I love a good ‘Save the Moulding’ protest and subsequent rowdy debate, despite its seemingly benign subject. Maybe it’s refreshing that after the drama of 2020 this is our collective beef? But like all of life, there aren’t two clear opposing sides here, it’s not that clear-cut. Here’s what I know: Y’all really want me to keep the original window and door casings/trim. I hear you. If only it were that easy.
This post is dedicated to all of you who are renovating and wondering what elements you should/could try really hard to keep, and what original elements are ok to forego in the name of safety, modernity, cost-effectiveness, and well, common sense all while keeping the future of the planet top of mind. As a recap… most of the window and door casing and mouldings are original, with a heavy 1905-1920s craftsman vibe. I really want to keep as much original architectural elements as possible so I planned on just painting them to lighten them up. But if I asked myself the honest question, which I did: Is this the trim work I would put in now? The answer is: Probably not. Please let this be clear – I LIKE the window and door casings, stylistically they are GREAT and if you have them know that I think they are beautiful and appropriate for the style and era. Also to be the most clear, we are keeping the windows. I love those diamonds so much and they can be removed without getting damaged (or very little).
What’s my problem? They are just a bit fancier and heavier than I would choose for the vibe of the house that we want (casual, paired back, humble, shaker). Yes, I am kinda trying to fit a simpler style into an older home which is a challenge, but one that I think if well executed will have a more interesting result that is better for our family. We are removing almost all of the windows on the first floor because we are opening the living room up to the backyard (those are the only original windows on that floor) and the 60s addition obviously doesn’t have original windows. So it’s really just the upstairs bedrooms/bath and the landing that are in question.
So when we were up there last week I asked Arciform (Anne – lead design and Adam – GC) to break it down for me – WHAT SHOULD WE DO? In case you didn’t read my love letter to them – see here – Arciform specializes in restoring historic homes – it’s quite literally why people (like me) hire them. I joke that they are here to protect me from myself, or to more bluntly state “to help me not ruin this house”. It’s like having a bodyguard for the integrity of a home. I don’t think they would call themselves any sort of ‘preservationists’ because while they specialize in historic homes, they design and build for the family/client to actually use the house the best way in their current season of life. They renovate to work well for now, with a huge understanding of and respect for the past. So I asked them bluntly after our last blog post about it, opinions flying, confusion afloat ‘should we keep these window and door frames??’ They clearly and firmly rattled off these reasons to, well, NOT KEEP THEM.
1. They Will Get Badly Damaged When We Remove Them For Wall Demo
We have to demo out all of the plaster for all new electrical and insulation. It’s not in good shape and it’s going to be down to the studs. That means we need to take the window and door casing out which will damage them unless the demo team is painstakingly careful (more time = more money). They will likely have to be repaired because it’s old wood in order to reinstall them (again – cash, money).
2. They Will Need To Be Carefully Labeled And Stored (Because They Aren’t All The Same)
This isn’t a real reason to not do it, but it does sound like a chore and there will likely be a lot of troubleshooting. Old homes mean that each one is slightly different, not just the tops and sills but the sides, etc. Reassembling them is a puzzle, unless documented very carefully. Also, that will take time.
3. The New Drywall Isn’t The Same Depth As The Plaster – Weirdness Will Happen
The original lath and plaster are less deep than the new drywall. So when it gets installed we’ll have to troubleshoot it to make it work. Maybe we’ll have to add wood behind the frames and they won’t look seamless. Again, all doable, but every bit of troubleshooting takes rounds of decisions, which will take time and money to make sure that it looks good. My eyes started glazing over at this point…
4. The Window Frames Are Chipped And Painted With Lead Paint 🙁
DEAL SEALED. Not everything original is good, and we are talking vintage lead paint. The window frames aren’t in great shape and are chipped all over – they need a total body job. Plus once we got the lead report I was like, done. It was however explained to me that lead can actually be ok if it’s sealed and not touched. But… people touch windows a lot and air comes in through them – they are kinda more ‘active’ than say a baseboard or door casing that no one really touches. They have so many layers that they can’t really be stripped safely so we’d be painting over chips and while I like a little jank in an old house, I don’t want this house to be this janky. There’s keeping soul, and then there’s keeping wear and tear that could be updated in a more beautiful way (or in a way that lets other things shine, like the actual windows themselves).
So in conclusion it will be much, much, much more expensive to demo out carefully, store carefully, restore carefully, reapply carefully, and even then they may just look old and janky. At a certain point it stops making sense, especially when I’d rather have a simpler profile to help pair the house back in decorative detail. Don’t worry – we aren’t entering ‘new build’ world, the quality and details of the finishes will make the house sing even if the decorative nature is stripped back a bit.