Traditional Building Portfolio
Palladio Awards

Project: Hedberg residence, Madison, WI

Architect: Isthmus Architecture, Inc., Madison, WI; Charles J. Quagliana, principal, senior preservation architect; Mark Ethun, intern architect; Jessie Powers, interior designer

General Contractor: Engineered Construction, Inc., Verona, WI; Dave Lombardo, president



Restoration & Renovation

Winner: Isthmus Architecture, Inc.

Legacy of the Past

By Marieke Cassia Gartner

One of the first homes built in the new neighborhood of Lakewood, now Maple Bluff, the 6,689-sq.ft. Maurice Johnson house was designed by Frank Riley and completed in 1917. With just three owners since, the Mediterranean Revival-style house on the east shore of Lake Mendota was in good condition until the night of January 29, 2004, when a fire ravaged the historic home.

The owner, Peggy Hedberg, was concerned with the preservation of the house, so she hired Isthmus Architecture, Inc., of Madison, WI, to restore and rehabilitate it. From February 2004 through August 2005, the architects restored what they could and rehabilitated what was lost to fire and water damage. The restoration included the stucco exterior, the copper and recycled clay-tile roof, the wood soffits and outriggers, the windows, the clay wall tile, the plaster walls and ceilings, 153 pieces of wood moldings and trim, the wood and marble flooring, the gumwood beam ceiling in the living room and the lighting. The kitchen and bathrooms were rehabilitated, and a glass conservatory, detached workshop/storage space and MEP systems were added.

Within a few hours of the fire, the contractor, Verona, WI-based Engineered Construction, Inc., was removing artwork, furnishings and furniture while attempting to dry out the house. Within a week, the team – including the contractors, architects, engineers, interior designers and other specialists – was investigating conditions and stabilizing the structure. “In the traditional design/bid/ build construction project, architects and engineers have many months or even a few years to plan a major historic preservation project,” says Charles J. Quagliana, principal, senior preservation architect with Isthmus. “Here, urgency related to attempting to minimize the non-fire-related damage to the residence from winter weather and drying out the structure [to minimize damage from the water used to extinguish the blaze] had to come first.” The plan, then, was to stabilize the structure, then restore and replicate the building fabric, features and finishes to their original condition.

Because the roof was almost completely destroyed, the design of its structure, including all of the details and dimensions, had to take precedence. “While figuring out the roof layout and searching for custom roof-tile components that are no longer produced,” says Quagliana, “we had to complete the design of the roof structure. This somewhat reverse sequence allowed us to get the structure and a weather-tight surface in place so that major interior work could start.”

A new structural system of pre-engineered wood trusses supported by the exterior walls was put in place to meet current code, replicate the original appearance and provide flexibility to accommodate new mechanical systems. Wood outriggers made of 6x6-in. Douglas fir from Washington State support a redwood overhang. Seven different styles of outriggers and soffits were custom cut in a Madison woodshop using templates made from pieces saved after the fire. “They were clear finished to match the original and allow the natural beauty of the wood to show through,” says Quagliana. The flat upper portion of the roof had a surface of copper sheets soldered together, with copper turbines providing attic ventilation.

Most of the clay tile on the sloped portion of the roof was destroyed. Although the original roof-tile manufacturer was still in business, it no longer offered a matching Spanish Red color, nor did other American or European manufacturers. “We found an exact match from a roof being removed at the Balmora Racing Club in Crete, IL,” says Quagliana. “Exactly 4,400 sq.ft. of the used tile was purchased, crated and shipped to the project site.”

When the roof collapsed, the upper portions of the stucco-covered, 8-in. clay-tile block exterior wall that supported the stair landing were subject to significant damage. “Clay-tile blocks, similar to the originals, were located at a manufacturer in Ohio; we used them to reconstruct the upper portion of the wall,” says Isthmus Intern Architect Mark Ethun. New arch-top windows to replicate the originals were installed in this new wall.

Once the building was stable and protected from more winter weather, the architects began documentation. “We tagged and removed all items that were to be reused: doors, windows, woodwork, hardware, plumbing and light fixtures,” says Jessie Powers, interior designer with Isthmus. The items were placed in a warehouse for further evaluation. Any remaining furniture, destroyed or not, bathroom and kitchen furnishings and fixtures were also documented.

Replicated or recycled materials, finishes and fixtures replaced those destroyed by the fire, all of which were coordinated with the integration of contemporary elements such as code-compliant insulation, modern heating and cooling and computer networks. Mock-ups and samples were developed for many of the unique materials and finishes throughout the house. “Mock-ups provided the opportunity to review the installation details and craft prior to implementing the full installation or finishing of any components,” says Powers.

Luckily, Engineered Construction found a roll of drawings of the house, frozen solid, in the attic. The drawings were donated to an historical society, but digital copies were made and “extensively used for re-creating original conditions, cabinetry and room details,” says Powers.

Ninety percent of the interior plaster walls were either damaged by the fire or by water and ice. “A modern three-coat plaster system over metal lath was used,” says Powers. “All components were mixed on-site and were applied in three separate layers. This required 90 days minimum cure time and was a major driver of the overall project schedule.”

More than 153 different profiles were identified in 12 categories – all the custom millwork was exactly duplicated by a Milwaukee millwork shop. “In the dining room, the crown molding and frieze were composed of 14 wood profiles, many assembled in the field and carefully fit to the specific locations,” says Powers. “The foyer featured full-height wood paneling with a decorative crown molding. The original paneling was replicated with river birch from Kentucky and then fabricated to match the original. Installation tolerances were kept to 1/16-in. in coordination with such existing elements as the marble fireplace and eight doorways. The crown molding was precisely replicated with new materials as well.”

Of the 126 doors that survived the fire, 66 were in good condition and were stripped, refinished and reused. One thousand pieces of original hardware were refurbished and reused on both reused and new doors. “New replica hardware was obtained and used only on new doors,” says Powers.

Replica casement units replaced the fire-damaged glass picture windows in the living room and den on the street side. All other first-floor windows were repaired and repainted, and new storms and screens were installed for all double doors and windows. All 43 second-floor windows were restored. “This included repairing damaged components, replacing missing elements and replacing unique crank operators,” says Ethun.

Investigation of the decorative finishes and paint colors was conducted soon after the debris was initially removed. “We used a painstaking process involving chemical gels to remove layers of paint (called probing) on the walls and the ceilings to carefully uncover original colors and details,” Powers says. Woodwork, trim, doors and windows were all returned to historic colors.

In the foyer, the grand central staircase survived the fire but was heavily damaged by water and falling debris. The team salvaged and rehabilitated it, using an historic photograph for details. All 200 spindles, the railing and the upper treads were removed. Repairs were made to strengthen and stabilize the stair, which was completely stripped of finishes. “We replaced missing elements and made minor repairs to the trim and decorative details,” Powers says, “then reassembled it and applied new finishes to the stair and handrails. Burn scars were deliberately left on the second-floor railing as a reminder of the fire.”

To the right of the foyer is the den, which was completely destroyed by the fire. The original drawings provided detail so that a re-creation was possible in terms of dimensions, paneling and cabinetry. “The original woodwork was matched to red gum from North Carolina,” says Powers. Fragments of the original paneling were found and identified by the U.S. Forest Products Laboratory in Madison. The veneer for the paneling was hand selected and sequence matched. The plaster vaulted ceiling was replicated based on careful examination of evidence remaining in the burned room. Although the fireplace partially survived the fire, “To meet current building codes, a new fireplace and chimney were constructed to resemble the originals,” explains Powers. Texas limestone was chosen to replicate the original fireplace surround and hearth.

The living room, which had featured a coffered wood ceiling, was heavily damaged by water and sagged in excess of 3 in. in the middle. Due to the extent of the damage, it could not be reused, despite careful disassembly. “Portions were shipped to the millwork shop in Milwaukee, where an exact replica was fabricated and assembled in sections,” says Powers. Red gum to match the original species was used here to re-create the ceiling. The finish presented a challenge, however, because it is one rarely used today. “More than 100 finish samples of different formulas were prepared and reviewed before realizing a match,” she adds.

Off of the living room to the left is a glazed porch, which was left relatively intact. The floor structure was reinforced and additions such as under-floor radiant heat, new tile and new storm windows and screens were incorporated. The floor is now green Jura stone, a reclaimed marble from France.

In the dining room, damaged portions of the wood floor were removed and replaced with matching recycled flooring. The entire floor was refinished so both the new and old floors would match. Other elements in this room include wood wainscoting, elaborate crown molding and a built-in China cabinet.

Off of the dining room is a breakfast room, which suffered significant water damage. “An oil-on-canvas mural, depicting a sky filled with birds native to Wisconsin, had to be removed, conserved and later reinstalled,” says Powers. The walls and ceiling were removed so new plaster could be installed. Cotton canvas was applied to the plaster walls and then painted, and new lattice was installed to replicate the original.

The first floor was restored primarily by using traditional materials and techniques in combination with recycled materials from other buildings, with one exception. “The existing kitchen was not large enough or functional compared to today’s standards,” says Powers, “so we redesigned the function and flow of the space as a family focal point.” Although it had been remodeled in the past, the original floor plan remained largely intact. All new cabinetry and appliances were introduced to the space, and white-painted wood cabinets – fabricated from hardwoods from sustainable forests by the Mark Wilkinson Company in London, England – were installed.

Flanked by the breakfast room on the left and an office on the right, with the kitchen toward the street side, a glass conservatory was also added, facing the lake. “This room, one step lower than the kitchen, was added primarily as a sitting or conversation area and also as a transition space between the interior kitchen space and the exterior patio entertaining area,” says Powers. Created as a linear room, the conservatory was designed to be sympathetic to the existing architecture, but to be distinct as well. “The form was kept compact with simple lines and Gothic-style, operable lower windows,” she adds. Manufactured and built in England by Amdega, the conservatory was disassembled, shipped and reassembled on-site.

Much of the second floor had to be reconstructed. Samples of door casings, wood trim and decorative tile were removed and saved to be used as prototypes for replication later on in the process. In order to replicate the original colors, 2x2-ft. portions of the plaster walls in each room were removed for paint probes and documentation. On this floor, too, changes had to be made for modernization; the bathroom layouts and features were updated, and closet spaces were relocated and enlarged.

On the southwest corner of the second floor, the master bedroom was not so much affected by the fire as the water damage. The roof had collapsed on the floor of this room, creating a pile of water-soaked debris 3 ft. deep. “The integrity of the wood floor was impacted, causing it to buckle, which in turn caused damage to the living room ceiling below,” says Powers. Once the debris was cleared, it was apparent that only the exterior walls could be saved. The existing stone of the fireplace was analyzed by the University of Wisconsin Geology Department, and a close-matching marble was obtained from southern Spain. “The fireplace with marble surround, hearth and wood mantel was rebuilt in the spirit of the original,” she says. The maple floor was replaced, as was all of the flooring on this level, and finished with a water-based traditional finish that provides an aged appearance.

A balcony off this room was deteriorated and needed repair, so small changes were made to the triple window and the balcony itself, allowing more natural light in and improving the view.

The other space that remained essentially unchanged was the lower level, although it was filled with 24,000 gallons of water and was ice-encrusted by the morning after the fire. The only room altered there was the coal room, which was eliminated to provide space for a larger playroom.

“The object of historic preservation is to maintain the legacy of the past for future generations. Houses like this speak to us not only about architecture, but also about the development of neighborhoods, and are worth saving because our community would be less interesting and less attractive without them,” Quagliana concludes.  



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