Tomorrow we embark on the building of the Hill fireplace. The Hill house is a turn of the 19th century farmhouse, with all the attendant revisions and additions. The owner wants to restore her fireplace to reflect the time period it was built and the building trends in her region.
Through her own research, she believes the original building may have been constructed by John Cram, a prolific local builder. Fortunately, the John Cram farmstead, also in Hampton Falls, NH, was documented by the Historic American Building Survey, and was available through its database online. The Historic American buildings Survey was a program of the National Parks Service, that was developed in 1933 to provide work for architects, draftsmen and photographers left jobless by the Great Depression. Not only are the drawings and photos an incredible resource for our work, browsing through them leaves one with an incredible sense of patriotism. They document the best work of craftsmen throughout America, and are evidence with our abiding connection with history. Not only that, but one happens upon some pretty great photography.
So, the John Cram Farmstead. Out of the three documented fireplaces, the design above best fit the bare hearth that we are working with. We experimented in SketchUp with a number of pilaster designs. The others were faithful to classical elements and proportion, with a proper capital, and entablature. We kept coming back to this John Cram design, however, with its unorthodox use of crown incorporated into the capital. Though purists might reject it, the John Cram pilaster is simpler, and more appropriate to a vernacular building. This pilaster may not have been found in Greece, but it was found here, in Hampton Falls, NH. It makes sense, given the house’s location and style, but more importantly, because of HABS, we have good evidence that this was what was built in this area at that time.
The John Cram HABS drawings also gave us detailed molding profiles. Using a Williams and Hussey molder shaper, we will mill custom crown, bolection, and bed moldings based on the HABS details. The client wanted to make one significant change to the John Cram style, instead of the raised panels, she wanted flat panels with a bolection molding, which would accommodate a painting to be hung above the fireplace. In A Building History of Northern New England, by James Garvin (pg 137), we found a bolection molding that was identical to the astragal found at the top of the John Cram pilaster. The only difference is in the millling of a rabbet on the back of the bolection molding stock. Utilizing HABS, we were able to design a fireplace surround that not only fits the house’s age and vernacular style, but adjusts to the needs of its contemporary homeowner.
Tomorrow, we will lay out the framing around the hearth. Dave and Brian will prepare a plumb and level wall, while Tom and I will mill the stock, and cut and fit the joinery back at the shop. I can’t wait to get started on the frame and panels, but I’ll pause to post about our progress along the way.