Repointing a Stone Wall with Lime Mortar

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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.

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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.

 

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

It Can Be Yours! 130 Queen Street, Philadelphia, PA

The neighborhood of Queen Village in Philadelphia, PA, is fast becoming the most-desirable place to live in Philadelphia. Recently, Philadelphia Magazine praised the positive growth and development of the greater Center City area and for local residents, myself included, the neighborhood just gets better every year. Learn more about Queen Village.

Most residential properties in Queen Village are brick row houses from the 19th Century. 130 Queen Street is a very typical representation of this style and dates to the earlier part of the Century. Houses like 130 Queen were typically a single room in length, note the half roof, with one room per floor. It is likely that once the plumbing was added, an expansion was built to accommodate the interior bathrooms and kitchen. Although 130 Queen is a row house, it’s a corner property and has windows on three sides, which lets in lots of natural light.

Once inside, the renovated home retains several charming historic features. Each floor has a working fireplace with original hand-carved mantle and two of these have charming built-in cabinets.

On the stairs, overlooking the living room.

A closer look at the hand-carved mantle.

One of the charming built-ins along the fireplaces.

Through the living room is a first floor kitchen that has been tastefully updated in a style sensitive to the age of the house.  The placement of the appliances, all normal-sized, offers ample work space and, thanks to the high ceilings on the first floor, there is plenty of cabinet storage as well.

A well-designed kitchen, in which two people can work comfortably.

Beyond is a patio, realtor Carolyn Perlow at Space & Company describes as “private, with plenty of room for a barbecue, furniture, and a city garden – a lovely place to entertain or just sit and enjoy a cup of coffee.”

There is a bedroom and bathroom on each upper floor, with a few wonderful surprises. Both bathrooms feature marble tile but the second floor bathroom has French doors, opening to a Juliette balcony.

The second floor bedroom is a good size and can accommodate a twin bed without preventing the occupant from accessing the closet. It’s important to note that older homes were not designed to have closets and sometimes adding them in later creates some floor space challenges. So, it’s always nice to report a historic home that has the modern conveniences we’ve come to appreciate. Speaking of modern conveniences, back in the kitchen there is a dishwasher.

I imagine that originally, 130 Queen was a three-and-a-half story row home with a dormer. It will be a nice mystery for the new owner to solve because today the third floor bedroom ceiling extends to the roof. Overlooking the bedroom is a balcony, accessible via spiral staircase, that has French doors opening to the roof.

The master bedroom balcony and ceiling fan.

The ceiling fan, normally not possible in the short ceilings of historic homes, simply sends any hot air right out – fantastic – reducing the need for the central a/c to be running all the time! A roof deck is feasible and would be a nice addition.

A summary of the details includes:

  • 1,300+ square feet
  • Located within the Meredith School encatchment (locals know why this is awesome and this is a great house for a family of three, or cozy for four)
  • Close to snazzy South Street/Head House shopping and restaurants
  • Historic brick row house around 200 years old
  • Gas heat, water heater, and range
  • Lovely, new wood floors throughout that are a period appropriate width
  • Washer/dryer in the third floor bathroom
  • Wired for a security system

For more information, please contact Carolyn Perlow at Space & Company, 215.625.3650. I first met Carolyn, who provided background information and the photos for 130 Queen, at one of the Queen Village Annual Open House tours.

Row House Sampler – Greek Revival 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 Greek Revival style. Homes like this were built during much of the early through mid-19th Century in just about every major city in the Eastern U.S.. This style was also very popular in London. For more information about the Greek Revival architectural style, read our Guide to Greek Revival Row House Architecture post.

When looking at historic row homes, many times you see a crossover of styles with elements from more than one style. These have Federal elements and the third photo has Second Empire elements.

Greek Revival Row House

Greek Revival Row House

Greek Revival Row House

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

 

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 (http://articles.philly.com/2013-07-29/business/40850220_1_bell-society-hill-trinities). 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 – http://articles.philly.com/2013-07-29/business/40850220_1_bell-society-hill-trinities.

 

Historic Row Houses in Narai-juku, Japan

Kon’nichiwa

I recently noticed that several of our readers are from Japan. I hadn’t really thought too much about Asian row houses and decided to do some research, during which I discovered these lovely historic row houses in Narai-juku Japan, dating from the Edo period (1603-1868).

The great thing about this row is that it’s a “Nationally-designated Architectural Preservation Site” and has been preserved in its original condition.  It’s a rather popular tourist destination and has a lovely website although I have no idea what is says. If you speak Japanese and/or know about these beautifully preserved row houses, please comment!

Source: http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Nakasendo_Narai-juku03n4272.jpg

Source: http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki /File:Nakasendo_Narai-juku03n4272.jpg

 

 

 

 

 

 

RowHouse Magazine Resources: Research

Colonial row houses in Philadelphia.

Colonial row houses in Philadelphia.

You don’t have to face renovation alone. These are a small sample of the associations you can reach out to for assistance with your renovation. If you have an association near you, please let us know and we’ll add them to the list.

 

Row House Architectural Guide: Dutch Colonial Revival

Back to the architectural guide.

Type of Row House Architecture: Dutch Colonial Revival

Years Popular: 1880-1940

Typical Characteristics:

  • Pointed, stepped facade
  • Gabled roof
  • Brick or stone masonry construction, often mixed
  • Windows with small panes, some being grouped together
  • Predominantly located in New England and Mid-Atlantic cities like New York, Boston, and Philadelphia

Examples of Dutch Colonial Revival Row Houses:

For context, here is one of the oldest row houses in Amsterdam. This style of row house is more than 500 years old. When the New World, specifically New York, was settled by Dutch colonists, they naturally built homes in the style that was popular in their home country. There is belief that Manhattan was full of Dutch-styled row houses before much of the architecture was destroyed by several fires in the 18th and 19th Centuries.

Benijnhof 34 - A rare wooden row house in Amsterdam.

Benijnhof 34 – A rare wooden row house in Amsterdam.

When it comes to Dutch Revival architecture in row houses, the newer homes look very much like their centuries-old counter-parts in cities like Amsterdam. Here is a rather fancy Dutch Revival row house in Philadelphia. Notice the stepped front gable and groups of windows on the second floor.

Dutch Revival row house in Philadelphia.

Dutch Revival row house in Philadelphia.

Below, is another Dutch Revival row house in Philadelphia, with a closer focus on the first floor windows; typical of the Dutch style. The door of this, and its neighbor, house is also Dutch in style and have a top and bottom that open independently.

Front of a Dutch Revival row house in Philadelphia.

Front of a Dutch Revival row house in Philadelphia.

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Here is a full shot of the front of two Dutch Revival row houses. Notice the stepped roof line.

Here is a full shot of the front of two Dutch Revival row houses. Notice the stepped roof line, double doors, and small window panes. The bowed window on the second floor in an interesting departure from the typically flat elevations.

This style of home is a little more prevalent in detached home architecture but I will be on the look-out for more examples.

Victorian Row Houses in Richmond, Virginia

A few weeks ago, I posted a photo of a rather interesting row of homes that were angled instead of facing the street head-on. This isn’t the typical type of row people think of but if you’ve got angled streets, this is exactly what sort of row houses you’ll see since it allows for rectangular homes within the plots.

Fan District, Richmond Virginia

The stepped appearance of the row somewhat resembles the edges of a fan so when I was introduced to the Fan District in Richmond, Virginia by our Facebook follower Jeremie B., I thought it was very fitting that the neighborhood moniker fit the appearance of the elevations of the row houses. He provided the photos for this post (thank you!) to show some of these beautiful homes.

The Fan District, or simply “The Fan,” is situated in the West End section of Richmond. The border to the north is Broad Street and to the south, VA 195. Notable areas of interest within the neighborhood include Monument Avenue and VCU’s Monroe Park Campus. The area is predominantly residential and is a protected national historic district.

The Fan is known for its Victorian homes, and is considered to be the most intact Victorian row house neighborhood in the United States. However, The Fan has homes that represent a much wider variety of styles from the late 19th to early 20th Centuries, including:

  • Italianate
  • Romanesque
  • Queen Anne
  • Colonial Revival
  • Tudor Revival
  • Second Empire
  • Beaux-Arts
  • Art Deco
  • Spanish
  • Gothic Revival
  • Bungalow
  • American Arts and Crafts Movement
  • James River Georgian
  • Southern Colonial
  • Jacobethan (Jacobean Revival)

With so many options, there is something for everyone! As the photos show, The Fan offers one beautiful row house after another. If you happen to have a row house in any of those styles, you can get some great ideas for color and style from these shown here.

I was immediately enchanted by the prevalence of porches and front yards which create a garden oasis feel; very elegant and beautiful. However, the homes are also very true to their row house roots; mostly brick, and mostly uniform and consistent.

Historic row houses in The Fan can be somewhat pricey; $500K and upwards on average, for an entire house. Generally, the homes are very well maintained, historically certified, offer mature gardens, and have more than 2,000 square feet of living space. Here is an example of a current home for sale that is similar to those in our photos. There are a few smaller homes that are naturally less expensive and, if you don’t mind sharing your row house, some of the larger homes have been divided into apartments.

The local schools include Fox Elementary School, Binford Jr. High School, and Thomas Jefferson High School. To learn more about The Fan, please visit The Fan District Association website.

The Fan District, Richmond, Virginia

The Fan District, Richmond, Virginia

The Fan District, Richmond, Virginia

The Fan District, Richmond, Virginia

The Fan District, Richmond, Virginia

The Fan District, Richmond, Virginia

The Fan District, Richmond, Virginia

Perfectly Combining Sophistication and Historic Sensibility in Jersey City

I am pleased to introduce Richard Haymes and Michael DeJong. They own a beautiful Georgian / Greek Revival row home in Jersey City, New Jersey that they have lovingly restored. Their home is a wonderful juxtaposition of comfort and elegance with a great respect for the history of their home.

Where is your neighborhood?

Richard: Downtown Jersey City, New Jersey.

Richard: Jersey City is a city in transition — particularly since 9/11, 2001, when a lot of New Yorkers moved across the Hudson River. It’s an amazingly diverse community; there actually feels like there’s a sense of community here, and we’re only 25 minutes by the PATH train away from mid-town New York. We live in the Harsimus Cove section of Downtown, and there are about 3-4 connected sections within the city that comprise the Historic Preservation District, safeguarded by the JC Historic Preservation Council.

Is your house historic?

Richard: Yes, our house was built in 1833 — at least that is the earliest deed to the property that we’ve been able to investigate by examining public records, but regardless, the house definitely falls between the War of 1812 and the Civil War. I am not certain of the style but I think Georgian is the closest.

Exterior of Georgian / Greek Revival row house in Jersey City. Photos: Richard Haymes and Michael DeJong.

Exterior of Georgian / Greek Revival row house in Jersey City. Photos: Richard Haymes and Michael DeJong.

Any famous structures or neighbors nearby?

Richard: At the time our row of four houses was built, the only other structures nearby were the Baptist Church on the far end of other corner, and Grace van Voorst Episcopalian Church around the corner from us. Both churches were two important stops along the Underground Railroad. Jersey City, in fact was a big hub of the Underground Railroad because many slaves were brought to freedom there and then safely transported to other abolitionist safe spaces. In our house, we’ve always thought it strange that the basement door had only one lock and it was on the inside of the door, rather than the obvious outside of the door. We’d like to think that our house, too, was perhaps a part of the Underground Railroad. Hiding folks in the basement, with only access out provided when the coast-was-clear, seems like a pretty ingenious method to hide people in safety.

How long have you been living in your row house?

Richard: We moved in on July 4, 2002.

Front hall of Georgian / Greek Revival row house in Jersey City. Photos: Richard Haymes and Michael DeJong.

Front hall of Georgian / Greek Revival row house in Jersey City. Photos: Richard Haymes and Michael DeJong.

What made you decide to embrace the row house life?

Richard: We always knew that we would find the house that was meant for us if it “sang to us.” The moment we crossed over the threshold on to the original red and white Minton tiles, we elbowed each other and nodded that “this is what we’d like to be shown by the realtor!” We had been looking for several months with another realtor who was showing us everything but what we had asked to see. And on some days we would drive from one freak show to another. Finally, we went into a building that, probably at one time, was a beautiful, elegant mansion but now just stepping on the staircase made it pull it a foot away from the wall. We turned and ran… literally!

Richard: We made an appointment with a new local realtor recommended to us by friends. We got to the appointment about 30 minutes early so we figured we’d walk around the neighborhood to get a feel for the area. Michael, unable to pass by a stoop sale, points to a tree, with a sign reading “Parlor Sale” and wanted to go in. I was nervous about being late for our appointment but he convinced me that we’d be in and out of the parlor sale quickly. We followed the arrows up to the parlor floor, noticing that the entire first floor was covered with moving boxes and stacks of furniture. We then asked the guy running the sale why he was moving — because it seemed like such a beautiful house. He told us it had something to do with the owner selling it. We asked, “This house is for sale?” “Yes,” he replied and went on to tell us who the realtor was — the exact person we were supposed to meet in 30 minutes. We ran to the office, asked for the realtor, and told him he was about to make the easiest sale of his career. To his credit, he did his due diligence and showed us one or two more homes before giving us an “official” walk-through of what we just knew would be our new home. We made a counter offer to the current owner and he accepted it, pending inspection. So, as far as we are concerned, row house living decided to embrace us!

Dining room of Georgian / Greek Revival row house in Jersey City. Photos: Richard Haymes and Michael DeJong.

Dining room of Georgian / Greek Revival row house in Jersey City. Photos: Richard Haymes and Michael DeJong.

You mentioned in your original post on HGTV’s “Rate My Space,” that your home is one in a row of four that were built for one family. Your house was the last to remain in the original family’s possession. That’s an amazing history. Is there more to the story?

Richard: The only things remaining to the story are that we loved the house from the minute we saw it, realized that it had “grown” biomorphically — layer upon layer of improvements — e.g. handmade parquet floors in some rooms laid directly on the original pumpkin pine, a huge copper bay window in front of the house extending out from the dining room (it’s really a large piece of folk art made by the last owner’s father). There was an 80 year old rose bush in the back yard which was ripped out by the tenants living here before we bought the place, so we’ve planted new Don Juan climbers in that spot (the only climbing rose with a scent), the basement has the original hand hewn beams, (Michael: The structural beams are logs!). All of the doorknobs are placed lower than they would be on today’s doors since people were much shorter when the house was built.

Georgian / Greek Revival row house in Jersey City. Photos: Richard Haymes and Michael DeJong.

Georgian / Greek Revival row house in Jersey City. Photos: Richard Haymes and Michael DeJong.

You’ve done a beautiful job renovating and capturing the original style of the interior. Did you find a lot of original details? What sort of research did you do to keep with the period style of your early 19th Century home?

Richard: We have not touched anything in the house structurally, and the house needed very little renovation, per se — Pearl, the last family owner and her sister, hermetically sealed all of the old details beneath 70s paneling and drop ceiling acoustic tiles and shag carpeting. When the man who bought it from the estate removed all of the “mid-Century” improvements, all of the original wainscoting, mirrors, lincrusta and agalypta walls coverings, and beautiful flooring had been preserved. What we’ve tried to do is follow the shapes that already exist in the house (e.g. curved walls, patterns on the lincrusta) and chosen furnishings that reflect those shapes. One thing we did try to avoid, however, was anything Victorian and tried to keep things more Edwardian and masculine in feel.

When you chose your furniture and decor elements, did you adhere to an overall plan or did the style develop organically over time?

Michael: When Richard and I sat down to discuss and choose the colors for the entire house, we did so in about 45 minutes. Once chosen, we drove to the paint/hardware supplier in our neighborhood and offered him a list of the paints we needed… 53 gallons in all. (His eye’s completely bugged out of his head!) Although the color pallet appears simple, many rooms have up to four or five historical colors and different finishes too. Since it is an old house, we decided it should look and feel like one. By avoiding white (except for the trim work in the bathroom) it offered a warm and nest like quality. And since the house didn’t have electricity until the early 1900s (stumps of gas lines are still visible in every room) we both agreed that smoky colors would have been the best way to re-tell that part of it’s past. Although the painting took several years… plastering, patching and sanding, sanding, sanding… our originally chosen palette was carefully followed. Brown-tones, rich tans, satin black, musty olive greens, and a coral red were colors that were used again and again. The century old delicate wall treatments were minimally repaired and repainted and then treated with painterly glazes to accentuate their detail. Since our living room is just that, a living room, the color green for me best symbolizes it. The green sharkskin silk draperies were made of the same color to add luxury but to minimize them at the same time. The dining room is also monochromatic in shades of brown with drapes made of yards of silk to match.

Georgian / Greek Revival row house in Jersey City. Photos: Richard Haymes and Michael DeJong.

Georgian / Greek Revival row house in Jersey City. Photos: Richard Haymes and Michael DeJong.

Michael: The furniture was chosen for it’s simplicity, comfort, practicality and scale and although it all looks kinda’ old, it’s a mix of this that and the other… antiques, floor-room samples, Salvation Army, stoop sale rescues and garbage night discoveries. (I can cure leprosy with a coat of paint and Richard could rewire the Chrysler Building!) Since everything in the house is skinny and tall, everything we’ve added to the house is vertical. We’ve focused on vertical elements – stripes point up (notice the pin-striping on the couches) high back chairs, columns, draperies… tall, tall, tall. (If you can’t beat them, join them.)

Michael: And then to make the house look and feel like the Addams Family might have once lived here, something large and black was integrated into every room. That paired with the new and spooky additions – the secret wall that swings open to reveal the basement, the bookcase that unmasks a guest room and a cabinet that mysteriously lowers to reveal yet another place for guests to spend the night – make for a surprise in every corner.

Georgian / Greek Revival row house in Jersey City. Photos: Richard Haymes and Michael DeJong.

Georgian / Greek Revival row house in Jersey City. Photos: Richard Haymes and Michael DeJong.

Did you adhere to the original dimensions of the rooms? Or have you opened the space up?

Michael: Except for some minor alterations, we’ve kept the rooms and the footprint of the house exactly the way we found it.

There are always challenges with owning an historic row home. What issues have you faced and what are some solutions you’ve used?

Richard: We live in a designated historic district and so sometimes the bureaucracy slows things down, but it’s all worth it. All of the houses in our row had been painted over the front brick sometime in the 50s-60s and looked horrible — red paint with a black stenciled “pointing” that never matched the actual brick and pointing beneath. We had our house stripped first, and had to make our case with the Historic Commission as to why we didn’t want the new pointing to be toothpaste white as they were insisting. Our feeling was that we wanted our house to look like a house that was built in 1833, not 2002, and to look like an old home and therefore wanted the pointing to look like it had been exposed to the elements for all those years. We’re happy that we won that decision. Two of the other three houses in our row did the same. The fourth house in our row, on the corner, has a store beneath the living quarters, and they haven’t yet stripped their brick. Their house is painted to match the house across the street from it.

Richard: Another challenge we had when we purchased the house was that the former tenants had decided to put a garden in the front and a water-feature in the backyard — each of which covered the airspace/windows that had allowed the house to breath for 170 years (these windows were probably originally used as coal shoots). So we had a lot of problems with dampness in the basement until we got rid of the piles of dirt covering the windows. Then, when indoor plumbing was installed in the late 1800s/early 1900s, all 4 houses were put on one sewer line connected from the back, leading to the avenue 3 houses away from ours. Over time, with the use of modern conveniences, more bathing, etc., the original sewer lines just rotted and we had a raw sewage emergency three Christmases ago. The municipal utilities crews were out immediately and we each got a separate sewer line from our homes directly out to the street in front. Had we not been four houses joined together on one line, the work would have cost each of us upwards of $20,000, but because of the original sewer set up, the city worked for free.

Georgian / Greek Revival row house in Jersey City. Photos: Richard Haymes and Michael DeJong.

Georgian / Greek Revival row house in Jersey City. Photos: Richard Haymes and Michael DeJong.

You’ve been very environmentally conscientious with your home. Share with us some things you did to make you older home more earth-friendly.

Richard: We’ve replaced the energy inefficient appliances as we’ve proceeded and have replaced all but two windows with thermal pane models. We put our boiler on a thermostat and keep the temperature a few degrees cooler than we would like and just wear sweaters and layers. Our upstairs toilet, which is part of the original house’s indoor plumbing has a beautiful, ornate porcelain bowl, and at one time probably had a wood tank with a chain. Somewhere along the line, a back tank was jerry-rigged onto the old bowl. To improve the system’s efficiency, we put water-filled bottles into the tank to save water with each flush, since the original bowl is not up to code but too beautiful to remove. At some point, we will have it removed and restored and perhaps even reinstall the ceiling wood tank which they still sell in catalogs.

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Michael is the author of “Clean: The Humble Art of Zen-Cleansing.” I find that cleaning my home puts me into a wonderfully happy place. Up to this point I thought I might be insane. Is there really a zen to cleaning? Do you think that cleaning a row house especially increases one’s tranquility? (At RowHouse we like to think row houses are extra special!)

Richard: Michael is definitely the best person to answer this question, particularly since his recipes are non-commercial and use ingredients that were most probably used by people in the 1800s.

Michael: When we clean our homes with materials that don’t poison us much of the drudgery melts away. I’m a neat-nick and hate a mess so cleaning – at least for me – is an everyday occurrence. It’s amazing how just-about anything can be cleaned and once done – outside of painting it, re-building it, re-plastering it, or re-wiring it – the simplest renovations can occur. Our forefathers were right… the purest and simplest means to cleanliness are indeed the best.

Obviously you are very proud of your home and the love shows in the attention to every detail. What is the best thing you like about your row house?

Richard: It’s not so much the pride we feel in the house as the love we have for it. It is a very modest house, probably built for a family of factory workers or housekeepers for the wealthier families a bit further south from our house. But everywhere we look, there is something that makes us smile and appreciate it all over again. There are several rooms per floor and I often don’t go into some for weeks at a time, and so it’s like discovering a hidden treasure all over again.

Michael: I not only clean a little bit in our house every day I also work on a project in our house every day… it’s how I procrastinate. It’s the way I slip away and find my center. I too am surprised by rediscovering something I’ve completely forgotten about. You know the saying “Can’t see the forest for the trees?” I’m sometimes so focused on some detail that I forget the larger picture. But when I sometimes walk into the house I share with my partner Richard, and I see the sunlight across the dining room table and the surfaces all seem to perk up in the way I had imagined… it all seems worth it.

Georgian / Greek Revival row house in Jersey City. Photos: Richard Haymes and Michael DeJong.

Georgian / Greek Revival row house in Jersey City. Photos: Richard Haymes and Michael DeJong.

About the portrait in the library, is he a relative? Former resident? He’s just perfect there. For our story about the Joseph Sims House we were able to get a portrait of the original resident. It was nice to put a face with the house.

Richard: Even before we owned this house we had a small cottage in Northeast Pennsylvania, for which we started collecting portraits — the man in the library was our first purchase. Since then we’ve been avid collectors of miniature portraits as well as folk art from the 1800s. Michael can explain more about them all.

Michael: Many of the paintings that we own are objects that we’ve discovered and feel that they tell a story. When we walk friends or visitors though our house we point out the pictures of the “Dead Folks.” Although many of the faces are unknown and the painters names obliterated over time, the life-sized full-figured self portrait of a man at the top of the stairs through research has been identified.

Michael: We found the painting on e-bay. Since I’m always looking for that “needle in a haystack” I found it listed under oil “potraits.” (I’m always looking for misspellings… e-bay doesn’t have a spell-check system.) The seller wanted to unload the painting and its amazing original frame and the only information we were told was that the original owner had come from Denmark. Knowing that, I visited the The Skagen Museum in Denmark’s virtual tour and voila! There was an other painting that looked like the one we had just purchased on e-bay. The artist’s name is Peder Kroyer. With minimal research, I found mountains of support material (including a photo found online of him in exactly the same clothing from the 1880s) and, once here in our home, we were able to have it appraised and authenticated.