Here at Klappenberger & Son, we enjoy sharing our knowledge and experience on historic preservation projects with you. We paint historical buildings to ensure our history is protected and preserved. This results in beautiful buildings that has a lasting paint job. We work with interior and exterior paint jobs, commercial and private projects from big jobs to small ones. No matter the type of job, our policy is to produce the very best work possible every time, and we love sharing our work with others.
We also have the training and skills necessary to take on more complex tasks in historic building restoration. Like so many places, Maryland, D.C. and the East Coast in General has its fair share of gorgeous historic buildings, all of which deserve to keep standing and sharing their fascinating history with generations to come, but many of which could also use a little help in lasting that long. That’s where we come in. When hired for the job, we visit national historic landmarks and work to restore the paint, windows and finish.
Recently, we were proud to use our skills to preserve and restore Riversdale House Museum — a national historic landmark and genuine piece of Maryland history. Today, we want to share a little bit about what a job like that looks like, as well as the importance of preserving historic buildings and why we’re passionate about it.
Riversdale House Museum
Riversdale House Museum is a Federal-style mansion built between the years 1801 and 1807. Today, it exists as a way for visitors to experience a slice of time and history preserved within the walls and grounds of this elegant estate.
The home was originally built for Flemish aristocrat Henri Stier but was eventually completed by his daughter and her husband, Rosalie and George Calvert. This couple had deep ties to the prominent families in Maryland of the day, and George was even the grandson of the fifth Lord Baltimore. Through information revealed in the architectural bones of the house, archival records and the surviving diary of Rosalie Calvert, historians can reconstruct much of what life in this house during this period. Today, they’re using these records and this house to share this story with visitors from every corner of the world.
Riversdale House Museum is a rich source of information and learning for those wishing to learn about federal history, Maryland history, women’s experiences in the early 19th century and the lives of African Americans during this time. From taking guided tours to browsing the exhibits and artifacts, there’s plenty for everyone to learn at Riversdale.
Why the Restoration?
Given enough time, wooden structures break down. Buildings crumble, metals rust and wood decays. Our country has many gorgeous historical sites that all have valuable lessons to teach us about the past, but many of these sites have suffered from the passage of time. Left to their own devices, not many of them would last. Nature would take its course and these historical sites would vanish altogether.
That’s where teams of people including historians, preservation experts and painting professionals like our team here at Klappenberger & Son come in. Together, we work to perform historic building restoration, returning sites like Riversdale House and others to their former selves and preventing them from deteriorating. This way, the history they represent will continue to be available for future generations.
At Klappenberger & Son, our areas of expertise when it comes to landmark buildings are historical building painting and historic window restoration. In these two areas, we work carefully and diligently to preserve the building’s history and support the longevity of the wood.
Let’s explore what this restoration process looks like a little more closely.
Painting Process for Historic Buildings
The question of how to preserve old buildings is a complicated one, and there isn’t a single one-size-fits-all answer that we can apply universally. Every structure is unique, since they have different materials in varying states of decay and have been exposed to unique natural conditions that have affected the materials differently.
Many factors will influence the exact strategy we’ll use as we approach a project. Just a few of the questions we ask to help determine which approach we settle on include:
- What materials are we painting?
- What is the physical state of those materials?
- How much has sun exposure damaged the surface?
- How much moisture content is there in the walls?
- How rough or smooth is the wood?
- What paints and primers have other workers used on these surfaces in the past?
Once we have the answers to questions like these, we’ll be much better equipped to determine the best approach for preserving and restoring these historic spaces.
The Preservation Process for Riversdale House Museum
The process we use for every project will vary depending on the precise needs of the project in question. This means that if you’re looking for a universal method for historic preservation, then this won’t be it. Nevertheless, this is the method we used for our restoration work at Riversdale House Museum.
1. Preparing the Wood
Before any painting, priming, glazing or anything else can take place, it’s necessary to prepare the surface. Among other things, this means delicately cleaning off any debris, dirt or flaking paint. Few things can undermine a fresh coat of paint as efficiently as a dirty surface, as all these small particles of debris make it difficult for the paint to adhere to the surface.
Furthermore, it’s essential to smooth the surface gently by sanding it. A smooth surface accepts paint better than a rough one, meaning that this sanding is an integral part of prepping any surface for a historical preservation job.
We started by very gently removing all the loose glaze that was still clinging to the surface. It’s critical to perform this job carefully, so as not to scrape away too much of the original surface. At the same time, we also need to make sure we remove any loose particles, so they wouldn’t be in the way of the fresh coating. For this task, we used D/2, a cleaning product developed to clean historical surfaces without leaving any harmful residues that might eat away at the surface or damage the wood.
Additionally, we lightly sanded the wood and paint. This was to smooth the surface and clear away any loose chips that would interfere with the painting process. Again, we took great care to sand gently so as not to damage the surface itself. The goal here is only to smooth away loose pieces or bumps.
2. Priming the Wood
In many ways, historic preservation painting is very different from any other type of painting. Yet in other ways, they are much more similar than you might expect. Like any other variety of painting, historical jobs need to begin with a fresh coat of primer. This gives the paint a uniform base to adhere to, ensuring a smooth and even finish across the entire surface.
Whether you’re completing an ordinary paint job or a historical preservation job, failure to begin by applying this primer could result in many setbacks. The paint might not adhere at all, or it might look blotchy and uneven. Alternatively, the paint might go on wonderfully, only to begin chipping and flaking far sooner than it ordinarily would.
For our purposes with this project, we used an oil-based primer. By covering the surface in this primer, we do our best to make sure the later coats will go on with as few hiccups as possible. Once the primer is applied, it’s essential to wait for it to dry fully before moving on to the next step. Starting the next step too soon could make applying primer pointless.
3. Glazing the Wood
Once we’ve painted on the first coat of primer, but before we layer on any paint, it’s time to add the glaze. In this case, we added the glaze, then left the project alone for seven days before we moved onto the next step. This seven-day waiting period is crucial because it ensures that the moisture content of the wood is low enough for the paint to last as long as possible.
This accommodation for the moisture content of the wood is vital as this will have a significant effect on the final result of the paint. If the moisture content of the wood is too high, the paint won’t stick very well and won’t last long. Therefore, this seven-day waiting period is crucial for the overall success of the project.
4. Priming the Wood: Round Two
Once the glaze has set, the moisture content has been attended to and the seven-day waiting period has passed, it’s time to move onto the next step — the second coat of primer. While we used an oil-based primer for the first coat, the second coat is different. In this case, we used a latex-based primer called Mad Dog.
Mad Dog is a primer explicitly intended for use with historic preservation projects. Excellent for projects that deal with peeling and well-weathered surfaces, Mad Dog primer helps lay down a solid base that creates the perfect surface for the paint to lie down on. Primer like this has been known to keep the top coat of paint holding steady and looking great for at least 20 years. For reasons like these, we include it in our own historical preservation projects.
Once we apply the primer, the next step is simply to wait for it to dry. This isn’t quite as long a waiting period as is necessary for the glaze, but it’s still important to wait long enough to ensure the primer dries properly.
5. Painting the Wood
With historic preservation, we often refer to the whole project as “painting.” Yet painting is only one small part of a much longer series of steps. Before we can even begin painting, it’s necessary first to complete the due diligence of properly preparing, priming and glazing the wood.
Once we’ve completed all this prep work, however, it’s time to move onto the final phase — painting. For this phase, we used a latex-based paint that meshed well with the latex-based primer we used just underneath the paint. We chose a paint from Fine Paints of Europe.
We applied two coats of this paint to ensure maximum coverage, as well as to guarantee the paint’s longevity. Once this paint dried and we inspected everything to make sure it was up to standard, the historic house preservation painting was complete.
Historic Window Painting
In addition to our work painting the exterior of Riversdale House, we also performed extensive work in wood window restoration. Much like any other type of historic preservation painting, this is exact and careful work that requires precisely the right tools used in precisely the right way.
As we mentioned earlier, moisture content is an enormous factor when painting historic wood. The higher the moisture content, the greater the likelihood that the paint will not stick, leading to coats of paint that flake and peel off not long after they’ve been applied.
While moisture content is a concern in any historical preservation work, it’s especially concerning when it comes to restoring old windows. This is because windows are a major source of moisture, as they’re in constant contact with the air outside and are exposed to rain, snow and all manner of inclement weather. If any part of the house is going to suffer from excessive moisture, it is by far the most likely that it will be the windows.
In all our historic preservation work, from this project to all the other sites we’ve worked on, we always strive to ensure we’re preserving the original structure while preparing it to last for many more years. This means watching the moisture content in the wood of the walls as well as the windows and treating them with the utmost care in the process.
Our expertise in restoring old buildings isn’t just limited to the private and public sphere. We also work with government sites and have completed projects at such nationally recognizable sites as the White House and the Pentagon. No matter what type of site you’re looking to have restored, and no matter what schedule you need us to accommodate, we’re ready to work with you.
Contact Klappenberger & Son for Your Historical Restoration Project Today
Is there a historical site that you’re looking to have restored and preserved? Here at Klappenberger & Son, we have the tools, expertise and experience to get the job done right. We pride ourselves on attending to all the details and know that the best jobs are the ones where time and care has been taken to make sure every little thing comes out right.
Are you ready to move forward with your project? Contact us today to schedule your free onsite estimate.