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It has been a while since you have posted on your project.
Are you fully settled in?
What is left?
If I recall, you mentioned potentially producing a book on the matter. Is this your intention?
Are you fully recovered?
We'll be going to the zoo this week to see the lights. If you see a minivan full of gawkers driving by, that will be us.
Thank you for your interest in the Davenport House Restoration. Here is an update.
The most challenging aspect of the Davenport Restoration, and there have been many, is undoubtedly determining the original stain color and implementing it on Poplar wood trim. Initially based upon physical evidence we believed the original color to be a deeper brown stain not unlike Glassner. We went down that path, before we discovered an earlier aged original stain example. What happened on Davenport is that the original stain color and wood became darker with time. This is common. The wood oxidized and repeated coats of shellac darkened the appearance substantially and the wood was restained and refinished on top of those layers at least two times over the 103 years prior to our ownership of the house. So after tests and numerous samples we initially went down the path of a dark stain before we found an original sample. Originally the wood stain on the Davenport House was a variant of a golden ocher stain with adaptations made for Poplar.
In my opinion we weren't the first to go down the wrong path. Fortunately we discovered our mistake before going too far. Many Frank Lloyd Wright Houses that have been well maintained or restored have ended up with stained woodwork that is darker to much darker than the original. This includes some high profile projects with otherwise fine restoration architects. In my professional opinion the greatest shortcoming of restored Frank Lloyd Wright Prairie Houses is the lack of fidelity to the original finish systems. Those systems were incredibly delicate and difficult to replicate. This includes the wood trim, wood floors and plaster finish systems. There is 1940â€™s correspondence from Frank Lloyd Wright encouraging the homeowner to recognize the beautiful and delicate quality of the original Pre-Prairie and Prairie finishes and not to change them. The challenges are that the finish systems are quite thin, delicate, they change over time, and that what you see now is not what it was over 105 years ago. In my opinion there is insufficient appreciation for them by homeowners, restoration architects, so called historic painters, the ever present in Oak Park Frank Lloyd Restoration Contractor/pseudo Restoration Architect. It is time consuming and expensive to retain a knowledgeable restoration architect, historic surfaces consultant, pay for laboratory testing, and pay for research and mock-ups to replicate the original finish systems. Plus across the US original unrestored finishes are incredibly rare. Well intentioned Wright homeowners just routinely obliterate the stuff and it is lost forever.
On Davenport we patiently did a tremendous amount of original research, produced many tests and mock-ups to reverse engineer the original stain technique. The budget and time for this was unlimited. This included visits to many public and private FLW Prairie Houses across the US to better understand and benchmark our research. We consulted with fine historic finish consultants, experts on various components that go into historic finish systems, to reverse engineer the stain finish system for Davenport. I also read everything that FLW wrote on the topic of interior finishes. We had incredible challenges in working with Poplar which is the softest hardwood and is no longer stained. Plus in some places we were forced to insert new Poplar trim with existing 112 year Poplar trim. We developed a superb system for both existing and new wood trim after many trial and error tests. On the ground floor of the house the system has been implemented and the wood has been stained, awaiting 2 coats of varnish and stain touch ups. We did a mock-up years ago on the plaster finish system that was successful. We will implement a round of tests and mockups with a different product that will yield the appearance of the original and is more durable. By May of 2014 we anticipate that the interior of the house will be fully restored with wonderful fidelity to the 1901 Frank Lloyd Wright as built E. Arthur Davenport House. Next summer we will build a new garage, front terrace, driveway with underground utilities, including geothermal piping.
I have undertaken the restoration of the Davenport house as laboratory for historic preservation strategies and techniques for Frank Lloyd Wright Houses because I find it all endlessly fascinating. A client would never let me spend the money and time to do this level of research, We look forward to completing the restoration of the Davenport House and applying our expertise to future Wright restoration projects.