have been studying is the window sash pattern. The upper windows are arched:  double hung windows with half circle tops. There are also Palladian windows. Where did the shapes of the curves in the arches come from?

Fillmore had a design in mind. How did he show the carpenter/joiner making the sash how those pointy pieces of glass and the muntins, the wood that holds them in place, were to be fashioned?

The use of circle geometry to determine the regulating architectural lines of buildings was common knowledge in 1800. So I began my exploration with circles.

Here is what I have found:
The top diagram shows the 5 panes of the Palladian windows with their arch. The lower diagram is the simpler 4 pane wide window.

The circle which determines the shape of the half circle arch, also determines the shape of the 'pointy' panes within the arch. The circles come and go in both directions. It is the center half circle which contains the expansion, 'centering' it.
Once I saw that, it was so obvious! I felt as if I had not played with my compass enough when I was little!

I thought I'd try the pattern in the arch over the main front door....

This pattern is more complex. The circle is surrounded by its 6 circles, starting with points on the left and right sides of the circle. The crossing points of the outer circles are centers for the curved segments in the center half circle. The pattern is then repeated starting at the top and the bottom points of the circle, or a 30* shift from the first pattern. The 2 patterns are combined to make the scalloped edge.

Well, what about that 3 leafed  'flower' - 'crown' -  in the center?
I am not sure. Here is what I can draw in -  the lines are determined by  little circles inside the others. If the circle were full, not a half, there would 6 little circles would fit, so the pattern still comes from a base of 6. But what determines the size of those circles?
I don't know. I do think the answer will be obvious when I find it.

9/15/2021: See the next post for the geometry as laid out by Laurie Smith.


Wednesday, August 1, 2012

An addition to a modular home

My first job after MIT was with a company which built modular homes. So I was quite interested and curious when a family called about 8 years ago, asking for help expanding their modular home.

The house was set on a hill with a garage under the kitchen wing. It was sturdy, as I expected: frames which have to travel to their destination are usually built to withstand jars and jolts. However, the garage had no space left for the cars, and the house did not adapt well to company, or have good access to the backyard.

Could I help design a wing?

This was one of those times when the owners knew quite a lot about what they wanted in a wing: how big it needed to be, what spaces were required, where it should go, but not how to make it look "right". They had some sketches - which they didn't like.

The first picture shows the existing house as the framing of the wing commences. The second shows the completed wing.

The right look was an addition which did not overwhelm the house, a roof line which made the wing subservient, a style that complimented the traditional cape with its center entrance and balanced dormers.
In eastern New England houses were (and are today) often expanded in a rhythm: main house block, a smaller wing or two, a barn. Here the family room wing with garage and mud room below are detailed as a barn - at least from the street - lots of blank wall, only one window, simple lines. The slope of the roof - the same slope as the main house roof - brings the eye down to the land, in this case the driveway. The roof running above the garage doors cuts the height of the 2 story space, making the 2nd floor family room appear as a dormer. As the house sits quietly on the land, so does the wing, not above it. The wing is in scale with the original modest house.

The expansion rhythm is often quoted as " Big House, Little House, Back House, Barn" an old jump rope rhyme as well as the title to an excellent book.

Tuesday, July 31, 2012

"Before the Big House"

That was the title of the talk I gave for the Bennington Historical Society at the Bennington Museum  on July 16th.
The "Big House" is the Park-McCullough mansion, built in 1864. It is set on a hill: 50 ft tall, with 3 stories and an observatory, a bellevedere that looks over the countryside. The House, when built, was about 20 ft taller than anything else in North Bennington, except the church steeple. It had hot and cold running water, a furnace, and gas lighting.

Really, however, the talk was about North Bennington in 1856, 4 years after the 1852 flood that destroyed the center of the village. A title about that didn't make much sense as hardly anyone remembers that flood today or knows the 1856 map of the village. I wanted to show the resilience of the townspeople as shown by the reconstruction of the mills and houses within 4 years of the flood. And I wanted to present the village - 60 houses, 8 mills - just before the Industrial Revolution takes off.

The Society doesn't usually have summer lectures, so we were experimenting. Would anyone come?

I had power point presentation of 70 slides, a hand out and some books to share. I planned to get everyone to measure their own 'cubit'. If we got 10 people, we would have a discussion, 20 (because the museum has a/c and it was hot!) would be a seminar. With 30 I would give a  lecture.We put out 40 chairs since no one sits in the front row.

50 people came, sat in the front row, stayed to the end, asked questions and looked at the books, took the handout - a copy of the 1856 map - home. None were left behind.

People tell me it was a good talk. In the next year I hope for some comments about what people see now when they are in North Bennington. For me, that would mean success.

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

How I work with clients #3 of 5 Existing Conditions

Existing Conditions

This list gives you, the owner, and me a overview of your house. It helps us set priorities and gives us a record

An example:

You want a new wing that will open out to your back yard. You also want another bedroom and bath,

Your septic system's placement will determine where you can add on.You will not want large trucks driving over it during construction.
If the field should be expanded, now is the time to consider that.
If you have the opportunity to connect to a town system, now may be the time. That work and expense should be included in the job.

Despite this list when we renovate existing houses we find things. I  remember the excavation of unknown septic systems at two different jobs. Both were disconnected - we checked to be sure! - but one needed to pumped.

Monday, July 9, 2012

Building to the weather, Bennington, VT, #2

This picture was taken on July 5th.
The date is important. Here you see how the roof extends, creating eaves that shade the windows of this house from the hot July sun.
In the summer, the sun here in New England is high in the sky. A 16" eave will shade about 5' of the wall below it. Here you can see that the roof over the first floor extend the farthest, casting a longer shadow than the main roof whose shadow covers little more than half the second floor windows. The roof over the sun porch on the right side is also shallow.
Later in the summer, the sun will be lower in the sky. The eaves will not cast as deep a shadow. But the tree will. Its shade will include the front of the house.
In the winter months, when the sun is at a much lower angle, the eaves will not block the welcome sunshine and heat. I will take another picture then and add it to this post.

The porch was probably all screens when it was built - set on the northeast side of the house, held back from the front corner to allow it to be shaded by the house from the sun in the afternoon. These porches have often been glassed in by later owners as they are beautifully sited to be delightful places on sunny late fall and then late winter mornings.

a note on the style: The house is Colonial Revival with a nod toward Cotswold cottages with the deep roof overhangs reminiscent of thatch, the small windows over the entrance, and especially the clipped roof on the gable end, sometimes referred to as a 'jerkin head' after a monk's cowl.

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Building to the weather - Bennington, VT, #1

in this case, PLANTING to the weather
a post for the summer solstice

Here are 2 pictures of the same house. The first was taken in April, the second in June.
Note the absence of shade in April, its presence in June.
The house was build around 1765 in southern Vermont. The trees were planted around the same time.

In the spring, when the warmth of the sun shining through the windows into the house is so welcome, the trees are just beginning to bud. By June, the trees have leafed out shielding the house from the hot sun. They will protect the house though October. Late fall and through winter, the sun will once again be able to warm the house.
Not only do the trees keep the sun off the house, they create a micro-climate. In their shade the air temperature will be about 10* cooler than out in the sun. This temperature change also creates a breeze, always welcome on a hot day.

In lower latitudes, the path of the sun across the sky is different. The east and west elevations are the ones which need trees for shade, while a roof overhang is enough to shade the south facade.

Each climate has its own ways to shelter from the sun. For me one of the pleasures of traveling is watching how a particular part of the world builds, and plants, to its particular climate.

When I wrote- on this blog - about the Park-McCullough House Carriage Barn, I hoped to explain to a modern audience this basic knowledge about climate that our ancestors took for granted. I thought using a building everyone could visit (as it was open to the public) would make the ideas more accessible: you could go look for yourself. I found instead that readers thought only rich people who hired architects built to the weather. 

This time my illustrations are ordinary, vernacular buildings.

Monday, April 23, 2012

The "you designed something? where?" wing

Or maybe the post should be called "they needed an architect?"

This center chimney salt box is well loved by its current family.

The view here shows it after the wing I designed/ rebuilt was complete.

I was asked to rebuild the connection between the house, built in 1711, to the barn, probably built after 1860. The house had been updated recently with a new laundry and bathroom in part of the wing and a new kitchen in the main house. Partitions had also been removed to return the main house to its original room layout.

Now the family was ready to tackle the wing. It was very poorly constructed from mismatched and left over materials. One space, a dark room in a previous life, smelled of chemicals. The door to the barn was problematic.Was there even a foundation? But the porch? Ah! that was fine. Here is the original wing.
The 'Big House, Little House, Back House, Barn' way of organizing farmsteads applies to eastern Massachusetts as well as Maine . (See Hubka's book by the same name.) So I had my form. To avoid working around 18th century post and beam framing the old bathroom which needed serious repair was moved to the wing. A new bathroom was added. A second staircase was also included, as the original which rose against the center chimney was tight in all directions including headroom.

So here is a 'little house' and 'back house'. It has bedrooms with closets, an entry graceful enough for company with a mud room tucked around the corner, a back stair with light, a family room and a work room with easy access to the barn, and the welcoming porch.

We all agreed our wing should not compete with a house which has graced its hill for 300 years. And, yes, it takes skill and a good eye to build a quiet addition that suits its inhabitants.

Friday, February 24, 2012

Wing for a Georgian Federal farm house

This renovated and new wing belongs to the house for which I recreated a new entrance.
See my posts about the 1795 Federal entrance for pictures of the main house which so beautifully uses the Golden Section for its elevations.

Before I was hired to fix the front door, the family asked me to design garage and storage space and to facilitate repair to the shed/family room.

From the left: existing kitchen with slider, renovated shed, new storage and garage, seen from the east.

The views of the shed are from the west.

The shed, a workshop, c. 1830, had been moved against the house
in the 1950's. It had been an awkward, inadequate garage before it became the family room.
The shed was not square or level. Every piece of the new wing which connected to it needed to be scribed. There had to be 'wiggle room' in the new wing's plans, elevations and framing so it could fit against the shed, be water tight, structurally sound and meet code.

The work could not have been done successfully without an excellent restoration contractor who liked working with me. He had to interpret and refine my drawings. Obviously, he did so beautifully.
Thanks, John.

Thursday, February 23, 2012

1810-1840 - Death of the apprentice system

2 articles in Vermont History, The Journal of the Vermont Historical Society, Vol. 79, No.1, Winter/Spring 2011, reinforce my understanding that the apprenticeship system was falling apart in the early 1800’s.

Russ Fox in Julius Barnard (1769-after 1820) as Peripatetic Yankee Cabinetmaker, writes about how design ideas travel as craftsmen migrate. He traces Julius Barnard from apprenticeship in Connecticut, to a short stay in New York City, 9 years a cabinet maker in Northampton, MA, another 9 in Windsor, VT, with a sojourn in Hanover, NH. Then he moves to Montreal for 4 years; Pittsfield, MA, for about 7. In both cities he tries other ways to make a living.

I saw that Barnard stayed in Northampton and Windsor (1792-1809) long enough to train apprentices and hire journeymen. After that, although he takes on apprentices, he isn’t engaged as a cabinet maker long enough to provide real training.

Russ Fox adds an appendix which identifies 6 other Vermont furniture makers who were in and out of Montreal for short periods of time. He says there were too many skilled craftsmen in rural New England for the work available, especially as families migrated west.

Ruth Burt Ekstrom, in The Lure of the West and the Voices of Home: Excerpts from the Correspondence of William Spaulding Burt, shares with us letters written from 1833 to 1839 between parents in Vermont and their son who has ‘gone west’. The parents want him home; they tell him that good work is to be had in town. He works in various places in New York and Ohio as a carpenter. He is not apprenticed. His father writes that the son should come home for more schooling but there is no mention of any systematic training in a craft that compares to the roles of apprentice, journey man and master craftsman.

I saw that by 1815, the traditional paths for passing on skills - as I outlined in my post 'Regulating Lines #3" - could not be maintained. The road to knowledge was now a trail with potholes and broken bridges. By the 1830’s, those paths appear abandoned, forgotten. However, my post on story poles show how some parts of traditional design and construction knowledge continued to travel forward some other route.

Saturday, February 18, 2012

story poles - Part 1 & 2

Part 1
I think of the world before 1840 as a place where dimensions were not constant, where people didn't expect a foot or an acre to always be the same size. There was machinery, but all hand made. No mass production, no interchangeable parts. (On the other hand, everything could be fixed! No obsolescence!)

So when I think about using geometry to design, layout, and build before 1840 I am thinking about how to transfer information and keep it 'true'.

So here is an hypothesis:
Modern renovation contractors know to "measure 3 times, cut once". The same could be said about the houses built before standard dimensions. So what were the house wrights, masons, and joiners using as the 'measure'? The regulating lines could all be laid out by a length of rope and a piece of charcoal - and a point held tight. But that could be unwieldy: that taunt string got in the way. Or it had to be hung with a weight - not so easy for measuring the height of a unbuilt wall.
Story poles are the answer, I think. A story (or 'storey') pole as currently used is a 2x or a piece of strapping 'marked': the window and door openings noted by a mark, not a number. The length of the pole is the height of whatever is being recorded, a room, an exterior wall, etc. It is set against the place to be laid out and the important points are noted.
Today story poles are used for house framing, for clapboard and brick coursing, for constant dimensions for windows and doors, paneling. That is probably how they have been used for centuries.
Historic restoration carpenters told me they have found story poles in the attics of houses they are working on. That makes sense: What to do with a story pole when the house is finished? Leave it for the next guy!

Part 2
Thinking of this I went to Wikipedia - which did describe 'storey poles' used in the past, and said they were not used today. However, I know about them because I've seen contractors use them.

Considering that my knowledge is concentrated in one particular geographic area and a certain group of contractors, I posed the question of the use of story poles to a contractors' group to which I belong, on-line: "Do you use story poles? If so, how?" 10 contractors, working from the Atlantic seaboard to Kansas, replied that they did. They use story poles for siding, stair layout, shelving, cabinetry, tile work, paneling, windows, chairs, clapboard and brick coursing. In Kentucky they are also called 'preacher boards'.

So, I will add that information to the entry on Wikipedia. The on-line encyclopedia needs a 'source', a footnote that refers to documentation of the idea, to show that it wasn't just one person's opinion. This post, documenting my research and the information provided by the contractors, is that source.
One contractor suggested I check out Lee Valley Precision Story Tapes. With permission from Lee Valley and Veritas Tools I will post them as a source as well.

Note to John Leeke, David M. Lyons, Mark Ratte, as well as the other contractors: Thank you!

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Folk Victorian, in a great neighborhood

The family of 5 who lived here liked their house, their yard, their neighborhood. They just wanted one big space for all of them and their friends instead of two skinny ones almost too narrow for furniture. And how nice a fireplace would be!
The solution was to removed the wall, making those two little rooms one, and bump out a bay for a gas fireplace with window seats on both sides. The fireplace is direct vent, so no chimney.

the house before the bay - above
the house with bay - below
While the wall between the rooms was not structural, the outside wall which was removed to add the bay, was. Rather than carry the part of the house above that bay on one beam that spanned the entire opening - an expensive option - we placed a column on either side of the fireplace. The spans then became like those of a window or door, easy to frame conventionally.

Now, instead of a too little space in the living room to place a chair across from that couch and a dining room almost too small for a table, there is space for both. Invisible here is the library space between the couch and the front wall with the family's antique desk. As the house had a simple c. 1905, Late Victorian/Colonial Revival interior, we added just enough molding to let the posts read as columns and pilasters.

The photograph shows the room before the painting is complete. I do like those sunny window seats!
Every client has a budget. Providing a solution within that budget is the challenge, a good challenge that required creativity and communication to make sure the solution answers the client's problem. This design was possible because the family agreed they did not need a separate dining room.

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Regulating Lines - at least 3 geometries

This fall and winter I read David Leviatin's articles in Timber Framing, The Journal of the Timber Framers Guild. He beautifully describes a 'regulating line technique' he has documented in England in East Anglia. I got out my atlas to be sure of the location of East Anglia where Leviatin worked with the line technique. No more than 100 miles away across the North Sea are the Netherlands. Did the men who used these lines share their knowledge with the joiners in Holland and vice versa? Did those ideas influence the men who built the Van Alen house in 1737 in Kinderhook, NY?

Today I know of 3 regulating systems:

1) The Daisy Wheel, circle geometry researched by Laurie Smith in Wales and England.
2) The use of the Golden Section as used in New England pre-1850 and later advocated by Jay Hamlin and Le Corbusier
3) The 'regulating line technique' described by David Leviatin in Timber Framing.

However, here is Asher Benjamin in his 1797 pattern book, The Country Builder's Assistant, containing A Collection of New Designs of Carpentry and Architecture Which Will Be Particularly Useful to Country Workmen in General. (his spelling and punctuation)

"To proportion Architraves to doors, Windows, &c. divide the width of your Door or Window, into seven or eight parts, and give one to the width of the Architrave : Divide that into the same number of parts, as are contained in the Architrave you make use of, if a Frieze or Cornice to the Door, give the Frieze equal to the width of the Architrave ; or it may be one forth or one third wider, the Cornice four fifths or five sixths of the Architrave."

An architrave is the header above the door supported by the posts on each side. It supports the frieze. The frieze is underneath the cornice. My post: "Regulating Lines, Asher Benjamin" includes a picture of Benjamin's Plate XVIII. It shows a fireplace with the architrave and cornice and the division into parts.

I find that the systems we know of were fluid, changing not only by new challenges and inventive master craftsmen, but by cross fertilization of ideas that came inevitably as people all over Europe met each other and worked together.

David Leviatin, "The Lordship Barn and Regulating Line Technique", Timber Framing, The Journal of the Timber Framers Guild, p. 4-7, Number 101, September 2011, and
"Topics, Scribe Rule, Square Rule, Democracy and CNC", p. 2-7, Number 102, December 2011.

Friday, February 10, 2012

Luykas Van Alen House, Part 3 of 4

Here are the end elevations of the Van Alen House, c.1737. The left view is of the end of the original house, the right of the renovated barn which is newer. If you refer to the foundation drawing in the last post you will note that the original house has jamless -Dutch - fireplaces, while the remodeled space has an English fireplace in the basement with jams. That would date it about 20 years later.

Here the circles define the finished dimensions of the brick wall, the point where the roof begins, the height of the ridge and the width of the chimney. The use of geometry appears to determine the design of the new wing, not its framing - a change possibly brought on by contact with the builder's English neighbors.

The circles laid over the south elevation of the original house determine where the roof sits on the walls, the height at which the ridge is located - information needed for construction.

These are interesting pictures. But how would these circles have been actually used for construction and design?

Here are some preliminary thoughts.
The circle can easily be scribed on the ground, for layout as in the foundation.
Wood bents - posts and beams - would have been cut and assembled on the ground, marked -'scribed' - and then taken apart, moved to the site and reassembled.
The original house has a wood frame enclosed by a brick skin. The wing appears to have corner posts. The rest of the wood frame is not clear. Most likely the brick walls cover a wood frame. Perhaps one house-wright/mason framed the house and another, the wing.

Brick walls are laid only once. Handmade brick probably was not always true to size in 1737. The mortar would even out the discrepancies in the coursing if the mason knew how much to apply. If a dimension were constant - as in the distance from one point to the next on a circle array - a pole that length could be used as a template. The distance from the center of the foundation to the edge of the first floor (one length of the hexagon inscribed in the circle) would be easy to establish with a rope, chain, or pole. That pole could then be used much as is a story pole today. If the pole were mislaid, the dimension could easily be re-determined.

Drawings:1934, HABS, Adam Van Alen House, Kinderhook, NY, E. J. Potter, delineator

Thursday, February 9, 2012

North Bennington Walking Tour, an Introduction

Note to the reader:

These posts are intended to be working documents. I hope you will add to them.

There are 3 parts:

1) The 1856 map of North Bennington,

2) The map of the red, green and blue walking tours,

3) Descriptions of the village and the houses which existed in 1856,

You are encouraged to comment.

If you prefer, pages for your notes are available at the John G. McCullough Free Library, North Bennington. Each building has its page with lots of blank space for you to add your information.

The walking tour emphasizes the architecture and technology of North Bennington in 1856. Of course, that’s only one way to understand our past.

North Bennington's historic record and this walk will be much richer when we know more about who lived here and what they did.

Please add your information, your perspective. Please give dates whenever possible.

Thank you for your help.

Luykas Van Alen House, Part 2 of 4

In the summer, when this house is open to the public I will check all this in person and take a good picture to post here. However, in the meantime, has an excellent photograph of the main house and the wing.
The Van Alen House is a simple home, built on the Hudson River by Dutch immigrants in 1737. Its character is not applied; it comes from its material - brick. The brick pattern, Dutch cross bond, ties the brick courses together. The voussoirs are the traditional way to bridge an opening. The saw tooth brick pattern - tumblings - at the edge of the gable allowed the bricks to be turned for a smooth edge.
Its grace comes from its shape and the rhythm created by the doors and windows. I think it is possible that both were a byproduct of how the house was built. Not that the builder and owners didn't see and enjoy what they built, but:
I think the builders here used geometry for construction, not for design parameters.

The circle defines the rectangle. It can be used without dimensions to confirm that the angles laid out are true. So: here is the foundation, laid out within the circle.
It is the inside of the foundation that needs to be true. The stone would have been set with a plumb line on the inner side of the wall. The outer side would have been a buttress wall – sloping down into the ground – wider at the bottom than the top. It would have been covered with fill taken from the foundation hole.
The circle does not seem to fit when the outside dimensions are used. The right wing which was originally a barn does not fit the geometry.
I've done some work on the elevations which also use circles to determine structural dimensions. I will post that next. I am well aware that when I have recorded and studied 20 more, 40 more, houses I may see this in new light.

1934, HABS, Adam Van Alen House, Kinderhook, NY, E. J. Potter, delineator

Sunday, February 5, 2012

Edward Shaw - uses the tools

This picture of a 1854 construction site had me hoping, even if it was idealized.

The architect - wearing the stove pipe hat - holds dividers as he measures something on the drawing for the observant and expectant carpenters. In the foreground on the grass is a carpenter square, a hammer, and a large compass.

Maybe Edward Shaw's pattern book, The Modern Architect, published in 1854, would mention geometry! Maybe I'd find mention of proportions in a paragraph about something else!

Well, he does say that a main floor window's height should not be more than double its width. Room length, breadth and height and height are mentioned in relationship to each other. But then he states that 10 ft is the desired height... There is great advice for the carpenter and homeowner about foundations, lath and plaster, and 'warming'. Fun, but not what I hoped for.

Shaw's life (1783-1859) spans the change from custom to repetitive parts in construction. The picture shows a building being balloon framed with 2x's , not posts and beams. The drawing in the illustration is being measured and scaled up by dividers, an ancient tool, not a modern architect's scale with regular increments. Almost anyone can draw circles with a compass. In the time Shaw practiced master carpenters and architects knew how to use compasses for design, layout and framing of rectangular buildings.
The book includes extensive explanation of how to lay out columns, scrolls for hand rails, and molding details that would require a hand held compass. The large compass shown would have been for stepping off foundations and wall locations based on the drawing made by the small compass. Or it is possible that the 'compass' is  perhaps a level, folded up.

The picture is the cover of the Dover Publications reprint of Shaw's book. Inside is a reprint of the etching in black and white. It is too dark to reproduce well. For a look at the original print try: . It is part of a good article on a mid-19th century Maine builder in the SPNEA journal, 1967. SPNEA (Society for Preservation of New England Antiquities) is now Historic New England.

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

what to do with a post

Clients want their posts 'out of there'. That requires adding new beams and posts someplace else to adequately carry the weight of the house to the ground. But sometimes that reframing is too complicated, too expensive.

In the kitchen remodel shown here, the post was the outside corner of the original house. The second floor, attic, and roof were held up in this corner, especially after we cantilevered the kitchen 2' out and added a new beam where the outside kitchen wall used to be. The new beam is in the ceiling just to the right of the down lights, toward the window in the photograph.

So the post became part of the design: we added molding to create a plinth block below and a column above. The 'we' in this case was me designing and the excellent finish carpenter executing.

While the kitchen and the eating area needed to be connected visually, those eating did not need to see the dirty dishes in the sink. So the back splash was wrapped around the end of the counter and tied in, visually, to the post by molding. That extra 6" keeps the sink hidden from those sitting at the table. That 6" also ties the column into the design, it isn't hanging out there alone at the end of the counter.
The kitchen table (out of sight under the wrought iron chandelier) is visible from the kitchen. So is the door to the back yard and the stair to the play room above the garage. A Good Thing for mothers and families.

A note about that window over the kitchen sink: The house sits on a hill. The view from the sink is wonderful, into the trees. The client wanted the window to come down to the counter.
The contractor - who had years of experience and much skill - did it, but it is not a good idea. Wood, glass and granite move at a different rates. Yes, houses move. Not allowing room for expansion and contraction, expecting the window frame to meet up precisely with the granite counter top is asking for problems.

Monday, January 30, 2012

Why Didn't Regulating Lines Get Passed Down? (#3 in a series)

When did we stop using circle geometry (aka: regulating lines, the Golden Section) to design buildings?

It has been suggested the change came when architects took over the design process from builders. Well, maybe. I just don’t think it’s that simple.

In Europe, during the Middle Ages, the understanding of how to use geometry was passed down through the guild apprenticeship system, specifically the masons’ guilds, the men who were the master builders of the medieval cathedrals, forts and castles.The title ‘architect’ was used in the late 1500’s, but often as metaphor. The OED cites its use as a synonym for God, “The work some praise, And some the Architect”. 1667, Milton, Paradise Lost. Only gradually is the word specifically associated with the task of designing rather than building a structure.

Consider this chain of command:
John Mylne (d.1657) was the Master Mason to the Crown of Scotland.
His son, John Mylne (1611-1667) and then his nephew, Robert Mylne (1630-1710), succeeded him. All were members of the masons’ guild.
Sir William Bruce of Scotland (c.1630-1710) is considered the ‘architect’ who brought Palladian ideas to Scotland. He was Surveyor General of the King’s Works. Was this a title created for him because he had lived and traveled abroad, had a great library but did not draw? Robert Mylne was one of the people who drew for him. Mylne also supervised the construction. And he, a mason, would most likely have been using the geometry passed down through the guild.
James Smith (1647-1731), succeeded Bruce as Surveyor General. He had traveled abroad, studied in Rome, but was trained by Mylne.
He in turn trained William Adam (1689-1748). Both were admitted to the local masonic guild. These men began to be referred to as ‘architects’: Colen Campbell (1676-1729) in his Vitruvius Britannicus calls Smith "the most experienced architect of that kingdom".
William Adam trained his sons, John Adam 1721-1792), Robert Adam (1728-1792), and James Adam (1732-1794) as masons.

Robert and John Adam are the men after whom the Adam Style (often called Federal in New England) is named. Robert was truly an ‘architect.’ He designed and drew, someone else executed.They traveled abroad. Most of them read Latin. But at least through the Adam brothers the knowledge of design and construction was rooted in the masons' knowledge, in regulating lines.

An aside: Scottish history during this time is full of political intrigue ( Queen Mary of Scots, King Charles, etc.) which influences who gets to design and build which buildings. For more information try Scottish Architecture, Glendinning and MacKechnie Thames & Hudson,Ltd., London, 2004. They are excellent historians and writers.

1950's vernacular Usonian

The highly respected instructor at the local vo-tec built this house for his family in the 1950's. Compact, with built-in furniture which dictated the use of every room, it felt much like the Frank Lloyd Wright Usonian houses I had visited.

His children were happy to inherit the house but wanted more room, un-dedicated, larger spaces. They had already added a garage and a stone wall to separate the house from the back road which had become a short cut from one state route to another.

They needed the front door about where it was, they wanted light but hoped to preserve their privacy. And they liked the house. The wing needed to compliment the original vision.

The original house is to the right, past the flamingos. The new wing is in the middle with skylights, next to the garage to the left. The overhang matches the existing and protects the entry deck and the walkway leading to the driveway. The half wall and the light post with its round globe at the edge of the deck help lead the eye to the entrance which was in danger of disappearing under the shadow of the roof. The flamingos and flower pots help too.

Friday, January 27, 2012

North Bennington Walking Tour, 50 - 54, 46

The Dyer House is no longer here.
Cross the railroad tracks, and walk up to # 50, the William Hawks House and carriage barn, built in 1855. They are not on the 1856 map. Perhaps they were not finished when the data for the map was collected.
The house has an 'old-fashioned' center entrance, room on each side, shape. Over that is the Italianate 'new-fashioned' hip roof, double front door, porch, bay window, and trim!
The Hawks mill was on the south west corner of Water and West Streets.

Return to the railroad station and cross on Depot St. which wasn't here,
to Houghton Street.

There was a depot, a freight and engine house, but not these. This station was built in 1876. Here three railroads met: the Troy and Boston, the Western Vermont and the Bennington Branch, all with different owners and differing track specifications.

Houghton St was named after the family whose elaborate Queen Anne Victorian house was here. For an extra excursion turn left on Houghton Street, continue across the tracks to Lake Paran Park on the right. Lake Paran was created by the railroad bridge over Paran Creek in the 1840’s.
Between the houses the Robinson barn - #51 - is visible. In 1856 this land was fields, farm yard, and kitchen garden.

# 52 may be the M.B. Murch house. The D. Corkins house has been replaced by St. John the Baptist Catholic Church. picture to come

# 53 – Hicks, a simple c. 1820 house, updated over the years with new windows and wings.

# 54 –Warren Dutcher House. Greek Revival c. 1840, with added porch. Mr. Dutcher’s house in Bennington had burned in 1849. He invented a improved temple for mechanized looms. By 1858 he had relocated his factory – which had been on Paran Creek - to Hopewell, MA.

#46a - Barn for Hawkes (Eddington) House picture to come
This side was the working side of the house: the location of the stable, dairy, kitchen garden, and barn yard. The front door was for company.

These are the main buildings which were in N. Bennington in 1856, with the exception of 11 houses, a school and an Academy (now gone), and 3 factories, all on Water Street. (Those buildings which remain will be added as a 'drive-by' tour.) Barns, shed, outhouses, and other secondary structures were not recorded.
I found it fascinating to understand physically, by walking down the streets of the village, how it would have felt to live here, how small a village it was. I hope you do too.
I welcome your comments and corrections. The internet makes improvements simple. Thank you for visiting.

Folk Victorian, circa 1872

A contractor bought this 2 family in-town house and asked for my help. Because of the deep lot we were able to return to its original single family status and add a 'barn' as the second living unit.
This massing was similar to other homes in the neighborhood. The back of the barn looks out over town owned wetlands.

The house was renovated on a strict budget.

The 2 units sold as condominiums immediately.

Some highlights:

The living room fireplace mantle had disappeared. The contractor
found a new one at a discount warehouse, Building 19: Victorian style interpreted by Thai craftsmen. We laughed, but it fit the budget and in place, painted, looked great.

The basement had about 6 ft. head room. We found out why when we dug the foundation for the barn addition - a high water table. That required the wing be set higher on the site. Then the roof lines didn't meet properly, necessitating on-the-spot redesign.

The original 1872 house used only one profile for all the moldings. It ran sideways up the windows, upside down as an apron, right side up on the baseboard. The visual variety came from how the light stuck the curves in the different positions. So simple, so effective.

The windows in the faux barn door are over the kitchen sink. The current owners have continued the visual joke by landscaping a faux barn entrance ramp below the 'door'.

The project made a real impact on the neighborhood and received
a local Historic Prservation Award.

Thursday, January 26, 2012

New garage in the same place

This garage belongs to a dramatic c. 1915 Arts & Crafts home, glimpsed here directly behind the garage. Across the street is a wooded and shrubby bank sloping down to the river.
The topography required us to build in the same sandy location as the existing tiny, structurally unsound, stone garage. The garage needed to be, like the original, useful and incidental.

The original caretaker's cottage (just out of view on the left) overlooked the garage, so a low pitched hip roof was chosen as less intrusive than the original gable.

Structurally this was difficult, holding back the sand as we dug a bigger hole. We also ran into an uncharted sewer line running across the driveway from the caretaker's house. While we were applying for the building permit from the Town, the State's wetlands rules changed.
Please notice that I use 'we'. That includes the owner, the contractor, even the neighbor whose septic system was uncovered. The excavator, the foundation man and the engineer conferred about that sand. The new stone wall and steps, the depth of the roof overhang, the trim around the garage doors, the paint color are as important to the garage's success as those neat Arts & Crafts garage doors.

The whole property received a local Historic Preservation Award.

Thursday, January 19, 2012

North Bennington Walking Tour, 43 - 49

Main Street was laid out in 1760 to go north to Shaftsbury. Houghton Street was cut in 1835, also to go to Shaftsbury, but avoiding the hill on the main road. The railroad was
here in 1856 but not Depot Street. The railroad continued across the dam at Lake Paran to Bennington. The bridge and dam which had washed out had quickly been replaced.
The tour begins at The Eddington House
# 44 - WF Hawkes House, now called The Eddington House. A porch once ran across the front of the house, probably not as early as 1856.

# 43 -SC Loomis House (picture of fan light)
The Park: the Post Office was here, as well as an apothecary shop, a store, and the home of H. Koon. They were destroyed in a fire in 1886 that burned all the way to the Cobblestone House. A cabinet shop sat in what is today the bank parking lot.
# 45 – Surdam House, c. 1835. The house shape and size is similar to those on Bank St. Its stone construction is unusual in the village. The entrance side panels and hood are taken pictures in the1830 design book of Asher Benjamin.

# 46 – Built c. 1780 for Fannie Hinsdill. It originally had a center chimney. This house has been continually updated - the triple windows, c. 1910, and the picture windows in the 1950’s for a barbershop.

#47 – The Cobblestone House, 1848, Gothic Revival, with its steep roof and gingerbread icing along the eaves was inspired by medieval stone carvings. It retains its early American story-and-a-half shape and scale. In 1856 one of the Colvins lived here. The cobblestone exterior was also popular in western NY. This house was built by Warren Dutcher who auctioned it off for $1 per chance.

#48 - GW Simmon House, c. 1850, is a classic Greek Revival - with a later porch and Italianate double door. It was constructed with timbers from a mill on Paran Creek which was being rebuilt.

#49 – Robinson is a mirror image of #50. This house has Italianate ‘improvements’: a double front door and a bracketed entry roof.

Both the Simmon and Robinson houses have barns, befitting a prosperous homeowner of the 1850’s.

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

North Bennington Walking Tour, 43- 2

#44 – Sam C. Loomis House, Federal, c. 1830. This house is hidden by its siding – its graceful front entrance, corner pilasters, and fanlight in the gable still peek through. It is smaller, only 2 windows wide, less imposing than its neighbors down the street (#2, 25, 26).

#45 -Hawkes House, c. 1830, and updated many times. Breaks in the trim indicate a porch location, window changes, and various expansions. Mr.Loomis ( #43) and Mr. Hawkes owned the market in the square (#3).

#26 - Hiland Knapp House, c. 1825. The curving bands – guilloche – at the eaves and at the entrance, slender ionic columns, a subtle brick pattern, dressed marble lintels and sills are graceful and sophisticated. The style, Federal, was inspired by the Adams Brothers, popular English architects at the time.

#25 - B. Hammond House: Federal, c. 1825, is the reverse image of the Welling House (#2). In 1856, there was no roof over the front porch.

#2 –The Welling House end the Green Tour. Its Italianate side porch to the north once circled the house.