Taking Action

After sorting through the options, it is ultimately up to the homeowner to decide what approach to take. The options decided upon by the McCues for restoring their front portico offer a fine example of how to go about it.

New custom-built columns were installed to replace the four large columns that support the portico roof. An important part of the ordering process involved extending a tape measure across the surfaces of the existing elements and photographing them digitally to document dimensions such as diameter, frequency of fluting, height, etc. These photos were sent to the woodworker's shop and new redwood columns were accurately reproduced.

The existing capitals atop the large columns had chalked considerably and significant detail would have been lost in preparing the surface to accept paint. They were replaced with new plaster units.

The existing brackets around the tablature and over the doorway were also removed and replaced with new cast-plaster units. Prior to installation, the new brackets as well as the new plaster capitals were immersed in an alkyd masonry sealer, then primed with an oil-base primer, and finished with two coats of latex paint. Each application required back-brushing to control the paint and minimize the loss of detail.

Though the brackets are traditionally attached to the soffit with nails or screws through a drilled pilot hole, a marine adhesive was used instead, which will increase the longevity of the bracket. Because the marine adhesive is slow-setting, a dab of hot-melt glue was applied to hold the bracket in place until it had a chance to cure. Acrylic caulking was applied to fill all the joints between the tops of the brackets and the soffits to which they were attached.

Existing paint was removed from all other surfaces using a solvent-based stripper. Heat guns were used as the outside temperatures grew colder. Stainless-steel-blade scrapers in a variety of shapes and profiles were the primary removal tools. It was necessary to use dental tools to excavate the paint from the crevices of the smaller capitals located adjacent to the doorway.

Restoring a portico such as the McCues' is always a monumental task — and a considerable expense — especially given its relatively small space. So is it worth it? Perhaps not in every case, but consider: this space sets the tone for the house beyond. And for This Old HouseManchester project, it is the introduction to a story of smart design, cutting-edge technology, and a commitment to excellence and the highest level of craftsmanship, which is what this particular old house is all about. And that calls for nothing less than a grand entrance.

John Dee was the painting contractor for the Manchester project.
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