Whither a match for old woodwork?

HOMEWORK

January 23, 2000|By Karol V. Menzie and Ron Nodine

WHEN DO-it-yourself renovators find the house of their dreams, they almost always mention as one of its strong points, "And it has most of the original woodwork!"

This is such a big deal because woodwork is one of the major distinctions between old homes and new ones. However elaborate, roomy and over-fenestrated they are, modern houses tend to have little interior trim.

So people who love old houses usually love the old touches that come with them -- or ought to come with them, if they haven't been torn out or disfigured in the name of modernity.

But even well-preserved older houses generally have missing pieces. And one of the hardest things to do is to match the old finishes.

There are still a few ways to approach the problem.

First, you can try to find what you need in another old house, or in a salvage yard; some salvagers even specialize in "architectural" objects. Unfortunately, salvagers -- and identical houses available for looting -- are scarce. Trying to gather old objects by finding someone who is renovating and doesn't want them is a long shot.

One thing you can do is use your old stuff in one part of your house and use new stuff in the other parts.

Doors, for instance, can be difficult to match, because a lot of the old door styles are no longer available. You could have just about any style of door custom-made, but it will be expensive. But you may have enough old doors in the house to salvage some from the second floor to complete the set on the first floor. Then you can use similar, if not exactly matching, doors upstairs.

When it comes to molding, some of the old profiles are still available, and others are very close to, even barely discernible from, older styles.

You can also get moldings custom-made. Balusters are almost always a problem, because there is no way to disguise it if they don't match. However, ff you live in an area where a lot of renovation is common, there may be lumber yards that specialize in old molding profiles. Baltimore's Walbrook Mill and Lumber, for example, has patterns for some of the more common old moldings.

If there isn't a pattern, they will have to create one. That means designing the combination of blades that will cut the molding. In some cases, the set-up fee could be more than the cost of the moldings.

What Ron usually tries to do in such a situation is to use stock moldings that are similar, keeping the new and old in different rooms. This works well if the match is close.

There are some companies that simulate old moldings and exterior details in materials other than wood. These moldings are made from a polystyrene material in a multitude of designs.

Some manufacturers of this type of product are Fypon Molded Millwork (800-537-5349), Chemcrest Architectural Products (800-665-6653) and Focal Point Architectural Products (800-662-5550), to name just a few. For wood details, Cumberland Woodcraft Co. (800-367-1884) has a selection of interior and exterior railings, brackets, fretwork, moldings, raised panels and more in old style designs.

Plumbing and electrical fixtures are a little easier to replicate, as most manufacturers offer some products in antique styles. There are many styles of claw-foot tubs, for instance. If you can't find what you like in home improvement centers, try your local plumbing and electrical supply houses.

And there is always Renovators Supply (800-659-2211), a catalog company that offers electrical and plumbing fixtures, door, cabinet and bath hardware, pot racks, vent covers, mailboxes, weather vanes and other products. You can also try Outwater Architectural Products (800-835-4400) or Designers Hardware in Baltimore (410-225-3640) for similar products.

Community newspapers' classified ads can be a source for old architecture and furniture, and the classified ads in the backs of home design magazines can be helpful -- particularly if you look in a renovation-specific one such as The Old House Journal, or Renovation Style.

And there is always the strolling-the-alley (or the trolling the curb) technique. It's amazing what some people throw out.

Ron Nodine is owner of American Renovator Inc., a Baltimore design-build remodeling firm. Karol Menzie is a feature writer for The Sun.

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