Repointing a Stone Wall with Lime Mortar


Our wall is cleaned up and ready for pointing. The joins are quite worn away and this project is very overdue.

First and foremost, you can not use concrete / portland cement in any masonry work on a house built before 1850, and maybe even until 1900. It’s worth asking a local mason to see what sort of bricks you have in your home. If they are new bricks and fired to be very hard, cement with confidence. However, older bricks, usually those with inclusions like small stones, have been hand-fired and therefore should only be pointed with lime-based mortar.


Here is a close-up of the original mortar from 1832. The sand is course and filled with small rocks and pieces of shell. It is very likely that the materials for this wall were obtained from the nearby Delaware river.



This quartz is enormous! When you’re really up-close to your masonry, you discover all the character.

It has taken years to build up the courage to face our basement wall. Years of sweeping up dust and bits of stone as the wall sheds. Years of research on how to make quicklime into lime putty and what ratio of lime putty to mix with sand to form the appropriate mortar for a row house built in 1832. Meanwhile, steadily voicing concerns that we were one rock away from the house falling apart around us. Finally, my husband said, “Make a plan already!” and so I did. I’m currently in the middle of earning my Master’s in project management which means I can’t write as often as I’d like to. It also means that any project I undertake is a good time to practice the project management skills I’m learning. So last month, I spent an entire Sunday researching lime mortar, again, and writing out a plan which included a list of materials needed, a work breakdown structure, and a timeline with actual real dates on it.

Download our repointing project plan.


Section off the area with plastic sheeting. Misting the wall as you clean away loose mortar also keeps dust to a minimum.

The most challenging aspect of the project was the mortar itself. Quicklime is very caustic and corrosive. Turning quicklime into lime putty is time consuming, messy work; not something you would want to do in your kitchen. I was overjoyed to discover Ecologic natural hydraulic lime from Limeworks. Ecologic mortar is the perfect choice for older buildings that need lime mortar but it has the ease of modern mortar because you just add water. We used a ratio of three pints of water to 12 pints of Ecologic to obtain the perfect consistency. After trying to use several things to stir the mortar, we discovered that using our hands worked best. Mix for a good five minutes and definitely double up on the gloves since the lime is very drying. Also, use a face mask because the dust is irritating. Once it’s mixed, you don’t need the mask but keep the gloves on throughout the project. Mixing the mortar is very therapeutic and like building a sandcastle at the beach and we made small batches as we worked across the wall.

We’re lucky to live nearby one of Limeworks retailers, Killian Hardware in Chestnut Hill, Philadelphia, Pa. Killian’s is a fantastic place that carries many products for the older home. It’s hard to estimate how much mortar you’ll need for a stone wall since it’s irregular but we used four and a half bags. Ecologic is around $26 per bag and each bag covered about four-square feet worth of pointing.


Ecologic mortar from Limeworks. Years of research and all the while, this fantastic product was just waiting to be discovered.

Repointing is messy work and you’re going to want to make sure the area is sectioned off with plastic, along with the floor.

Before we got started with the mortar, we cleaned out as much old mortar and debris as we could. For an interior wall, about an inch depth is recommended. Our wall had been shedding for so long that we only had to suck the loose sand out with the shop vac and give the rocks a good scrubbing with a stiff-bristled broom-head. We had no idea but there are a few very large pieces of quartz in our wall; one the size of a cantaloupe!

In terms of pointing, we had purchased trowels but discovered that using our hands was really the best method. Again, it’s going to be rough on your hands, as the lime is very drying, but our fingers could get the mortar in the crevices most effectively. The trowels were a bit expensive and using our hands saved us $30. We also didn’t need the wood or dowels for the palettes either, knocking another $6 off, making the overall budget for the project less than $200. The best method for applying the mortar was to take small lumps and work it into the joints slowly, like creating pottery. There is something very zen about working with your hands and really considering the shapes of the rocks and how to work the mortar around them.


Here is our wall about half-way through the project. The difference was really amazing! Notice; if we had partially repointed the wall, we would have had to color-match since the old mortar is almost pink in comparison.

Overall, it took the two of us about 10 hours to repoint a 10′ by 12′ wall, including a lunch break and the two hours I worked by myself while my husband went back to Killian’s to get more mortar because we needed five bags instead of the two we originally purchased. The next day we devoted to clean up and a light spray of the wall in the morning, followed by one more spray before bedtime. It’s important to note that you do want to use the mortar during the more humid times of the year, so spring and summer. Lime mortar needs to dry slowly. Our basement is usually about 70 percent humidity which is excellent for the wall. When cured, the mortar should last a nice long time and not damage the stones and bricks like portland cement.

A final note; Ecologic comes in several color options and there are kits to further customize the color. We used the DGM 50 color because we wanted a nice contrast with the rocks and were doing the entire wall. You can send a sample of your mortar to Limeworks and they will help create a mortar that matches the color if you need to repoint in sections.


The finished wall and everything back to normal!

We didn’t realize before the project but the repointed wall, with the brighter mortar, is much more welcoming than it was before. In a basement dining room/kitchen it’s very important to keep things light and cheerful to avoid the feeling you’re in a dungeon. We can also expect fewer drafts and less dust.

There’s a Name for Everything: Our Eclectic Colonial Row House

My post about Creating an Eclectic yet Established Style turned out to be long enough for two posts. So, while that post gets the ball rolling, this post will share how we’ve applied the 40/50/10 ratio to our own row house.


A rather fancy Rococo bedroom from the period. Very fussy and there is no way that bed is fitting into my house. Source:

Our exploration of what the style Eclectic Colonial should be, was prompted by a recent post on Apartment Therapy; “Before & After: Eugenia’s Eclectic Colonial Makeover.” At first I was puzzled because the example didn’t quite convey what I think Eclectic Colonial, or any eclectic style, should be. In our post, I explain how to go about getting an eclectic style using the 40/50/10 ratio approach. If you wonder why I need to restrain myself, I have design ADHD. I like many styles but it would be emotionally disturbing to have them all fighting in my small house. Because early American / 18th Century is my favorite, both inside and out, that’s my main design focus. Therefore, regarding the Eclectic Colonial style in particular, I had a bit of an ah-ha moment because I know exactly what Eclectic Colonial should be!

What I love about the modifier eclectic, is that it says it’s OK to be less than perfect and that it’s OK to take a few liberties. For us, this is helpful because the prevailing style during the 18th Century colonial and early American period is Georgian / Federal / Adams (see our sampler post and architectural guide post) and Rococo (see, all of which are expensive to attain. 100% is quite beyond our means so being able to take an eclectic approach has been very liberating for us, and many vintage home dwellers alike.


A modern interpretation of 18th Century bedroom. Less fussy and a much better starting point. Source:

When we were looking for our row house, seeing as Philadelphia has plenty of 18th and early 19th Century architecture to choose from, there was no doubt that we would end up in a Federal row house. To provide a little background, the Federal style was a departure from the Georgian style du jour of the 18th Century. As the colonies moved closer and closer to independence, early Americans wanted to separate themselves from the Crown and Country. The simplified Federal style reflected this in it’s reduction of the opulent styling of the period. Practically speaking, unless you have an enormous budget, if you are looking for an 18th Century home in America, you’re getting a Federal house.

Regarding our interpretation of Eclectic Colonial style, having an authentic period home that has only been gently renovated, makes it quite a bit easier to embrace the style as the dimensions of the rooms are already perfectly suited. However, I find that the Rococo style is really too fussy for every day life in a small row house and even reproduction furniture and fabrics (my favorite!) are expensive. I had done extensive research regarding what an ideal 18th Century home should look like, but additional research was required to find something we could live with day-in and day-out. This is the difference from dreaming about your almost 18th Century home to actually living in it. Thankfully Colonial Williamsburg, Virginia does have examples of modest period homes to explore and a few rooms at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York are more modestly furnished; both excellent starting points.

In the previous post, I suggest utilizing mood boards to help assemble a collection of ideas that follow the ratio of 40% following the rules, 50% representing the rules, and 10% random. I have boards for each room of the house as well as textiles and color palette. Following, is the ratio at work and our Eclectic Colonial work in progress.

I'm starting with the details because nothing says eclectic like a collection of stuff.

I’m starting with the details because nothing says eclectic like a collection of stuff. Our built-in shelves began their life as a closet to the right of the fireplace. Every item has a story but note the white ceramic pineapple. The pineapple is a symbol of welcome at Colonial Williamsburg and during the 18th Century, a popular type of dishes produced by Wedgewood, called Queensware, was white and very decorative.

This is the entire front left corner of the living room.

This is the entire front left corner of the living room. We are lucky to have three working fireplaces in our house. Finding the 40% of authenticity in our house is almost accomplished just because it’s a period home. However, we’ve had a little fun and here is where some of our eclectic approach is apparent. Taxidermy above the fireplace was not uncommon in the 18th Century, however we have a jackalope. We’ve put him into a frame, which is almost Rococo in style but it’s a modern interpretation. The fireplace is off-set which means we can’t really utilize a mantel without distroying half of it. So, we use a floating shelf, which is very modern, but the floral design on the shelf ties it to the frame and pulls the entire area together. The overall idea is a nod to history but it’s definitely an eclectic interpretation. To bring the area back into the proper style, we have a nice Windsor chair which would have been very much at home in just about any early American home.

18th Century Girandole Mirror

No 18th Century house of average means would be complete without a Girandole Mirror. We like to refer to ours as the portal since it’s rather large considering the space. So far we haven’t been transported to the 18th Century, much to my disappointment. What it does do, is distract the eye from the television, a necessary evil. Unfortunately, the size of the t.v. makes it very difficult to hide inside a chest and what options we do have, are really expensive and take up too much floor space.

This secretary in our office was a fantastic find.

This secretary in our office was a fantastic second-hand find. IKEA used to have a collection of furniture called Lesvik which was based on simple Swedish country design from the 18th Century. We actually have a few pieces from this collection because they’re perfect in scale and style for our house. And unlike antiques or reproductions, we don’t have to be overly careful with it. IKEA seems to be phasing out the line which is sort of depressing because the spiral stairs in our house makes getting furniture into the upper floors very difficult and flat pack is very convenient. As home decor is a work in progress, please ignore the baskets.

Children's bedrooms are always very, very difficult to work with.

Children’s bedrooms are always very, very difficult to work with. Fine furniture doesn’t stand a chance and we couldn’t get it up the stairs anyway. Once again, the architecture of the room and the original mantel and fireplace do the work of tying the room to it’s Colonial roots. This room maintains it’s original flooring as well. As our daughter gets older, we hope to pull in more history and a little less chaos.

In a small Federal row house, it is very likely that you will have at least one Dormer bedroom.

In a small Federal row house, it is very likely that you will have at least one dormer attic bedroom. Once again, architecture helps us maintain a strong tie to the Colonial style. The bed is from the Lesvik line at IKEA which resembles 18th Century Swedish style, similar to the secretary in the office area. On the wall, is a charming oil painting of a tall mast ship, also appropriate.

From there we’ve diviated a bit, mostly because any furniture that needs to go up the stairs needs to be dismantled. We were able to hoist the mattress over the balcony but mattresses are squishy. I’m very reluctant to try something make of wood so modern Swedish it is. I did see a fantastic tutorial on how to turn otherwise plain dressers like ours into something that resembles an old steamer chest. Perhaps a DIY project for my upcoming vacation week.

Often, when a vintage house is renovated, many details are removed.

Often, when a vintage house is renovated, many details are removed. In the case of our house, we actually gained a more historic feature than our house could have had originally because of it’s very small size (10 by 10 footprint). At first, the kitchen was located where our dining room now occupies and through to the 1990s, you could still cook in the fireplace. During the mid-20th Century, an extension was added to the back of the house and the kitchen was moved over, creating what is very much like a traitional 18th Century keeping room ( The low ceiling and exposed beams are exactly what the house would have looked like when it was built in 1832. Again, we relied on IKEA’s Lesvik to provide a china cabinet that looks similar to pieces from the period. Windsor chairs would have been appropriate for a dining area but since the room is small, eventually I would like to get ladder-back chairs which take up less square footage but are very appropriate. The table is a thoughtful deviation that we chose because you can bump into it and not spill anything and it extends to seat eight(!), which we have done.

Oh, and our skeleton is a Halloween decoration we don’t have room to store off-season so he sits at our table. Hector sports a tri-corner hat and a frock coat, both stylish in the early 18th Century. At least someone gets to wear historic clothing all the time.

Finally, housewares are the easiest to begin with when looking to create a cohesive style. There are many resources and suppliers of reproduction 18th Century textiles, glazeware, pewter, and more but it isn’t cheap and unlike furniture, spills and breaks happen. Because of this, I’ve been taking liberties with the textiles I use around the house. Sometimes really departing from the style quite a bit, which is perfectly OK when you’re being eclectic with your interpretation.

So there you have it. What I would consider Eclectic Colonial / 18th Century to actually be, and it really isn’t hard to adapt our approach for any style. Just takes some reflection and determination.

Row House Sampler – Federal Row Houses

I’m constantly taking photos of row houses, many of which do not make it into proper articles. Below are row houses in the Federal/Georgian style. Many are period homes from before 1825. For more information about the Federal/Georgian architectural style, read our Guide to Federal Row House Architecture and Georgian Architecture posts.

Federal Row House

Federal Row House

Federal Row House

Federal Row House

Federal Row House


Christmas Holiday Row House Decoration

The Festive Row House – Holiday 2014 Edition

Decorating for the winter holidays seems to transcend all religions and cultures. Since the color of nature has pretty much abandoned the city at this point, it only seems fitting that the row houses take over, at least for a short while, before the gray of winter sets in. We absolutely love how some owners have decorated their row houses and storefronts for the holidays.

Christmas Holiday Row House Decoration


Here, the idea is to hang your wreaths by closing the window on a ribbon. Voila! No nails needed. Your row house will thank you.

Christmas Holiday Row House Decoration

A beautiful holiday storefront.Christmas Holiday Row House Decoration

When you have such lovely architecture, you don’t need to overdo the decor.
Christmas Holiday Row House Decoration

If you have a natural material on your row house, like this stained wood facade, using natural materials to decorate is very complementary.Christmas Holiday Row House Decoration

The six, or nine, or twelve pane windows make a lovely frame for your holiday art.Christmas Holiday Row House Decoration

This is very cute; a miniature Federal facade in a Federal row house window.A very happy holiday row house window!

Philadelphia row house during the holidays.

Row House Halloween

Halloween Is for Row Houses Too!

We love how our historic neighborhood looks during the fall, especially how people decorate for Halloween. We typically spend the evening walking about. Below were some of our favorite haunts of the evening.

Halloween Row House

These skeletons climbing up the front of a row house.

This row house had a costume. I wish I had a better camera for these night shots but this homeowner turned their row house into a ship, complete with sail and cannons. These Federal row houses are fantastic with minimal decoration but this was really creative. Inside, the party-goers were in nautical costumes as well. This particular home pre-dates the Revolution so of course, British colors.

Row House Halloween

Row House Halloween

Row House Halloween

Row House Halloween

And the less spooky.

Row House Halloween

Row House Halloween

Row House Halloween

Row House Halloween

Hidden Row Homes – Bell’s Court, Society Hill, Philadelphia

It is not always easy to find out how old your row house is, especially if it was built before 1900, and even more so if it was a dwelling for the working-class. However, it helps to have someone put the date the row was built right on the side of the house.

These row houses in Bell's Court, Society Hill, were built in 1815.

I intended this to be an article about cute little row houses, situated in lovely gardens, in the middle of blocks, providing an urban oasis for those who don’t mind living with a little less space but I have discovered that the little homes of Bell’s Court tell a captivating story.

Alan Heavens, Inquirer Real Estate Writer, wrote about Bell’s Court last year ( Heavens writes that originally, the land the row homes sit on, was part of the garden of a very wealthy local Philadelphian named William Bingham, who, among other things, represented Pennsylvania as a delegate to the Continental Congress from 1786 to 1788. However, Bingham didn’t build the homes. That was wallpaper designer/manufacturer Thomas Hurley, who built not only the four present row homes but also an additional row of four row houses so that the two rows faced each other. Thanks to the little masonry note, we know the homes were completed in 1815.

Philly History is a wonderful archival website and I discovered the following photo that shows the remaining row in 1961. Surprisingly, there are cars parked in front and behind! You’ll see in photos below that it’s completely different today thanks to an urban revitilization of Society Hill, beginning in the 1960s, that saved many historic homes from demolision, including these, and restored the greenspaces.

Row houses in Bell's Court, Society Hill, Philadelphia, PA.

The row homes of Bell’s Court are indicative of the typical “Trinity” style houses that were built throughout Philadelphia during the population boom of the 19th Century. Many of this type of home were expanded in later renovations but, as indicated in the historic photo, it appears that the row was surrounded by streets. Therefore, with no room to expand, we are left with the original footprint and an intact glimpse into 19th Century working class domestic life. Inside, the homes feature two bedrooms, one bathroom, and likely have at least one working fireplace. Other distictions include the ever challenging, or intimidating, spiral “pie slice” stairs and classic Federal six-over-nine/eight-over-twelve windows. There is one room on each floor, with the kitchen located in the basement. Altogether, the homes are just slightly over 650 square feet, which is on the generous size for houses like these which range (originally) from 400 to 550 square feet. A unique feature is the loft over the top floor, seen in the historic photo above. Normally, you don’t get the extra space and it’s a nice feature on a very small house.

Today, Bell’s Court is assessable via pedestrial walk-way and the streets and cars have been replaced with a beautiful garden. It’s one of those charming secret rows that we absolutely love discovering in Philadelphia.

Row houses in Bell's Court, Society Hill, Philadelphia, PA.

Row houses in Bell's Court, Society Hill, Philadelphia, PA.

To read more about how the current residents live in their homes, see Heaven’s article –


Wooden-Sided Row Houses in Philadelphia

I was out and about today and came across these two row houses. Wood siding is fairly unusual but it’s not impossible to find the rare, well-preserved example. With the bright hibiscus in front, they are both very charming.

Also, an amusing bit of faux as the dentil cornice on the white home is painted. These are Federal row homes that likely date between 1790 to 1830.

Federal Row House in Philadphia

Federal Row House in Philadphia

Federal Row House in Philadphia

Federal Row House in Philadphia

Federal Row House in Philadphia

Federal Row House in Philadphia

Peirce College: When Something Other Than a Family Lives in a Row House

In a city such as Philadelphia, where row house development is so prevalent and inter-connected with the overall history of urban development, it’s not unusual to see row houses evolve beyond domestic uses. Typically these include boutiques, salons, gift shops, and restaurants, to name a few. However, larger institutions in town also make use of the humble row house, such as this row located on the Peirce College campus.

Peirce College, Philadelphia, Pa.

Peirce College, Philadelphia, Pa.

Peirce College was founded in 1865 to educate those who wished to take advantage of growing business opportunities after the Civil War. Originally, the college was located on Chestnut street but in 1915 it moved to the present location on Pine Street, which is where these row houses are located. It’s wonderful that these are in very good shape with their original exterior design maintained, even including the use of shutters.

Peirce is not the only institution of higher learning that has row houses in use on campus. New York University makes use of Washington Mews for department offices as well.

The Joseph Sims House, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania

The Joseph Sims House, Philadelphia, Pa.

The Joseph Sims House, Philadelphia, Pa.

Semi-Attached Home, circa. 1830s

Inside: four bedrooms, four full baths, one half bath, brick exterior, gas heat, central a/c, three fireplaces, elevator, eight car parking, finished basement w/ laundry, roof deck

This was formerly a “it can be yours” article on the website.

The Joseph Sims House is one of the original row homes built in Philadelphia. It was designed by Robert Mills (1781 – 1855), a prominent row house architect in the 19th Century.

Mills is known to have designed the Franklin Row, that this home used to be a part of, and the Carolina Row. It’s possible that he designed quite a few other rows in Philadelphia as well. Aside from Philadelphia, Mills designed many rows in early American, mid-Atlantic cities including the Waterloo Row in Baltimore and much of the housing in the Washington DC area. His most famous work is the Washington Monument.

Mills was a highly effective urban dwelling architect who, besides designing space efficient row houses, also promoted the use of fireproof materials when building row houses. This helped transition row houses from fiery death traps into the epitome of city living. Stylistically, he helped establish the Federal architectural style as the style of choice for almost all urban architecture during the early American period (see our article on Federal row house architecture). The Joseph Sims house represents one of the last survivors of his work in Philadelphia. Originally located at 228 South Ninth street, it was later moved to its current location.

Our observations include the very interesting facade with it’s very large singular windows. The inside is almost completely modernized with large open spaces.

Photos courtesy of the property’s listing agent at the time.

The Joseph Sims House, Philadelphia, Pa.

The Joseph Sims House, Philadelphia, Pa.

The Joseph Sims House, Philadelphia, Pa.

The Joseph Sims House, Philadelphia, Pa.

The Joseph Sims House, Philadelphia, Pa.

The Joseph Sims House, Philadelphia, Pa.

An Unusual Row House Row

Continuing our recent exploration of the Northern Liberties neighborhood in Philadelphia, we discovered a very unusual row.

Row houses in Northern Liberties.

Typically, row houses face the sidewalk at the same depth and present a uniform facade, more or less. This row, however, is staggered and slanted. It’s an interesting arrangement that most likely reflects angled plots, otherwise it doesn’t make sense to arrange the homes in a rather inefficient way, leaving random space at either end. Straighten them out, and you could fit another house in there.

These homes are likely from the first half of the 19th Century, when Philadelphia enjoyed a huge real estate boom and developers built houses where they could. Sometimes land was divided in odd ways to accommodate the growth.

In any case, for the dwellers, it’s nice to have a little front area that would otherwise be lost if the homes were straight. And, with this arrangement, it’s like the houses are turning to greet whomever travels down the street. Very unique and very welcoming!