The Cross House

The Mystery of the Triple Windows

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Today, Rick asked me about a curious detail. Numerous people have previously asked about the curious detail, and I have answered numerous times. But now it seems timely do give the answer its own post! The above image is the Cross House, circa-1932. The WEST FACADE. See the triple arched windows at the second floor? See how the center window has some sort of squared detail under? That detail is raised paneling, original to the house. Image courtesy Mouse family archives.

 

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The Cross House, original drawings, NORTH FACADE. See the third floor windows in the big gable? They also have raised paneling to each side, but this was never actually built, and the whole gable was shingled.

 

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Raised paneling is a terrible detail on the exterior of a house, for rather than shedding water, it cannot help but, over time, invite water into the house.

 

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The Cross House, summer 2014. The raised paneling! It looks pretty good, right?

 

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The appearance of the paneling proved deceiving. The west facade, 2016. The raised paneling has vanished.

 

 

HOUSE DESIGN 101

In designing a house, architects learn a vital mantra: shed water.

Every feature, every detail, should reflect this mantra.

This mantra must be made manifest on even the smallest of details. For example, a porch railing. If the bottom rail is flat on top, IT WILL ROT. It will also rot the bottom of every spindle. If the bottom rail is slightly curved, or has a very shallow gable (an upside-down V), it will shed water.

A design which allows standing water is bad. A design which invites water inside is very bad.

 

CHANGING SQUIRES

When I was painting the west facade in 2014, I was surprised to find that the paneled detail under the center arched window was totally rotted. It came away by hand; no tools required. It had looked OK, but as soon as I started scraping it, it was evident that under the ten-year-old paint was…a sponge.

I also recognized that it was not even that old. Perhaps only as old as the paint. I knew of course that the design was original, but not, apparently, the materials.

Behind all the rotted wood was a most unexpected feature: a large piece of galvanized tin. Its bottom was shaped like flashing, in being L-shaped.

I stared at this and realized that the architect of the house, Charles Squires, not only designed a very very very bad detail, but he knew it was a very very very bad detail. He knew it would soon rot, and to keep water from damaging the framing of the house and plaster, he had a protective tin shield installed behind the paneling.

Of course, the bottom of the tin had, over the span of 120-years, also rotted away, and water was, of course, now rotting the wood sheathing, and would soon begin rotting the framing.

How many times, I wondered, had the paneling been replaced?

I had no intention of recreating a patently bad design detail, and after much pondering made some decisions:

  • As I knew that Squires had changed from paneling to shingles on the NORTH facade, I felt that there existed historical precedence for doing the same on the WEST facade.
  • Replacing the paneling with shingles would forever eradicate a detail which could only damage the house.
  • I also considered such a change to be temporary. Eventually, I figured that I could come up with a way to mimic the effect of raised paneling while NOT allowing water infiltration. Then, I could recreate the original look.

After I finished redoing the area, I did not really like the effect. The center window kinda floated.

However, I had also stopped damage to the house, so felt the trade-off was temporarily acceptable.

 

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August 2014. I have removed a section of shingles to the right of the triple arched windows. These were punky due to a failed gutter above. You can also see that I have started pulling away the rotted paneling.

 

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All the rot has been removed, including the rotted sheathing boards.

 

 

BUT SOON…

The floating window bothers me. But not anywhere near as much as the terrible roofing shingles which SCREAM at me, and the missing porch railings, and missing porch lattice.

However, once all the roofing is done (soon!!!!!!!!), and the lost porch railings are back, and the lost porch lattice, the floating window will suddenly really bother me. It will be the only thing remaining on the west facade tainted with not quite right.

So, one day later this year or next, I will return to the porch roof, and spend two days recreating the look of something which should never have been installed in the first place.

At the very least I will recreate the vertical trim under the window, so it matches the long trim on the adjacent windows. I might then keep the center shingled. My thought was do do this, step back, and see how it looks. Certainly, the “floating” effect would vanish, my principal objection.

If the look is still not right, then I will have to figure out some way to recreate the look of the paneled section, but in a way which will permanently shed water. Perhaps the whole thing could be made from galvanized tin? Perhaps I will see if NASA can come up with something? They have done some clever things.

 

 

7 Responses to The Mystery of the Triple Windows

  1. I would mold, the piece….say build a copy of it, make a mold and then create the detail out of fiberglass or some sort of epoxy. You would have an exact copy but a single piece….no joints for water to get threw…and it is high enough up, that no one will notice it is fiberglass copy…

  2. I’m sure you could come up with some sort of material to recreate the design, but place it over top of something that will keep the water out.

  3. Milled PVC “lumber” should do the trick. All the joints can be sealed with a PVC glue, making it water tight.

  4. As an alternative to recreating the panels from wood or some other material, maybe you might consider something like trompe l’oeil? This would mean creating a convincing _illusion_ of the panels using paint on a single, flat board. The illusion would then fit where the panels used to be, surrounded by the trim.

    The success of the effect would depend on the detail of the painting, the distance of the viewer (farther away is better), and the angle of the viewer (straight on is best). Judging from the picture of the old panels, this is the kind of thing you’d have to paint to make the effect work, making that in vector illustration software was easy enough, but actually painting it? I don’t think I could… but if you’re artsy or know someone who is, why not?

    (I was curious, so I photoshopped the above image onto the house.)

    Considering that the panels are on the second floor (maintaining a safe distance) and the porch roof prevents standing underneath and looking up (maintaining the proper angle), it seems like it could work. You’d notice the trickery immediately if you were standing on the porch roof…but visitors probably don’t get that close. 😉

    Since it’s flat, the (slightly angled?) trim below it would bear the responsibility of shedding water.

    Just my $0.02… it certainly isn’t reproducing the original feature, but I think it preserves the spirit of the original design, especially with creative uses of paint (i.e. faux graining) being prominent during the period.

  5. Ross I have seen tin ceiling panels that look like that detail. Since you already have pressed-tin details, there is that precedent on the house. It may be a long shot but maybe WF Norman has such a detail or can make it. Good idea?

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