December 20, 2013

One Community's Creative Solution to Restoring Historic Windows

  • By: Scott Austin Sidler
Scott Sidler teaches a volunteer how to finish glaze windows. Credit: Steve Quillian
Scott Sidler teaches a volunteer how to finish glaze windows.

Last month a unique event took place in the piney woods of central Florida: A group of Florida’s leading preservationists came together to try a new way to save one of the state’s historic landmarks.

Built ca. 1880 by state senator David Hume Baker, the Baker House is a stunning example of early Florida architecture that remained largely untouched since it was built. The Baker family was the only owner of the home until donating it to the City of Wildwood two years ago to save it from the wrecking ball of the ever-expanding The Villages retirement megapolis.

But funding has been a challenge for the Baker House. It needs extensive repairs and restoration to almost everything -- including its historic windows, siding, HVAC, plumbing, and roofing.

So this November, the owners of the four largest historic restoration companies in Florida banded together to donate their time and services to restore the home’s historic windows in a whirlwind weekend workshop. Volunteers were invited to take part in a three-day hands-on workshop taught by these window restoration professionals for a small fee that would be donated to the Baker House Project (the nonprofit restoration fund for the building).

The workshop participants and teachers gather in front of the Baker House. Credit: Steve Quillian
The workshop participants and teachers gather in front of the Baker House.

Over the weekend participants learned everything about historic window restoration, from how to remove paint, to how to re-glaze and restore hardware. Steve Quillian of Wood Window Makeover began Friday with a class on the anatomy and inner workings of historic double-hung windows.

The students were assigned their own personal sash that they would take from start to finish through the restoration process. The first step: learning how to remove the sash from the opening and install new ropes onto the old iron weights.

On Saturday, after fueling up on donuts and coffee, the students went back to work on their sashes. This time they scraped away 130 years of paint and dirt under the guidance of Angel Corrales of Mohr Historic Restoration.

From there they learned to restore the antique glass and prime the sashes while Jodi Rubin’s team from CCS Restoration worked through the more difficult epoxy and dutchman repairs necessary for the more troubled windows.

Angel Corrales teaches students how to restring a window. Credit: Steve Quillian
Angel Corrales teaches students how to restring a window.

While the morning started out beautifully, the weather quickly turned and a poorly timed Florida rain storm forced the group of die-hard volunteers and preservationists onto the crowded porch for the rest of the day. Undaunted, they kept at it until every window had been re-glazed and was ready to be reinstalled.

Fortunately for the group, Sunday turned out to be a gorgeous day to restore windows. Starting with a lesson from me in proper painting techniques for wood windows, the group set about reinstalling their completed sashes and fine-tuning the hardware and stops to ensure smooth operation and a perfect fit.

At the end of the weekend more than half of the landmark’s windows had been restored at no cost! The most exciting part of all this was not just the new skills the volunteers learned or the improvements to a historic building. Rather, it was the idea that preservationists can join forces to accomplish greater things together than they can separately. Plus, the ideas and techniques the companies shared as they worked together helped educate everyone in attendance.

This event has spawned more interest from other historic restoration companies as far away as Boston about possibly hosting their own window events. Let’s hope this spirit of cooperation continues to spread, because there are far too many endangered places that need our help.

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