On the hunt for antique window trim and making it up as I go along

After a week away, we’re back online here at the Old Rowhouse.

After the week of Steve came to a frenzied close, I left to join the ladies in Atlanta with her family before leaving for South Carolina Saturday morning for a weeklong vacation with all of mine. Thirteen of us under one roof in Hilton Head, South Carolina in a small villa that we’re rapidly outgrowing since we first used it six years ago with only nine of us. I think we might be headed for new digs in the years to come, especially with one more girl already on the way to my already girl-laden oldest brother.

That previous week was a brutal week of labor and little sleep and crazy running around to finish up and clean on Thursday/Friday before my flight Friday early afternoon. After making it to bed in the wee hours of Friday morning, I was back up and at it by 8:00 a.m. to try and finish things up AND clean up the enormous messes I had made, which meant I had to dust and mop the entire house before I could leave. I barely had enough time to pack my bag at 2 pm to leave at 3 and make it to DCA by 4.

(Rachel texted me while she was away and said “Don’t worry about the mess if you really don’t have enough time! We’ll clean when we get back.” I wrote her back and said “uh…you say that, but you would have a cow if you saw the house now.”)

I took full advantage of the week to myself — though some people told me that “full advantage” would have consisted of happy hours and sitting by the pool and watching sports — and made some serious progress on a few large projects. The project I’d been most eager to complete was installing the trim and casing around the new windows in the sleeping porch upstairs and downstairs.

Sleeping porch windows

downstairs porch window uncased

(Yes, that photo is from only two weeks ago and is just how they looked when I started. Once you don’t have any trim on your windows for almost two years, you stop noticing so much.)

When we did the major work on the house in November 2010 before moving in, we replaced all the old junky windows on the back of the house with new wood/vinyl windows. We also ended up rebuilding the entire back wall of the house/porches, which we discovered consisted only of metal siding over the old porch wainscoting/beadboard with zero insulation once we took the siding off and the old windows out.

As an aside: one of my only regrets about our renovation is the arrangement of the windows.

The only reason the windows are where they are was because we were just replacing the old ones. Or so we thought when we bought the windows. Because we ended up rebuilding the entire back of the house with new framing, we could have put windows anywhere we wanted, but things were just moving too fast at that point. I love the downstairs with the two giant windows, but if I had it to do over again, I would’ve matched that look upstairs with two giant windows, and then put 1-2 smaller windows over to the right of the back above the door and pantry window downstairs to provide some symmetry.

Pre-closing: sleeping porch daytimeExterior rear 11/18

I hate how the off-centered row of small windows looks, but it’s all too late now.

When the windows went in and the walls were finished out, new trim wasn’t part of the deal with our contractor and I wanted to take the time to try and match the trim in the rest of the house. Which is the reason they still weren’t done almost two years later. Sigh.

DSC_0009Sleeping porch west

The old 1920’s trim profiles just aren’t carried stock in any lumberyard, which almost all get their millwork from the same places. Not that I’ve been searching every weekend for the appropriate trim or anything, but every attempt was a dead end.

I started at Galliher and Huguely near me in Takoma, but didn’t find anything that matched. I went to TW Perry in Chevy Chase and talked to them about doing custom millwork but quickly decided against it after having a dollar figure slid across the table that caused me to pop an additional Zantac while walking out the door.

I chased down rumors, including one from my Petworth friend Dave who told me he found some like I was describing at Frager’s on Capitol Hill. I went over there last Thanksgiving with my father-in-law: no dice.

After that, I gave up on matching completely, but I wanted to at least attempt to duplicate the broad strokes and feel of the old windows, so perhaps at a glance walking through the house you wouldn’t immediately notice the windows from 2012.

On the day after Rachel left for Atlanta, I went back up to Galliher and Huguely with my indispensable house book in hand with all the measurements of the original casing and pictures on my phone of the old trim to see what I could piece together and match the feel of the original. I spent nearly 45 minutes measuring and looking and studying the wall of trim profiles trying to piece things together in my head. I could tell they were less than delighted as I was still there ten minutes before they close at noon on Saturdays.

But by noon, I had written down trim profile numbers and thought I had found the right combination, though it was a little unorthodox as you’ll see. I grabbed what I needed for the downstairs windows first to see if it would all work together before going back for the longer pieces for the upstairs windows one morning at the crack of dawn before work.

To match the side and bottom pieces of the old trim I found this profile from the fancier “Legacy” series from Wholesale Millwork.

Which was probably why I hadn’t noticed it before: It’s not on their standard big sheet of millwork profiles, so that paper I had taken home about a year ago didn’t have this profile on it. It’s definitely not a perfect match — it’s about 3/4 of an inch wider as well as not being the exact same pattern of bevels, but it is at least symmetrical with the wide gap in between. You can compare the two here, which really shows how different they are. (New trim is the first, second two photos are the old trim.)

legacy trim cropDSC_0032DSC_0003

For the beveled pieces at the bottom of the top assembly, I had to get really creative. (Photos below of original trim, picture on right after stripping it down halfway in the nursery.)

Upper window casingDSC_0034

I couldn’t find anything remotely close to that smaller beveled piece that sits at the bottom of the three-piece assembly, so I bought double the amount of this plain door stop here below and glued them on top of each other to double the profile in an attempt to match the look of the original which has quite a few bevels. I clamped the two pieces together to set at night, though once nailed in place the glue won’t really matter all that much.

You can see the two pieces glued together on this small corner piece about to go in that I had just cut on the chop saw.

Corner trim window casing

For the long flat piece in the middle, it’s just a length of select pine 1×5 board. The MDF 1x6s were far too big and without a table saw ripping wood down perfectly straight is hard for me to do.

For the top I found this piece of rake.

Frankly, I’m no trim expert and I have zero idea where this stuff is really intended to go (rake? Is it a type of crown?), but flipping it upside down made a pretty decent match to the top crown of the original trim (picture below.) I had no idea if it would work until I set a piece of it up on top of the 1×5 at home and saw that it fit perfectly.

Here’s the kitchen window with the original trim on the left and the frame of the new back porch window with all the new pieces on the right. The only thing I didn’t do a good job of matching is how far the pieces protrude past the end of the 1×5. The new ones stick out just a bit farther than they should, but it looks fine from a distance.

DSC_00072012-09-05 20.35.02

For the space between the windows, I got a very plain 3.5″ casing with rounded edges. Other windows in the house have the same trim pieces between two windows as they do around each window, but at 4.5″, the same Legacy trim as the outside was just too wide for the space. This also meant that the legacy trim upstairs only runs across the entire bottom and on the outside edge of the windows at each end of the set of six. The plain casing separates each window in the set.

Lastly, I added a windowsill that looks like it’s about the same depth and thickness as the old windows.

For the the windows downstairs, I didn’t set the window sill into the window opening, mostly because it was the first windowsill I’d ever installed and had no real idea what I was doing, which left a little reveal on the bottom frame of the window. For the windows upstairs, I got my little scribe saw and cut openings into the sill for the space between the windows so the sill sets into the windows a little bit and also reduces how much the sill extends into the room.

See the difference where the sash meets the sill on the two windows?

2012-09-05 20.37.25
2012-09-05 20.50.36

Fortunately for me and my inexperience, the look on the sill and the frame actually works well with the windows we bought, but I still wish I’d have done it “right” downstairs.

The final products:


upstairs porch window uncased2012-09-05 20.46.27
2012-09-05 20.45.57

Upstairs isn’t quite done just yet — I still have to finish (the tedious) painting. I primed everything that wasn’t pre-primed, including the windows themselves, which took UGH forever.


downstairs porch window uncased
2012-09-05 20.37.03

So how did it turn out? Good enough to justify saving hundreds (or thousands!) of dollars in custom millwork? A close enough match to feel good about matching the historical look of the old trim? In any case, I’m glad it’s done with and the house is one step closer to the end of “phase one.”

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