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porch & exterior, part 1: building the posts

08.03 - 10.03 stacking the deck

click to see the full photo gallerySometimes, renovating a house is like an archaeological dig. The demolition phase usually involves an odd find or maybe layers of paint of questionable color. As you go, you slowly piece together the history of what came before.

In the case of the porch, we have surmised two things: 1) the previous owner was lazy and 2) the previous owner didn't care. Put those things together, and you have what we laughingly refer to as "The Porch".

Oh, it's a nice porch, don't get me wrong. Or rather, it was. But after they got done "renovating" (into a deck, apparently, was the idea), it became a poor imitation of its former self. Not that we actually know what it looked like before -- it's not like we have pictures or something. But we do know what the house model looked like from old Sears catalogs (have I mentioned lately that I love Google?) and based on the relics left behind and the similar models in the neighborhood, we can certainly imagine what it looked like.

So what happened? Well, we believe there was probably a dry rot issue that was the catalyst for the "renovation". Judging from the lack of care and maintenance elsewhere, it seems the most obvious answer. Hard to say how extensive the problem was, though it must've been pretty bad to motivate them to replace the entire porch rather than simply boarding over it as would seem the usual M.O. And they just couldn't be bothered to do it right or, heaven forbid, well.

The first pictures we saw online of the house actually show the porch under construction. By the time we actually saw it in person, it was finished. Which is to say that it had stairs and could support the weight of people.

The two main support posts, instead of a finished plinth design with the small geometric detail that was most likely there before, were left as the unfinished 6x6's that were probably the core of the original columns. No finished exterior to protect them from the elements or contribute to the overall design of the house. And those funky boxes at the top? Apparently, that was their attempt at capitals. Or possibly, birds' nests.

The rest of the porch was finished with manufactured decking materials, which, while not altogether bad, isn't really appropriate on a, you know, porch. Of course, it would help if they'd used deck screws because nails? Don't work. And are sort of a hazard when they work their way up and get all rusty 'n stuff. Don't even get me started on the half-assed use of stock wrought-iron railings for the stair railings instead of matching the wooden banisters that run around the rest of the porch.

So, while we didn't have the money to entirely scrap the porch and start all over, we figured we'd take down the railings and modify them to more closely match the Craftsman style, and build finished exteriors for the two main supports and four half-posts at the top and bottom of the stairs to give it all a more cohesive look. Keep in mind that we cut all the pieces with a circular saw, handsaw, plastic miter box, and jigsaw. And that every single piece had to be custom cut and fit because of all the weird dimensions and natural settling of the house.

Bet you're impressed now, huh?

We're not done -- still have the banisters to build, the lower posts to bolt into the stairs, and all of the railings to install. And right now, everything's just been primed and painted to protect it during the winter.  When we paint the house, we'll paint the porch and all the pieces so it looks like it was always there. But we're quite proud of how this project turned out and it's made a big difference in the curb appeal of the house.

click to see full photo gallery