Project Doorknob

Since acquiring Boo Manor, the importance of door hardware – and installing the correct door hardware – has become something of a fetish for me. An odd fetish to be certain, and also not a cheap one.

Seren had done some research, and typically porcelain door knobs would have been used in a house of this era, which makes the motley collection of glass, brass and metal doorknobs oddly inappropriate. And I have already well-documented the quest for appropriate door hinges. My shopping trips through southern Ontario had yielded an impressive collection of porcelain-knob related door hardware from a variety of vintages, but there still remained the challenge of putting it all together and making it work.

Installation was complicated by the fact that we also had a variety of different door vintages to work with. Two of the doors off the dining room were modern, and had the usual two-inch hole for the door handle hardware to be mounted in. This left us with two choices: use modern door hardware, or replace the doors. Replacement was neither practical nor overly cost-effective, so newer door handles were the way to go here. The door to the basement and the outside (because yes, our dining room has an exterior door) are the same age of the house, and use the old-style iron bar through a much tinier door whole. And the door to my den didn’t even exist, which opened up our options on that front quite considerably.

I had, at Addison’s in Toronto, found porcelain doorknobs that looked older but weren’t. In fact, a minimal amount of internet research revealed that they were Australian, made by a company called Gainsborough, and brand new ones could in fact be bought at local hardware stores. The ones that I had purchased had been recovered from a house somewhere in Toronto, and had enough of a patina of age and use as to be plausible in the dining room. The downside was that they also had horribly gaudy fake-brass-rosettes (and Dianne is already planning for the eradication of all brass door hardware from Boo Manor) that certainly don’t count as period.

Painted rosettes and a new, used doorknob. If that makes any sense whatsoever.

The doorknobs from Addison’s were new enough, however, that they would work in the mounting holes of the newer doors. Assuming that I had the appropriate door hardware to finish the job. The tubular latch sets (the little pokey-slidey things that go in the side of the door, with the spring loaded doo-hickey that actually holds the door closed) that were there didn’t work with the new doorknobs. And I was a couple of screws short of a mounting solution for them (and no, I don’t need to hear your rude comments about this plight).

Why Gene has a stockpile of Gainsborough hardware I don’t know, but I’m desperately grateful that he does.

Fortunately, and coincidentally, Gene has in the past made extensive use of Gainsborough doorknobs, and has a box full of old parts, screws, mounting plates and latches (not to mention two brand new doorknob sets, if desperation truly set in) that he was happy to let me graze through. And for reasons that escape me, the box yielded up two tubular latch sets (still in their packaging) that were exactly what I needed to finish off the doors. The brass rosettes got a coat of Tremclad semi-gloss black paint (adding significantly to the fumes that were already wafting about courtesy of the floor refinishing) and I now had two sets of newer doorknobs that looked slightly used and should actually work in the doors.

The door to the basement. You’d never know the doorknob hadn’t always been there.

The doors to the basement and outside were easier to manage, on a relative scale. It had been recommended that the porcelain knob that would be outside be sealed, to help it resist weathering over time, but the installation was mostly straightforward. The basement door just required a replacement of knobs. The exterior door was a slightly different challenge, in that I needed a cross-bar long enough to make it through the door and the surface-mount lockset. By astounding coincidence, however, one of the cross-bars that I had picked up at Addison’s under the mistaken assumption that it would work with the Gainsborough doorknobs was the exact length I needed for the exterior door.

This doorknob used to be glass. And was completely unattached to the door. Talk about unhinged.

And so, the jigsaw puzzle that has been Project Doorknob has come to a successful conclusion, and we now have five doors in or near the dining room that all have period(ish) porcelain knobs. And I only lost a few brain cells from paint fumes and whatever it was that the floor refinishers were using. I’m calling that a win.

For Want Of A Hinge (Part 3)

For a number of reasons, HingeQuest needed to take a hiatus for a period of time. Upon its resumption, however, I already had a location in mind. The location in Cobourg was still out there (as Cobourg pretty much is, being 1.5 hours the other side of Toronto from our current stomping grounds). In the meantime, however, I had discovered another company specializing in the reclamation and salvage of old buildings.

Artefacts in St. Jacobs. Knowledgeable, friendly, and – even better – with what we were looking for!

Artefacts is a company in St. Jacobs, and has been specializing in architectural salvage for more than 25 years. More particularly, theIr focus runs to the residential end of things. They specialize in reclaiming, refurbishing and restoring pretty much anything that can be extracted from old houses as they are being gutted or torn down. The two principals, Chris and Scott, are extremely hands-on, and – while I have only met Chris – also very knowledgeable about what it is they have, where it came from and why it is useful.

We came looking for hardware, and got distracted along the way by kitties.

The first thing we discovered upon entering Artefacts was that they have an incredible variety of doorknobs available. Actually, that’s not true. The first thing we discovered was that they have an amazing and incredibly affectionate cat. The second thing that we discovered was the doorknobs.

Knobs? Why, yes. We have knobs! What kind of knob would you like, specifically?

Where the doorknobs at Addison’s were relatively new (probably last 20 years, but still porcelain) what Artefacts sells are the real deal. Genuine, vintage, 19th century door hardware – including cross-bars, rosettes and (if you can figure out what kind of latch set you need) latch sets. Within five minutes of walking in the front door, we had three sets of porcelain doorknobs and one very cool latch set. What is wonderful about all of the hardware is that it has been completely refurbished, and is in spectacularly good shape.

One vintage latch set, complete with working lock, key mortise and porcelain knobs in gorgeous condition.

That merely set us up for our next discovery: hinges! First up, some beautiful reproduction hinges — replicating the right period, all in the right size, and with patterns that were similar to what we were looking for. Even better, once I had refocussed on the broader array of what was one offer, is that they also had antique hinges. Best, from our point of view, is that they had the exact antique hinges that we were looking for. Refurbished. And in sufficient quantities. Well, they had four sets of them. We bought the lot.

Hinges, we have hinges! Oh yes we do. HingeQuest is officially over. And Artefacts is out of stock.

We were also finally able to answer the question of where and when these hinges had come from. As it turns out, they were in fact the original article. They are cast iron hinges, manufactured and used largely in the late 1800s, and built to surprisingly specific standards. So the stamping of the dimensions on the back was not in fact evidence of reproductions; it was illustration of the fact that, even in the 1800s, some enterprising ironmongers had their collective bits together.

Our hinges are one of two patterns that were predominantly in use in the area of western Ontario in the late 1800s. The folks at Artefacts call it the ‘3E’ pattern, because that’s roughly what it looks like. There was also a slightly more ornate pattern, with ‘leaves’ branching from the main body of the design, that was also often found in houses of the period.

Wooden brackets, normally used as an architectural detail on Italianate buildings. Just like ours.

The last discovery before we left Artefacts was that they also have roof brackets. It was common in the design of Italianate houses (of which ours is one) that under the eaves of the roof appeared ornate wooden brackets, two at a time, that joined the upper wall and the soffit. At some point in a previous renovation, the brackets on Boo Manor disappeared. Artefacts happens to sell brackets that have been recovered from similar-era houses. While not in the scope of this project (you have to stop somewhere, after all) I have a feeling we will be back in the future to check them out.

For Want Of A Hinge (Part 1)

One of the fundamental truths of renovating a very old house is that you never know what you are going to find. Normally, that means that you are going to discover things that you wish you hadn’t (and that will ultimately wind up being far more expensive than you wanted to know). In this case, however, gutting the bathroom resulted in a very pleasant surprise.

It turns out that all of the doors on the upper floor of the original house are original, and are hung on their original hinges. Said hinges have since been painted over many, many times now, of course, but they are – once numerous layers of paint are finally removed – absolutely beautiful. Keelan took the set from the bathroom door to see what he could do with them. After torching them, scrubbing them, brushing them and repainting them, they turned into something pretty spectacular.

I didn’t even know they made hinges like this. Now I need to figure out where I can buy them.

Of course a discovery like this leads to the inevitable comment, “Wouldn’t it be cool if we could get more of these for the doors downstairs?” So, truth be told, even the positive surprises can wind up getting expensive. The question to be asked in all of this, however, is where one needs to go in order to find such hinges. Certainly they’re not something that you’re going to find in stock in your neighbourhood Home Depot.

There was some question even then about what kind of hinges they were, and whether or not they were in fact antique. The back of the hinges were stamped ‘3 1/2″ x 3 1/2″‘, which even today is a pretty standard size in the way of hinges. The offset pattern for the screws looks pretty similar to modern hinges. And one had to ask the question of whether, back in the late 1800s, they were as organized as all that as to be making standard size hinges, and then taking the time to make impressions in the back specifying just what size they were.

And so, we had a mystery on our hands. One I took it upon myself to attempt to solve as best that I could. Given that there were four doors in the downstairs of the old house (to the basement, to the front hallway, to Dianne’s den and to a new door on my den), the objective was to find four new sets of hinges to match the ones in the rest of the house. And really, how hard could that be?

The first stop in this particular odyssey was Addison’s. For anyone who has renovated anything in Toronto, they will know that Addison’s is the one-stop go-to place for reclaimed hardware of just about any size, shape and colour. It has also been profiled in just about every issue of Toronto Life’s annual “Where To Get Good Stuff Cheap,” for those who are slightly less tuned in. Just off of Sorauren in Toronto’s west end, Addison’s started off as a plumbing company run by Jim Addison, who started off in plumbing and heating in his native Scotland more than 50 years ago.

The entryway to Addison’s. Spectacular, bewildering and awesome in equal measure.

Today, Addison’s is still in the plumbing and heating business – with a three floor warehouse full to the brim of plumbing, electrical, hardware and heating products. They salvage what can be salvaged from houses that are being gutted, renovated or torn down, and sell the results to those who are gutting, renovating or tearing down their houses. If you have a hot water radiator that needs replacing, these are the people to see – they refurbish and restore old ones, as well as selling all the hardware necessary to keep them running.

Radiators are an Addison’s specialty. If you still heat with water, you need these guys.

Addison’s also has an absolutely ridiculous number of plumbing fixtures of every shape, size, purpose, colour and condition imaginable. It is truly spectacular, and organized mostly by category – so there is a reasonable chance of finding what you are looking for, located in proximity to all of the other examples of what you are looking for.

Plumbing fixtures of every size, shape, style, era and usability.

One of the things that they did have, to my surprise and absolute delight, was porcelain door knobs. Apart from replacing the hinges in the lower doors of the house, we are also wanting to replace the door knobs, which are an eclectic mix from several periods, none of which are actually from when the house was built. Briefly distracted, I was able to assemble three full sets of door knobs (at least, I was able to assemble the knobs, if not any of the other hardware I needed). Not knowing what was required in terms of latch sets (and recognizing the bewildering array of latches actually available) I wisely (in my opinion) left that decision for another day.

Door knobs! They have door knobs! Porcelain ones, and many more besides.

After a delightful exploration of a spectacular, if bewildering, array of stuff, we left with our knobs, but sadly not with our hinges. Stock depends upon what is coming out of houses that are being gutted, and most of the hinges they had were slightly worn and tarnished versions of what you would get from your local hardware store. The search would have to continue.