Vintage elements blend with modern touches
Posted on 01/26/2023
Kathy Spillane stands near the hallway door leading into the family room at her Craftsman-style home.Doors, floors, windows and more set the tone of a historic house.

Doors provide entry into one’s personal space. Those that have retained their historic charm provide a warm welcome as an entry door and also serve as solid passageways to living rooms, dining rooms and other familiar rooms.

AnneMaryLee Vollick and fiancé Ray Bailey, whose home at 116 S. Rogers is undergoing a renovation, have salvaged the 8-foot doors on several of the main rooms and will rehang them, using the original hinges (see photo). A larger task looms – they need to ‘free’ one of the pocket doors that became stuck in the wall off the front parlor, due to carpeting and the weight of the door. The double doors have largely retained their original wood luster, and are a stately way to close off the room.

Kathy Spillane, 487 W. Cady, has the original doors to the study that are beveled glass, with small panes, approximately 5 x 7 inches, set into a highly varnished wood frame.

Older doors often have classic molding that is well constructed and can be painted or stained to match the aesthetics of the room. When you visit an historic home, look at the richness of the moldings – they can be simple or elaborate but add flair and a finishing touch.

Many homeowners have kept the glass doorknobs on their doors or replicated them by shopping at restoration/antique stores, such as Materials Unlimited in Ypsilanti. Glass doorknobs – beveled to catch glints of light – add a touch of elegance. These doorknobs can be found in the homes of Pat Stein, 419 Dubuar; Liz and John Carter, 536 W. Main, and Leanie Bayly/Bob Sochacki, 223 Linden, among others.

The Bayly/Sochacki home entryway has a welcoming vestibule and stairway, with a double-wide arch into the living room and quarter-sawn tiger oak columns leading to the dining room. All trim doors and windows on the main level are golden oak quarter-sawn with exquisite tiger veining. Most of the historic homes have coved or arched doorways.

Why two front doors?
A second front door is a relic found in many historic homes. From the front porch, there are two doors, which are often at right angles. The main entrance leads to the front room (then known as the parlor) and the second door leads into a room that may have been a dining room or a second living room. Gail LeVan, 132 Randolph, said the second door was used for funerals – the casket of a recently deceased family member would be brought through this door.

“There were no funeral parlors back then; the deceased were laid out in the front parlor,” LeVan said. “They were born, died and laid out at home. After the funeral, they were put in a hearse (and taken to the cemetery).”

When funerals were held at the Bailey/Vollick home (long before they lived there), the French pocket doors could be closed between the parlor and "second living room" so people viewing the casket could enter one room without going into the other. The house still has two front doors.

At the LeVan home, the original funeral door – a big, thick wood door off a side porch – remains on the outside of the house, but inside it’s been covered over in drywall to reclaim more wall space.

Stein repurposed the space used for the second door. Upon moving in, she and her husband worked with a contractor to cover over the space of the second door from the porch side and bumped it out a bit so it could serve as a closet from the inside. Thus, there’s still a door in the room, which was a dining room initially and now serves as an office. Yet, instead of leading to the outdoors, there’s a practical closet to hang your coat and stash your hat, gloves and wet umbrellas.

Many of the houses have wooden floors – some are high-grade oak, others were made of less expensive types of lumber. The Bayly/Sochacki home has original wood on both floors of the Craftsman-style home. A solid golden oak is used downstairs; the upstairs has a less expensive, softer wood with a reddish cast. Both floors have held up well and still look great.

The Barry's entire home at 239 High St. has wood flooring. When they moved into the home they had all of the floors sanded and stained. During the work, an original wood floor was discovered under the existing floor that dates to the 1880s. The second flooring was installed in the early 1900s. The flooring on the main staircase is fir and most likely was made from trees on the property.

The oak wood flooring in both the living room and dining room runs around the perimeter of the room. The center of the room is a square of different wood. The living room has a pine center and the dining room has a parquet center. This was a way of saving money on more expensive wood throughout and a rug would typically be placed over that area. “Either way – with or without a rug – the floor is beautiful,” Marianne Barry said.

Original stairs tend to be steep and narrow. Back then, the average step was 9-inches deep (compared to 10” today), with a 7-1/2” riser (8” today), making it difficult to put your entire foot on a step. Going up or down, if you’re not under age 55 or so, you better have a handrail to hold onto. This is doubly true of basement steps, which tend to be utilitarian, and people are often holding tools or supplies when they tread on them.

Tall ceilings make a room look bigger. While the Bailey/Vollick home appears to have 10-foot ceilings, the Weyburne home, 226 West, has nine-foot ceilings. The typical suburban home has eight-foot ceilings. Tall ceilings allow for tall windows too, and historic homes have them in abundance. Some historic homes have decorative medallions around the light fixture in the center of the room. Craftsman-style homes, such as the Spillane’s, have beams that evoke a sense of being cozy and “at home.”

Wavy windows with single-glass panes are a charming relic of historic homes, albeit not energy-efficient. When you look through the windows at an angle, you can distinctly see a wave in the glass … it’s not entirely clear and consistent. This effect is the result of windows being hand-blown rather than factory-made. Today’s window-making process was perfected in the 1950s.

At the 317 W. Dunlap home of Joan Wadsworth and Steve Calkins, the windows are curved at the top, and the wavy glass is authentic – features they adore. Liz Carter cherishes the throw-back look of the original wavy glass in the front windows of the family’s parlor, aka formal living room.

Built-ins are enduring and endearing
The icing on the cake of many of these historic homes are the built-in dining room hutches, chest of drawers in bedrooms, shelving units, window seats and fun nooks and crannies, reminiscent of a bygone era. Arched doorways are another classic touch.

The Spillane home has a built-in, furniture-quality cabinet and serving area. It’s the focal point of the dining room with leaded-glass uppers, an expansive countertop, and plenty of drawers to hold tablecloths, dishes and serving pieces.

The Barry home has two original built-ins: a window bump-out in the dining room with a bench seat and storage cupboard underneath and another under the double window in the north-side family room.

These built-ins are not only practical, in using wall space efficiently, but also beautiful in their design and finish, especially when crafted with stained wood.

Photos: Below: A dining room cabinet at the Spillane’s Craftsman-style home.//At the Bailey/Vollick home, they plan to use the original hinges when rehanging the doors.
Photos by Liz Cezat.

Built-in CabinetHistoric door hinge