Monthly Archives: March 2009

A Little Help From Cousins

On a beautiful sunny day, Cousins Contracting (Watertown, MA) was on site to remove 19 more sash for restoration.  They mainly focused on windows located on the southwest elevation of the house, which includes the South Gallery and the Blue Willow Room.  So, including the sash removed by Historic New England’s Carpentrey Crew and Heartwood Building & Restoration, the total number of windows currently being restored is nearly 75.  Now, only 175 more to go…cousins at worklined up for documentation





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Historic Paint Analysis

Brain Powell from BCA removes paint for analysis


Brain Powell from BCA removes paint for analysis

Henry Davis Sleeper was already a knowledgeable antique collector and prominent interior designer when he started Beauport in 1907.  He designed it as a weekend retreat– a small country cottage on the rocks of Eastern Point.  Over the next 27 years, the house evolved into a fantasy of over 40 beautiful and grandiose interiors filled with his collections of American and European objects.   He was meticulous in his designs and all rooms at the house were arranged with specific attention to composition of color, texture, and light.  Whole sections of paneling and timbers taken from demolished houses in the New England area were installed in various arrangements and new fabrications were commissioned to match–this created beautiful rooms such as the Green Dining Room, South Gallery, and Cogswell Hall. 

Sleeper’s talents and reputation for interior decoration and acquisition of valued antiques spread far and his flair for color caught the eye of writers from the beginning.  The house was featured extensively in publications, starting in 1916 with a fulsome article in “The House Beautiful,” followed throughout the 1920s up to the present day by numerous others in newspapers and magazines.  Nancy McClelland, one of the first advocates for the professionalization of interior decorators, states in her 1926 book, “The Practical Book of Decorative Wall Treatments,” “Henry D. Sleeper… says that he has found at least seven different colors of paint which occur frequently in old dwellings, and which he has reproduced in this wonderful house in Gloucester.  Among them are a golden brown, pumpkin-yellow, and sage green.” 

Following a subsequent owner (Mr. & Mrs. Charles E. F. McCann), the house was almost unchanged in composition and color when it was bequeathed to Historic New England in 1942.   Today, as part of the ongoing conservation work at the house, Historic New England is performing historic paint analysis in approximately 5 rooms to determine the original color and vibrancy of the Sleeper paint palette.  This will provide more information on the history of historic paints in New England as well as create a paint chronology for touch ups and repairs at the house.  More information to follow.

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Let It Snow?

Perched on a natural rock ledge overlooking the Atlantic Ocean, Beauport is an extraordinary architectural masterpiece.  However, due to the harsh coastal New England climate and the maze of intersecting planes and forms of its construction, the building is plagued with persistent leaks… where snow literally drifts inside the building…   Golden Step SnowOctagon Room Snow


Sun Porch SnowSnow from Chimney







The moisture-related problems that the building suffers from is one of the many projects ongoing at the house, which is partially funded by a grant from the Save America’s Treasures program and a grant from the Massachusetts Historical Commission.

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Replacement Glass Dilemmas

At Historic New England, we attempt to preserve architectural elements as we find them.  Most often, basic repairs followed by routine monitoring and maintenance are effective.  But sometimes the element is beyond repair and replacement is necessary.  In the case of glass, this can present a dilemma.


When a lite is broken in a window and the break is deemed unfixable (or an existing piece does not properly fit the opening), a replacement piece of glass must be identified.  Prior to the glass being glazed in to place, “HNE New Glass 20XX” is etched into the bottom below the glazing line.  Any future work on that piece of glass would reveal this replacement.  Additionally, the repair intervention is documented via the appropriate completion report process.


But, when a piece of glass must be replaced, there is a dilemma as to what type of glass and what source of glass is appropriate.


Do we ….

 Replace with clear, flat, 21st century glass and accept the fact that this is new work?

    Pro:   This method is in keeping with Historic New England’s use of new material for wood repairs.

    Con:  The more pieces of a window that are replaced in this fashion, the more the “look and feel” of the window is altered.  Clear, unblemished glass wasn’t reliably available until 1960.


Replace with reproduction glass that was made in the 21st century but made to have the imperfections of earlier glass?

There are commerically available options in this category.  Some suppliers make handblown reproduction window glass that has the appearance of 18th and 19th century glass.  However, since this product is truly handblown some of this glass has more character than would be typical of late 19th/early 20th century glass, such as is the case with the glass found at Beauport.  Other suppliers melt modern float glass allowing imperfections such as waves and pits to settle in the piece.  This glass can be graded into different options depending on the degree and type of imperfections imparted to the piece.     
      Pro:   The general look and feel of the window is not significantly altered. 

Con:  This could technically be considered “faking it” despite the etching and associated documentation.


Replace with glass salvaged from windows of a similar period?

Pro:   The general look and feel of the window is not significantly altered.

The subtlety of the imperfections and glass thicknesses may be more closely approximated than with the reproduction options – assuming a large inventory of salvage options.

Con:  This would be considered “faking it” despite the etching and associated documentation.  We would not sanction using salvaged wood for a wood repair in any case.


At Historic New England, we will pursue the middle option – replacement with a modern material treated to appear as the original material.  But for homeowners, the use of salvage glass might be very appropriate – it is a green option and may prove to be more affordable.  Visually, we’ll very likely have the same result.


The Secretary of Interior Standards guidelines on replacement follow:


Following repair in the hierarchy, guidance is provided for replacing an entire character-defining feature with new material because the level of deterioration or damage of materials precludes repair (for example, an exterior cornice; an interior staircase; or a complete porch or storefront). If the essential form and detailing are still evident so that the physical evidence can be used to re-establish the feature as an integral part of the rehabilitation project, then its replacement is appropriate. Like the guidance for repair, the preferred option is always replacement of the entire feature in kind, that is, with the same material. Because this approach may not always be technically or economically feasible, provisions are made to consider the use of a compatible substitute material.


It should be noted that, while the National Park Service guidelines recommend the replacement of an entire character-defining feature under certain well-defined circumstances, they never recommend removal and replacement with new material of a feature that–although damaged or deteriorated–could reasonably be repaired and thus preserved.


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