architectural salvage

Another find from the trash heap

There has been a change in the construction crew at the gut reno project in my neighborhood.

(I say this as if there is only one. Sadly, there are many, but that’s fodder for another soapbox).

The construction foreman, who was saving me the stuff, is no more. It’s back to chucking everything onto the pile in the front yard. Sigh. It seems the same law of physics that makes the toast always land butter side down also dictates that anything worth saving is alway at the bottom of the pile.

(I am trying not to think about the intact garden level trim that was so carefully removed, now tossed)

Once in a while, however, there is good stuff to be found at the top. Case in point: a broken medicine cabinet. I found this when I accidentally/on purpose took the long way to the bodega.

Medicine Cabinet1

The mirror is long gone, but the worst part is that this cute little medicine cabinet was basically ripped out of the wall.

Medicine Cabinet2The back is gone, as is one of the sides.

glass knob

It has a pretty knob (probably not original) and a pretty piece of hardware underneath (not sure original to the cabinet, but it is of the period because we have the same kind in our house).

glass knob2

I think originally it had a locking latch, given the notched out part that has been filled (or is that the lock, hiding under all that paint?)

Peeling Paint

It’s covered in several thick layers of paint – but that’s pretty much every piece of woodwork in my life right now. I’m confident it can be made pretty again. As a point of comparison, this is what the medicine cabinet original to our house looks like mid strip. It too was shellacked in layers and layers of paint.

Victorian Medicine Cabinet2

(lame flash photo. The overheads were casting a huge shadow inside, and I was too lazy to drag the big work light over).

It has all the pieces, including the locking latch (see notched out part on the left?)

Victorian Medicine Cabinet

I’m really interested in the woodwork from that particular gut reno, because the house was built around the same time as ours, and by the same builder. I figured it’s the best chance to find the closest match for what is not longer here. Once I strip my little find, replace the plywood with a mirror, and cajole the hubs to rebuild the side and back, it will be pretty once again.

 

 

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Kilian Brothers part 2 (the updated version)

I found these ads in the Real Estate Record and Guide. A quick check of some of my neighbors fireplaces, and it seems that the Kilians’ were the go-to purveyors of fireplace surrounds of the late 1880s and early to mid 1890s.

7-6-1889 Killian Bros

Real Estate Record and Builders’ Guide (July 6, 1889)

1-3-1891 Killian Bros

Real Estate Record and Builders’ Guide (January 3, 1891)

 

Another house in my area is getting fully gutted. Hopefully they will keep the fireplaces intact. All the walls, trim, everything: gone. Trying to save what I can, will eventually run out of room to store all this stuff…

Update: they are keeping the fireplaces. Yey! Not only that, they have an intact one in the rear parlor (meaning it has the mirror topper, as pictured above). The demo crew was kind enough to let me peek inside. Befriending demo crews is becoming a skill I get to practice quite a bit as of late.

 

 

Kilian Brothers

KilianBrothers

(a bit of a rant)

It makes me sad when old houses are stripped of their detail. Not only is the craftsmanship amazing, the old growth trees that were harvested for all of our pretty ornamentation are long gone. I know a lot of people don’t share my opinion, but old houses are such a finite resource, I wish people would think twice before ripping the insides out.

Sometimes there are little clues here and there as to who created all that fantastic work. For the past week, I’ve been salvaging as much as I can from a gut renovation in my neighborhood. Among the items I have been able to divert from the dumpster are 3 fireplace mantels (one in good condition, one which has been severely altered, and one that is basically just one broken piece. All three have the same stamp in the back: Killian Brothers.

(I’m trying not to think about the fact that all the fireplaces were intact until they were ripped out – think of my happy place, think of my happy place).

Anyway, a quick Google search reveals that they were prolific cabinet makers and furniture makers. The Goulding’s New York City directory for 1877 lists two Kilians (Theo and William) who were in the furniture business and shared the same business address: 159 W 32nd Street. Did they make the mantels? Did I find the correct Kilians?

Kilian Brothers furniture turns up at auction on occasion. It seems they were really into the Eastlake aesthetic of the late Victorian period. Google it – some really amazing stuff.

Whether the Kilians from my broken fireplace mantels are the same Kilians of the fancy furniture is almost beside the point; there was someone who actually made all this stuff – not a fully automated machine that packs saw dust into some semblance of wood.

Now, if you still must get rid of all the things that make your house unique and interesting, then please give me a call and let me take your treasures.

 

 

I totally have a plan and I’m going to – LOOK! SHINY THINGS!

(actually these were painted, dirty and discarded things, but we’ll get to that in a moment)

Ah focus. Some people have it, I don’t. I’m easily distracted by possibilities, by day dreaming and by imagining the worst of the worst case scenarios. Yet, once in a while, I will spring into action at a moment’s notice, after realizing that life cannot continue on in this manner. After having one of those “I cannot stand this room one more minute” moments, I decided to get serious about our dining room. I had already attempted a Style Cure (HA. HA HA HA HA!) that was interrupted by  6 weeks of 14-hour work days, followed by binge holiday cooking baking (not having an oven for 3 years will do that to you), followed by a very sick kitten (who has since recovered, but not before consuming a healthy amount of our home restoration savings). Anyway, time to get this room done!

With newfound enthusiasm, work resumed. I begun skim coating the walls – after a steep learning curve, I’m getting quite good at it. It’s t time-consuming (what else is new?) because I discovered that many thin coats are much better than one or two thicker ones.

Skimcoating in progress

please excuse crappy cell phone photo, which makes the moldings appear bowed. They are not.

So slow we go, that is, until I notice that one of the houses in the back is being renovated. This precipitated a trip around the block and the discovery of a ton of Victorian trim, just tossed in the front yard.

This is a good place to mention that the way I feel about architectural salvage is the way a lot of women feel about shoes: you can never have too much. Like a lot of people who wouldn’t pass up a good shoe sale, I cannot let 120-year old lumber be tossed in a dumpster. It’s against my nature, and it will cause me great intestinal distress to just let it go. After hemming and hawing about whether a pile in the front yard is fair game (I knocked on the door but no one answered), I decided to leave a note asking whether I could come dig through their “trash.” Much to my surprise, the contractor called me back within 30 minutes and said “be my guest.”

What started as a quick peek, stretched over a couple of hours of treasure hunting in sub-zero temperatures. The guys showed me inside and to another pile of “garbage,” far more than what I could take in one day. With a gargantuan dumpster looming over me (and my soon to be) salvage, the nice people said I could come back Saturday morning at 8 am and take anything they didn’t want to keep.

one car load

Long story short, the car was filled 3 4 times (and counting). The overflow (which included two carved fireplace mantels) was walked around the corner. I’m happy I was able to save so much mill work, yet I’m sad for all the other wonderful things I wasn’t able to save. The house was nearly intact before the gut renovation started. I wish I had stopped by earlier. It’s heartbreaking (to me) when people rip out details from old houses. A Brooklyn brownstone is not meant to look like a loft; I have very strong feelings about plaster and the role of bricks in a brownstone (to be hidden by plaster and never seen). I also realize I’m not Queen of the Universe and these are just my opinions (surely this is an oversight due to be corrected any day now). Until then, if detail must be ripped out, then at least it should not go to the dumpster. It should be saved and re-used by those of us who appreciate it.

Now if you please excuse me, I have another carload of stuff to rescue. One man’s trash is another woman’s treasure…