Saturday, October 12, 2013

A Diamond in the Rough

For several years I have been driving by a simple little house near St. Peter, MN just across the Minnesota River. It always catches my attention and I have wondered how old it is, who built it, who lived there and how has it survived.  It is a small, simple building that looks to be a typical example of the first generation of houses built during the settlement era in the upper Midwest.  Although houses of this sort used to exist by the thousands in Minnesota, very few have survived unaltered.  This Fall I finally got my courage up and decided I would introduce myself to the owner.  Adjacent to the old house is Nelson Imports, an auto repair shop specializing in Mercedes. I introduces myself to the owner Josh Nelson who graciously showed me his interesting building.

The mystery house near St. Peter, MN. 
As you can see there isn't much to the house. It is in good condition and hasn't been cut up or altered to the point that the original structure can't be easily identified. The earliest part of the house is the section on the right with the front-facing gable.  The addition on the left was added a few years later, most likely as the family grew and separate kitchen space was needed.  Josh knew that the house had been lived in up into the early 1960s and that it has been vacant ever since.  He also had heard that it had been used as the first railroad depot in St. Peter. Since I am fascinated by vernacular architecture like this humble little home and the stories of the people who lived in it, I couldn't help but offer to research the building's history.

Stay posted through the Fall as I start studying this little gem and learn all about its story!  

Plus, if your C Class needs brakes or the "check engine" light keeps coming on, stop by and see Josh at Nelson Imports in St. Peter and he will be sure to take good care of you and your Mercedes. 

Sunday, August 25, 2013

Painted Floors in the Victorian Home

Late 19th century card of sample
floor colors from the New England
Paint Company

For more information about historic paint colors for your Victorian or Arts and Crafts era home or business, please visit the Historic Design Consulting webpage today.

Painted floors were common in American homes throughout the 19th century. Durable paints would seal soft pine flooring making them less liable to stain and easier to clean.  An 1850 edition of Miss Leslie's Lady's House Book recommends cleaning heavily soiled, common pine floors using:
   "an old tin pan with some gray sand in it; and after soaping the brush, rub on it some sand also."

Abrasive sand or pumice could remove stains but would also erode the soft, unpainted floor boards. Since painted and sealed floors would not absorb grease or stains, they could be easily cleaned by wiping or gently brushing with warm soapy water. 

Commercial, ready-made floor paints were made durable and glossy by the addition of resins that were otherwise used to make varnishes. These resins, including copal and colophony, were soluble in boiled linseed oil and turpentine and were added to oil paint to provided the hard, glossy coat.  Painters and homeowners also used regular, home-mixed oil paint and then applied a protective topcoat of varnish.  Alvin Wood Chase's 1890 receipt book (or recipe book as we say today) Dr. Chase's third, last and complete receipt book and household physician suggests: 

"Paint the whole floor with a mixture of much boiled oil and little ochre for the first coat: then after it is well dried, give two more coats of much ochre and little oil; and finally finish with a coat of first-rate copal varnish.  It is extremely durable for floors, windows, or outside, such as verandas, porticoes and the like." 

Painted bedroom floors from the 1855
Folsom House, Taylor's Falls, MN.
The Folsom House, an 1855 Greek Revival home in Taylor's Falls, MN, an early Minnesota lumbering town, features floors painted in a common, blue-gray and  a yellow ochre like that mentioned in Chase's recipe above.   

Close-up of Folsom House floor
Stenciling was a popular way to decorate painted floors to make them resemble expensive carpets or marble. Stenciled patterns often featured repeating floral or geometric patterns and sometimes included contrasting borders around walls which mimicked carpet borders. Stencils were made from tin sheets which had designs cut out with punches or shears. The stencils were laid on the floor and the paint brushed on leaving the painted pattern on the floor. The process was repeated until the floor was covered with the pattern.   The Folsom House has a few remnants of a repeating, bottle green floral design at the top of the stairway. Examples of  floor stenciling are rather uncommon today as they were often obliterated by foot traffic, removed when painted floors went out of fashion or destroyed when linoleum or carpet was installed. 

For questions or help with your own home's interior paint colors, ornament and period decorating, please visit the Historic Design Consulting Home Page for more information.

The Folsom House is located in Taylor's Falls, MN (about 40 minutes northeast of the Twin Cities Metro) and can be visited between Memorial Day weekend and September, Friday through Sunday between 1 and 4 and on holidays between 1 and 4.

Wednesday, January 2, 2013

Historic Paint Colors for the Victorian Home: Part Two

For more information about historic paint colors your your Victorian or Arts and Crafts era home, please visit the Historic Design Consulting website today! 

To view Part One of the Victorian Paint Colors post, click HERE.
In a previous post I described my process for selecting historic paint colors for 19th century homes and businesses.  Rather than relying on so-called “Victorian” color collections from modern paint manufacturers such as Behr or Sherwin-Williams, I use period color swatches.  This way I can be sure to consider the same colors homeowners did 130 years ago and offer my customers a truly authentic color palette.  In addition I also study the way house paints were mixed and tinted to understand better how the original colors appeared 

What is the process for selecting colors palettes for older homes?  First, I read what designers and architects wrote about house colors and fashion in the 19th century.  Andrew Jackson Downing, Samuel Sloan and many others wrote in detail about selecting paint colors and how they thought a paint scheme should be arranged.  By working my way through these primary sources I can get a good idea how Victorian homeowners and designers picked their color palettes.

Second, I need to know how paint was mixed.  When I read Downing's descriptions of paint colors such as drab or fawn it is essential to know which pigments were used so I can imagine how the paint might have looked.  Also, since painters tended to be a conservative lot who mixed paints using familiar recipes,  I can look at later color swatches to get some idea of older paint colors.  Learning about these paint recipes and pigments is a reliable way to reconstruct an early color palette.   

19th century paint was mixed using four basic ingredients: linseed oil; white lead; turpentine and pigments.  Many of the pigments used before 1875 were earth pigments, or pigments mined or refined  from soil.  In other words, earth pigments are pretty colored dirt.
Here are a few examples of pigments that were commonly used in the 19th century.

Indian Red is ferric oxide that was originally mined on the Indian Subcontinent (thus its name).  Other deposits of ferric oxide have been discovered all over the world and several have names, including English Red or Venetian Red, that indicate the place of their origin.  Since this pigment was relatively cheap, barns and industrial buildings were frequently painted with paint containing Indian Red. 

Raw Umber is also named after its place of origin: Umbria, Italy.  It is a medium brown pigment refined from clay containing ferric oxide and manganese.  Raw Umber was widely used in the 19th century. 

  Pigments could be baked in ovens to drive out water and cause them to darken.  Compare this Burnt Umber sample to the Raw Umber sample above.

Burnt Sienna is a limonate clay containing ferric oxide that was originally mined around the city of Sienna in Tuscany, Italy.  

Other pigments, such as Prussian Blue and Chrome Green, were commonly used.  Unlike earth pigments, these pigments were produced in factories.  Although found in many paint recipes, several of these manufactured pigments were fugitive, meaning they tended to fade or discolor in sunlight.  This is why few 19th century houses were painted bright blue or purple since these paint recipes usually contained fugitive Prussian Blue. 

Earth pigments proved to be durable and were widely used until the 1870s when they began to be replaced by brighter, more vibrant colors made from the by-products of the  petroleum industry.   This is why the bright, saturated colors commonly used in the early 1900s on Queen Anne homes look out of place on earlier Italianate and Gothic Revival examples.    

For information about color consults for your historic home, visit the Historic Design Consulting website and click on the House Colors button.