Removing Alligators from the Cross House

For the first time in a very long time none of the beveled squares are broken. Hallelujah.

The Cross House has a double pair of entry doors. A solid outer set, and an inner set delicious with beveled glass.



Last week I began the process of removing alterations to each side of the entry doors…



…and this is the result. Much better! You can see the outer set of solid doors. I had these restored in 2014.


The finish is highly alligatored old varnish.

The inner doors have long been blighted by highly alligatored old varnish (or shellac), common to old houses. I have been wanting to restore the doors since buying the house but 4,739 other things needed attention. But, with the entry now looking a lot better, my attention fixated on the glittering beveled doors.



And a few hours later…magic. I liberally brushed on repeated coats of denatured alcohol, and gently rubbed with 0000 steel wool soaked in the alcohol. A toothbrush is an essential tool. I did the work while listening to a good audiobook (The Forgotten Garden), and the time flew by. I will do a bit more each time I am at the house, and soon will be able to post a glorious After! NOTE: Many people think that wood in old houses was dark. I cannot speak for every old house, but in the Cross House I have discovered that all my woodwork was light in color, or kinda medium (like in the library). This is also confirmed by taking off the hardware, revealing wood way lighter than evidenced by the old, darkened finish.


One of the things I most like about old house is the quality and beauty of everything, and this makes a huge difference in generating the gumption to get off my butt and restore the bits and pieces of an old house.

Conversely, spending any time restoring a 1980s hollow-core door, for example, is SO not enticing. No, my butt would much rather remain in a chair watching Downton Abbey, glass of wine nearby.

But restore a pair of 122-year-old oak doors glittering with beveled-glass jewels? Oh baby, I am itchin’ to get to work. And the results are incredibly satisfying.




  1. ken on March 12, 2016 at 11:18 pm

    They look beautiful Ross. Now that I see the true color of the trim I can see how the original wall paper would have been stunning against the wood trim.

  2. Montana Channing on March 13, 2016 at 10:12 pm

    That book sounds great. I’m a big audiobook fan although I usually buy mine at Goodwill on cassette.

    In looking at your recent posts showing off the porch in the past, what happened to all those beautiful big trees that showed up especially well in the motel pic? I bet I can guess. They were probably elms.

    I know you plan to restore all the landscaping but I would suggest you start with trees, and soon, so by the time you finish the house and the landscaping the trees will have a nice head start and make the house look even better. Sugar maples are nice and a lot hardier and you could tap them about now for syrup.

  3. Tony T on March 14, 2016 at 2:56 pm

    Is there Lincrusta in the vestibule as well?

    • Ross on March 16, 2016 at 10:13 pm

      Why, yes, Tony. There is!

  4. Seth Hoffman on October 20, 2016 at 11:30 pm

    Very nice work! For whatever reason, the original shellac in our home (1912) has extremely little alligatoring. I’ve seen other houses on our street built at the same time that do have it, so I have no idea how ours has held up so well. I’m nearly certain it’s untouched.

    I wonder if the trend to darker woods began in the teens and twenties after the short-lived trend of lighter oak and faux-grain in the 1890s and 1900s? This would have been an easy change to “update” a very dated Victorian interior in that era.

    The fancy part of our house is finished in oak stained a relatively dark mahogany shade (Minwax Red Mahogany stain plus 3 coats of amber shellac is a perfect match). There are plenty of teens and twenties houses with light oak, maple, and fir millwork too, though.

Leave a Comment

Your email address will NEVER be made public or shared, and you may use a screen name if you wish.