Brownstone Facade Restoration

Brownstone Restoration – New Doors

Although the new double doors were installed a few weeks ago, it took up until now to finish all the details associated with the doors.

Below are some installation photos.

We replaced the sconces and doorbell in the same locations, so we didn’t change out the electrical j-boxes. The cavity behind the door jamb got filled with insulation.

It was difficult to get the door jamb into place and in the process, a chunk of the brownstone at the header chipped off. The masons will come back later to repair the damage. Previously, we had discussed whether the new doors and jambs should be installed before or after the brownstone finish coat. If we had installed the doors first, that may have prevented the brownstone finish coat from getting damaged. However, the acid power wash on the finish coat might have damaged the doors.

Each door is 2′-0″ x 9′-4″ x 2 1/2″ and very, very heavy.

After the doors were installed, there was a noticeable gap between the new door jamb and the edge of the brownstone surface. While the doors were square, the opening was not, which is not a surprise since the house is over 100 years old. We decided that it made more sense to fill the gap with wood trim rather than with brownstone.

The unlaquered brass hardware is very shiny now, but will naturally develop a warm patina over time. There are some chemical products that can help speed up the tarnishing process which I might consider using. At first, I didn’t want to install kick plates because the wood doors look so nice without them, but in the end, functionality won out and I installed kick plates.

For house numbers, I just ordered a decal from Etsy. It’s obviously not as nice as painted gold leaf house numbers, but from far away, you can’t really tell that it’s just a decal and looks pretty good.

The original white marble door saddle was cracked and very dirty, so we replaced it with a new honed Absolute Black granite saddle. The saddle was just set yesterday, so the installers will come back later to drill in a hole for the door floor bolt.

Brownstone Restoration – Scaffolding is Down

After living behind scaffolding for 8 months, the scaffolding was dismantled this week. We can finally see sunlight into the front rooms of the house.

Next up are door installation and ironwork.

Brownstone Restoration – Cornice Painting

The cornice was previously painted brown but we painted it black to match our neighbors’ cornices. Now that the cornice painting is done, the scaffolding can be removed.

Brownstone Restoration – Acid Wash

After the application of the finish coat was completed, we had to wait a minimum of 9 days for the surface to dry. Once the finish coat was fully dried, the facade was power washed with a diluted acid solution. The purpose of the power wash was to remove the thin outer layer of the pigmented cement in order to reveal the aggregate and give the surface more depth and texture. Without the power wash, the brownstone finish would have had a flat, painted look. It’s hard to tell from the photos, but after the power wash, the surface gained a sparkliness that made it look more like natural stone.

The window installers will also come back to calk around the windows to seal up the gap between the window frame and the brownstone finish coat.

Brownstone Restoration – Finish Coat

After a few weeks of waiting, the masons came back last week to work on the finish coat. Contractors typically provide a few color samples for you to review, but I knew what color I wanted and didn’t get a sample. Since my contractor had restored a few brownstones on my block, I selected a color based on reviewing my neighbors’ finished projects. It was easier to select a color when it’s on a whole facade rather than on a small sample patch. 

Brownstone Restoration – New Windows

The new Marvin windows were installed on the 2nd floor and the garden level last week. Timing and coordination was critical since the windows had to be installed within a specific time frame which is after the scratch coat is completed and before the finish coat is applied. We were lucky that the window order was placed early enough so that the fabrication was not affected by the pandemic. These windows typically have a lead time of approximately 8 weeks. The windows had already been delivered to the window dealer in Brooklyn prior to the shutdown. A team of 4 installed the 5 new windows in just one day.

Below are a few before and after photos of the master bedroom windows.

Below is a photo of the exterior side of an upper sash. The exterior is clad in aluminum which is more durable than painted wood. The interior of the window is painted wood. I selected a stock black color for the exterior cladding, but Marvin offers some other color options as well. For the interior, I selected a stock factory painted white, but you can order the windows to be factory primed and then site painted match your exact trim color.

And here is the inside view of the sash.

Traditionally, the divided lites in a window sash would be comprised of smaller individual panes of glass held together by mullions. For energy efficiency, these windows have simulated divided lites that replicate the look of real divided lites. Simulated divided lite bars are adhered to the exterior on both sides of the double pane glass. Spacer bars are inserted on the inside in between the glass panes to make the faux mullions look solid.

The windows at the garden level are plain double hung windows and don’t have divided lites. The iron security bars were cut off so that the windows could be installed from the outside. The bars will be reinstalled later. Since the windows were installed from the outside, the pocket shutters on the inside were not damaged.

Spray foam insulation was added around the perimeter of the windows.

Brownstone Restoration – Scratchcoat complete

The masons finished applying the scratch coat earlier this week and the facade will be left alone to cure for about 4 weeks. During this down time, the new windows will be installed and the metal work can begin. Someone came by to scrape off the old paint on the cornice as well.

Below are photos of what the facade and stoop look like right now.

The metal security bars at the garden windows (below) were cut off in preparation for the window installation.

Brownstone Restoration – Woodshop Visit

I visited the shop today to check on the status of the doors. The carpenters were able to work some during the the pause, so there was a lot of progress.

Custom wood doors
custom wood entry doors

Besides the double doors, the door jamb and transom will be replaced as well. I considered keeping the existing jamb and transom, but they were not in great shape and covered in layers and layers of paint.

I originally intended to paint the doors black, but decided to stain them instead. I figured I could always paint the doors in the future if I change my mind, but that it would be harder to strip the paint to stain the wood. Below are the stain colors I was considering (I decided to go with the one circled in red).