Historic House Colors
Exterior Color & House Paint Consulting
It is always a pleasure to work on a grand historic house. It is even more-so when the clients is as committed to the restoration and the visual outcome as I was. Rob Schweitzer - Historic House Colors
The words of Peter Blacksburg cemetery’s president.
10,000 decisions, - a story of restoration.
Most Americans would say a 50 year old building was old, and probably needed – something done. What if the building were part 150-year-old classic building, with 100-year-old additions - and an 80-year-old commercial bathroom? Then what? Send for Bob Vila?
Fortunately for the management and visitors to Riverside Cemetery in Saddle Brook New Jersey, no such celebrity was required. It happens that the cemetery’s president for the past 8 years, Peter Blacksberg, has a passion for such questions, and is also a serious amateur wood craftsman. Peter approached his neighbor and friend Alan Hughes in Packanack Lake with the problem: How do we completely restore our 80-year-old bathrooms with modern comfortable ADA-Certified restrooms?
Alan took up the challenge. Having visited the cemetery over the previous years during the construction of a modern crew building, he had been thinking about the problem for some time. What started as a seemingly simple restoration quickly became The Project of Ten Thousand Decisions. With the cemetery board’s blessing, they proceeded to restore the entire building top-to-bottom, and in the process recreate a Bergen County Historic Mansion.
AFTER Restoration and new Color Scheme
The Richard Romaine Residence was constructed circa 1860, at the start of what became known as the Italianate Movement. Peter was familiar with the copy of an etching displayed in the lobby of the building, but was it genuine? Was this building illustrated with a stream in the foreground, and an orchard showing a home with a porch, brackets and a square cupola, the same structure as the current white house covered with aluminum siding and featuring 4 dormers, and a hexagonal colonial bell tower? Then Peter scanned a photograph of the building taken before the current roof was added after a fire in 1950. There were no dormers in this picture, and the cupola was a modest 4 sided glass enclosed box. Using Photoshop he superimposed the two images. The match was uncanny. (Later a trip to the Bergen County Historical Society revealed further evidence on maps dated 1870, showing the Romaine Residence in the location of the building.)
Peter began researching Italianate form. What did the building originally look like? How was it constructed? On more mundane subjects; how to make the entrance to the bathrooms at ground level, and what type of heating to use?
Peter searched for someone to aid in maintaining the historic nature of the building. A fan of Old House Journal, Peter knew they could not restore the building to its original footprint and design – after all, this was no longer a Manor House, but was now an Administration Building with multiple functions to be served: A visitor center, storage vault, and operations management facility with video systems, computer networks, storage for uniforms, all hidden behind a façade of creaking antique stairs and a mix of architectural “improvements.”
The Internet provided a most unexpected boon in the person of Robert Schweitzer, of Historic House Colors. Aside from his professorial duties, Robert provides advice to designers and contractors who wish to work with historic-period buildings. And it happens he is an expert in Italianate construction, even having written a paper on brackets – those decorative wooden brackets found below the roofline typical in buildings from this era.
With Robert’s guidance, Alan’s structural engineering knowledge and Peter’s project management, the restoration took shape.
Wood support beams in the basement were replaced. Windows were replaced with “Hi-E” insulated windows. Aluminum siding and wood siding were removed. Rob Schweitzer recommended color schemes accurate to the period, but a bit lighter than traditional interiors, which seemed the office staff deemed to be “too gloomy.”
A back porch was created to protect visitors to the restrooms, and extended around the side of the building, tying the function and design to the front – and creating a much grander look. The handicap ramp, added in the early 1990s, was widened and integrated into the porch structure and the ground level was raised, making the ramp entrance more inviting.
Cornice details after restoration
The result? Stunning. The once white building has been transformed to a warm mansion of taupe, with traditional green and dark red detailing, as it might have appeared had its eventual purpose been foreseen in 1860. Visitors can step into the warm, restored lobby and be greeted by a compassionate welcoming staff, or find their way to the restrooms, which due to the radiant floors, are comfortable even on the coldest winter day.
And Peter and Alan can tell their children and future grand children they will be able to come back years from now and see the result of the ten thousand decisions their grandpas made way back in 2008.
Lobby Restoration with Historic Colors
Copyright 2004-2010: Robert Schweitzer. Last revised: March 1, 2010