The fourth installment in my birthday tribute to my house is devoted entirely to one part of one room, the three windows in the bowed front of the living room.
There are 15 windows at Door Sixteen, and all of them are original to the house. All but three or four panes within are the original, hand-blown wavy glass, too, which never fails to amaze me—in 120 years, even boarded-up with plywood, that most fragile part of the house stayed intact. I can get pretty emotional about stuff like that. My house is a trooper.
Still, though, all of the windows were badly in need of repair when the house became ours. So far I’ve completely overhauled eleven of them, and plan to address the remaining three this spring. It’s time-consuming work, for sure, but really worth it. Somehow I managed to stretch out the repair of the three windows in the living room for just about five years from start to finish! Here’s a photo chronology…
I still cringe when I see that paint. Walls the color of spoiled mayonnaise with flat, goldenrod trim. It was awful stuff—not just the color, but that it was globbed on top of layers of peeling paint and seemingly applied with a dirty mop. And how sad is that dead hanging plant? I remember the hook it was hanging from being nearly impossible to remove from the ceiling.
Right after buying the house, I scraped off as much loose paint as I could from the window casings and painted them white (Benjamin Moore Simply White, satin finish—the same as all of the rest of the white woodwork in the house). I didn’t paint the sashes, though, since I knew they required major repair work that I didn’t yet feel confident enough to undertake. Adding another layer of paint to the mix would just have made everything harder in the long run, so I decided to leave them as-is “for a few weeks”. HAH! In reality, time stretched out to over three years before I even came near those windows again.
And then I just couldn’t take it anymore.
Out came the chisels, the razor blades, the scrapers, the tiny sander, and the dozens of other implements that I use to remove layers of paint, caulk, dried-out glazing, and other crud (and yes, on went the dust mask and goggles and out came the HEPA-filtered vacuum). With very old wood, sometimes it’s better to not completely remove all of the paint from the surface. That last layer of paint is sometimes so well-bonded to the wood (let’s face it, lead paint was nothing if not ultra-durable) that scraping it off can take a surprising amount of the wood itself along with it, especially if the wood has been damaged by sun or water over the years. I tend to take a minimalist approach to refinishing woodwork—I remove whatever paint is loose, peeling or chalky, and leave the rest.
This is the point you hit where there’s no turning back. If you’re fixing up your old windows, that’s the time to replace the old sash cords. Thankfully, whoever invented weighted sash windows thought to design a little door inside of the sash channel so they can be accessed easily (kind of). I won’t get into specific instructions here (check this old post for links that can take you to better sites to see how it’s done), but it’s not too scary. I promise. You really just need to know what you’re doing. In other words, have a computer nearby so you can frantically Google “replace sash cord tie knot” when you realize you have absolutely NO idea how to reattach the weight to your new cord.
(Also, make sure you actually have new cord—nylon clothesline is just fine—before you wind up with a dangling sash and a big open hole in your house. I am an idiot, and didn’t. Oops. I’m still not exactly sure how I thought it was going to magically materialize in the basement despite never having bought any.)
This is how you securely tie a sash cord onto a sash weight. You can thank me later.
Loose paint gone, old caulk scraped out, damaged areas filled with Ready Patch, everything sanded and smoothed, sash cords replaced and window stops in place…and then it all just stayed like this for another entire year. I don’t know why I didn’t just move onto repainting the windows right then. I should have.
In April 2010, I finally got around to stripping all of the paint off of the original cast iron sash locks (I use the crockpot method for stripping hardware). They were quite rusty and corroded, so I gave them my usual treatment—a coat of of Rust-Oleum Rust Reformer in flat black. I’ve used it on hinges, locks, backplates, and all sorts of other “active” parts over the years, and it’s never so much as gotten a chip or scratch. It really doesn’t look or act like paint, and it goes on so thinly that all of the decorative detail stays crisp.
Around the same time, I managed to paint the sashes, too, but I didn’t take a photo at the time (too exhausted and sick of it all, probably). This is how they looked up until a couple of weeks ago.
Ugh, so grainy! I’m sorry, I know nothing about taking properly-lighted photographs.
Of course, as soon as the sashes were all white and clean and pretty, the curtains I’d been using to hide them just seemed excessive. I’ve tried to love curtains, but I think I’m just not that kind of girl. I like shades and blinds. Simple. When you have three tall windows so close to each other, it’s easy to wind up with a wall of fabric that can be really overbearing. Enter cut-to-fit ENJE shades!
See? Beautiful windows! And it only took five years.
I’ve written before about the merits of repairing old windows rather than replacing them, and you should check that post for some really good window-repair resources.
Stay tuned for part five!
• Five years ago, part one.
• Five years ago, part two.
• Five years ago, part three.