Wednesday, July 26, 2006

Elementary, My Dear Watson

The majority of old houses in the Twin Cities originally came with one set of wooden window screens and one set of wood framed, glass storm windows. Alternatively, some houses came with wood framed glass storms that tilted out during the summer. We get very cold winters here, so storm windows are a big deal. For the sake of this post, I'll talk about the former.

In my past house and my current house, the wood frames of the screens were originally painted a medium dark green. The wood storms were painted gray. I guess this was a popular color combo for yellow stucco back in the 1920's because both houses had almost identical paint colors. I still have 9 original storms (including the two we have been talking about in my entryway) and 6 screens. So, when the seasons changed and the owners switch the screens for storms, the look of the house changed from green trim to gray trim. Very cool, I think.

I mention this because knowing this gave me a few clues about the recessed panels I uncovered at my front door. My instincts told me that the little ridge on the edge of the inset had something to do with the storm windows covering the windows above it. Earlier this week I took a walk through my neighborhood to see if I could find a similar set up without any luck.

So, yesterday afternoon I was driving home from a client meeting. The freeway was backed-up, so I decided to take side roads home. I was driving through a neighborhood I've driven through a zillion times. I was sitting at a stop light thinking about what I needed from the grocery store when all of a sudden I noticed a house on the corner. OMG, it had my same little front door side windows! I cut over two lanes to drive down that block. Every stinkin house on that block had little side windows in their entryway :-)

A few houses had storm windows on top (just like mine currently does) and the recessed panel below was left as is. It would be like mine currently, but painted.

Then there were a couple that did not have storm windows on the upper set of windows and a recessed panel below. This left both spaces inset at the same level.

Finally, there was a house that had storm windows on the upper set of windows and a little "storm panel" covering the inset. The "storm panel" was held in place with wing nuts just like the storm window above it.

A few of the houses had mail slots in the recessed panels.

Here's what I think the story is. I think that originally the front door side windows came with one set of screens and one set of storms. They were changed seasonally - probably different colors. I think they also came with two sets of little "storm panels" for the recessed space below the windows. One green panel and one gray panel, in my case. These were changed out to match the storm/screen above them. If the window was left without a screen or storm, the panel was entirely removed and the paint matched the muntins on the windows.

As home owners started replacing the old screen/storms with combination storms, many of the old screens & storms were thrown out. When this happened, I'll bet changing those little panels became a moot point and many of them were lost.

I went out and took a closer look at my front doorway and found holes on each side of the panels where presumably little wing nuts once were used.

I always feel weird about taking photos of other people's houses, but I may try to get back over to that block and take a few photos for reference.


Greg said...

Fascinating. I’ve never lived in an area that used storm windows before. I’ll the houses I grew up in had screens that stayed on year round. I’ve only seen one older home in Eureka that has any screens at all. They are wooden and very ornate. The weather stays cool to cold year round so opening windows is not “mandatory” in the summer months.

So were the “storm panels” only aesthetic in nature, to match the windows above, or were they also there to help insulate and maybe help keep snow away from the inset?

StuccoHouse said...

Yea, its kind of cool because twice a year all of the older houses around here that still have some of their old storms or screens do the change out. We usually all pick the same weekend and are out on our ladders pulling out one to put in the other. I was obnoxiously excited the year I discovered those little numbered nails that you can put on the windows to tell you which insert when with which window. I can't tell you how much time they save.

I suspect the little panels were mostly decorative - so your insert matched your screen or storm color. But, they probably were there for dead air insulation too. I know I'll have to put some insulation in there or it will be mighty cold by the front door (although sealing the mouse hole will help tons)

Jocelyn said...

That's a really neat image of all these people changing their storm windows and screens seasonally. And the fact that the trim color would change is incredibly charming.

What are you going to do with these panels now? My curiousity is peaked!

StuccoHouse said...

I think I'm going to have some replacements made. I'll use the back panel that I discovered as a pattern. I'll put them in with wingnuts (not permanently like the PO did), but will probably put some rigid board insulation in there to weathproof (and maybe a copy of some of these recent posts for a future owner to find).

I wish I had some skill in this area, but I don't have a clue - although it seems like they would be fairly easy to make. There is a shop not far away from me that does finish carpentry....I may ask him. I am also reevaluating my paint scheme in front. It would be fun to make them stand out a bit.

I'm kind of excited about this discovery. It adds a little interest to the front doorway, I think.

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