Sunday, May 1, 2011

The Cheney's Front Door

Progress continues at the Cheney Cottage, as the contractors are working to finish the attachment details and get the house finished, so we can get our bond back from the City of Berkeley. The siding will start to be patched tomorrow, and soon the house will look much as it always has.

So Tom and I have been doing our own projects, working inside. I've been stripping a lot of paint, which is exhausting and satisfying at the same time. Using the heat gun, I've uncovered the original redwood and fir of the stair railings, the front hall seat, and much of the trim in the hall and living room.

You can learn a lot about a house by using a heat gun. I've used it to determine that the extended shelves int he dining room, which we suspected were added later, are not original to the room. You can also see how the original owners used the house - the paint is much more difficult to strip in places where the original finish was worn away, so we can see where the front hall seat was kicked, where corner were gouged and where people's hands wore down the railings. We've found where the wood was damaged by the rains, and where the original contractor used multiple pieces of wood to make a single panel. It's a long term process - the first stripping is by far the most satisfying, when large sheets of paint come off. But after that is done, we have to go back with dental tools and pick out all the little bits of paint that remain behind.

We've also worked on cleaning up the site, getting trashed hauled away, recycling metal, etc. Phil's crew came by the site and picked up the last of the cribbing.

But the most visible sign of our work is the front door. When the Cheney's house was about to be demolished, back in March 2010, we asked Kevin Hufferd if we could salvage some of the house. We didn't get to do it, but I had made a special request that they save the front door - particularly since the Cheney Cottage clearly had a non-historic, inappropriate door. The door on the Cheney Cottage opened out, was meant as an interior door, and did not really suit the front of the house.
The old front door, as the house was being prepared for landing

So the day the house was demolished, Noel Stenberg went in and saved the Cheney's front door. For all the time the house was in two pieces, sitting in Albany, the front door was in the living room. Finally, we got tired of looking at the wrong door, hung the wrong way, with it's big bright "Watch Your Step" sign (which added an interesting look to the house, which, since it still does not have a front porch, has a first step of about 5 feet). So this weekend, we decided to finally hang the Cheney's door.

First we had to determine which way the door originally opened. By looking at the original doorbell and the light switches inside, we could tell the way the door opened. The original door frame had been replaced, so we had to cut new hinge mortises into the existing frame. The wood on the door was not too hard to cut, but the frame was very tough, and Tom spent some time sharpening chisels to make the cutting easier. We also had to plane the door down some to fit the opening, and we got keys made so the door could look.

Today, we finally got the front door in place, and removed the former front door. The beveled glass window illuminates the front hall, and makes the house seem more welcoming. We bought new numbers for the door, so the house now proudly displays its new address, "1632"
The Cheney Cottage today, with the Cheney's front door

We hope Eric and his crew will finish the work in the next couple days so we can pass the reconnection inspection, get our bond money back, and continue the restoration of the house. Once we get the money back, we'll get power and water to the house, and start all the finish work. We're also hoping to have an open house at the Cheney Cottage for Berkeley Architectural Heritage Association, so people can see the house and hear the story of its history. An event like that would have two purposes: first, a fundraiser for BAHA, and also a deadline for us to get the house into some semblance of readiness. (We work well under pressure.....)


  1. Excited to hear there will be an open house, Id love to come take a look

    Wanted to mention that the pictures on most of your posts are only available as tiny thumbnails and not larger images. Would be nice to see larger detailed images

    Thanks for the updates!

  2. And the BAHA Open House would be a huge "eff-you" to the City and the Permit Bureau.

  3. Not sure why the pictures are showing up as thumbnails, on my computer they show up as large pictures. I'll see if I can figure it out.

    Definitely come to the open house - or just stop by some weekend when you see us there working!

  4. Yeah, the old front door looks like leading to a bedroom or some other rooms. Haha! Since front doors usually have those, the addition of the glass pane is a nice change. I would love to have a closer look at the new door! It looks a bit vintage, but I don't want to be sure yet. I hope you replace the photo with a bigger one, soon. :)

    - Anthony Blommel

  5. I've just installed iStripper, so I can watch the hottest virtual strippers on my taskbar.