I find historic houses visually striking for many reasons, but primarily because of the detail they contain. A nice set of dentils along a cornice line, complex window and door surrounds, and shutters all add a sense of solidity to a house. In comparison, most new tract houses don’t have those details and, to my eye, always seem to be missing a little something.
Of course maintaining these details – which are often wood and therefore need to be painted regularly – is an unending chore and needless to say, an act of love . There’s a reason why aluminum siding is laid right over exterior detailing!
Maintaining interior architectural details takes just as much effort, and after a hundred years or so, layers of paint can build up and some of the finer detail can get lost. Then it’s dilemma time for the preservationist. Do you want to strip the paint completely and repaint to end up with a nice crisp finish, or merely remove loose and failed paint, leaving a patina – a trail of history – as you apply the newest coat of paint?
This issue is one of several being addressed at Adventures in Preservation’s latest project at the Bartow-Pell Mansion Museum in the Bronx, New York. (Previous projects at the site have focused on restoring garden walkways.) Volunteers will be working with an architectural conservator to undertake a historically sensitive restoration of the house’s interior shutters. They will also receive instruction and guidance in removing lead paint and discuss other relevant curatorial, preservation, and environmental issues.
The Greek Revival Bartow-Pell Mansion, a National Historic Landmark owned by the City of New York and operated by the Bartow-Pell Conservancy, dates from approximately 1842. Designed by an unknown architect, it graces the shores of Pelham Bay, the last of the country houses in the area.