BUILT-IN FUR­NI­TURE

buf­fets, colon­nades, & win­dow seats

Arts and Crafts Homes - - FRONT PAGE -

Those sur­viv­ing bun­ga­low and Crafts­man builtins are eco­nom­i­cal with space and func­tional in de­sign. A buf­fet re­cessed into a din­ing-room wall elim­i­nates the need for a but­ler’s pantry. A bench tucked against a stair­case cre­ates a place for rest or drop­ping a pack­age in a nar­row space. Book­cases make ex­cel­lent use of the dead space on ei­ther side of a chim­ney­breast. Stacked draw­ers con­vert voids in knee walls into use­ful stor­age.

Per­haps the most el­e­gant built-in is the colon­nade, an ar­chi­tec­tural fea­ture com­posed of a pedestal or par­tial wall—any­where from knee to above-chest height—topped with a col­umn or post. Colon­nades typ­i­cally ap­pear as pairs in the form of room di­viders, bi­sect­ing a long nar­row liv­ing room and ef­fec­tively turn­ing it into two cozy, well-de­fined spa­ces within an open plan.

Colon­nades are the built-ins most likely to be miss­ing or dam­aged in an old Arts & Crafts in­te­rior. (That’s true also of break­fast nooks, which of­ten have been con­verted to pow­der rooms, or oblit­er­ated dur­ing kitchen ex­pan­sions). If there is no colon­nade in a house ca. 1900–1929 where the en­try door opens di­rectly into a long, grace­less liv­ing room with­out a proper foyer, that’s a tell­tale sign a colon­nade may have been ripped out. Dam­age or patches in the wood floor­ing near the mid­point of a room point to the same con­clu­sion.

Even if the colon­nade is long gone, look for ghost­ing. Ar­eas of re­placed floor­ing, a change of color in the trim, even de­pres­sions in fin­ish coats of var­nish on the floor may in­di­cate the size and width of the colon­nade’s base. Check over­head, too, for ev­i­dence: a flat cas­ing that runs along the ceil­ing from wall to wall is usu­ally a dead give­away that it once headed a mill­work colon­nade.

If there is a cas­ing, it may be pos­si­ble to spot marks that in­di­cate the place­ment of the col­umns, and their size at the top. Many col­umns were square, so don’t as­sume yours were round or ta­pered. Sim­i­larly, rem­nants of a ver­ti­cal cas­ing on the wall may in­di­cate just how high the colon­nade base was: knee­wall height, or tall enough to ac­com­mo­date a built-in book­case, for ex­am­ple.

If only the pil­lar is miss­ing, search the top of the pedestal (or cab­i­net) for ghost­ing; it may in­di­cate the size of the pil­lar at its base. Keep in mind that you may find ev­i­dence for more than a sin­gle pil­lar, or one of un­ex­pected shape.

Use the same sort of sleuthing where door cas­ings or orig­i­nal hard­ware are lost; ev­i­dence in the paint or holes in the wood help de­ter­mine any­thing from the orig­i­nal trim pro­file to the length and scale of miss­ing hard­ware. By com­bin­ing ev­i­dence from a va­ri­ety of marks and ghost­ing, it may even be pos­si­ble to tell whether the base once had leaded glass doors (hard­ware may have been heav­ier than nor­mal) or a built-in desk or bench.

If you sus­pect there were once book­cases on ei­ther side of the fire­place, check the man­tel for signs of ghost­ing or paint. If the book­cases are still present, but with open shelv­ing, look for clues in the paint that hard­ware was once present but re­moved—a sure sign that the book­cases were once faced with glass doors.

Sim­i­larly, search­ing for phys­i­cal ev­i­dence may be help­ful in reimag­in­ing what a dam­aged or painted-over builtin buf­fet should look like. Bear in mind that many buf­fets were meant to be painted. If you be­gin strip­ping the piece and find it’s built from early ply­wood or a less-than-at­trac­tive wood, that may be the case. Even fancy buf­fets and book­cases were usu­ally or­dered from mill­work shops or cat­a­logs.

If, on the other hand, you dis­cover quar­ter-sawn oak or sy­camore, tight­grained red­dish-yel­low gum­wood or birch, or fig­ured maple, you may have un­locked a trea­sure wor­thy of full restora­tion. Treat such a buf­fet like the fine piece of fur­ni­ture it is, with help from a fur­ni­ture re­storer or restora­tion car­pen­ter.

If there’s ma­jor dam­age (miss­ing draw­ers, doors, or up­per cab­i­nets) look for ex­am­ples of buf­fets sim­i­lar in scale and con­fig­u­ra­tion through a Google Im­age search. Arts & Crafts en­thu­si­asts of­ten post ex­am­ples of buf­fets and other builtins from pe­riod mill­work cat­a­logs on per­sonal blogs or Pin­ter­est, along with ex­am­ples of re­stored or in-progress restora­tions.

Sticky or balky draw­ers in buf­fets, linen chests, or bed­room draw­ers are of­ten the re­sult of mul­ti­ple coats of paint. To re­turn them to smooth func­tion, sand down the run­ners to re­move the ex­cess, then ap­ply a layer of wax to in­crease the glide. An­other al­ter­na­tive is to fit the run­ners with plas­tic V-chan­nel weather strip­ping, like the kind sold for win­dows and doors. Smooth down the tracks by sand­ing, then in­stall the chan­nel on mat­ing sur­faces.

For any built-in that’s miss­ing hard­ware, choose pe­riod-spe­cific re­place­ments that match the scale and qual­ity of the piece. The same goes for glass: choose flat or beveled glass for a buf­fet back­splash and leaded or art glass for cab­i­nets and book­cases. When ev­ery­thing has been lost, it’s cer­tainly OK to in­dulge in higher-qual­ity fit­tings than the house orig­i­nally en­joyed, within mod­er­a­tion. a

An orig­i­nal colon­nade with book­cases and built-in benches was in­tact, but so filthy it had to be cleaned with a com­bi­na­tion of steel wool, Butcher’s wax, and el­bow grease.

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