Monday, September 28, 2009

Harry Fenn Studio

I already told you about the image of Fenn's studio on the third floor of the House. I've finally scanned it. The original was in a bad resolution, but it will give you an idea where we are going with this.

Here is the room today:

And here is what we are trying to get back to:

Not sure if you can see the top of the turret through the image of the old window. That is now the terrace on the top photo. So, the plan is to restore the windows in their original location. But, since the reconstruction of the turret would cost a small fortune, we will instead remove a part of the existing mansard (left corner of the top photo) and make it look like the original turret from the street level. And we'll keep the terrace. So, win-win as far as kids are concerned, since they love this terrace. Depending on the cost, we might also replace the little window on the illustration left to match the original and the new/old windows to the terrace.

Sunday, September 27, 2009

First Drawings Are Done!

Yesterday afternoon we had a meeting with our architect, Mark Wright of Wright and Robinson, and he presented us with the first set of drawings. He was 10 minutes late and we were sitting at the edge of our sofa wondering where he was, that's how excited we were. And it paid off. He brought the drawings of how the House used to look, the existing condition, and the most creative ways to marry the two.

I have to admit that we were worried how everything is going to look, and if we are going to like the solutions he offered. It is a natural fear of someone who has never owned a home before and never worked with an architect. Well, I am happy to report that our fears were brushed aside almost immediately. Mark showed us his ideas, and they were almost identical to what we thought we might like. Also, he opened our eyes to the possibilities of very small, inexpensive changes and how they can transform the House.

Considering the expense (always the expense), we have to settle for the "in-spirit" restoration: step one, repair the roof line to return the balance to the house and get rid of part of the mansard; and step two, build new windows and doors to look like the original windows.

Mark also suggested replacing the window sashes in the living room and our bedroom with the ones that look like the original windows. And my husband insisted we rebuild the gargoyles on the porch. Oh, yes, this House used to have gargoyles.

All in all, it was a very productive meeting, even thought we were interrupted by the crying, teething baby. Don't ask. We finished it off with a few cups of Turkish/Bosnian coffee, just to celebrate the forward movement. And, yeah, Mark's birthday.

Happy Birthday, Mark!

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Random search of The New York Public Library

At the suggestion of our architect, I did a search of the New York Public Library records and discovered 47 entries for various things. 7 were not related to Harry Fenn. Other 40, however, were his works and biographies. Which is 39 more than the entire Essex and Bergen County library systems combined. Apparently, he was very popular with poets. Among others, he illustrated Lord Alfred Tennyson's books. Another, even more important, fact is that Fenn's biography was included in a book called "Reconstruction era: biographies," by Roger Matuz. What is interesting is not that Fenn is included, but that he is included along, to name a few: Louisa May Alcott, Susan B. Anthony, Robert E. Lee, Ulysses S. Grant, etc. Now it's just a matter of finding time to go there and read through all of these.

I also did a search through a quarterly that was popular at that time, called The Century, as it was mentioned in The Montclair Times. Cornell University Library has all the volumes online. The article of interest is titled "The Summer Haunts of American Artists," and was written by Lizzie W. Champney, who also wrote a few other things, including the John Angelo children's series I wrote about in this blog in July. Well, it turns out that the article has an illustration of the inside of Fenn's studio, from the angle which was showing the large Southern window (Northern, at the time) we are working on. So, now we have both the appearance AND the spacial relation of the window and the gable we are trying to rebuild. Simply magnificent and very timely.

It looks like the secret to the Internet research of old records is knowing where to look. For example, if you just google Harry Fenn, there are very few entries. But, if you go to any one of the old sources, and then search for Fenn, you will find a lot. I suspect it is the same for any other famous person of the time that wasn't uber-popular.

Microfilm at the Montclair Public Library

Today, I decided it was time to start going through the microfiche files at the Montclair Public Library. This was one of those spur of the moment decisions, as I know it will probably take me days, if not weeks to find what I am looking for. By that measure, today was a relative success, since I managed to go through the entire 1885 (the year) and found three mentions of the Fenns, two of which had a reference to a "fine" and "picturesque" residence of Mr. Fenn. All of these were written after September 1885, so I will need to go back and look more closely at the earlier months of the year for the announcement that the House has been occupied.

Also, it does seem that at that time it was quite common to sell a house separately from a lot it is sitting on, and the house would be moved to a desired new location. Fascinating!

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Wordless Wednesday!

Readers, meet Mr. Fenn. Mr. Fenn, the readers. This is a portrait in watercolor done by Lawrence C. Earle. For more details on the artist, click on the image. The painting is housed at the Montclair Art Museum.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

The Contracts Are In!

The landscaping is scheduled for mid-October. Very excited. After this weekend's very traumatic experience, we decided to install deer fencing as well.

We were having breakfast and our 2-year-old excitedly pointed through the window at our backyard and said: "Deer." The boys went through a series of oh's and ah's, and then it got quiet. Suddenly, my husband started waving me over: "I think she is giving birth. You have to see this." Having been through two labors of my own, I wasn't particularly interested, but then I realized it was a wrong time of the year. Looking closer, I saw a set of very young antlers and what my husband thought was a fawn, were in fact this young buck's insides. The skin on his belly was torn and trailing between his hind legs, and his intestines were dripping blood.

My first reaction was to scream, but I didn't want to scare the poor animal or my children, because I wanted them to have a better and healthier relationship with nature, having suffered through a childhood with a mother afraid of, well, pretty much everything that moved and some inanimate objects as well. But, that is a subject for a different blog. Anyway, I tried to explain to the kids what is going on and that even events of this kind are a part of nature, when it struck me: deer have no natural enemies any more in this part of the world, there is no population control on our (human) part, and they are so over-populated that they are venturing into a dense neighborhood for food in early September. I can't even imagine what it will be like come November.

So, we are installing deer fencing and I am going to start reviving the online petition for deer management. The Town and the County really must do something.

That aside, we have also finalized the contract with the architect. First drafts are expected next weekend. I will keep you posted on the progress. It does not seem like that to me, but I've been told that we are on a very aggressive schedule as far as drawings and bid process is concerned. The work is starting first week of November. Aggressive is tomorrow, if you ask me. 7 weeks? Not so much. But, that is our own fault, and we must live with it.

Sunday, September 13, 2009

Another Small Step

We just replaced the Hall light with this magnificent crystal piece. While we were looking at the sparkle and light breaking through the facets of the crystals, we were wondering why did we live with the "classically modern, faux art glass, hand painted cobblestone finish" monstrosity that was hanging from the ceiling for the last year. Don't get me wrong, it wasn't a bad chandelier, but it was so inappropriate for this House, that it was such an eyesore for us. How much of an eyesore, we didn't know until now. Kids love looking at it, like anything shiny, I guess, and are still talking about the electrician bringing this magical thing into their lives.

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

A Really, Really Small Steps

I took a little vacation over the last week. Didn't go anywhere, fortunately, as traveling would probably annoy me more than the "vacation" would relax me. But, simply took a vacation from thinking and writing about the House.

In the mean time, the long awaited light fixtures have arrived and have been installed. Well, at least some of them. While not completely historically accurate, they are better than what was here to begin with, so we are happy with the progress.

Our thanks to Mike DeFuria from Halo Electrical Contractors for coming on such a short notice.

Sunday, September 6, 2009

Happy Labor Day To All!

Very happy to report that the landscaping work has been booked and we should be starting with clearing of the backyard in a few weeks. Right now it looks like the Wild West and we are afraid to even go there, being that it has now become a habitat of: 1 groundhog family, 2 rabbit families which are fast becoming 10 families, at least 2-3 fawns and does, 1 million mosquitoes and countless other species of bugs we have never seen in our lives, 4 recognizable species of birds (species that we recognize), squirrels, field mice, etc. This is a photo from a week ago...