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Wednesday, April 11, 2007

Here's A Teaspoon. Dig A Canal

Well, we mentioned a saltbox plan yesterday, so you knew it was coming. The John Osborn House in Fairfield, Connecticut. Built in 1772, and still in the same family when these pictures were taken in the 1930s. Like every house on the northern east coast that was standing at the time, they claim George Washington slept... er, check that -- had a drink of water here.
The old Osborn well further down the road had a silver tankard hanging by its side, a vessel brought from England, and here neighbors and travelers were accustomed to quench their thirsts. Tradition has it that the silver tankard which hung by the well was preserved and that Washington refreshed himself by its service.

Hmmm. "Tradition has it" that Salma Hayek has been desperately trying to get my phone number, to attempt to woo me away from Mrs Cottage. A fruitless endeavor. I can neither confirm nor deny this. Anyhow, here's the plan:
The linear plan is still discernible, and the massive center chimney with all sorts of fireboxes. The saltbox form allows two rooms to be appended on the back of the linear form. The front stairwell is little more than a ladder in a shaft,with pretensions, at this point. There's two large chambers upstairs, along with two storage rooms under the long sloping back roof.

People were more attuned to their surroundings then, as they were at the mercy of their surroundings more than we are, and would generally turn the long, blank, sloping roof in the back towards the north or northwest, to shelter against the winter wind coming from that direction. The largest expanse of glass would be on the front facade to maximize winter sunshine getting into the house. They'd leave only deciduous trees out front, so they'd shade the house in the summer, but shed their leaves in the winter and allow the low angled winter sunshine in. They'd leave any evergreen trees only behind the house, so they'd block winter winds with their year-round foliage. Why doesn't your developer know that? Because you have electric lights and an oil-fired boiler, and can afford to be foolish and not shiver in the dark half the year. Still good advice. I took it.

I ask you without trying to be snide: Is there anything this elegant built into your home? Anything even close?
If you're like most folks, the answer is no. And this is work done by people with no formal training. But the wonder of this millwork, and the whole house, really is not just how elegant it is despite being fairly spartan. It might have been added a little later, but it's still really old. If you saw the toolbox the builders had to make this thing, your jaw would drop.

I could make that thing, and the house it's in. I've made both built-in and freestanding versions of that thing. And here's what I'd use, to do it, that the fellows that built this one didn't have:
  • kiln dried dimensioned lumber
  • power planer
  • power jointer
  • powered rip saw
  • powered cut-off saw
  • powered drill
  • steel cutting tools
  • spindle shaper
  • aliphatic resin glue
  • wire nails
  • pneumatic anything
  • modern sandpaper
  • powered bandsaw
  • an electronic calculator
  • pipe clamps
  • pre-mixed paint
  • a library
I'd keep going but the internet might run out of pixels. Hell, something as mundane as light and heat would have been pretty sketchy then, too. And the Pequot Indians that were right down the street might interrupt your exertions, and they didn't just drop by to remind you to visit their casino back then. When they weren't bothering you, the British would drop by from time to time and burn this and that to the ground in Fairfield. George the Third was a fairly humorless fellow.

If I made that corner cabinet, with all the tools and information at my disposal, you'd marvel over it. Picture the fellows that made the one in the picture under the shade of the tree outside.

6 comments:

Omaha1 said...

Hi Sippican, I have some built-ins in my late 19th century wood frame house in Omaha. West of the Missouri even! Nowhere near as old as the ones you see in New England, and my other "decor" (clutter) is lacking...

http://i12.photobucket.com/albums/a204/carileek/house/architectural002.jpg

http://i12.photobucket.com/albums/a204/carileek/house/architectural001.jpg

They just don't build houses that way anymore.

SippicanCottage said...

Ah, Omaha weighs in from the banks of the mighty Nibthaska.

I love the pictures. The midwest is filled with houses like yours. The millwork was made in Chicago, probably, and delivered by train. I still have a lot of millwork catalogs from then, and especially after WW I.

They used fir a lot, or oak, and some ash. They'd finish it in place with orange shellac and varnish, and the shellac would turn that lovely amber color as the years go by.

The styles get lumped in together a lot. Arts and Crafts, Prairie, Craftsman, Bungalow. They all replaced a kind of vernacular Victorian style.

Is your house square? A "foursquare" house was very popular where you are, I think.

Omaha1 said...

Sippican, four up & four down, in a square configuration, although one of the four on the main level is just an entry, and on the second level, a hallway, large bathroom, and small balcony (which used to be a small bathroom and a large wrap-around corner balcony).

On the main level you can go round & round in a circle through the four rooms - much fun for dogs and children! There is a "front stairway" that goes to a landing five steps up, opposite a "back stairway" to the same landing from the kitchen.

Most of my woodwork is oak (quarter-sawn?), although I think the kitchen floor is pine (heavily distressed at this point). You know a lot about this stuff, I am impressed!

SippicanCottage said...

Hi Omaha- quartersawn means that the tree is cut radially from the center, instead of flatsawn straight across the bole. Quartersawn makes for a lot of waste, and is fairly rare as trees have to be really big to allow large pieces to be cut radially without including the pith (the center of the tree. (it's like cutting a series of wedges out of a cylinder)

Quartersawn wood has grain like railroad tracks. It's called VG for "vertical grain" in grading. By vertical, they mean if you looked a the butt end of a board, the growth ring would proceed straight through the wood from the top to the bottom face. Flatsawn wood has sawtooth or whorly grain, generally in the center of the board, with straighter grain along the edges.

Omaha1 said...

well, probably not quarter-sawn then. My ego has been somewhat deflated. But I do have crown moldings!

SippicanCottage said...

I use quartersawn white oak to make furniture. When you see oak with "silvering" in the grain, that's quartersawn. Silvering is the appearance of medullary rays on the face of the wood. Medullary races are those silvery looking whorls you see that looks like a whole separate type of grain in oak. Like this: Shamrock Table