307 13th Street
Earlier this week I did a little digging into the history of 307 13th Street, a lovely frame house in the South Slope. Richard, the owner, was kind enough give me some insight into his restoration process, which I’ve shared below. I especially love his last point, which taps into why I strongly believe that working with a home’s unique and special qualities benefits the entire neighborhood.
If you own a frame house in Brooklyn and want to share your experience, let me know!
When did you buy the house, and what made you decide to purchase a frame house in the South Slope?
We bought the house in December of 2005, did a little work and moved in January of 2006. I don’t think we were looking specifically for a frame house, but this house had a good feeling about it. We could see great potential. As to the South Slope, we were drawn in by the heterogeneous nature of the blocks. Rather than long rows of brick or brownstone houses there is variety, both in the building types and in the setbacks from the street which makes the street edge much richer.
Can you briefly describe the condition of the house when you purchased it?
First of all, the house was organized as a 2 family house with a studio apartment on the basement level and a duplex unit above. The lower level (English basement) was not connected by an interior stair. The only access was from the street and, due to the porch overhang and relatively small windows at the back, was quite dark. The house was clad entirely with vinyl siding and there was an aluminum awning projecting from the porch deck. This was to provide cover for the entry to the lower unit. The entire front yard was paved with brick pavers. There was some landscaping at the edges, boxwoods mainly, but otherwise it was all hardscape.
What was your philosophy/approach to the restoration project?
We are advocates of restoration which is sensitive to the original feeling of the building and, if we can discern it, the original intent of the designer/builder. We’re not adamant that the work has to exactly replicate original detail, materials or organization. Often the original design doesn’t completely support today’s needs regarding light, comfort and sustainability. How one lives now can and should be reflected in the final work.
Did the fact that the house is made of wood present any unique challenges or opportunities during the restoration process?
Because wood is so easily altered the main challenge was to undo previous bad decisions with the framing. There were a lot of unique field conditions we discovered only after the walls and ceilings had been removed. It was not dull. However, we did have opportunities to expose the original timber and keep it as a feature in some unexpected places, like having a sneak peek at the structure from time to time.
You made the choice to clad the front façade in clapboard, which looks absolutely beautiful. What drove this decision? Did you consider other options as well?
I’d say the decision was an intuitive one. The house reminded us of a worker’s house (which it may well have been) and it seemed to demand clapboard. Then, when we got the 1940 tax photo, we knew that was the correct decision.
Now that the project is finished, what do you like most about living in this house?
We spend a lot of time sitting on both our porch and our back deck, reading, entertaining, etc. But I love to see how some people are surprised to see our façade and garden; how they stop, maybe chat with us (much like you did)… it intensifies the neighborhood feel in a way that the house wouldn’t have had we not renovated it.