(or what to read when your contractor’s been dead for 100 years & you forgot the Old House Fair)
House Calls | By Michael Good
Last weekend at the South Park Old House Fair, a surprising number of people asked me if I knew someone who could make an authentic wood window sash for their old house. I say surprising because San Diego Sash, the leading local manufacturer of replica window sashes, was in the booth right next door.
But then finding the right guy to restore your old house can be a complicated process, even if he is standing right in front of you. It involves a lot of research, cogitation, photographs, putting stuff in folders, losing the folders, starting your own blog, forming a secret society, tossing the I Ching and, finally, asking an expert if he knows a guy.
So if you didn’t make it to the Old House Fair, or you did and I blanked out when you asked me for the name of a plasterer, read on. I know most of these specialists personally, and not only have seen their work, but have seen them at work. Some are included on this list because I’m impressed by their expertise, some are included because I’m impressed by their attitude, and some I just like personally. And not a one has borrowed my sawhorses and then forgotten to give them back.
William Van Dusen of Van Dusen Millworking has been replicating and installing wood trim for years. But not every homeowner can afford to replace all his or her architectural millwork. So Van Dusen is adapting by designing and building a single focal point for homeowners of modest means: a mantel, bookcase or china cabinet that stays true to the craftsman tradition. He’s also making and restoring doors, another old house focal point. Contact: 619-443-7689, firstname.lastname@example.org.
In the California bungalow, the fireplace is the heart of the home. So it’s no surprise that Jim Crawford has an emotional connection to fireplaces. “I grew up building fireplaces with my father,” he said. “My father grew up building fireplaces also. This is not just what I do for living. This is a big part of who I am.” If you’re not sure if your tile or brick are original, or if your chimney is falling down, give Jim at Authentic Fireplaces a call. Contact: 858-274-6134, authenticfireplacesinc.com.
Ron Ball of Uptown Home Repair and Maintenance is one of those hands-on contractors. If the job requires, he does the plumbing, window and door installation and general carpentry: he’s not afraid to get out of the truck and get dirty. But he also manages the project, rides herd over the subcontractors, meets with the homeowners, designers, architects and inspectors. He’s worked on a number of significant historic homes, such as the Josh DelValle House on 28th Street, which was one of the highlights of last year’s Old House Fair tour. Contact: 619-884-3130, email@example.com.
Lathe and plaster is a time consuming, expensive way to make a wall. Wood trim – baseboards, casings, chair rails, picture rails – were actually created to protect plaster. Many new homeowners tear out all the old plaster because it’s cracked, not realizing they’ve just destroyed one of the more valuable and beautiful architectural features of their house. To replace it would be cost prohibitive; that’s why hardly anyone does plastering anymore. Despite the name, Mr. Stuccoman, specializes in repairing plaster walls in historic houses. They can recreate the classic sand finish. And they can do it without messing up another part of the project, like the wood trim. Contact: 888-638-0119, mrstuccoman.com.
Ray at Raymond Shaw Landscape Design has a background in graphic design, fine art, set design and teaching. When he decided to change careers and get into landscape design, he made the effort to get a formal education about plants as well as the design of garden structures, paving and lighting. When you want to create a harmonious connection between your house and its surroundings, between the built and natural environment, Ray’s the man. His landscape drawings are works of art in themselves. Contact: rayshawlandscapedesign.com, firstname.lastname@example.org.
Stained and leaded glass
You might get the impression that not many early 20th century houses had stained glass windows, but that’s only because leaded windows are fragile, heavy and when they have problems people like to throw them away. Lisa Maywood at Verre Designs repairs and replicates stained glass windows, and also creates her own designs. She was trained at the Ecole de Vitrail et de Creation in Monthey, Switzerland. Contact: 858-220-3282, verredesigns.com.
Windows and doors
If properly maintained with fresh varnish, paint and putty, wood windows can last a lifetime or two. But when they haven’t been maintained, homeowners are left with two options: repair (often more expensive) or replace. The historic resources board recognizes this, and accepts an exact copy of the original window as an alternative to repair. Shawn Woolery at San Diego Sash can build authentic replicas of your wood windows, as well as replicate wood trim and doors. Contact: 619-944-8283, sandiegosashcompany.com.
If you’re looking for a single visual cue that says your kitchen is original, even if it was remodeled yesterday, get an antique stove. The kitchen stoves from the 1940s and 50s were built like tanks, except tanks don’t last as long (and they’re easier to move). While these streamlined tributes to the American steel industry can last forever, they can also require some maintenance. Ben’s Vintage Stoves has the parts and expertise to get your stove working properly. Ben’s also does complete restorations, including re-chroming and enameling. Or you can just buy a completely restored antique. Contact: 619-424-7810, email@example.com.
Being a contractor means never having to say, “I’m sorry, I don’t know anything about that.” While most contractors are never lacking in confidence, quite a few are completely lacking in formal design training. Charles Tiano, a real estate agent who has moved from flipping houses to designing and managing projects for homeowners, actually has a bachelor’s degree in interior design. If you were on the 2013 Old House Tour, you know his work. He’s also good at insulating stressed-out homeowners from cranky contractors. Contact: 619-840-3791.
Every old house is historic. But some are more historic than others. Ron May of Legacy 106 can provide an assessment of your house and its historical potential. He’ll point out what details and features are significant, make suggestions about how to restore or preserve it, and refer you to craftsman who can do the work or offer further advice. He can do a consultation or a complete historical assessment, including preparing the Mills Act application for your historic house. Contact: 619-269-3924, legacy106.com.