Before the demolition: note there's no gap at the bottom allowing water to flow off the end of the porch. Only a few floorboards were actually missing, but all were rotting on the ends of the porch because the edges were unsealed.

A view of the corner, showing the herringbone pattern of the old floor, as well as the uneven rail. When we pulled off the pine top, we found that it had been shimmed up with plywood that had long ago crumbled. The highly-processed inset photo shows that the corner box wasn't square on this side -- we discovered why when we opened it up.

Inside the corner box were two balusters with the 1930s (?) darker brown lead paint. Who knew there was a time capsule?

Tim Donatelli, tearing out the old joists. Note the shims nailed on top of the joists to level out the floor; closer to the outside walls, these were partially or completely rotted away, adding to the weakness of the floor. All joists and girders were replaced with pressure treated wood.

The new floor: 1x4 tongue and groove Douglas Fir (matching the existing deck), blind nailed, with a pre-coat and final coat of Green's Clear wood preservative, ready for painting.

Repairing the front porch was a project twenty years overdue. Helen Comstock was planning to have it rebuilt before she passed away in 1988, and in the years since, conditions passed from unsightly to unsafe. Some floorboards were missing, and others were spongy weak; anyone who sat or leaned on the railing did so at their own risk (actually, at our risk).

The entire porch wasn't in disrepair; only the southeast corner, which not only takes a beating from winter storms, but also suffers from a serious design error. The hallmark look of Comstock House is the "broken gable" roofline, which can be seen on all sides except the north. On the south face, architect Brainerd Jones did a bit of trickery; it appears that the right side is truncated, but it's really not; Jones took about a 3-meter bite from the corner of the gambrel roof to create the effect. This can be clearly seen in Jones' sketch found in the art gallery, excerpted to the right. It was a brilliant concept -- at least as long as it doesn't rain. On the rest of the roof, the water flows down to a gutter; in this snipped-out corner of the roof, however, there's no gutter, so rain slams down onto the poor, abused, porch floor. Hence: rot.

A rebuild in the 1960s (?) made matters even worse. The southern balustrade was now resting directly on the porch floor -- and glued down, even -- with no shoe to provide a gap for water to drain. On the exposed ends of the floor boards, the redwood nosing (a portion of which is still found on the other end of the porch) was replaced with standard water table trim, nailed in without sealant; as a result, the floor simultaneously rotted from the ends of the wood inward. And beneath, the joists and girders were fir and pine untreated with any wood preservative, except a smear of creosote found on one supporting post.

This problem has no solution in precedent; it's a century-old flaw which has never been resolved. It's possible that the architect originally didn't plan for this area to be so unprotected from the elements; Martha Comstock Keegan thinks she recalls a rendering that might have shown this corner glassed-in, as a little sun porch or conservatory. That would have been consistent with the Dutch Colonial revival style, where the southern end of a porch of a "sideways gambrel" house was often enclosed in this manner. We're considering covering the corner with a period-appropriate striped canvas awning; although some architectural details will then be less noticeable (particularly the whimsical giant corbel that appears to be holding up the second floor), it's probably the best answer for this problem.

This post will serve as an index to the porch restoration project:

Demolish and rebuild flooring, substructure
Restore balusters
Strip and paint porch floor
Putting it all back together

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