Tuesday, February 3, 2015

The Beginning

The Beginning

In October 2010, my wife and I bought a 3-bed, 1-bath American Foursquare in Omaha, Nebraska, built in 1914.  We were looking for a pre-war house in the neighborhood I worked, with a preference for something that needed some work.  My obsession for turn-of-the-century architecture hadn't fully developed yet, but I knew I didn't want something bland and modern.

We looked at many houses, made several offers that didn't pan out, and eventually bought this place, a bank-owned foreclosure that was just too good of a deal to pass up.  It was structurally sound, weathertight, and aside from a hardly-usable kitchen and bathroom, mostly livable.  Incredibly, it had also survived 96 years with none of the red oak millwork getting painted, and very little of the pine/fir millwork upstairs being touched either.  The lack of paint stripping required was a strong selling point!

It's not an architect-commissioned showpiece or on the historic register, but it's has a pleasing, functional layout, and enough features and detail to keep me interested for now.  I call it the "practice house", as it's a good source of projects to hone my skills in preparation to restore the Stick or Queen Anne Victorian I really dream of.  I would describe it as a respectable middle-class home, likely built for the growing white-collar workforce of the growing teens and twenties.  It's one of four on our street built from the same plans, but each has small variations, likely made by the builder to avoid making them identical.  The exterior was 4" painted wood clapboard with a few embellishments and a fractured-stone pattern CMU foundation and porch columns.  The interior was plaster with oak floors and millwork in the formal spaces and pine/fir in the less formal spaces.  It was built with wood strip flooring in EVERY room of the house.  The interior millwork was relatively simple, with single-piece casing and baseboards, but with plinth blocks.  Profiles consist of flat boards with simple roundover edges.  The only extravagance is reserved for the entry foyer, which has an oak balustrade on the stair landing with a built-in bench, and portico with Doric columns that lead into the living room.  There were four surviving leaded-glass windows, and I'm certain there were originally two more when it was built.  They're very simple: built with plain, clear glass and straight lines, but unique in an era when nearly every house had the ubiquitous repeating-diamond patterns out of a catalog.

After we bought the place, we spent about 4 months doing the major kitchen and bathroom work before we moved in from our apartment, as well as major electrical and plumbing upgrades.  In the 4 years since, we've made significant progress on just about every other part of the house, but there's still plenty left.  I plan to share some of the many interesting projects I've completed and am still doing, but thought I'd start the blog out where we started: the pictures we took when we first toured the house.  Enjoy!

There it is, your basic American Foursquare.  Although poor choices have obscured it's simple beauty, it's all still there.  Once the porch is opened up again, the original clapboard siding is restored, and the hideous paint removed, it should look good again.
Many of the lots in this part of Omaha were graded quite a bit above the street and sidewalk, which makes the houses look a lot taller and more imposing than they really are.  I like it!
Not much to see here except an overgrown bush, more seafoam green fiber-cement siding, and a stupid satellite dish.
View inside after coming in the front door.  It's amazing how all that wood survived with the original shellac finish!
Few of the original light fixtures had survived, the entry being no exception.  There was originally a gas newel post lamp, which is probably the one I'm the most disappointed is missing.
View through the portico into the foyer from the living room
Close-up of the leaded glass window in the foyer.  A simple pattern, but unique.
One of two leaded glass sidelights in the entry vestibule before the foyer.  This is the more typical diamond pattern I commonly see in houses of this era.

View from the living room into the dining room.  The opening is framed with simple casework, but is large enough to give the area a connected feel.
View of the dining room from the living room.  It has a plate rail on three sides of the room, but oddly, not on the fourth.  This is how it was built, as there are no shadow marks or telltales on the plaster on the fourth side.
It was built with a convection ("octopus") air furnace, and retains all the original registers, which are now used for the forced-air furnace.  Nothing really fancy, but they're a step up from the basic stamped-metal registers that were also used in this era.
An now for some ugly.  While the tub was original (but in poor shape), the vanity, hardboard wainscoting, and shag carpeting are disgusting.  Clearly this room will need a lot of work...

And now for some more ugly.  The kitchen had only one 5' sink cabinet, a greasy range, and roll-away dishwasher.
There was some "nice" left in the kitchen, though, such as this original laundry chute door.

The kitchen and dining room are connected by a butler's pantry, which features this original built-in cabinet.  It's nothing fancy, but is very practical and fits the style of the house well.  Guests are impressed by it, which I find interesting because it's rather basic carpentry.  I guess 65 years of bland mass-produced housing has lowered the bar for what is interesting.
And lastly, going out the back brings you through this makeshift enclosure over the back stoop.  From the looks of it, this must have been a beer-fueled DIY project in the 50s or 60s.

Well, that's all for now.  Next time I'll show you some progress!

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