The Cross House

Burning in Preservation Hell

Young couple tells their realtor: “We want a cool old house UNTOUCHED by time! We want it to be ALL ORIGINAL! We love old houses and want to respect history!”

Young couple buys amazingly intact old house.

And then proceeds to tear out the original kitchen and bathrooms. They then gut the house to the studs. And toss out the century-old windows (“They were icky!”).

We have all seen this. This is far more the norm than not.

But, to me, this earns one a place in….PRESERVATION HELL.

With each passing decade (sigh) I become an ever-more dedicated restorer rather then renovator. When I recall the things I did in my twenties I recoil in horror and often wonder: How many points have I earned in PRESERVATION HELL? 

With the Cross House I am rather obsessed with protecting its original fabric, and recreating lost components wherever possible.

But…but…and I probably should not out myself…but…ah…I am also earning some PRESERVATION HELL points.


I will try to explain myself, and beg your indulgence.


In 1894, Susan and Harrison Cross would not likely have ever entered the kitchen, the domain of servants. While the latter had easy access from the rear door (right), had the Cross’s for some reason wanted to get from the family entrance on the south side (bottom), they would have had a rather circuitous route from the entrance, through the rear hall, into the stair-hall, into the dining room, through the butler’s pantry, and finally, exhausted, into the kitchen. But, it is not likely that the Cross’s would have ever come home with bags of groceries. The cook did that. On the plan you see a #1 (laundry chute) and #2 (dumbwaiter).


Such a way of life did not last long, and later owners of the Cross House WOULD have come home with bags of groceries. To make their path easier, the rear hall closet was sacrificed, as well as, EEK, the laundry chute and dumbwaiter. But the path became SO much easier. Of course, after I realized that the house once HAD a first-floor laundry chute and  dumbwaiter, well, there was no way I would not reinstall them. So, positive Preservation Points! But…I also did not want to return to the absurd and circuitous 1894 route. Oh, what to do? What to do?


The solution. Which is creating a LOT of negative Preservation Points. You see, in order to recreate the laundry chute and dumbwaiter (PLUS points) I needed to remove a section of cabinets in the butler’s pantry and cut a hole through a wall (NEGATIVE points). But the circulation route from the family entrance is made effortless. In the lower right corner there is a #3. This is where the butler’s pantry cabinets will be reinstalled.


I agonized over all this.

But, what is the point of lavishing the rest of my life and fortune on the restoration of the house if it is ultimately unsellable because of an archaic floor plan?

I know, for example, that creating a lavish eat-in kitchen where the library is will be MUCH preferred by most later owners than a kitchen shoved into the back corner of the house. But this is just not going to happen. I adore having a library.

It was obvious though that I, at the very least, needed to create an easy way for an owner to park under the porte-cochère, walk through the south entrance, and access the kitchen. This just seems a no-brainer. A must.

The ONLY option was one earning me negative points in PRESERVATION HELL.

Sigh. A classic damned if you do or don’t situation.


The butler’s pantry managed to remain unscathed, pretty much, for 122-years. And then Ross the Brute came along to ravage it. Six drawers were removed, and two doors. Then the lower cabinet was carefully removed. The upper shelves had to be sacrificed. All the cabinetwork removed will be reinstalled in the servant’s hall.


Plaster carefully cut. Justin is having great fun knocking off plaster. I am doing the hard job of taking pictures.


The other side of the wall. You can see the pencil outline of the new opening.


Lincrustra carefully removed, a heart-stopping process (detailed in later post).




Presto! New cabinets will be made, matching all the original details, to cover the raw ends of the 1894 cabinets. I have in storage original door trim and corner blocks to finish off the new opening.


And for the first time in 122-years one can look from the kitchen into the stair-hall.


This change is not JUST about a better path from the south entrance but a better path for the entire living area. Now, one can easily glide from the parlor to the library and into the kitchen. This gliding was assisted by blocking up a non-original door on the east library wall (right), and moving the door to the corner. Said door/frame was originally located on the north wall (top) and was removed when stairs to the basement were installed circa-1950.


Already, I am amazed how much easier it is to walk around the first floor.

I do however worry about spending eternity burning in PRESERVATION HELL. So, I better add up my negative and positive points. EEK!

WHAT will be my fate????????

  • Removing original cabinets in butler’s pantry: – 250
  • Reinstalling original cabinets from butler’s pantry in servant’s hall: +125
  • Undo alteration to south cabinets in butler’s pantry, as detailed in previous post: +100
  • Recreating lost laundry chute: +200.
  • Recreating lost dumbwaiter: +300. BONUS POINTS: +500



POSITIVE: +1225.


Whew. I have not earned enough negative points to burn for eternity. Whew. Whew.










50 Responses to Burning in Preservation Hell

  1. LOL 🙂

    There’s a clause in the path to preservation hell. You are not ripping things out and throwing them in the dumpster, at least not the important parts. Preservation hell are only for those that rip out original wood pieces or important pieces (for instance, trim or staircases or doors or original windows that cannot be repaired) and THROW THEM IN THE TRASH!) Or worse, bulldoze it away like the MCM home someone updated us on OHD yesterday…ugh. You are reusing and not destroying completely the parts you are removing.

    I say keep on doing what you are doing and don’t sweat it. 🙂

  2. And yet I have seen so many posts being upset with painting over woodwork, or removing a door or covering up a window. But it’s okay to alter (destroy) a 122-year-old butler’s pantry??? I know my opinion doesn’t matter….but I feel that was a bad decision. Especially when there is another entrance into the kitchen. And especially when it is not that far to walk from the family hallway through the dining room. 122 years……..I think I just felt H.C. Cross and Charles Squires roll over in their graves.

    • If they rolled it was during the time it was converted and mangled over the hundred years the whole house was altered or fell into disrepair. I doubt Harrison Cross would care less about a butler’s pantry he rarely saw, the servants would probably be kissing Ross feet over the few steps not having to take going to and fro.

      • Thank you, Kelly.

        The architect, Charles Squires, was very interested in keeping up with the times. In his own house a block away he made significant changes over the years to accommodate changing lifestyles. Frank Lloyd Wright was also constantly updating/altering his two homes.

        So, yes, I agree there is not likely any grave rolling!

        My alterations to the butler’s pantry could also be reversed. As I wrote, the cabinets removed will be placed in the servant’s hall as a free-standing cabinet with new, easily removed sides.

        Moroever, I am restoring 80% of the butler’s pantry to it’s original form and use, and reversing alterations to the south cabinets. Even the sink, long disused, will be returned to functioning condition, and with period-correct faucets.

        If Harrison Cross were alive today he would not likely live in the house fully staffed with servants and would, no doubt, be greatly relieved to easily access the kitchen!

  3. I think what you did was sensible and practical. It is your house and you have to make it work best for you. The previous way was too cumbersome.

    You are preserving so many old facets of the house that you will still be on Santa’s old house good list.

    • Thank you! I look forward to Santa’s visit!!!!!!!!

      Yes, the original path was WAY cumbersome, particularly loaded with bags of groceries.

      Like I wrote, I am amazed at how much easier it is to walk around the first floor now. I wish I had made the change two years ago.

  4. I know it’s nerve wracking to make changes that involve 122-year-old materials but I think you are making the right decision & I think you are detailing ways it will still be in keeping with the historical nature of the house while allowing modern humans to be comfortable as well.

    In the end, I think it will lead to less modernization & ruination in the future because it will work better for those who live in it after you.

    Better alterations done by a preservationist than alterations done by someone who doesn’t care!

    • Thank you, Erin.

      You wrote: “In the end, I think it will lead to less modernization & ruination in the future because it will work better for those who live in it after you.”

      Well said. This WAS a huge concern of mine.

      I spent countless hours thinking of how to, as subtly as possible, update the floor plan. I feared that if I did not a later owner would announce: “This just doesn’t work!” They would then would create havoc by knocking down whole walls, and combining the library and kitchen into one huge “great space”.

      We’ve all seen this done.

      Oh, the horror. The horror!

      • I cannot for the life of me understand why “everyone” wants the living room, dining room, & kitchen all in 1 huge room. Maybe I’m too much of an introvert but I like separation of spaces (that flow!) & not staring at all the dirty dishes during parties!

        • I’m totally with you too! I love to cook and bake, but I’m messy in the kitchen. I really don’t want everything to be visible from everywhere. I love the idea of having a butlers pantry to separate the kitchen from the formal living areas.

        • My house, like the Cross House, has pocket doors. My Victorian house has 3 sets of them downstairs. It is possible to open up the downstairs and have folks in three rooms. Or I have the option of privacy- and maybe a guest sleeping on one of the sofas. I do not like open floor plans, either.

  5. Brilliant and sensitively thought through Ross – I love it!

    The only old house that should retain its unlivable qualities is a house museum, where education about patterns of the past is the entire point of preservation.

    Sensitive updating like this is not only ok, I believe it is ESSENTIAL- the unlivable house will not be loved, cared about, maintained, invested in or properly preserved if it does not engender affection and pleasure.

    That said, THIS IS NO EXCUSE for insensitive, poorly-thought-through, or – the worst – dated and faddish interventions that only satisfy the homeowners’ need to demonstrate their own superior taste or wealth or quirky creativity.

    And let’s just admit it… we all think we are smart and clever and talented and knowledgeable, and even the most professional and educated among us make mistakes – it is a high bar. But the payoff is worth it.

    Unfortunately, the vast majority of home renovators – even the best intentioned – simply lack the resources professionally and financially and emotionally to do truly sensitive work. Just the way it is. So we celebrate our wins and just hope they can be inspiring examples to others, as yours are to us Ross.

  6. I think you made the best choice out of all available options. Sometimes one must make sacrifices to the gods of pragmatism.

  7. I finally caught up with you. Excellent blog. Very informative.

    Concerning today’s post: You’re already doing a whole lot more preservation that most people who buy old houses. Most people really aren’t interested in saving everything they possibly can. They see a few features they like that they want to preserve, but the rest is, to them, a slate to be blanked and start over.

    Kitchens get hit the hardest because our needs are so much different than in 1894. Even though the Cross house had electricity, it still didn’t have all the kitchen appliances we know and use and depend on today. And they had servants, and we don’t. They did a lot more formal entertaining then, our entertaining is usually pretty informal. So kitchens have to change.

    But we *want* them to change too. Females especially, want to change their kitchen as soon as it starts feeling dated or as soon as they get tired of it. There’s practically no concept any more of using something until it wears out. The only saving grace for kitchens is that it’s much harder and more inconvenient to change wallpaper than to change a dress, so women can’t afford to do it every day. But I’m really surprised that someone hasn’t already invented a way to project wallpaper patterns onto walls using LEDs or something so that a woman can change her decor every day.

    • Why just the ladies? If I could change/experiment the design of my home with wall LEDs or some such, I’d be all over it like a cheap suit!

      • I’m not saying men wouldn’t want to do it too, just maybe not quite as often. Both men and women change their clothes too, but women seem to need an awful lot more clothes than men. Take a look at any department store and compare the size of the women’s department to the men’s department. It’s always at least twice as much space devoted to women’s clothes as to men’s clothes. That’s all I’m saying. There’d be a bigger market among females.

  8. I personally would have made the new door blend in with the wall, making it a secret door when closed.

    So, a newly made door with the cut out chair rail, lincrusta, baseboard. Also, adding a small plaque on the interior of the Butler’s Pantry explaining what was done, thus not messing with the historical narrative by adding a period-correct door and trim.

  9. A house has to be ” alive ” or it will deteriorate. Or, as Bo said, become unloved.

    I think you made an intelligent, sensitive, and rational choice

  10. If it was me, I would stick to the door that was, “removed laundry chute/dumbwaiter-opening”. I would not demolish something intact in order to make an opening and be able to restore something already gone in another opening.

    But Ross probobly has a vision for this that is hard for me to see. I’ll just have to wait and see how it turns out in the end.

    • Erin, I think you will be delighted with the end results.

      Recreating the lost dumbwaiter will make the house HUGELY more convenient. Particularly as I get ever older! Not having to lug things up/down stairs will be much appreciated!

      Same for the lost section of laundry chute.

  11. Nothing you have done nor considered doing have any than beneficial effect on the Cross House. Your subtle, useful novations and embrace of some of the alterations done over the years show a building that is like a palimpsest rather than being preserved like a fly in amber. Want to see a renovation that makes you look like a museum curator? Check out here what happened to the White House.

    One worries, considering the building tastes of the new occupant (who will surely be the first billionaire to move into government housing vacated by a minority family) whether his threatened ballroom might be a Nightmare on Penn. Street.

  12. Ross! You know how I felt about the pantry. I may be a tiny bit sad, and even scared by the changes, but I will adapt. Sniff. And you did offer the built in china cabinet in the dining room for display of pretty dishes and things. And you promise to make a “new” cabinet using the pieces and parts removed from the butler’s pantry? And best of all, you will bring the sink in the pantry back to life? Okay. I will trust you here.

    (Just remember dear friend, I am suffering some big hits in my life recently and along with them come security risk and trust issues.)

  13. Ouch! I’m sad. I think I would have taken into account the planned garage at the back of the house and realized groceries could come in the back door. As narrow as the porte cochere is, I doubt you’ll be disembarking from that point. And I agree with some of the comments about separation of spaces. The best part about living in a large home is that you CAN’T see the kitchen from the entry hall. And, personally, I loooove your front hall and would walk through it at every possible opportunity! Having said that, the Cross House is the Ross House, and if you’re happy with it, that’s really all that matters. Bit I will be sending you asbestos shorts for Christmas :).

    • David, I do absolutely plan to us the porte-cochère. Any garage is many many years in the future.

      So, the south entrance will be my primary entrance.

      Also, the new opening does not really reveal the kitchen from the stair-hall.

      • I’m glad you’ve given it such complete thought. I wouldn’t have expected anything else. You are nothing if not thorough. It’s why we love you and what you do. (Shorts are in the mail) 😉

  14. First time poster here but I love the updates more than any serial program!

    Preservation hell just has to get on without you…..taking a no-win situation and pulling a winner out gives you a corridor pass in the halls of the just!

    The day of fully staffed estates has passed and gone, no doubt about it. At most, the closest most of us will get is perhaps a cleaning service and occasionally a catering service if we don’t do for ourselves during formal goings on.

    A door for access from the family corridor to the kitchen just makes so much sense, you can see why someone’s already done it….a dumbwaiter and clothes drop will be so useful in the long run that, if anything, you’ll just kick yourself for delaying so long their return, especially for putting things from a basement deep freezer or store to be cooked, and sending full baskets of clean laundry, supplies, blankets or sending cooked meals upstairs without the hazard of hot food and breakable dishes ups and down a staircase. Plus, think of the circulation of fresh air and ease of getting to the bathroom without lots of delay (sounds crude, but getting older makes definite changes to priorities!)

    Is the door going there a pocket door or hinged? If you had one, a door with frosted glass in it might be a good idea….light into the interior of the house and such.

    I wish you would come to join us here. You would be welcome as Santa Claus!


    • Hi Chaz!

      Very nice to meet you.

      I am curious about them website you linked to. I don’t get how to use it.

      I have seen this kind of discussion website but never jump in. My brain looks at the home page…and just shuts down. WHERE does one start?

      Can you walk me through it?

      • Sure! You just go there and introduce yourself like you did on your blog here… are the poster child for all we stand for! We loooove pictures, and all the juicy details! Post whenever the mood strikes, and even if it somehow gets in the wrong place the staff is pretty good at fixing it up.

        Also, the site owner hates spam so they never use your information for commercial purposes, and won’t let anyone else do that, either.

        If you like, I can make you a profile and send you the password, you could log right on and hit the ground talking, it’s really easy.


        • Chaz, I joined up but still do not understand how to use the site.

          On the homepage are thousands of topics and posts. It all makes my head spin!

  15. Any time you feel the heat of Preservation Hell, just go lay your eyes upon all those beautiful, restored stained glass windows. Or those finials. Or those scrubbed clean entryway tiles. Or the porch ceiling. Or those pocket doors that glide so effortlessly. Or all that siding and tin. Or that porch floor. Or the threshold… window sashes… woodwork… roofing… railings… structure…

    Feeling that heavenly coolness?

  16. I have to admit to being very sad for the butlers pantry. I would have much preferred losing the full bath on the main floor and making it a half bath and using that space for an entry. The butlers panty was such a gem.

    • I must agree. I am in utter disbelief the butler pantry was sacrificed, the bathroom was not full to begin with. I can’t even believe it.

      • Dear Jamie and Sara,

        For me, it was essential to gain better access from the main rooms into the kitchen. I think if you lived in the house for a time you would agree. For, what worked in 1894 (an upstairs/downstairs dynamic) has not worked for almost a century. And I waited almost three years before doing anything, time spent endlessly pondering alternatives/options.

        In the end, there was no perfect choice. So, which option would prove the least bad option?

        Turning half of the bathroom into a hall would not have worked. The new hall would have been about 24-inches wide, which is 12-inches less than code. And 12-inches less than comfortable! This new hall would have also precluded a sink cabinet under most of the large south-facing window. And that is the ONLY place for a sink.

        In addition, isn’t slightly altering one room (the pantry) immensely preferable to wholly destroying another (the bath)?

        I could have left things as they were, but there was NO WAY I wasn’t going to recreate the lost dumbwaiter and laundry chute!

        The butler’s many has not been destroyed. One cabinet has been removed, and will be relocated in the servant’s hall. It could be put back.

        Two new tall thin cabinets will be made in the butler’s pantry, filling in the exposed cabinet corners.

        On the adjacent south wall, I am restoring the original cabinet configuration. And, as noted above, I am also restored the sweet sink to working order. There will be a beautiful gas/electric pendant hanging from the restored plaster ceiling. The original varnish on the cabinets, long painted over, will be restored.

        When I am done there will be no indication that I did anything. There will still be butler’s pantry. It will retain 80% of its cabinetry. The size of the room will not have been changed.

        The finished butler’s pantry will be a shimmering wood jewel. People will walk in and universally explain: “Oh! I love your butler’s pantry!”

  17. I certainly get pangs of Preservation Hell guilt (as I guess I should but if there’s a next time I’ll do better) but like you said, this is reversible. You’re probably right that somebody else would blow out the whole back of the house, but it looks like the room that would create would be stupid big.

    I had a similar idea in Atlantic City that a second door from the kitchen to the butler’s pantry would make the breakfast room usable but keep the feel of the back rooms intact. The new owner probably took out the butler’s pantry entirely at this point, much like I would have done 15 years ago.

      • In one caption above I mention: I blocked up a non-original door on the east library wall (right), and moved the door to the corner. Said door/frame was originally located on the north wall (top) and was removed when stairs to the basement were installed circa-1950.

  18. Ross, I think what you’ve done is beautiful & makes perfect sense. You’ve moved important elements of the house to make it more livable overall without taking a sledgehammer to built-ins as so many renovators do. It appears you’ve also improved the visibility of great original features from multiple perspectives throughout the first floor and that is awesome. We don’t need more house museums. We need more owners and advocates like you who recognize and restore the features that make old homes special, while making them livable in an age when most of us don’t have servants.

  19. I like the change, it makes perfect sense and you are not losing the integrity of the house plan or the style. You are ultimately saving this house from ruin due to time and neglect. If the ghosts of Christmas’ past aren’t complaining then I think you are safe with this decision. Have you heard any ghostly complaints?

  20. The flow is good, the energies of the house are happy, because it is evolving, growing, being loved & soon to be lived in, full time, by you. There is a family out there, too, in the faraway, distant future, who will live, love & cherish The Cross/Ross house. And a mother who will be ever so, so grateful for the laundry chute, dumb waiter, & the easy access to the kitchen with her shopping bags.

    Nothing ever truly dissapears, it just changes form! 🙂

  21. The case of the waltzing doorways. 🙂

    I believe the tasks of everyday life should be as easy to accomplish as possible and therefore my opinion is you did the right thing making these changes.

  22. Well! I have to tell you how RELIEVED I was to see this happen. When I looked at the floor plan earlier, my first thought was……… how do you get to the bathroom to pee? LOL I can’t tell you how many times I’ve turned on the water in the kitchen sink and suddenly realize! Crap! I HAVE to pee! NOW! LOL This has gotten worse as I age. A long circuitous trip would sure result in accidents! LOL Luckily my pantry (just off the kitchen) was converted to a half-bath long before I got here. It’s a wee tiny room. I tell ppl that if they have claustrophobia they’d be better off climbing the stairs. LOL Carry on…..

  23. Ross – I am slowly catching up but all of a sudden your pictures are no longer showing. I tried changing browsers but the same thing is happening. Please help me get my fix!


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