Friday, March 26, 2010

PDQuick! Under-bed Storage

PDQuick Tip:  We all know that you can never have enough storage, and one of the most popular places to store things is under the bed.  Try using an old bureau drawer to make under-bed storage efficient and easily accessible.   Simply attach rolling casters to the bottom and you've got a solid, deep storage unit that is easy to retrieve when you need it.  I've seen old individual drawers at yard sales and I've even seen new drawers being sold individually at the "tent sales" of major furniture dealers for as little as a dollar each.  Next time you see one, buy it!  Now you'll know what to do with it.

If you don't have an old bureau and can't find bureau drawers and you're a little handy, you can get the same result by making your own sturdy wooden box and adding casters.

Whichever option you choose, just don't forget to cover the top with fabric or a sheet (or even an old blanket).  This will protect the garments from dust and the inevitable pet fur if you have cats that like to lounge under the bed!
Copyright 2010 - All rights reserved - Pamela Yeaton

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Doorways and Entryways


Doorways, gates and entryways have come to symbolize many things to many people throughout history:  The colossal Arc de Triomphe in Paris was conceived by Napoleon I in 1806 as a tribute to his armies and still serves as an enduring symbol of French patriotism.  The Brandenburg Gate of Berlin contains details representing the virtues of statesmanship and friendship, along with symbols of warfare and reconstruction in German history.  The so-called “Traitors Gate” served as a foreboding “welcome” to those doomed to enter the Tower of London for ultimate execution.

Indeed, the symbolic importance of the doorway dates back to ancient times, and was significant enough that the Romans even identified the pagan god “Janus” as being a protector of entrances, doors and gateways.  As such, he is typically depicted as having two faces:  One face looks backward (as in from where he has been) and one face looks forward (as in where he is going, or into which he is entering).  One of the most famous gateways featuring Janus's likeness is the Ianus Geminus in Rome, found on the Forum Romanum.  The meaning of this gateway could not have been more important, literally symbolizing war (when the gates were open) and peace (when the gates were closed). 

Such entrances were designed to “make a statement” about the place in which they were located or the people whom they represented.  In the above examples, they succeeded admirably.  Certainly, the symbolism of such entryways was not lost on people.  The Arc de Triomphe, for example, saw victory marches pass beneath its massive confines by the Germans in 1940 signaling their occupation of Paris, and by the triumphant French and her Allies in 1944 and 1945 following France's liberation.

While various elements go into defining a building's or a home's particular architectural style (such as house shape, roof style and window configurations), no element is more significant than the front entrance or doorway.  With the possible exception of the more elaborate Victorian styles, doorways are the focal point of the home, the place where much of the home's (and the homeowner's) character, personality and aspirations are concentrated.


Just as such doors and gateways were never “just doors” in the ancient world or in European history, so too did significant architectural movements within the United States often have symbolic overtones.

Early architectural styles in America predictably mimicked what colonists had seen in their native Europe.  This is especially evident in the housing found on the northeast coast (which was settled by the British); in Mississippi and Louisiana (settled by the French); and in Florida and California (settled by the Spanish).   Later styles would continue to be inspired by European design.  However, as we shall see, they also began to reflect a more uniquely American perspective that was based on the new republic's self-image and growing prosperity, with one such example being the Georgian Colonial.

Georgian Colonial:  Rise of the Middle Class
The “Georgian Colonial” of the 17th and early 18th centuries showed greater detail and intricacy than earlier colonial architecture.  Reflecting the new-found wealth of colonial life and the rise of a middle class seeking
to display its new-found status, such houses “borrowed” from the classicism of England.  The doorways of the Georgian Colonial, as represented in photo 1 to the left and photo 2 to the right, typically displayed more detailed and elaborate pediments above the door itself, as well as flattened columns (or pilasters) flanking the sides of the door.    Both of the photos shown here show a minimal amount of glass, although the door to the right, in particular, has an intricately carved and curved pediment that is crowned with a gilded pineapple ornament.  In the meantime, also worth noting in the photo to the left is the striking contrast of the bright coral color of the six-paneled door against the cream color of the rest of the home's exterior.  Against the home's otherwise staid and classical exterior, this shot of color provides a real pop of personality that makes this beautiful home guaranteed to get noticed.

Neoclassical and Federal Styles:  Embracing Democratic Philosophies of Ancient Civilization
After the Revolutionary War, the so-called “Federal” and “Greek Revival” styles of architecture reflected a new and independent republic that was forging its own identity.   The prevalence of neoclassicism in the public structures of Washington, D.C. attests to this fact.  America's founding fathers, in embracing the architecture of ancient Rome and Athens, conveyed their vision of America as a symbol of the democratic philosophies and sensibilities of these ancient seats of knowledge and wisdom.  But such a vision was not limited to public structures.
On the domestic side, federal style homes were characterized by more elaborate designs and with more extensive use of glass than was found in earlier house styles.  In addition to decorative crowns or roofs above the door, doorways often had fanlights and sidelights, allowing more natural light to reach the home's interior entryway.  In the example in photo 3 to the right, the entryway possesses the rectangular transom often associated with the Georgian Colonial style.  However, the sidelights are characteristic of the Federal period, as is the portico that displays the doric and ionic columns and laurel wreath detailing of neoclassical design.  Much like the homeowner of the Georgian Colonial above, this homeowner has likewise used color to great effect.  The bright white of the entryway stands in sharp relief against the vibrant blue of this house's clapboard siding, with the resulting effect being that the entrance to this stately home stands front and center, immediately drawing the eye's attention.

The Romantic Movement and Victoriana:  Displays of Social Status
In sharp contrast to the classical lines of the Georgian and Federal styles that had gone before, by the mid-19th century the “Romantic Movement” was in full swing.  Comprising, in part, the Gothic and Italianate housing styles, this movement symbolized for American society both social status and triumph of the intellect.  While Gothic style homes were characterized in part by the decorative spires and elongated windows often seen in cathedrals, Italianate styles were modeled from the Italian Renaissance and often sported double doors and roman (or rounded) arches above windows and doors.  The home in photo 4 to the left is a lovely (and comparatively simple) example of the Italianate style, with its entry sporting double paneled doors, arched windows, and etched glass.  In addition, its portico of Corinthian columns and dentil molding gives this home an impressive entrance that never forgets its Greco-Roman roots as it evokes the temples of ancient civilization.  Italianate was probably the most sought-after house style in the United States in the 1860s, but would shortly give way to the popularity of the more whimsical Victorian style.

The Victorian era in America was one of rapid westward expansion and industrialism, rampant consumerism and new-found wealth.  Not surprisingly, the Victorian style homes that were built during this time, especially the type known as the “Queen Anne” style, were a testament to such new-found wealth and the desire of the homeowners  to “show it off”.

Perhaps one of the most famous examples of the late (or “high”) Victorian architectural style is the Hale
House in Los Angeles, California (see photo 5 to the right).  Built in the 1880s, Hale House exhibits just about every element of the Victorian housing style:  Vivid contrasting color, rounded turret, “fish-scale” shingles, stained glass and single-paned windows, highly intricate chimneys, and wood carvings and brackets too numerous to count.  Interestingly, unlike the other less “busy” architectural styles described above, the entry of Hale House is not the focal point of the home and is in fact almost an afterthought.  Indeed, the entry's peaked gable above the front veranda is dwarfed by the much larger peaked gable at the top of the house.  The double doors, meanwhile, are recessed, taking a back seat to the intricate carvings of the veranda's balusters.

As exemplified by the stunning Hale House, Victorian houses had become progressively more detailed and ornate as the 19th century drew to a close.  It was therefore not surprising that the perceived excesses of the era would eventually give way to simpler and "cleaner" designs, as was the case with the Colonial Revival.

Colonial Revival:  A Return to Classical Roots
Based loosely on Georgian and Federal styles, the so-called “Colonial Revival” that first appeared to the end
of the 19th century signaled not only a return to the classical style that characterized America's early architecture, but also an architectural backlash against Victorian sensibilities.  As exemplified by the home in photo 6 to the left, Colonial Revival doorways often had porticos with pediments, paneled doors with sidelights, and rectangular transoms or fanlights.  This home's sidelights also sport an intricate “tracery” that complements the spiderweb design of the fanlight above the door.

The Colonial Revival is actually a somewhat eclectic home style, combining features from past architectural eras with more recent ones.   While the Colonial Revival's heyday came to an end in the 1950s, elements of the style are still popular in today's more traditional homes.  In fact, many newly constructed homes have doorways (with or without porticos) that look like a simpler version of the Colonial Revival door pictured above.

With a little attention to detail, however, such newer doors could look a lot more historically authentic and more closely replicate many of the architectural styles discussed here.


Doorways say something about the style of a house, its history, and the personality of the homeowner. For instance, the doorway in photo 7 to the below right is so covered with ivy that it brings to mind the gate from the children's classic The Secret Garden.  It's easy to imagine fairy tale characters living within the confines of this particular home.

Doorways are an opportunity for people to “spread their wings” and tell us something about themselves, based on the degree of whimsy, ornateness and/or bold color choices.  Especially with today's prevalence of new homes built to specification, the doorway is a place where the homeowner can still customize relatively easily (even post-construction).

While you probably wouldn't want to deviate too drastically from your home's primary architectural style (by putting a Victorian style door on a Cape Cod or ranch style home, for instance), it is relatively easy to give a plain cookie-cutter Colonial, for example, some more elaborate Georgian or Federal style detailing by way of the entrance. And aside from adding elegance, such details add depth and richness to your home's focal point.  How you approach it all depends on the statement you want to make.

For instance, elements like lanterns and sconces, or architectural millwork such as pilasters, pediments and even columns (if you're a bit more ambitious) can transform the look of your doorway and, thus, your whole home.  Hardware, including doorbells, doorknobs, knockers, letter slots, rim locks and number plates, is another means of making your doorway stand out.  Door knockers alone come in myriad styles such as lion's head, pineapple, seashell and the traditional "doctor's knocker".  Not only does such hardware come in all variations of styles, from traditional to whimsical; there are also numerous finishes from which to choose, each of which will itself contribute to the overall effect.   Polished or burnished brass is very elegant, while bronze or weathered copper has a more casual, rustic feel.

You can even change out the entire door itself to more suit your style without completely replacing the doorframe or, if the interior ceiling height above your doorway is sufficient, add a transom window.   If your budget is really tight, you can still make a big change in your doorway simply by updating the paint color.  If the rest of your house is muted or neutral in color, consider opting for a bold, contrasting color on the front door, as in the Georgian Colonial pictured above.

All of these elements are available at various price points, from the most custom, high-end materials to mass-produced items that can not only make a statement but look great too.   Be sure to check out the “Resource Guide” below for some great sources where you can find everything you'll need to create the doorway you want.  In addition, don't forget to check out architectural salvage yards, which can be a great place to find antique, one-of-a-kind windows and moldings for your project. 


I have not attempted to cover every style in America's rich architectural history.  Still, I hope that I have provided some interesting information and background on the historical inspirations behind some of these styles, as well as some “food for thought” about how your own entryway can be modified and accessorized to better reflect you.



Pratt and Lambert 
Farrow and Ball
Benjamin Moore
Valspar (available at Lowes)


Expensive custom doors:  Amherst Woodworking
Less expensive:  Select Door 
Mass manufactured:  Simpson Door Company 
Transoms, hardware and doors:  Cambridge Doors & Windows


Worthington Millwork
Melton Classics (List of online sources for composite architectural elements and features.)
Chadsworth Incorporated (columns, pediments, entryway systems)


House of Antique Hardware
Renovator's Supply
Signature Hardware
Lighting Universe

ADDITIONAL RESOURCES:  (list of restoration suppliers and services) (links to everything from antique doors suppliers to architectural salvage, lighting and hardware)

Photo credits:
Photo 1: Georgian Colonial front door, Newport, RI. Copyright 2010 Pamela M. Yeaton. All rights reserved.
Photo 2: Georgian Colonial front door, Newport, RI. Copyright 2010 Pamela M. Yeaton. All rights reserved.
Photo 3: Federal style front door and portico, Newport, RI. Copyright 2010 Pamela M. Yeaton. All rights reserved.
Photo 4: Italianate style home, Newport, RI. Copyright 2010 Pamela M. Yeaton. All rights reserved.
Photo 5: Victorian style "Hale House", Los Angeles, CA. Photo used by permission and license of The City Project.
Photo 6: Colonial Revival style front door and portico, Newport, RI. Copyright 2010 Pamela M. Yeaton. All rights reserved.
Photo 7: Ivy-covered door in Portsmouth, NH. Photo used by permission and license of hmmlargeart
Copyright 2010 - All rights reserved - Pamela Yeaton

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

PDQuick! A Room with a View

PDQuick Tip: If you're unhappy or dissatisfied with a room in your house but can't quite put your finger on why, consider taking some photographs of the room.  Sometimes what we can't see when we are present "in" the room due to various distractions and visual stimuli becomes clear as day when viewed through the objective lens of the camera.  You might be surprised.

Speaking from experience, I had a client with a room in her house that had frustrated her for years.  Although the room had great architecture, a vaulted ceiling and beautiful furnishings, there was just something about it that continued to miss the mark.  The room should've been perfect, but it wasn't.  After taking several photographs of the space from various angles, it became apparent to me that the problem was mostly that the cool undertones of the wall color were "fighting" with the warmer tones of the fabrics on the furnishings.  Once we "warmed up" the walls with a richer, more saturated paint color, the room appeared more cohesive.  Problem solved.

Give it a try!
Copyright 2010 - All rights reserved - Pamela Yeaton

Thursday, March 4, 2010

EDITORIAL: Balancing the Preservation of Historic Homes and Districts Against Freedom of Choice


Author Stephen King once wrote that some people would buy a bag of manure as long as it was an old bag of manure. The obvious inference was that sometimes people overvalue things just because they're “antique”.

I'm sure there are people who feel the same way about the various preservation societies and historic district commissions that now regulate ownership of historic homes in America's cities and towns. However, I'm not one of those people.

I remember when my husband and I were looking for our first house, we found a beautiful old Colonial in an historic town. The house was over 350 years old. You could literally see the evidence of the home's age: Deep window seats with paneled inside shutters; a hearth that took up one whole wall; even an old root cellar that had once hidden runaway slaves on the Underground Railroad. Unfortunately, there was also an unattractive (though spacious) addition to the house that was clearly done in the late 1960s or 1970s and which clashed badly with the original house style. It was sad to see that the architectural integrity of this house had not been preserved or protected in its entirety. We didn't end up buying that house, but I do remember that we had determined that if we were to make the purchase, the first thing to be done would be the demolition of that addition.

Oh, I admit there's a small part of me that feels it's somehow “un-American” to tell people what they can and cannot do to their own houses, right down to the style of mailbox they can have; that the price paid for an historic structure includes the somewhat disturbing subordination of personal will and design preferences to that of the outside world.

However, there's a far bigger part of me that firmly believes in the imperative of preservation of our historic buildings and homesteads. From a practical perspective, restoring and preserving the historic districts in America's cities and towns aids in raising property values. Moreover, some states offer significant tax credits and low-interest loans for renovation and preservation of historic homes listed on the National Register.

Far more important, however, is the fact that once you destroy a piece of history, you can never replace it. We've all heard stories about the widespread destruction of amazing historical structures hundreds of years old in wartime Europe or the destruction of Imperial Russia's distinctive architecture that symbolized Russia's rich pre-Revolutionary history. It leaves you with a hollow feeling, a loss of something beautiful and irreplaceable.

In this country, it was not long ago that there was an all-too-frequent habit of demolishing the old to make way for new construction. With the tunnel-vision mindset of a “throwaway” society, urban decay in particular was reason enough for use of the wrecking ball. Today, we are seeing fewer and fewer such examples due to the relatively recent formation of historical preservation societies and commissions, in addition to enactment of the U.S. Secretary of the Interior's United States Rehabilitation Standards. And that can only be a good thing.


To be sure, there are aspects of “preservation codes” that give me pause and make me wonder how much is too much. After all, everything from paint color to external light fixtures to gutters, chimneys and fences is subject to town scrutiny. Still, it's understandable. Small changes to a building's historical features at some point will erode the integrity of the original design, until it becomes just an artificial facade or replica pretending to be an authentic piece of the past.

The question is, at what point (if at all) should the past bow out gracefully and give way to modern styles, preferences and conveniences? After all, even historic homes themselves often have mixed, or “eclectic”, features, as the original homeowners throughout the decades and centuries have modified their exteriors to more closely mirror the styles of the day. Today, a homeowner of those same homes would not be allowed to make such modifications, at least not without a “Certificate of Appropriateness”, and probably not at all.

Furthermore, over one-half of the land in cities like Newport, Rhode Island is designated as part of the “Historic District”, leaving a limited amount of room for architectural innovation. While protecting our past, it's important that we not turn our living, breathing cities into museums, either.

In the final analysis, what is worth preserving and what is not is open to a lot of interpretation. Is something worth saving merely because of its age or do aesthetics form part of the equation? Is a post-War ranch from the 1940s or a 1960s Cape Cod style house worthy of preservation merely because they define a particular era in architectural history? If not now, how about in one hundred years? Two hundred? Is there a point where new construction becomes tomorrow's historic treasure? To be honest, I really don't know the answer to that. But I do know that there must be a place where we draw the line and respect diversity and freedom of choice.


For me, one definite place for drawing that line is at the increasingly popular development of planned communities like Celebration, Florida. It may be argued that such communities are establishing the standards now for future generations, and that while historic preservation societies throughout America are safeguarding the past, towns like Celebration are nipping the erosion of its “neotraditional” style in the bud before it can take hold.

However, here's the flaw in that argument: Historical societies and their associated regulations are designed to preserve the character of homesteads and buildings that reflect their importance in history. Part of that character is the unplanned imperfection of truly old buildings: The wavy appearance of “bulls-eye” glass panes in the windows, the slightly askew and uneven nature of the clapboard siding and the lintels cresting the paneled wood doors. Such “flaws” are like a fine patina, telegraphing the human hands that were at work centuries ago, along with the passage of time. Also, the very diversity of historic districts tells the story of that city's and America's architectural history through the ages. They cannot be duplicated, no matter how often replicated, because they are uniquely original snapshots in time.

In contrast, the hefty “Declaration of Covenants, Conditions and Restrictions” that informs a town like Celebration protects the appearance of a perfect but artificial facade far removed from the human touch, a movie set of small town America. It's no more real than a tableau from Disney's own “Pirates of the Caribbean” thrill ride.

And to my mind, if you're going to restrict people's freedom in designing their homes, there needs to be a more compelling reason than that of mere conformity for conformity's sake. Now that is un-American.

Just my (humble) opinion. What say you?

Inset photograph: Entrance to Honyman Hall, Trinity Church, Newport, RI.
Copyright 2010 - All rights reserved - Pamela Yeaton