Reconstruction, part 2: Reframing the past

Once the basic structure is set, we can move on to the interior reframing. The original house was constructed using traditional balloon-frame construction, with real 2x4 studs and 2x6 joists. Though hidden behind the old beadboard and fiberboard wall coverings for all these decades, the lumber has a lovely patina and roughness. We would have loved to have left it all exposed, but in this climate of hot summers and cold winters, we need all the insulation we can get.

The double-framing technique – where the existing 2x4 studs are augmented with an interior wall of modern 2x6 studs – has two advantages. First, it thickens the wall from 4” to nearly 10”, allowing us to more than double the insulation. Second, the additional 2x6 studs are on a contemporary 16” center, where the original 2x4 studs are on a 24” center. This staggering means that the inside and outside walls are rarely connected by a stud – which means less heat-transfer through solid lumber.

Finally, the thick walls simply have a more solid feel. One of the prime precepts in Christopher Alexander’s The Pattern Language (an amazing book if you’ve never experienced it) is to design with thick walls. Contemporary houses often feel strangely two-dimensional, with walls that seem to disappear. By going back to the tradition of thick walls, we make the walls themselves a sort of body, rather than more than just a skin. The walls become an integral part of the house.

This time of reframing is also the time to open up the house to its new window scheme. All of us were amazed at the awesome view created by the south-facing upstairs window, as well as the doubled-up north facing windows.

A more subtle but almost more important effect is the angling of the sides of the window frames. This was traditionally done in stone buildings, and sometimes done in wooden buildings in the 17th–19th centuries, but has fallen out of favor in our modern times. However, the gradation of incoming light created by this angle is simply stunning. I’m looking forward to its final look once plastered and colored.

This is also the time of the little nuances that make a place – the stairs that spiral down from the loft, the view from above, and the calm appreciation of the century-old flooring that will soon be shined up into the present moment.