Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Searching for a staircase

So, our plans call for removing the 1910's staircase to the 2nd floor and putting in the original staircase. Normally one enters the foyer with the steps either on the right or left that go up to the 2nd floor. This is what we want to do. Our house was built before indoor plumbing so the present bathroom did not exist at that time. There's not enough room at the 2nd floor landing for the staircase. The steps will not fit if it's to meet code. To make it work we're going to put them in reverse order. When you walk into the foyer a coat closet will be in front of you. The stairs to the 2nd floor will start near the bathroom. In this rendition we don't have to reverse the stairs to the 3rd floor.

In the below picture the 2 bathrooms are on the left - one on each floor and both will be gutted. The entrance to the foyer is on the 1st floor to the far right.

I never found anything in the house on what the original staircase looked like. Now I had to do my research. Asher Benjamin is a famous architect from the early 1800's. His pattern books provide drawings and practical advice for full house plans, including such details as circular staircases, doorways, fireplace mantels, balusters, etc. Many drawings were full scale. People used these books to build houses. Our library had copies of most of his books. I copied many useful pages. I also found a book at the library on Federal Homes with drawings for woodwork, windows, etc. Not too much on stairs but helpful for other things. The moulding most similar to ours is in a house 3 miles away - the Gore estate. I went over to look at their stair baluster - very plain. I also have the "The Elements of Style" - excellent resource for period homes.

Next I searched the Library of Congress Historic American Buildings Survey (HABS) This is a treasure trove of information. "Administered since 1933 through cooperative agreements with the National Park Service, the Library of Congress, and the private sector, ongoing programs of the National Park Service have recorded America's built environment in multiformat surveys comprising more than 556,900 measured drawings, large-format photographs, and written histories for more than 38,600 historic structures and sites dating from Pre-Columbian times to the twentieth century." I thought I read many years ago that this program was started by FDR to get people back to work in the Great Depression.

In this database I can type in a date and "baluster" and get lots of pictures for stairs for that date. I can also search by state, county and then city. I looked at old houses in Newton, Cambridge, Boston and the North Shore. I found many examples. From all of this I'm searching stair books to find something similar. Yes, I could go custom but it will be very, very expensive. Instead, I would like to find something that would appear to most people that it would fit for the period. I think I'm getting close to a decision.

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