The Cross House

Beauty in Basement Windows

In every old house I have ever owned, or restored for others, I have taken a special pride in creating beautiful basement windows.

Such windows are normally overlooked, even in otherwise restored homes.

But I love being in a basement and looking through clean, restored windows. It is an unexpected…pleasure.

In the 1894 Cross House I have overlooked the basement windows, to date, as there has been, ah, other distractions. But now…


The fabulous eyebrow window. My favorite basement window. A few weeks ago I removed the sash so I could restore and reglaze it, and replace the fully rotted sill. The interior side of the sash was heavily overpainted, as was the frame and sash. I was curious: WHAT was under all the horrid white paint?


Oh. Oh! Under the many layers of white paint was pink paint! This, I assume, dated from the early 1950s conversion of the basement into additional Mouse Palace Motel rooms. Under the pink was…this. You are looking at some sort of brown paint finish over bare wood. The left side of the sash has a lot more brown loss than the right side; the very bottom has 90% loss. I am presuming that the brown is the original finish. And this finish seems to be what I keep discovering in the main pantry, too. It does not look like a faux WOOD finish. Rather just brown paint.


The brown finish was unaffected by paint stripper. As was the faux wood finish in the parlor. Are these finishes milk paint, which is unaffected by paint stripper? I don’t know.

I plan to paint out the white bits, and then apply two coats of latex poly. This will help make the end result look deliberate, while the presumed original finish will still be visible.

I am now working to make pretty one of the windows at the bottom of the round tower. I think I will have four basement windows all pretty by the end of the year. The effect will be kinda surreal: Pristine windows otherwise surrounded by a rough basement. And this will delight me.




9 Responses to Beauty in Basement Windows

  1. I love your basement windows.. actually, the whole basement would be a fantastic living space in and of itself. Lots of times when I am in a basement space I get a feeling of maybe claustrophobia or something like that. It may be due to low ceiling height or just the general feel of the space with dampness, etc. Not so in the Cross basement. The number of windows, the size of them, the variety of shapes, all of this just makes it a hugely interesting space.

  2. Ross, Please try the experimental paint removal method that I described in the response section of your post: Finding…A TREASURE TROVE!!!!!!!!
    Posted on November 18, 2017 • 23 Comments

    I think it might work on your brown paint.

        • Yes.

          It appears that almost all the wood in the house was finished with paint originally. Either a faux wood finish as in most of the “family” rooms, or a plain brown finish as in the servant’s rooms.

          I very much want to preserve this, and am grateful that this original finish is impervious to paint stripper.

  3. Ross? Take a tiny bit of acetone to an inconspicuous bit of that “paint”. If it comes up easily? Most likely it’s shellac. That was a popular finish at the time, cheap, nice looking and serviceable. If so, your Sherwin Williams store still sells it! It’s not very popular, but it’s still available. While shellac is shiny when new, it weathers down to this color. It also won’t be affected by paint remover because it’s alcohol based when applied.

    Something I’ve been meaning to ask. I noticed that all the basement windows have squared off sills…except two. One to the right of the kitchen where the old ac equipment was and one where the boiler wiring passes out. Am I seeing this right? Are there sloped sills in these two windows?

    • This is a good idea. If it is shellac, the acetone acts as a solvent. Using a soft cloth, it can be used to smear the existing finish to smooth any chips. Then you might choose to put on another coat using about a 30-70 mixture of amber shellac-acetone. It will be authentic and preserve the character of the frame. Try it on a scrap and see what you think.

    • Paint stripper easily removed the old shellac in the parlor. But the stripper did not remove the original faux wood finish.

      I know milk paint is unaffected by stripper, so that is why I wonder if the wood in the house was all originally finished with milk paint.

  4. My grandmother, had a round oak table and brown chairs. Brown painted chairs. Fill in the blanks please! ! ! S_ _ t brown painted chairs, that was impossible to remove also. Windows in the kitchen were also painted with this paint. No faux finish just brown paint. I’ve heard of a local historic house that doorways, window casings and fireplace was painted black, that couldn’t even been sanded off. They knew how to make finishes back in the day BEFORE back in the day . . . . . .

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