530 S. Liberty

When the current owners purchased 530 S. Liberty they knew the porch posts were unusual and probably not original but they had no idea what would be appropriate for their home as shown below.


At the five year point of their ownership the Historicl Society was given old plan books from some prominent architects.  In it were original drawings of the home showing incredible posts and balustrades, even one above the porch and on the third floor parade porch. What a pleasant surprise and an absolute godsend!!

The home is in the National Watch Historic District so 75/25 grants are available for things like restoring porches. The owners decided to go for it. They did the main porch in one summer with one grant and then got another the next year to do the balustrade above the porch and the parade porch.

John Crowe of Berkley Crowe Masonry was hired to rebuild the foundation.  There is actually a room in the basement under the porch which was  often used as a cooling room for food and vegetables. No living space above it makes it very cool in the winter and huge blocks of ice helps in the summer.

Scott Savel of All Around Home Improvements was hired to do the carpentry. He and his associate Rob did an incredible job.  I love his motto which states, “It’s not just our livelihood, it’s our neighborhood!”

I was hired to make the rails, goosencks on the rails and the finials.  What a pleasure to be able to work on a home of this stature.  I had previously made a lot of goosenecks and had perfected a method to inexpensivley make them.  A company in Chicago does them by having a huge custom shaper head made and charges $250 each for goosenecks.  I do them for $40.  I was very lucky to get my method written up in Gary Katz’s on line magazine, This is Carpentry. If you are interested, here is my article showing the method I use for making goosenecks.

A custom knife wa s made to cut the fancy profile on the rails.  The exact profile was not known so one that is common in Elgin was used.  The goosenecks then were made to match the rails. Scott had to do a lot of handwork to get them to go together nicely. Goosenecks, finials  and rails were made from cypress which has great rot resistance. Scott made the newel posts from pvc which should last forever.

I hand turned the finials. The design of the finial was taken from the drawing.

Here are some pictures of the finished details.  The porches are a wonderful additon to the streetscape and Elgin.  The owners got a wonderful article in the Daily Herald written about them and won an Elgin Mayor’s award for their extraordinary effort.

This is the third floor parade porch(sorta) balustrade

This is the balustrade onthe porch roof

Porch balustrade.  The spindles were custom made by Mr. Spindle. A huge thanks goes out to Scott Savel for some of the pictures.

Here is Scott Savel leaning on his post to make sure it is strong. The goosnecks on the stair rail were one of a kind so I had to lay the entire balustrade out full scale on a piece of plywood to make the patterns.  Very challenging with the end product being very satisfying.


I was only a small part of the resurrection of this porch but very glad I got the chance to participate.

Our Back Porch

Our Back Porch

This is our back porch when we bought the house in 1986.  Probably in the 20’s they enclosed the porch and stuccoed the building.  They moved the wall with the window on the left out five feet to enlarge the kitchen for one of five apartments.  The wall on the  right of the door enclosed the porch and hid a back staircase to the second floor apartments.

This picture shows the beginnings of taking the porch apart.  The window was kept and put in the new wall five feet in.  The room on the porch roof was a sleeping porch.  Harriet Beecher Stowe wrote an article  for a  magazine saying that sleeping in an enclosed room with stale air caused Tuberculosis so everyone across the nation built sleeping porches with lots of windows to get fresh air for sleeping.  They even added a radiator to this one. It had to come off with the door into the house being put back into a window.  I was very proud of myself for making an entire double hung window to replace the one that was taken out.

We found marks on the house showing the exact profile of the crowns on the posts.  They were duplicated exactly.  The posts had been installed first with the clapboards coped up to them so we knew the exact width of the post.

We did not have any evidence for the design of the balustrade so after months of searching my wife picked one for an old pattern book. The balusters were very time consuming to make but well worth it.  It is important a balustrade not interrupt the window so it was crucial to have one that is 24 inches high which is often found on Italianate houses in our neighborhood. Italianate houses always have porches that art tall and slender with a low or no balustrade.

Code officials do not like low rails.

 We were lucky to find a paragraph in the BOCA code the city was using at the time which stated that if the item is not life threatening, the code can be sensitively enforced for historic homes.  We brought that to the attention of the code official and were allowed a 24 inch rail on our front and back porches.  The same paragraph can be found in the new International Residential Building code.  Recently it was written as a formal city policy that 24 inch rails can be use citywide.  Contact me if you want a copy. A 30 inch rail is now very commonly built in Elgin.

Store bought lattice looks terrible.  My wife designed the one above making the holes diamond shaped instead of large squares like that from a big box store. It adds a lot of class to the lattice.  I routed the inside edge of the panel and applied a half round home made molding to the perimeter giving it a real classy look.

Here is the finished porch

Here are pictures showing the progression of the porch restoration:

Back Porch

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parade porch balustrade at 59 S. Gifford

Parade porch balustrade from an old drawing

In the 50’s the home shown below was moved across the street to make room for parking and an addition onto Elgin High School.

There is an old picture of the house that was found at the Historical Society Museum.  It shows that  the tiny parade porch above the main porch  had a curved balustrade on it.

I replicated the little balustrade usign the same design as the porch only shorter.parade porch balustrade at 59 S. Gifford

The picture also shows that there was a huge keystone above the attic window. I made one to replace it.







The porch was missing some of its long brackets so I made some to match.



The side second floor window had its fan light window removed.





I made one to replace it as shown at right.








A huge thanks goes out to John Anderson and Paul Cayez for rehabbing this great house.  For many years it was a problem property with several rental units.  It is now a single family home with great owners.


165 S.Gifford new porch

Appropriate porch for next door

This home is next door to ours.   In the 25 years we have lived here it was filled with too many people with too many cars and too many kids.  It was foreclosed upon and put on the market in 2010.  We decided to buy it to improve our quality of life.  We had to stare at the aluminum siding since 1988. We knew the enclosed porch with Praire influenced windows was not original on an 1870’s house so we looked forward to adding an appropriate porch.   We spent the next four years doing a historically sensitive rehab of the home.  We worked on it almost every day, all day for four years.  We did everything ourselves except the plumbing (can’t do it yourself on a property you do not live in) and I made the parts for the new porch but did not build it (can’t get a grant for work you do yourself.) Scott and Rob from All Around Home Improvements in Elgin reinforced the basic structure, instlled new cement piers and built the new roof including soffit and fascia.




We recived a $5000 grant from the City of Elgin to take the aluminum siding off of the house and garage.






We have a passion for porches so we wanted this one to be special.  We took elements from other old houses and combined them to make our porch.  We especially liked the posts on a house in S. Elgin that was vacant and falling down as seen in the drawing below.

Huge No Trespassing signs kept me from going on the property to copy elements.  I tried to write to the owner to get permission to copy the posts but he did not respond.   I finally called the city of South Elgin about it as I read in paper the city was forcing the owner to demolish it.  When I called they said the bulldozers were there as we speak.  I immediately went there to find the porch to be in the dumpster already.  I gave the two equipment operators $20 each and asked if I could go in the dumpster for five minutes.  I’m glad the boss was not there as no one would normally allow it because of liability concerns.    They allowed me and I was able to get the elements I wanted to copy.  Destiny!

A huge thanks goes out to the city of Elgin for awarding us a grant to pay for half of the cost of rebuilding the porch.

Here are pictures showing the progression of the making of the porch. A huge thanks goes out to Scott Savel and his assistant Rob from All Around Home Improvemnts for their great work.  Scott says that some call him “anal retentive”. In Scott’s case it is a huge compliment.  He pays special attention to the details.  Cuts are perfect and everyting is absolutely level and plumb. That made adding the details after Scott built the structure very easy.

We were very fortunate to get our project featured in The Old House Journal – my bible since 1975.  Click here to view it.

If you would like to see interior pictures of this house, click here.  

Resurrection Of The Porch At 165 S. Gifford

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Porch put back from a picture


A young couple bought the house across the street from us in 2003.  Shortly after they bought it they painted it and got a 50/50 grant to put a cedar shingle roof on it.  It is heartwarming to see newcomers to the world of old houses do things the best way.  As you can see at right, it had never been painted in the seventen  years we had lived across the street.

The owner started looking into what type of porch would have been on the house.  The Sandborn map indicated that it had a large wrap around porch. Then as destiny would have it, relatives of the origianl owners dropped in to see the house and to give them an old picture which showed the porch with classic Italianate posts.   The owners hired me to help them design the porch and make the elements.

The canopy over the front door was obviously not original. When they took off the canopy they found an original transom window and realized that the origianl opening had two doors, not one door and side lights.  The owner searched on-line and found two very approprite doors in an architectural salvage yard in Maine that actully fit his opening exaclty.  He had them shipped here and are now a wonderful addition to the home.

The owner took his old picutre and drawings to the Design Review Committee and got his plan approved.

I made a mock up of an Italianate post and balusters.  We put it onthe house and both agreed the spindles were too heavy so I made another with smaller spindles.





I used a design for the brackets from brackets found on old houses in the neighborhood.  I never create anything new, just use designs found on actual old houses. The design of the capitol is one often found on Italiante chamfered posts.

While we were discussing th porch I noticed the eaves had marks for large oaured brakcets oftne found on Italinate homes.  I tll=ook a design form a house nearby and made new brackets for the house.


Becuse of their above and beyond effort in rehabbing the house, the couple were awarded a Mayor’s award.


Before the porch was finished the owners offered to be a restoration in progress on the annual housewalk. A few years later, they were on a second time to show off the finished porch and a new designer bathroom.


156 S. Gifford Porch

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Here is an article from the Herald talking about the young couple that bought the house and then did such a great job of rehabbing it:

Rebekah Isaacson let her boyfriend talk her into buying a junk-filled wreck of an old house where neighbors parked their cars and changed their oil on the gravel in the back yard.

Five years later Rebekah Berry has a husband, a young son and a historic Elgin home that sports a wraparound porch any old-house fan would envy and interior amenities like a great kitchen.

This is a love story on many levels.
Rebekah really wanted to own a home and, even though it was her significant other, Chris Berry, who fell in love with this Italianate built in 1872, she insisted on buying it on her own because they weren’t married or even engaged.

While she trusted his word that he would make it beautiful, her parents didn’t. But when he handled the pre-purchase walk-through for her, he planted romantic notes throughout the house and proposed the day the sale was finalized.

“I promised her I was going to fix this house up, and it took me five years to prove this is the place we should be,” said Berry, who worked as a carpenter while going to college and now is a Web developer.

“He kept his promise,” said Rebekah, a financial planner. “The first week he painted the whole front of the house-I think to show he was serious and not going to leave me high and dry. One day my mother and I went shopping, and in the time we were gone he and his friend Ed Helm closed in one of the many doors into the house, sided it and painted it.”

Although Dan Miller, a neighbor across the street who is well-known in Elgin old-house circles, showed up with ideas for rebuilding the front porch, Rebekah thought the interior should rank among the first projects.

And it did, with one of Chris’ major achievements the creation of an Italian cafe-inspired kitchen in what had been the dining room.

Rebekah’s father owns a sawmill in Wisconsin, and the kitchen’s cherry flooring came from a tree that had held a playhouse for her and her siblings.

The couple painted the walls with shades of creamy gold and merlot purple selected from the tile backsplash of multicolored slate. The cabinets are maple trimmed with American cherry.

A cutout into the nearby living room provides a charming space for a table and chairs and borrows light from a bay window that stretches to the floor.

To get a feeling for the amount of work Chris did, you should know the walls in the living room were covered with paneling, the birdseye maple flooring was black and the walnut staircase railing was covered with two layers of green oil paint.

His pride and joy is the fireplace mantel in the front parlor that he built with first-growth walnut donated again from his father-in-law’s sawmill.

Except for one recalcitrant piece of trim, Chris is finished with the first level, said Rebekah, and plans to create a master suite on the second.

But it’s the exterior that neighbors like Miller and passers-by can appreciate every day.
When Rebekah bought the house not only was the paint chipping and the siding falling off, but it had a concrete stoop, an asphalt sidewalk, an ugly leaking roof and a single front door with no relationship to the home’s style or era.

An early photo provided by a descendant of a long-gone resident proved the house had once worn a wraparound porch. Berry rebuilt the deck, Miller made historically accurate spindles, posts and railings, and a carpenter put it all together. The city of Elgin provided significant help with matching grants for the front of the house and a new cedar roof.

The elegant double doors with round-topped windows came from a New Hampshire antiques dealer, but they look like they were made for the house, which is confirmed by the marks the original hinges left.

“The double doors make this house what it is,” said Chris.
Chris was raised in an old Elgin house and chose to return because he liked the prices of the area homes and the fact that Gifford Park is close to downtown.

And he thinks buying old houses and fixing them up is a good choice for young people struggling to afford their first homes.

“They have more character and depth,” he said. “We never would have been able to afford to do this if we had contracted out.”

His wife agrees – to a point.
“I love the house,” said Rebekah Berry, “but I don’t know that I would do it again.
If I ever had a daughter who did this, I would put my foot down and say ‘no way.'”

An appropriate porch for an 1870’s home

Adding an appropriate porch for an 1870’s home

A single woman owns this house.  She knew the porch and picture window did not go along with the 1875 date that her house was built. She was determined to do right by her house even getting a second job to pay for it. A 50/50 architectural grant from the city helped greatly.    Tuscan columns do not go with an 1870’s house and the balustrade is way too high. The large picture window had replaced two tall original windows.  

The bay window was the only element left on the house with an 1870’s influence.

The owner started a long and difficult quest to find an appropriate design for her new porch.  She wanted something fancy and unusual.  She sat in our study for hours poring thru our books.  She finally came across a porch she liked on the internet.  It was advertised as a B & B.  I contacted the people and got some better pictures.  Two of the elements had actually been remade so they sent me the old ones to use as  patterns.

Here are some close ups of details from the B & B.

The first thing I did was to draw up my plans and make a full scale mockup of the balustrade to see if the scale was correct and to get the owners approval.  She liked it and the Design Review Committee did not have a single comment or question before Okaying it.  Seeing a full scale mock up is so much easier to make a decision on rather  than just drawings. The balustrade mockup was placed on the porch and left there so the owner could see if it grew on her.

A complete post and spandrel was mocked up to make sure the scale was correct on the house. A mockup of the keystone below was made and placed on the porch to get approval.

To help the owner decide on a porch apron I made four different mockups to show her.

When the old porch ceiling was taken off a huge bee hive was found.

Here are some of the details that were made. A lot of my work was done in the winter to be ready for installation in the spring.

The balustrades were assembled in my shop. The wood used was recycled redwood obtained from an old water tower taken down in Chicago. Treated lumber was used when redwood was not.

Carpentry With Integrity built the porch using my details.

The balustrade on the stairs could not be assembled on the bench.  The design was hard to come by.  Here I am laying it out full scale on the floor to see how it works.

Here is the finished porch.  It will be painted in several colors this summer.

The picture window was replaced with two tall windows after this picture was taken.

Here is a picture showing the new windows.

The owner capped off her project with a very nice mosaic in the new sidewalk.

See a slideshow of the progression of the porch resurrection.