The Cross House
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.
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.
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.