The Reception Hall
Project Start November 1st
2001 - Project Completed December 24th 2006
(This was a side project that got
worked on while we restored other parts of the house)
The Reception Hall is one of the most important rooms in the house.
It not only gives the first impression when you walk in the front door,
it gives the biggest one. It is a sprawling 9 X 30 with a carved
marble fireplace. This room has some major "Wow!" factor.
Numerous pairs of 8-foot doors fill this wonderful hall with entry
points to the rest of the house. In the 1800's, this is where the
guests would mingle before being seated for a formal dinner. This
room is simply full of old style charm that needs to be restored back to
it's original grandeur.
The Reception Hall Tour Guide
is so much work going on in this hall, this page is going to be
lengthy. Use these links to get to the stuff you really
want to read about.
This picture was
taken from the Dining room looking toward the front doors on the day we
moved in. Unfortunately, all of the woodwork has been painted.
This will take a while to restore...
This picture was
taken from the front of the house looking toward the Dining Room doors.
As you can see, there is a tremendous amount of charm to this hallway.
(If you can see past the colors...)
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Let's take it from the top...
One of the
most perplexing problems we are facing in the entire house is the
Reception Hall Ceiling. This ceiling is adorned with heavy
plaster moldings that at one time must have been striking.
Unfortunately, the house settled, sagged and became victim to a
devastating termite problem throughout it's history. This
ceiling took all that movement pretty hard...
shows the large missing pieces of plaster molding.
Here is where someone tried to make a repair.
corner, the ceiling is actually separating from the lathe and barely
Correcting a rather
"unsettling" settling problem
consulting with a few contractors, and restoration specialists, we
came to the conclusion that the ceiling has to go. The damage
is entirely too extensive to repair. In addition, the ceiling
is completely warped from the house settling over the years.
It appears that the front and rear sections of the house settled by
about 3 inches or so, but the chimneys didn't budge. The hall
ceiling has joists that span all three areas. In short the
ceiling and moldings have been slowly torn apart over the years.
The only remedy is to remove all of the remaining plaster moldings.
Ouch! This is not what I wanted to hear, but after studying
the problem, I decided the experts were right. Very sad.
I decided that
the best remedy was to indeed remove all of the plaster moldings
from both the walls and ceilings. This was incredibly
difficult! The ceiling molding came down by blowing on them,
but the wall moldings took a sledge hammer and chisel. The
dust that kicked up was beyond description. A rather large
section of ceiling fell on me taking me clean off the ladder.
No fun. I proceeded to remove the remaining loose portions of
ceiling leaving the stable sections in tact.
Here is what
it looked like after the initial demolition was complete...
Here is a
closer look at how the settling happened. The dotted lines show how
the wall sank but the chimney remained in place, literally splitting
open the wall and moldings. Now, I know I did the right thing
taking this all down. The ceiling can now be completely
On the other
side of the chimney you can see how the lathe actually bent upward
over time as it tried to hang on, eventually breaking free.
We Can Rebuild
Due to a
century of settling, the old ceiling was actually five (5) inches
higher in the center of the room over the fireplace than on either
end of the hall.
The solution was to build a frame on the ceiling that compensates
for the varying heights of the joists. This was accomplished by
custom fitting 23 beams, each one with special spacers that would
ensure that it remained level. Each beam was mounted with five
4" countersunk bolts that were driven into the existing joists.
The result was a perfect, level surface to mount a new ceiling.
Shortly after completing the
beams, I hung the sheetrock. I taped and spackled it, then
moved onto the Parlor. But the story does not end here...
It's time to learn from our mistakes...
Allow me to cut right to the chase here. I
screwed up! The reason is really quite simple; I have
never done any home improvement prior to purchasing this house.
In short, I'm winging it folks! Here is a case where I had to
pay the price. Let's take a look at that last picture again...
I did not run a frame around the perimeter to attach
the edges of the sheetrock to. Over the coarse of time, the
unsupported edges became slightly warped and uneven. The
warping was not really noticeable from the floor, but would have
shown up when cove moldings were applied to the uneven surface.
The bottom line is, it all has to come down and be built over again.
That blows big time, let me tell you.
So, about a year after it was put up, I
sank a few cold ones and started tearing everything back down again.
It was almost a relief once it was down.
I now knew what I had to do to get this done the right way, it was just
a matter of doing it. The good news was that the lumber was all
re-usable so the mistake had a very low material cost, just lots and
lots of labor.
Getting it right this time...
Once again it's our old friend Mr
Spinning Laser Leveler. I set the correct height and switched her
on. Using a marker, I drew a perfectly level line all the way
around the room. This is where we mounted the perimeter frame to
the walls prior to installing the beams.
Next we simple mounted the beams, level
with the frame, using shim blocks for support. Each beam was
checked and double checked for level prior to mounting into place.
The fireplace wall was also incorporated
into the frame in preparation for the new walls that will be coming
This is a picture of the finished frame.
This time it has the proper edge support for the sheetrock to be mounted
And finally, up goes the sheetrock.
Other than the tape and fill, this is one perfectly flat ceiling that
will last for many years to come. Yipee!
Remember this? In order to
replicate the look of the original plaster moldings, we referred to
the originals. When doing the demolition of the hall, we saved
a few of the larger pieces of plaster molding.
The piece on the left is a chunk of
the plaster moldings taken from the rubble after the demolition.
The piece in the middle is also an original piece that was carefully
stripped and cut to reveal the original profile. This was then
taken to a molding manufacturer where they made a molding knife in
the exact same profile and produced a copy out of ultra light
material. The piece on the right is a sample of the replicated
moldings. Cool stuff!
Here is a back to back comparison
of the original plaster moldings to the replicated copy. Once
painted, there is no difference.
A friend of mine works building
movie sets. He brought me this resin cast of an original
ceiling medallion. It is only 18" in diameter, just perfect
for this hallway. The ceiling is fairly narrow where this will
go and we don't want anything too overstated.
The Reception hall has no windows and
is only lit from within, so we felt it was important to paint the
room in light colors. The ceiling and trip will only be off by
a few shades to show details. I spent a few nights in front of
the TV with some artist's brushes and painted this in ceiling flat
paints. This will look great when installed.
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The woodwork is one of the most dramatic
features of this grand old hallway. It will require lots of
patience to restore. The woodwork was originally faux painted in
the 1890's to look like English Oak. The dark woodwork fell out of
style in subsequent years and was painted over.
A set of book cases were added flanking
either side of the fireplace. We believe this was done in the
1920's. The quality of these bookcases were poor at best.
They really take away from the flow of the hall and make it look
crowded. These are not original, so they have to go.
The wood panels were hacked up to make
the book cases fit. Lucky for us, they did not remove the panels,
rather just built over them. Certain parts will need to be
replicated where there is damage. Then the floor will have to be
matched as a new floor had been installed around the book cases.
These end panels are beyond repair.
Special lumber will have to be milled to match the thickness of these
panels. Using this lumber I will create replica panels to replace
the damage. Once the woodwork is refinished, it should blend right
This is a lot of work combined into one
picture. The damaged panel from the picture above was replicated
and installed. The longer, existing panel, was stripped down to
bare wood. Damaged pieces replicated and replaced. In order to
fill the hole in the floor where the bookcase was, the existing floor
boards needed to be removed in a staggered pattern and replaced filling
the gap. Once sanded and stained, it will look like this never
Meet my Mother-in-law. This is
Chris. She claims that she actually "likes" to strip paint off of
old woodwork. Normally, I wouldn't believe such a thing, but give
this lady a heat gun and a box of scraping tools, and you just can't get
rid of her! She is my secret weapon. No, she is not for
hire, she's mine folks, all mine!
It starts off looking like a bad day in
1977 and just gets worse. The bottom coat of paint is the
kryptonite of paints, it's Milk Paint. They should coat military
vehicles with this stuff. Nothing kills it. After the heat gun,
the old paint is so dry it basically turns to powder when sanded.
Okay, here it is! The sanded hallway.
I can't begin to express how much work it took to get it to this
stage. We could probably just leave it like this and be happy,
because it looks beautiful just being done! Now it is ready to
seal/prime and begin the faux process on all this wood. But
this is when the room starts to look nice, so while there is a lot
more work ahead, it won't be as dusty and nasty. Yippee!
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The Reception Hall
fireplace is one of the prettiest fireplaces in the house. While
being a fully functional wood burning fireplace, it has some serious
cosmetic issues that date back to when the house was built.
In the 1890's Fireplaces came in kit form and were then assembled in
the house by the builders, after the Masons completed the chimney and
firebox. It is quite a mystery to us why this fireplace was
built completely out of alignment. While the fireplace in
the Parlor which is
almost identical, was built perfectly. The lines in the picture
above illustrate how the upper half and the lower half of the
fireplace are out of alignment by 3/4 of an inch. It definitely
was not designed to look this way. The second mystery is the
rather ugly brick work on the sides of the firebox opening. My
theory is that the Mason's did not build this firebox to the proper
specifications. Rather than removing the botched masonry work,
(which would have been fairly difficult w/out power equipment) the
Builder decided to make do with the materials on site. While
it's a charming story, I would rather have the more attractive
fireplace the way it was intended. So begins another project...
this is where it gets a little ugly...
My fireplace guy
Longo and I started by removing the top Mantle shelf. This
was pretty easy. We wiggled it back and forth a few times and
off she came. John then proceeded to grind out the old grout and pull
pieces out one by one. After about an hour the lower half of the
fireplace was removed and all the pieces safely put aside.
We then went to work on the concrete
support structure that was behind the marble pieces that we had just
removed. This was where I joined in the fun with a rock hammer.
After all of the loose support structure was removed, it was time to
remove the ugly brick. I think I enjoyed this more than anything.
That brick had no right to be in this fireplace, and I have been dying
to get rid of it. Another hour goes by, and bye, bye ugly brick.
John took over from here, he spent the
next hour removing the old hearth stone. We learned from when we
restored the Parlor Fireplace that
the hearthstone is actually white marble. Unfortunately it was
neglected over the years and the marble was deeply stained. This
stone has to go. We will have an exact replica made to replace it.
From looking at the pieces, we have been
able to determine that the corners were all pre-assembled in Italy and
shipped as a pre-assembled kit. This picture shows the back side
of two of the removed marble corners. We intend to mount all of
the marble pieces to a smooth concrete surface when we rebuild.
This means all of the corners must be disassembled. John, went to
work with assorted weapons of destruction to remove the bonding
materials and actually found scrap marble pieces were used for support.
Scientifically advanced machinery needed
to be applied here to loosen the adhesive and free the marble scraps
without damaging the plates. ; )
Finally, the pieces are separated and
ready to be polished
This process had to be repeated over and
over again. A daunting task to say the least. This photo shows the
bottom pieces that have layers of old floor wax, and varnish from years
gone by. Yuck!
Preparing for the Rebuild
Unlike the original, we have chosen to
construct a solid concrete substructure to apply the marble plates to.
In fact we are planning to fill the entire mantle with concrete to
ensure it's permanent stability. John created wooden concrete
forms that are actually hand pressed together. This will ensure
that they come apart with ease leaving a perfectly smooth bonding
surface behind. Being this is a vertical surface, concrete will be
added in layers.
Here you see the mantle has been filled
to the top, and is ready for the mantle shelf to be installed. The
concrete has been built out to a smooth surface. The hearth
section has been filled with concrete. It has also been carefully
fitted with wood strips that will keep the new hearth stone are the
proper height when installed.
This picture shows the second and final
stage of the concrete face support installed. This was built this
way because the marble is set at two different depths. (see the existing
The new marble hearth stone is
installed even with the floor.
Not the greatest picture I have ever
taken, but this is after we finished reassembling the marble.
Note no more alignment issues and no more ugly brick (that didn't
match). This is how this fireplace was intended to look in
1890. Now we just have to restore the frame and Summer cover
and we are in. From the smoke marks you can see that we have
been enjoying this fireplace while working on the hall in the winter
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These are solid plaster Corbels. In
the 1890's, the plaster workers would actually attach the corbel to the
wall and plaster the wall around it, making the Corbel a literally part of the wall.
This makes restoring them quite interesting. The walls surrounding
these little beauties, are in need of re-surfacing and the corbels
themselves need to be restored.
The only way to remove them is to chip
away at the plaster around them until they become loose. This is
not a job I enjoy, it is a little nerve racking...
Wiggle it gently, back and forth like a
loose tooth, and pull!
The picture on the left shows the wall
still attached to the newly liberated corbel. The picture on the
right represents what needs to be painstakingly removed from the back of
the fragile piece of ornamental plaster.
Once the wall debris was scraped off the
back, it was time to remove the six coats of paint from the plaster.
I use Peel-Away 1. It works really well for this kind of
application. All you do is apply it like putting Icing on a cake.
Wrap it up with the supplied paper and leave it for 24 hours. It
removed all six layers of paint leaving the plaster unscathed.
Try and follow me here. When I
re-install the corbel, it will be glued in place. In order to give
extra support during install, I mounted a carriage bolt to the back
using a two part epoxy. During installation, I will drill a hole
in the wall (and supporting stud) that the bolt will slide into, helping
to hold the corbel steady while the glue dries.
Next, I mixed up some plaster and
filled the back and top to be square. This will give the corbel
more bonding surface when I install it.
After a few (very tedious) hours of
detail sanding, the corbel is now fully restored and ready to be
Now you can see where the bolt in the
back of the corbel comes into play. I drilled a hole in the
wall that lies up with the bolt. Then I applied a generous
amount of construction adhesive and pressed the corbel into place.
The bolt won't hold it on it's own but it gives support along the
wall side so it won't slip while drying.
Then I temporarily screwed hooks
into nearby studs on either side and hung a ratcheting strap.
Protecting the corbel with a towel, I ratcheted the strap tightly
pressing the corbel into it's permanent place.
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Well, as we continued to work on the hall we came to
the realization that the Master Staircase had become completely
unstable and unsafe. Steps were moving as you went up the
stairs. A little scary to say the least.
As you can see this was a problem that could not be
ignored. Thank God we have a back staircase.
So, I know better than to try to fix a staircase
myself. This requires a professional. I ended getting an
old school European staircase guy to come take a look. The
good news is that the staircase may be ugly, but it will be easy to
fix. The bad news is that the bathroom under the stairs had to
be completely ripped out to allow access to the underside of the
treads. While this news was not pleasant I knew that this ugly
little bathroom need to be gutted anyway, so what better time than
now? But we will get back to that later. This picture
was taken (obviously) after ripping out the bathroom.
My Staircase guy was amazing! He started by
scraping, cleaning, and vacuuming every crevice to be perfectly
clean. Then, step my step he pounded wooden shims into the
edges of all of the treads and risers. He then, machine
screwed galvanized screws through the backs of the risers into the
treads. He kept checking each step for creaks as he went along
and made adjustments. He finished by shooting construction
adhesive into all the seams. The result is one very solid
staircase that doesn't have a creak or squeak anywhere.
While the staircase was open from the back, I
replaced two cracked panels along the paneling under the stairs.
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The Newel Post
When I first saw this house, the Newel Post was one
of the things I fell in love with. Unfortunately some of the
ornamentation has been damaged over the years. The good news
is that there were good ornaments still intact that are exactly the
same as the damaged ones...
Very carefully, I slowly removed these carved pieces,
so I could have replacement pieces made for the damaged parts.
These are the good pieces.
The pieces were then treated with a mold release
agent and pressed into a mold making compound, similar to what a
dentist uses to make teeth impressions (or "tooth" if you live in
Once the molding compound dries, the original is
removed, leaving a perfect mold. The mold is then sprayed with
a mold release agent and is filled with a liquid composite mixture
and again allowed to dry. What later emerges, is a perfect
copy of the original piece. For the record, the pieces on the
left are the copies and the rights are the originals. please
note that these pieces have also been color treated and rubbed with
a bees wax to match the aged appearance.
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The Side Hall is an extension of the
Reception Hall. This hall
houses the main staircase, entrance to the basement, a half bath and
a large hall closet. The half bath once served as a servant's
passageway to the front parlor. This hall is damaged well
beyond any hopes of repair. This will have to be demolished
small hallway leads to the side entrance of the house. We kinda
knew this was going to be a project within itself from the start.
Some time last year, we were leaving to go out to dinner when we walked
out the side door and closed it behind us, that is when we heard a large
crash. We opened the door to see that the a section of ceiling in
the side hall had collapsed onto the floor. We just shut the door
and went out to dinner.
Upon further investigation, it became
apparent that there had been a leak coming from the bathroom above for
many years. You could see where the walls had been patched
multiple times and the water had seeped through the repairs. The
walls were destroyed. So, it was time to remove the walls to see
how extensive the damage really was.
I kept removing rotted debris, and more
rotted debris! It was much worse than I had anticipated.
There were 4x4 timbers that made up the closet wall that were reduced to
a Styrofoam consistency. I was literally able to snap them in two
by just pulling on them. The debris pile just kept growing as the
day went along.
After cleaning up, I really was able to
closely examine the damage area. It looks as though the leak must have
been there for at least ten years! Once I was done removing all of
the rotted wood and damaged plaster, the path of the water damage
actually extended from the second floor bathroom, into the basement!
Subsequently, the flooring had to be
pulled up because the sub flooring was rotted and unsafe. From
this spot, if you look down, you can see the basement, if you look up,
you can see the bathroom on the second floor. Moral of the
story...if it leaks, fix it. It won't fix itself.
Lots of work here. New subfloor,
new solid oak flooring, new frame.
New doorframe and six panel door, and
of course the obligatory insulation on the exterior wall.
And new walls for the basement stairs.
Sorry to bore you folks, but it looks beautiful to me so I'm posting a
picture. I can't always be interesting... : )
Next, I started replicating the panels
that wrap the entire hallway. I had to have special lumber milled
to the right thickness (expensive) I made up all the parts and
added the lamb's tongue detailing. I decided to assemble the
frames in place this time. Much easier to make frames that follow
this "out of square house" then trying to trim them later.
The After Pictures
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