A NOTE FROM CHARLIE
Recent visitors to the Charlie Allen Renovations website may have noticed a subtle change at the top of our
homepage: our new company motto, "Committed to
Making Your Period House a Home." The phrase doesn't signify any change in the quality work that we do. But I do believe that it better captures our approach to remodeling in this post-recession environment.
I founded Charlie Allen Renovations in 1978. In the thirty-one years since then, I've seen housing markets rise and fall and recessions come and go. But I've never seen the economy impact homeowners the way this current
recession has. For many, continuing uncertainty with the job and real estate markets and the economy as a whole has produced a cautious approach toward spending, and those who might have moved when they outgrew their current home are instead staying put. The Boston Globe Magazine summed it up in an October 25 article: "Homeowners are restless. With prices depressed,
mortgages increasingly difficult to obtain, and sales
dragging, many owners feel stuck—tired of their houses but unwilling or unable to make a move."
That's where our commitment to making period houses feel more like homes can help. Smart (and sometimes, small) remodeling projects can make a big difference in turning your current old house into an ideal home, tailor made for you. Need to find additional storage or play space? We can help. Looking for options to make
gathering areas more welcoming, and workspaces more functional? We can do that too. Want to improve curb appeal? We'll design a plan that will make your home look great at a rate you can handle.
If you're in the mood for a change, please give us a call. We've recently restructured and now offer lower rates. With our continued emphasis on superior service and
craftsmanship; we're confident that we can help.
GATHER AROUND THE FIRE
The fireplace has been the "heart of the home" for
millennia—and it's certainly a signature element in many period homes. In fact, the day that human beings first learned to make fire could be seen as the birth date of the concept of home itself. Finally, people could build welcoming structures, whether longstanding or temporary, warmed by fire. And you can bet that the first person to do so had quite a crowd in their house that night!
Before we had fireplaces, though, we had fire pits, positioned in the middle of one-story dwellings where smoke rose through a hole in the ceiling. Many years later, with the development of two story homes, more structured fireplaces were built, located on the outer walls of homes and venting out sideways. Unfortunately, the flaw in this design is that smoke often rose into the room rather than outdoors. Soon after, the chimney was
invented to channel smoke up and out through a draft.
In 1678, further improvements were made when Prince Rupert, nephew of King Charles I of England, designed a grate for the wood to rest on.
Elevating the wood allowed air to get underneath the fire and essentially fuel it. Rupert's design also featured a switchable baffle, which directed the air up while lighting the fire and then back down while the fire was growing, then back up again when blazing. This small device helped reduce smoking.
In 1796, Count Rumford redesigned the fireplace, making the firebox tall and shallow, which reflected the heat more efficiently. He also streamlined the throats, which helped to draw the smoke up and out. These new design ideas allowed chimneys to be incorporated into the walls of the home, as we see them today. (Rumford, a noted eighteenth-century inventor, was born in Woburn, MA, where his mother knew him as Benjamin Thompson. A supporter of the loyalists during the American Revolution, he fled to Europe at the end of the war. Later, the Holy Roman Empire would grant him his title. Notable among the Count's other inventions is the percolating coffee pot.)
With the introduction of alternate heating sources in the nineteenth century, the lack of a fireplace became something of a status symbol, demonstrating that the homeowner no longer needed to rely on fire to warm the home. Fireplaces regained their popularity in the Victorian era, now seen as quaint and cozy places for guests and families to congregate around. While no longer a life-sustaining feature, the fireplace was once again seen as the ‘Heart' of the home.
As housing styles changed over time (along with technology), so did the styles of fireplaces. Mantels became more ornate, and firebox shapes changed. The main elements of the fireplace, however, remained the mantel, which offers a decorative frame and can be built using many
different materials, from wood or stone to marble, and the firebox, which houses the fire. This is almost always brick, but it can be overlaid with cast iron firesides, soapstone, or plaster, or be made of stones instead of brick.
WE CAN HELP: If you're thinking about repairing an old chimney or in-stalling a fireplace into your home, please let us know. Charlie Allen Restorations is the region's sole provider of SolidFlue Chimney
Systems — a safe and innovative poured lining process. And if you just need a good chimney cleaning, we're happy to recommend a chimney sweep service.
WHAT IS A PERIOD HOME?
Like many architectural movements, the Italianate style began in England as a response to a long period of very formal, classical style homes. As the "picturesque movement" in landscape design became popular in the late eighteenth century, introducing lush plantings of wildflowers and shrubs to the residential setting, houses were styled to take on the
characteristics of Italian Renaissance villas.
This style of architecture was then reinterpreted in the United States and by the late 1860's it became the most popular style of newly built homes, accessible to homeowners with even the most modest budgets. Pressed metal decorations produced by Victorian–era
factories helped promote availability and keep costs low.
Here in Cambridgeport we have many Italianate homes in our neighborhood. Most of these homes don't look like villas, but do feature balanced rectangular shapes with a tall appearance; low pitched or flat roofs; and tall, narrow windows with hood mouldings and pediments above doors and windows. Perhaps the most famous example in New England is the Breakers mansion in Newport, RI. Production of Italianate style homes slowed down when the styles of the late Victorian era, such as the Queen Anne and Colonial Revival, became popular.