Just give me white...

The Old House Web

Editor's Note: Nancy Platteborze is sharing her story of searching for, buying and beginning to restore a 1700s New England Colonial.

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House with asbestos siding
Nancy's house before: "Weighed down with asbestos siding like an unwitting knight..."

Newly sided house
Nancy painted these clapboards one by one in her dining room over the winter

By Nancy Platteborze

I thought buying clapboard would be a simple matter of calling up the lumber company. Instead I found out there are a torturous number of choices that all end with this torturous reality:

What I want is what I can't afford and what I can't afford is what I want.

I agonized over what kind of clapboards to buy --- some good soul agonized
with me on the Old House Web bulletin boards.

Well, of course I wanted the highest quality. I didn't want to be calling the lumber company at all, but driving up to the backwoods of Maine and paying some craftsman to make me hand hewn clapboards that reach from one end of my house to the other.

Next thing I knew, my wallet was asking the lumber yard clerk, "So, are oil primed finger jointed cedar clapboards worth it?"

I'm keeping my fingers crossed, riding high on his flimsy assurance, "Haven't gotten any complaints so far" and ignoring the double-edged sword, "Contractors use them all the time."

rotted beams
Not for the faint of heart: Nancy gets close up to the rotted sheathing on her house.

crawl space
Moving lumber from the crawl space. Nancy would come to regret the decision to put her addition on a three-foot crawl space.

Nancy chose six over six windows for the kitchen addition. Eventually the windows installed by a previous owner will be replaced with nine over sixes.

(Click on pictures for larger view)

The clapboards are replacing the asbestos siding. I think the house would be two feet higher if it wasn't weighed down like an unwitting knight. Lots of them died before they ever got to the battle, you know, of heat exhaustion and suffocation (knights, that is)! And all my little house had to face was a nor'easter from time to time. I'd call that overkill.

I was so demoralized by the time the lumber yard delivered my finger-jointed clapboards, so sure they would crack under the weight of a damselfly, I didn't even think about what color I'd paint them.

I was sure they were primed with the cheapest oil primer known to man; convinced they probably missed huge spots that will rot before I even get to paint them. I feared my neighbor would back up on top of them with his big black truck because they're sitting in the empty lot because they didn't fit in my yard.

I thought I at least owed my toothpicks a shot at survival. This was my state of mind when I walked into our local paint store.

"Just give me white."

While the paint was shaking, I tossed a few color charts into the bag with the paintbrushes just in case I might care someday.

Well, when I got home, I opened up the California Paints Historic Colors of America chart and THERE IT WAS.

Not the chip -- I can't judge a color from a miniature rectangle. But in the lower corner was a picture of a charming old house like mine sort of, and I knew instantly that was my color.

I was filled with hope and joy and commitment to paint my clapboards. I lugged the six gallons of white paint back to the store and returned home with six gallons of muted mulberry.

"That's the color?" my naysayer neighbor asked in horror.

"It's SPNEA (Society for the Preservation of New England Antiquities) approved," I said, hoping it sounded official enough. After surviving merciless razzing (Purple?! you're painting your house purple?!), everybody loves it.

The real test was my artist neighbor, who loves it. Passers-by love it. And I think my house loves it.

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