Category Archives: house history

Two Years, Blog!

A few weeks ago (on April 3rd), this blog turned two. A lot happens right around that time – Stephen (our son) has a birthday, as does Mary, and this year Easter also happened around that time, so I didn’t put up a post right then about the blog’s birthday.

With another here, I find it interesting to compare the statistics from year to year:

April 2013 – April 2014 page views: 14,615

April 2014 – April 2015 page views: 13,160

Most popular post (besides the homepage), is once again is Adventures in Mid-Century Modern Kitchen Flooring: 1,351

Second most popular is It’s All About The Sputniks with 975 views.

It’s fun finding out the people who read and keep up with our blog. Thanks for following along with us on our adventures! There’s lots more stories to tell: I just did some more work in the kitchen with chroming items and adding lighting, have done some other vintage-style projects I am eager to share, and we’re already started on this year’s exterior house work.

Stay tuned!

Getting The Radiant Heat Back

Given that it’s -4F outside right now, it seemed like a post about the heating system we use in the house – and some repairs I had to do to it – was appropriate. This is the (somewhat long) story of repairing one of the signature features in our house: the in-floor radiant heat on the lower level.

As a split-level house, we have one floor (family room level) that is concrete slab-on-grade. There is one problem with slab-on-grade construction in the Northeast: the concrete gets painfully cold in the winter. When designing the house, my grandfather was aware of this fact and had installed – in 1959 – radiant heat tubing embedded in the concrete. With the radiant heat, warm water is pumped through the piping and keeps the floor (and the room) warm.

Because of the radiant heat, the house was also outfitted with hot water baseboard heat on all levels, separated into three zones (one for each level – no heat in the basement.)

There was, however, a problem with the radiant heat in winter 2009. My grandmother had called and indicated that the family room with the radiant heat was very cold and that she had called a local plumber to take a look. This plumbing outfit took a look at the radiant configuration – copper tubing embedded in concrete dating to 1959 – and told her that it was broken beyond repair. They really didn’t do any testing or anything, they just assumed it was bad and told her the best option was to install some (very ugly) hot water baseboard radiators in that level of the house.

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The Original Mortgage

I’ve mentioned before that a cool feature of owning the place your Grandparents built is that you randomly have all sorts of historical things – pictures, documents…junk. I have the original floor plans for the house that were drawn by my Grandfather, a number of slides and pictures spanning the 1950s through today, and furniture that has been here since almost the time the house was built.

Among the old documents that I have, one of them is the original mortgage from 1958 used to finance building the house. At that time, the national average price for a new home was around $12,000. This house cost a bit more than that to build – around $18,000. If only my mortgage was $132 a month (and that was a 20 year mortgage, not a 30.) I do have a much better interest rate on my mortgage though.

Small story: My grandparents had a problem with the original construction timeline of the house – the foundation was poured in September 1958 and it was anticipated they would be moving in in 1959. However the builder was either fired or went out of business (unclear which occured first), so my grandfather had a half-built house that he had to find a new builder to complete. In that situation, the new builder treats it as a “remodel” even though the house was nowhere near completed. This necessitated extending the interest-only period of the mortgage from 1959 into 1960, hence the change on the document.



Mid-Century Mailbox

One thing that has stymied me since before we purchased the house was to look for a new mailbox. The mailbox in front of the house currently is not only not the original, it’s the plain-jane black-plastic-on-wood-post box that you can pick up for $75 anywhere. Given our mid-century house aesthetic, I wanted something a little fancier. But interestingly, there are lots of mid-century style reproductions – light fixtures, furniture, accessories – but for some reason, there are no mid-century mailboxes. So I had been considering my options for some modern-but-compatible alternatives, but none really seemed to fit:

nubox rural_zinc_main cadrona_main_01

But, the other day I was perusing Facebook, when the folks over at Retro Renovation shared a post about a gentleman down in North Carolina who, running into the same issue, did a little research, found a classic and popular mid-century mailbox design, and came up with this beauty, called the ModBox:


He is currently running a Kickstarter to fund the initial production run. Needless to say I was intrigued. There is a bit more to this story, though. You see, the original (or close to original) mailbox was around until about 2002 or so, when it was replaced with the drab box that is present now. I remember the old mailbox well. What was that original box? Well, let’s take a look:

2003 house photo

Take a look at the mailbox…

Look familiar? That’s right, my grandparents had the mailbox the ModBox is based on. It was a model known as the “Sleek Suburban” by one of the manufacturers, and no place bigger than Sears had their own fancy version as well. Unfortunately when the mailbox on our house was replaced, the old one was simply put in the trash. Ouch.

But today, I signed up to get a brand spanking new and fancy ModBox of our own. Assuming it gets funded, it should be here in August (with a fancy angled mounting pole too.)

So, if you need a mailbox, head over to the ModBox site and support the project on Kickstarter!

1962 Heritage Perennian Furniture Catalog

My grandparents were no slouches when it came to purchasing durable goods for the house – they saved up and purchased things that were nice, and generally contemporary for their time. They shied away from “traditional” furniture and lines. In the living room and dining room spaces, they purchased higher end Heritage furniture, from a collection called Perennian. Heritage today is known as Drexel Heritage (a combination made in the late 1950s, though for a time they were still marketed separately.)

Perennian isn’t a very “hot” vintage mid-century item, precisely because it wasn’t very avant-garde for its time and therefore stand out as must-have mid-century for collectors today. Perennian furniture represented a bridge between very contemporary mid-century furniture designs from makers like Knoll (who produced Eames, Saarien, Noguchi and others) and the more traditional furniture that Heritage had been known for previously (and is known for today.) The furniture featured subdued but modern lines and made extensive use of woods such as walnut, pecan, and wormy chestnut. In spite of the subdued looks, it is very mid-century. It’s also very nice, sturdy, high quality, mostly solid wood furniture, which is typical of Heritage. Much nicer and higher quality than vintage Acclaim and Broyhill Brasilia, for instance.

Interestingly, the fact that this furniture wasn’t worth “a lot” became a point of contention – my grandmother and aunt insisted they were worth more than an appraiser said. In the end, my aunt took the dining room set to a new house she bought, so this problem went away on it’s own, fortunately.

The living room also has several Perennian pieces as well – a three-part coffee table set and two end tables. Ultimately, we kept one of the end tables, and Grandma wanted the others for her new apartment after moving out. I very, very rarely see Perennian furniture out in the wild – but interestingly, Tricia over at Modchester (in her fancy Rochester mid-century house) inherited a beautiful group of Perennian furniture from the original owners of her place.

One of the things that I did keep was the original Perennian catalog from 1962. For posterity (and because Pam over at Retro Renovation archives these too, which I will send her way) I went ahead and scanned the entire catalog. It’s pretty interesting seeing the different pieces, the fabrics and suggested layouts. So, here it is, all 45+ pages in high resolution for your viewing enjoyment: