Restoring a 1915 Colonial Revival house
Master Bedroom

Here is one of the two larger bedrooms in the house. This room needed work as found, but wasn't as bad as some. At first glance, the floor needs refinished, the suspended ceiling needs to come down, and the woodwork needs to be stripped and refinished. This picture also shows some of the fine craftsmanship that went into the house in its later years. The television cable supply for the second floor came through the wall of this room and is stretched across the floor and out into the hallway.

Here is another view of the same room. There is considerable staining on the floor, but these should sand out.

Work began on this room during our demolition weekend in July 2009. Work started with taking out the suspended ceiling, which lasted a total of 30 seconds. We removed one of the tiles near the middle of the ceiling and in doing that, bumped one of the wires holding the ceiling tracks to old plaster ceiling underneath. Just bumping this wire knocked it loose and the next thing we knew, the entire ceiling collapsed onto the floor. It was a shock, but thankfully everyone came out o.k. Once we got the debris cleared, we got a better look at the ceiling.

Once the suspended ceiling was down, we could see the original. The picture above shows the worst part where a section of plaster was missing. There were also numerous cracks across the length of the room that the next picture shows.

There had been several attempts to repair the cracks in the past, but it looks like they came back. We tapped on several sections of the plaster and it was solid. Nothing moved or came loose as we moved across the room tapping the ceiling. This was good. This means that the ceiling will not have to come out. However, from the looks of the past repairs to the ceiling, if we were to patch the cracks, they would probably return in a few years' time. The best course of action is to put a 3/8" sheetrock skin over the entire ceiling. This will give us a fresh surface to work with while still having the original lath and plaster ceiling underneath.

The Ceiling

We decided to use a "top down" approach with this room. That is, we started from the ceiling and worked our way down. As stated earlier, we decided to put a 3/8" sheetrock skin over the existing ceiling to give us a fresh surface to work with. The first challenge we faced with this room was getting the pieces of sheetrock up the stairs. Of course, the stairwell was about a half inch too narrow for a piece of sheetrock to make the turn to go to the second floor. The only option was to take the sheets up through the center of the stairwell.

Before hanging the sheets, we measured and marked the location of the beams in the ceiling. That way, we would know that each sheet was securely anchored and not just hanging to plaster. We marked each beam with a string - one of many good ideas from Jada's dad. The picture below shows the ceiling marked and ready for the new covering.

We also cut a small piece of sheetrock to fill the hole where the plaster had fallen off the ceiling. The next picture shows this repair.

After this repair was made, the first sheet went up.

Several hours later, all the sheets were up. After taping the joints and mudding, the ceiling was complete.

With the ceiling complete, we turned our attention to the walls. The walls of this room were in decent condition, requiring only some patching here and there. Once all the holes were patched, we gave the walls a coat of Kilz primer and picked a color for this room. The color we chose was a chocolate brown from Sherwin Williams's historical colors collection.  We added a period appropriate reproduction light fixture from Rejuvenation complete with a new manufacture pushbutton light switch. The following picture is what the room looks like with this work complete.

We later decided this color was too dark for the room. The paint seemed to darken more as time went on and made the walls feel like they were closing in on you. We repainted the room in the Spring of 2010 with another historically appropriate color that is much lighter. Pictures will follow soon.


For a house built in the mid 1910s, the builders used some good wiring - actually some of the best that money could buy at the time. The original wiring was 12-gauge cloth insulated wiring inside armored conduit, pictured above after it was removed from behind the baseboards. If we had planned on leaving the room in its original configuration with only one or two outlets running a light load, it would have been fine to use the existing wiring. However, we want to have at least five outlets in the room to run things like a window air conditioning unit, a television, DVD player, etc. This would have been too much of a load on the 95 year old wiring. Old wiring should not be pushed further than what it was designed to do, which in a typical 1910s bedroom would have been a lamp and maybe a small electric desk fan, but nothing else.

All of the wiring was run behind the baseboards, which made replacement fairly easy. All we had to do besides run the new wiring was to cut a few holes in the baseboards for additional outlets. While we had the baseboard off, we cut two holes in the back wall, one on either side of where the bed would go, put a junction box inside each, and dropped wiring down to junction boxes in the baseboard. We will be putting sconces on this wall that match the light fixture.

The wiring was run to the breaker box in the basement through a heating pipe shaft inside a wall in the adjacent bedroom. For more information on running wires through pipe shafts, see our page on Bedroom #3

As mentioned earlier, we installed a Classic Accents reproduction pushbutton light switch from Kilian Hardware. We were lucky enough to find a stash of new-old-stock brass pushbutton light switch plates at a local secondhand shop a couple of years ago. Yes, we were accumulating parts for a house we didn't have yet at the time. Though still new in the original packaging, these plates were manufactured in the 1920s and have a nice patina on them. We plan on putting these switches throughout the house.

The light fixture we chose is a replica of an antique fixture manufactured around 1910-1915. In this time period, there were two dueling styles of interior decoration - Colonial Revival (which evolved into today's "Traditional") and Arts and Crafts (also known as Craftsman). Coming in a distant third was Art Nouveau. Colonial inspired light fixtures usually emphasized the use of candelabra-style chandeliers while Craftsman light fixtures consisted of the use of heavy lines and right angles. New for the early 20th century were flush and semi-flush ceiling mounted fixtures with glass shades over the bulbs. Some of these fixtures, like the one pictured above, would look at home equally in a Colonial Revival or Craftsman.

We also installed wall sconces that matched the ceiling light. The master bedroom is about 15 feet wide, so there wouldn't be a lot of room to have large nightstands with lamps on them on either side of the bed. We installed one sconce over the approximate location of where the edges of a headboard would be. This would let us get away with using small night stands and make the room seem less cluttered.

Rocks in the Wall

Yes, you read that right. When we were putting electrical boxes in the walls of this room, we noticed something interesting with the front wall. Jada's father was cutting holes along the bottom of the wall with a hammer drill when he noticed he was meeting more resistance inside the front wall than the others. We looked inside and were surprised to see the front wall of the house is filled with rocks.

Pictured above is one of the rocks we had to take out to install a junction box. The front wall of the house is filled up with similar rocks. The only reason we can think of for filling the front wall with rocks is for insulation purposes or perhaps an early attempt at soundproofing since the house is located a couple hundred yards from the former streetcar lines.

Another view of the rocks inside the wall. Maybe this is why we can't hear the wind inside the house!


The Floor

Pictured above is a typical area of the floor of the master bedroom as we found it. It has obviously not been cared for in some time. The floor was dirty and was covered with scratches and stains. Some of the damage looked like it went deep into the wood at first glance. To make matters worse, when we took the baseboards off, we noticed that the floor boards were laid down before the walls were built. The walls were built on top of the floor boards and then they were sanded. Whoever sanded the floor in the master bedroom hit it pretty hard, taking off as much as 0.1" of wood in places.

This presented a problem. The builders of the house used oak flooring on the first floor, but the floors on the second level are yellow pine - a soft wood that will cut fast under a drum sander if you aren't careful. If we sanded the floor and took off too much, we would be into the tongue of the floor boards and the floor would start to separate. If this happened, the entire floor would need to be replaced, which would involve cutting the boards away near the walls, taking up the floor boards, and putting down fresh. We wanted to avoid this if at all possible, so our first idea was to put down a floating floor made of engineered hardwood on top of the existing floor. We found a finish we liked in a board size that was similar to the rest of the flooring on the second floor.

We began putting down the floating floor and immediately noticed a problem. The tongue and grooves of the floating floor were not routed well and the boards would not stay together. After fussing with it a few hours, we decided to scrap the idea.

After realizing there were no other good options out there, we decided to take the chance and sand the floor. Before sanding, we went through the room and made sure all the nails in the boards had been countersunk with a hammer and punch and that all major imperfections and nail holes had been filled with putty. We rented a drum sander and edger from Home Depot and sanded the floor with 60, 80, and 100 grit paper, taking care to make light passes across the floor. We were nervous, but most of the old damage was on the surface and sanded out beautifully. And we didn't lose much of the wood's surface in making the light passes.The picture above was taken after the sanding was complete. The boards, which were likely milled in 1914-1915, look like they are almost brand new.

After vacuuming up the sawdust and cleaning the floor with a rag dampened in mineral spirits, it was time to stain the floor. The floors on the second and third floors are one area where we realized we would need to bend a little on originality. Floor finishing products similar to what was available in the 1910s are still around, but they can be hard to find and are expensive when you do find them. We decided to save the expense for the first floor and use standard hardware store finish products on the upper levels. We used Minwax Colonial Maple stain on the floor. The color was a good match for the house and looks to be close to what was on the floors originally. The color came out nice - not too light and not too dark. Some of the imperfections in the wood are more obvious with the stain on the floor, but no one should expect a floor that's almost 100 years old to look brand new.

After the stain was dry, we applied three coats of Minwax water-based polyurethane. Again, polyurethane is not a historically accurate finish, but it was cost effective. We used a semi-gloss finish so the floors wouldn't have that dipped-in-plastic yacht deck look that results from using a high gloss finish. After each coat was applied, we let it dry for 24 hours. Then, we lightly hand sanded with 220 grit sandpaper, vacuumed and wiped the floors down, and applied the second coat. We repeated the process for the third coat, but we didn't sand when we were finished with the final coat. The floor was then left to dry for 72 hours.

The Finished Product

Below are a couple of quick shots of the completed master bedroom. More pictures will follow soon.

The piece pictured above is a mahogany chest made in the southeastern United States, probably in Virginia, around 1825. Interior decoration books of the early 20th Century emphasized the use of antique period furnishings in Colonial Revival homes. Though the chest pictured above is an example of Empire styling, which was at its peak from 1815 through the 1830s, it was often included as a "Colonial" styling in many of the early decorating books, albeit erroneously. Still, the style goes nicely with Colonial and Colonial Revival architecture.

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