Category Archives: Chicago

On the Path to Preservation with Matthew Wolf

8.4FrerkPic (2)Matthew Wolf is a fifth generation successor to his family’s building materials business, Henry Frerk Sons. “Every generation has run the company since it began – my mother is a Frerk,” provides Wolf. “My Great Great Grandfather started the business as a general store in the early 1870’s.”

Great Great Grandpa Henry expanded to the company’s current location on Belmont, he began the transition to building materials. His sons amassed great wealth (and then lost almost everything during the Great Depression) with coal. Matt’s grandfather brought in the first concrete trucks, and his dad developed special concrete – the type that “general cement contractors can’t provide on their trucks.”

Wolf says it looks like “his thing” is going to be restoration. “Every generation put their own mark on the company. It’s very important to me to do the same. This is also such a good point about business – you can’t stay stagnant!”

Material Evolution

Matt first went to school for architecture and graduated with a business management degree. He became passionate about preservation during this time, learning about wood restoration, how to assess old buildings, testing masonry, painting, wall paper, etc. (He also says the Art Institute has some of the best classes available for people interested in learning more about preservation.) Since then Wolf has become an expert on restorative materials leading the company into a new era of education on the subject for their customers. One of his most passionate topics is the importance of lime mortar applications for restoration projects.

“Lime mortar has been used in America since the settlers. Portland cement (what we use today) was first developed in England in the 1870’s, but wasn’t widely used in the U.S. until the 1930’s, because it was very expensive to produce and there were few manufacturers around making it.”

Referring to actual documents at his office, Matt further illustrated his point. “For example, a rail car filled with lime, about 150 barrels worth, cost $52.50 in 1908. That same amount of cement cost $214.50 at the time – just about four times as much! Lime mortar was cheap, and you could get it anywhere. Contractors were hesitant to use cement in the beginning because it was so expensive, but when the price came down enough for contractors to use it laying brick, cement took the market over by the 1940’s.”

Cement v. Mortar

One of the biggest differences between cement and lime mortar is that cement gets very hard very fast, and lime mortar takes a very long time to set.

There are 7 different types of mortar differentiated by their hydraulic properties – the degree to which lime works with water to grow crystals and get hard. The more hydraulic mortar is, the harder and faster it gets hard.

Lime putty has zero hydraulic properties, “…it’s like sour cream”. On the opposite side of the spectrum is Portland cement; it’s made from the same rocks, but with different additives. In between the two are:

NHL – Natural Hydraulic Lime 2.0, 3.5 and 5.0 rated from weakest to strongest

Pozzolain Lime – Developed by the Romans

Natural Cement – Developed in New York and used to build the Erie Canal, lighthouses, and other structures.

Wolf says the Romans were really the first to develop lime. It was tried and true for centuries, “…but Portland cement did such a great job of advertising we forgot about lime mortar. Portland is for resurfacing and isn’t necessarily the way to go with restoration.”

Historic Commitments

Matt is committed to the belief if a building was built with lime mortar, it should be rebuilt with lime mortar. “With restoration, lime mortar breathes better – but you don’t want it to go through the brick. If you have an 1840’s lime joint and you repoint with cement mortar, it could be harder than the original mortar and brick. When mortar joints are stronger, age and the elements could damage the brick. This is because moisture gets trapped and breaks down if you use cement mortar.

Pre-1930 commercial buildings usually have this problem. You can test for the original mortar, but it’s very expensive; for residential structures, you can usually tell by looking at it. You can use lime mortar to repair later built houses too.”

Wolf is glad to see lime mortar is being widely recognized in preservations now and offers that, contractors, in general, are reluctant to use it because “they grew up with cement.” He appreciates that Fortune Restoration has been working closely with his company to learn the art of lime mortar. “I’m excited about working with them because their technical skills are so great. They are covering the walls with burlap, hand chiseling and performing other like tasks to mhttps://www.facebook.com/FortuneRestoration/videos/vb.585307058171610/845862335449413/?type=2&theateraintain ‘proper historic masonry renovation’.”

Wrap Up

In an effort to defray the expense of maintaining historic building applications with integrity, Frerk is the first building supplier to make a “bulk silo” for lime mortar to help bring down the cost. “We often see more damage with bad re-pointing because the wrong stuff was used. It really should be a do-it-right-or-don’t-do-it-at-all undertaking.”

The company’s general philosophy for historic buildings is to find out what the problem is first and then determine the right way to fix it. “We go to the jobsites, work with the contractors and consult to find best answers. We also realized we needed to be better educated about lime mortar and bring it to the masons. I want to network with preservationists and do more things like that.”

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Historic Italian Victorian in Wilmette

AfterKate Thomas has a passion for older homes. She and her family lived in a home built in 1918 prior to moving into their historic Italian Victorian built in 1874 on Park Avenue in Wilmette, Illinois.

“The house was built by Mr. Klem and Mr. McDaniel,” prescribes Kate, “they were founding fathers of Wilmette, who were also good friends. Two of their children married, and they built the house for the kids as a wedding present. It was a big deal at the time; you can still find it in the Trib’s social register [archives]. The county records for the ownership of the house show it was held in the family for a good 100 years. Since then, numerous owners had it for two or three years until we moved in.”

Best Laid Plans

Thomas and her husband had budgeted for upkeep and updates but were challengimage5ed with far more than they had bargained for. A ceiling collapse, plumbing held together with duct tape and socks, stairs kept in place with carpet padding stuffed between the boards and a host of other camouflaged defects kept them busy for the next decade.

After 11 long years of “triage”, Kate was finally ready to paint. “When we bought the house, it was gray with white trim, but it wasn’t until we decided to paint that I really started looking at the trim and realized how much there was of it.”

For help in keeping to the period, Thomas purchased an out of print book on 19th Century Victorian homes online. “There were suggestions for colors that would have been used, so we were able to combine an accurate paint scheme that way.”

image4Color Coordinates

Finding the right combination of trim colors was essential, and further tested by an enclosed porch which had been added in the 1920’s. “So, I had 1874 windows and 1920 windows. The challenge was to keep integrity with two different periods and still have it look good.” She says this is one of the reasons why they chose to work with Fortune because they “understand architectural styles and how to get through 150 years of paint.”

Thomas thinks people don’t truly understand the amount of scraping, prepping and design knowledge that goes into a project like this. “That’s the stuff you don’t see on the surface, and we wouldn’t have had the same result without them.”

image2 (2)The Fortune team painted test swatches on all four sides of the house so Kate could see how the colors would look in various types of light and different vantage points. “We went through $64 of paint samples – that might have been some of the best money spent on the whole project.” (Kate also spent time walking the aisles of Loomcraft looking for fabrics with the same colors in them and used material samples to help narrow down the choices.) “We tested it together; Alejandro [from Fortune] would paint a patch of trim, and we’d talk it over. You really have to listen to the consultants who know more than you do about these things. You can’t wing it.”

Not wanting to be “someone’s learning curve”, Thomas confides she had watched a local Fortune project in the works while driving her daughter to camp each day before making initial contact with them. She thinks finding a reliable company to paint newer or less complicated homes should be fairly easy, but advocates, “It takes someone with serious experience to pull off a project of this nature. The staff was a pleasure to work with and we could not have been happier.”

Paying It Forward

When the Thomas family is ready for their next move, they want to pass the house on in better shape than they found it. “It’s one of the oldest houses in Wilmette, and it’s important to take the time, do the research and preserve it. Part of this is about neighbors, it means a lot to the history of the neighborhood.”

Equally important to Kate is that the next buyers will treasure the home and continue to save it from tear down. “Older homes don’t have that Brady Bunch layout, but just because a home is older doesn’t mean it’s disposable!”

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Victorian Architecture and the Painted Lady

Victorian style homes were first built in the early 1800’s. Architecturally speaking, the term “Victorian” is significant to numerous styles and materials which came out of the Victorian era when Queen Victoria ruled Britain. Generally constructed of wood, brick and/or stone, Victorian architecture is synonymous to elaborate detail.

Victorian Octagon in Barrington, Il

Victorian Octagon in Barrington, IL

The Victorian Profile

The most common traits of Victorian homes are: bay windows, wood or metal trim, textured walls, decorative brick work, scalloped shingles, steep rooflines with multiple gables facing different directions, wrap around porches with ornamental spindles, and round or octagonal towers with steep pointed roofs. Usually two stories, Victorians were also often built with third floors.

The most recognized designs of the Victorian period are Italianate, Gothic Revival, Queen Anne, Folk Victorian, Shingle, Stick, Empire, Romanesque, Eastlake, and Octagon. Of these, the most difficult style to find today is the Octagon [eight sided], first built in the mid 1800’s to improve “ventilation and light”.

Romanesque Victorian - Corner of Dearborn & Ontario, Downtown Chicago

Romanesque Victorian on the corner of Dearborn and Ontario in downtown Chicago.

People often think of Victorians as being large ornate wood sided homes, but Victorian architecture may also reflect pastoral and castle like influence. One of the most locally famous examples of this is a Romanesque style historic landmark in Chicago. Designed by local architect, Henry Ives Cobb, the 632 N. Dearborn building was constructed of stone in 1892 and originally occupied by the Chicago Historical Society. This gargantuan-sized Victorian housed numerous businesses through the years, most recently, nightclubs.

What Makes a Painted Lady?

Known for their multi-color painted grandeur [three colors or more], Painted Lady Victorians rose to prominence during the San Francisco Gold Rush of 1849. When the population ballooned from 800 to 25,000 in a year, Victorian styles expanded in mass meeting the demand for new housing.

Victorian lined street in San Francisco

Victorian lined street in San Franciso

San Francisco remains one of the most iconic areas where Victorian Painted Ladies reside in number to date. Surprisingly, these homes weren’t officially called “Painted Ladies” until coined as such by authors Elizabeth Pomada and Michael Larsen in their 1978 book, Painted Ladies – San Francisco’s Resplendent Victorians.

In the 1880’s, Queen Anne Victorians came into high fashion. The often bright colors used on the numerous architectural details of Queen Annes, make them one of the most highly recognizable Painted Lady styles today.

Restored Victorian in Chicago's historial Kenwood district.

Restored Victorian in Chicago’s historial Kenwood district.

The Victorian building craze continued as late as the 1940’s in Midwest farming communities. Affordable at their onset, building these types of homes today would be unaffordable for the masses.

Find Your Victorian Groove

Beautiful as they are, Victorian homes are a headache for some. Odd floorplans, smaller rooms and tiny closet space compared to most twentieth century homes, will likely dictate the need for reconfiguration. Interior repairs, such as wiring and other like items, may also be needed.

Rule of Thumb When doing repairs and upkeep on historic and older homes, look for architects and contractors with experience tied directly to the time period the house was built – their cumulative knowledge base will prove invaluable to getting these types of jobs done correctly and accurately.

Outside of San Francisco, you can find Painted Ladies in cities like Chicago, New Orleans, St. Louis and numerous other towns across the U.S. If you love these architectural styles and don’t mind the upkeep, you should be able to find the Victorian of your dreams in most any city.

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How to Choose Paint Color for Your Vintage Home

fortune restoration

Historic home built in 1885 — Evanston, Ill.

What’s the most daunting task about painting your vintage home? Color –what colors would fit best with the character of your home and your personal preferences. Easier said than done, right?

With so many paint colors available today, choosing which colors work best with each other is a challenge. Considering the exterior of your house is not an easy or equitable “do-over” (unlike that chartreuse color you thought would look so great in the upstairs bath), finding the perfect outside color combo can be more than overwhelming.

Take a Spin on the Color Wheel

When choosing exterior colors, it’s important to note that some color schemes can intensify the look of an older house while others can make that same home look dull on one side of the spectrum, or even outrageous, on the opposite end.

Monochromatic color schemes offer a sophisticated look. A light brown siding with dark brown trim and shutters will provide a sleek, uniform look. If you want something a bit more eye catching, consider a complementary scheme of colors that have a huge amount of color contrast like violet and yellow.

5.26 color-wheelYellow-orange or red-violet colors fall within a triadic color scheme. When you work with a triadic scheme, select colors that are equally distant on the color wheel. Just the opposite of a triadic scheme is an adjacent scheme, achieved by using color options that are next to each other on the color wheel. A good example of this would be violet, blue-violet and blue.

Helpful Rules of Thumb

For help in finding vintage color options, select which of the following categories suits you best:

Historical Appropriateness – Research is basic in this category to investigating the color palettes that were available and favored during the time your house was built. The further back in time you go, the fewer colors there are to choose from.

Historical Color Collections can give you a hand in your paint color selection. One solution to finding the original colors that most likely would have been used for your home is to do an online search for “historic color charts”. Exterior paint colors for very old homes usually mirrored the material colors of the day like brick, copper, bronze, and exposed timbers.

Refine your color options even further by searching for your home’s design style (i.e., Craftsman, Queen Anne, Colonial Revival, etc.). Many home designs had their own unique range of color pallets.

fortune restoration painted lady

“Painted Lady” in the Chicago Suburbs

Another option for finding colors used during certain time periods may also be found in old print, such as colors used on postcards, sheet music, in advertising and other like items.

Historical Accuracy – In choosing this category you will strictly limit yourself to the original colors used on your home. This could prove more difficult to match, depending upon the age and/or uniqueness of your vintage home. Old color photos (if available) may help, as would talking to long time neighborhood residents – again, completely dependent upon the age of your home, and your neighbors.

Ultimately, using a scraper to peel back the layers of paint to find the original true color of your home is the best method. Make sure you do this test on all the aspects of your home, as multiple colors can be hidden between the various areas of the body and trim.

If you do decide to uncover the old paint, it will most likely be faded. Bring a scraped sample to a paint retailer or professional service provider with vintage home experience for help in matching today’s shades with yesterday’s colors.

Wrap Up

When you adore the history of your house but are not married to preserving its historical accuracy, work with your personal color preferences and build from there.

Exercise your tastes, keep the vibe of your neighborhood in mind and take care in choosing colors you can live with for years to come.

For additional tips read: http://www.slideshare.net/fortunerestoration/how-to-choose-your-best-exterior-paint

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