Old-House Journal December/January 2012
December is one of my favorite months—when snowy vistas surround us, and we can snuggle up with a cup of cocoa in front of the hearth. Maybe you use your fireplace as your primary heat source, or maybe you use it as a supplement to radiators or a furnace (I’ve done both). Maybe, even, you’re one of many old-house owners who can’t use your fireplace at all because the chimney stopped working decades ago. If so, take heart—there are plenty of modern paths to getting your fireplace functioning again, or making it operate more efficiently. We’ve created a list of fireplace options for you. On a related topic, if you’ve ever considered adding a forced-air system to an old house (whether for heating or cooling), you should check out our story on mini-duct HVAC systems, technology that’s made updating old house systems much less intrusive.
Woodwork is one of the most defining features of any old house, and restoring it can present one of the greatest challenges. I remember well the weeks I spent stripping glossy white paint off built-in bookcases in my first old house, a 1905 Foursquare in Pittsburgh. I wish I’d known then about the approach homeowners Ryan Knoke and Montana Scheff took on their Minneapolis house. Their smart work in stripping paint and rebuilding missing moldings, then staining them to match original samples, is a testament to the old-house work ethic. Their techniques can help your house shine, too.
Speaking of a house that shines, be sure to check out our story on the restoration of the Byrne-Reed House in Austin by Humanities Texas. You won’t believe your eyes when you look at the before pictures—the house’s original features had completely disappeared beneath a mask of 1970s “updates.” But thanks to solid detective work by the architectural firm Clayton & Little and determination on the part of Humanities Texas, this architectural gem has been returned to its pre-remuddled splendor. Now that’s a story to warm you by the fire.
Demetra Aposporos, Editor-in-Chief of Old-House Journal