Our old house has always had a commercial influence. Built in 1798 as a carpenter/block shop to service the whaling shipyards in its backyard, over the years the house has been all sorts of things from the town post office to dry good shop, dentisit office, bakery and more. When we bought the place we converted it to a private home but kept a portion of the first floor for the storefront. Having rented the storefront to a family member’s real estate business for some time, and then deciding it was time for us to take back the storefront and use it for something we’d enjoy doing, called for some renovations.

The storefront, or “shop”, is really the last part of our house to be renovated. Aside from some new plaster, floor polish and paint, we haven’t done the hard work needed to bring the space back to its glory. As we prepare to open Craft, the time has come to roll up our sleeves and get to work. Which is what we did yesterday. Working with our carpenter Glenn, who doesn’t seem to be intimidated by any old house kind of problem, we started the demolition phase.

We’ve decided to use an architect this time around because we’re bringing the storefront design back to the way it (probably) looked when the house was built. Some old photos from 19th century books on our town give us a glimpse of what the storefront may have looked like. And this photo of our house from the 1930’s is likely consistent with the original design. So this is what we’re shooting for.

1930's

Not yet wanting to take out the heating floor radiators because it’s still pretty cold, we covered  and worked around them for the time being.

Prep work

Our plan is to completely gut the space from the ceiling down to the floor, and redo the bathroom. There are years of layers of walls and flooring. It is going to be a very messy job — 200 years worth of dust and debris.

This weekend’s work was focused on just opening up the north wall and a couple feet of ceiling so the architects can get in this week and take proper measurements. So thats what we did. Here’s carpenter Glenn starting to cut away a small portion of the ceiling.

Carpenter Glenn

Signs of some ornate details from the past were found behind layers of walls.

Plaster relief

One wall and 2 feet of ceiling — just a dent in the work to be done  — created an enormous amount of dust and debris. One saving grace is though the space is connected through our mud room door, it is completely separate from our residence so hopefully we can keep the mess contained. Vince worked hard to keep up with the falling debris.

Shovel-man Vince

As we cut away the ceiling, you begin to see the impressive wood that went into building this place. Since this is a post-and-beam structure, the beams and other wood were likely either cut down in the shipyard, or over in the forests in Rochester and brought to the site via horse. The beams are carved with roman numerals which served as early instruction on the best way to assemble them.

True to this kind of timber framing, the weight of the building is on the gable walls and rests on the corner posts. Timber framing or post-and-beam construction is the method of creating structures using heavy squared off and carefully fitted and joined timbers with joints secured by large wooden pegs. The methodology comes from making things out of logs and tree trunks without modern saws. Using axes, adzes and draw knives a carpenter could a assemble a building capable of bearing heavy weight without excessive use of interior space given over to vertical support posts. Like this guy:

Man with adz

After some ceiling demo, here’s a corner post. The wood is still as strong as it was 200+ years ago.

Corner post joinery

Here’s a wind brace in the ceiling and that “nail”, or spike, is about 8″ long.

Windbrace & spike

By 3:00 p.m. and after 3 dump trips, we’d gutted the north wall and 2 feet of ceiling. What a hodge podge of framing. But this entire wall will eventually be cut away, reframed and windows replaced…consistent with the original design above.

North wall gutted

Lots more work to go. But a productive start.

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