When a home has been around for over 120 years, various owners may adapt the floorplan to suit their needs of the time. 2004 was no different… it was originally built as a grand home by a wealthy family but over the years as the neighborhood changed and became more densely populated, it was converted to a multi-family home. It had been partially converted back to a single-family home when we got it, but its floorplan was a maze and a mess. It was challenging to figure out how to honor the home’s original design while also modernizing it and making it very livable in the 21st century.
Since hiring an architect has never been in our budgets for these kinds of projects with their razor-thin margins. The process of making a floorplan functional, historically accurate and workable for today’s families is a process of digging through the home to see how it was originally designed. In the case of 2004, it was built in the 1890s but it had been converted to units in the early 20th century. Unfortunately, it’s not always easy to tell which framing came first in these instances so we look for all the clues.
The above floorplan is close to what we started with. The previous owner had worked up a plan for how he wanted the floorplan to flow for him and his family. Below is what we ultimately ended up with. We concentrated on making the front of the downstairs with the Foyer and double parlor (i.e. Living Room and Dining Room) look like it might have originally been built while the back included a more casual living space including a great room which you wouldn’t have found when the home was built. We even eeked out a mud-room at the back door complete with bench, shelves, charging stations, etc.
In addition to the fact that we could easily observe 2 front doors next to each other, we also see where 4 separate electrical meters were located.
In the 1890s they would use regular wood as sub-floor material since there was no such thing as ply-wood. Much of what was remaining in the home was not in good condition so unfortunately in this area, we had to put new flooring in. We actually did save this diagonally laid sub-floor in one of the downstairs rooms. It is made from the same cherished, expensive heart pine that the formal area’s flooring was made from and came out looking good.
The framing from the 1890s is non-dimensional lumber, meaning that they were inconsistent in width. They were a standard measurement on one side, but the other was not consistent in width. You can also see that the tooling on the wood is different. In the early 20th century, you’ll see saw marks but in the older framing, you can often observe marks created by hand tools.
Moldings and door casings not only gave us clues about the original floorplan but they also dictated the molding plan. When you walk into most spaces, there are moldings around windows, doors, where the walls meet the floor (base molding) and even crown molding (where the walls meet the ceiling). In my opinion, molding is the most important and least noticed component in a historic home. Even though people don’t generally notice it specifically, it’s what gives a space a historic element. In this home, we were able to save the door casings, although a few had to be moved. When it came to the base moldings, we had to recreate our based on what we found in the home. By combining multiple moldings available, we were able to recreate what was originally built even though much of the original couldn’t be saved.
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We can even see where there were additional kitchens because the previous owner left a few sinks and cabinets in various rooms. These were great clues. Sadly we were unable to utilize the old sinks with drainboards so we donated them to our architectural salvage shop.
I personally LOVE going through an old house as it’s being partially gutted. It’s not dissimilar to being an archeologist. Not only do we get to see how people lived in the past, but we get to appreciate their workmanship and designs. Often the designs on these homes are classic and timeless.