Restoring First Congregational Church

First Congregational Church

Constructed in 1895, the First Congregational Church of Portland is a dominant Venetian Gothic icon along the city’s South Park Blocks. The church is listed on the National Register of Historic Places and designated a Portland Landmark. This historic structure towers above its neighbors quite literally, with its 175′ bell tower at the southwest corner. This tower was once accompanied by two others on adjacent corners, which were removed in 1940 following significant storm damage. Existing conditions prior to the summer 2015 restoration included extreme deterioration of the wood Gothic tracery arches at the belfry. As the last remaining tower on the building, the restoration of these elements was a crucial component in retaining the architectural integrity of this historic church.

What was the scope of the project for the First Congregational Church and what were the design goals?

With its severe level of deterioration, the restoration of the Gothic tracery was not just an aesthetic decision. It was also a safety precaution after a loose piece fell onto the sidewalk below. The First Congregational Church turned to Versatile and Arciform to stabilize and restore the wood elements of this feature. As with any preservation project, the goal was to retain as much of the original fabric as possible. Equally important is the goal to maintain the character defining features of the original design. The four tower faces all required work, but the south elevation suffered the most significant damage. This was due to exposure and UV damage. The tracery at this location was removed and restored in-house at Versatile. The other elevations were in fair enough condition to be restored on-site by the Arciform team.

First Congregational Church

What challenges did the project face?

The location of the architectural details proved to be the biggest challenge. Nearly 175′ up in the air and surrounded by scaffolding, the south elevation tracery was cut into sections and lowered to the ground for transportation to Versatile’s shop.

First Congregational Church

It quickly became apparent that not only were the face-applied details of the tracery loose and deteriorating, but the backerboard holding the element together was also unstable. It arrived to the shop in pieces, like an oversized puzzle of fragile history. Another challenge was in the design itself. What appeared to be repetitive details in the columns and tracery were in fact unique, prohibiting the efficiency of replicating one element to be reused as a template throughout the entire tracery at similar locations.

First Congregational Church

What were the Uniquely Versatile solutions?

 

Once in the shop, each element was laid out and assessed to determine which pieces were salvageable and which required replacement. After meticulous documentation, all parts were mapped and translated into CAD files. Having these otherwise inaccessible components in-house provided the unique opportunity to prepare a custom library of details for First Congregational Church in anticipation of future restoration needs and part replacement.

Intact elements were cleaned and prepped for refinishing. Substantial details such as the monolithic Corinthian columns appeared unimpaired from the surface, but experienced wood rot at their core. With the use of consolidants, these items were also saved.  

First Congregational Church

Other details were reproduced using templates created on our CNC machine. All new pieces were made of Western Red Cedar, the same wood species as the original elements to ensure historic accuracy and material performance. Replacement parts were then fit in place for sizing and routed with the cove detailing to ensure the tracery appeared seamless. Keeping the site conditions in mind, the final product was delivered in sections for ease of hoisting and installation by Arciform.

First Congregational Church

The First Congregational Church restoration marked the final project of our former shop foreman, Eric Voss. The success of this project can be credited to his skilled craftsmanship and attention to detail.  Many thanks go out to him and his multiple years of service on Versatile’s team of talented woodworkers.

First Congregational Church

This project was named one of Restore Oregon‘s Most Endangered Places in 2015. You can check out the whole list of Endangered Places here. The 2016 list will be announced at the Restoration Celebration (sponsored by Versatile Wood Products) on November 13th. Get the details and RSVP for that event here.

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Carle Kitchen Cabinets — Custom Case Study

Kitchen CabinetsNestled deep in Southwest Portland, the Carle family kitchen was the subject of an extensive remodel that was completed in late 2014. Interior designer Barbara Sumner and architectural designer Kristyn Bester worked with Versatile’s Product Designer Rex Vaccaro. Their job was to update and modernize the kitchen complete with stunning kitchen cabinets.

The design process for this particular project exemplifies our modern era. Most of the communication during the process happened via Skype since the Carle family had been residing in Amsterdam when the project began. As with any remodel project, the designers hit a few snags. The home was still under construction when the family returned to Portland. Ultimately, however, the Arciform and Versatile teams were able to achieve a contemporary, streamlined kitchen. A kitchen that is both functional and beautiful for the Carle family.

 

Kitchen Cabinets

What was the scope of the project and what were the design goals?

 For Versatile, the scope involved an entire run of custom upper and lower kitchen cabinets. As well as a pantry wall; a large kitchen island with a cantilevered eating area, and a built-in window bench. Some retrofit shelving and a wet bar in an adjacent living room were also included in the design. The finishes ended up being a contemporary mix of stainless steel-wrapped upper kitchen cabinets, paint grade surfaces for the pantry wall, and solid, clear, walnut grain aligned horizontally on the lower kitchen cabinets.

What challenges did the project face?

The biggest challenge that this project presented was the fact that the client had a strong desire for all of the lower kitchen cabinets to carry a visually  distinctive horizontal line from the wood grain along the length of the kitchen. The surface area along the sink wall and island was very broad. There was some difficulty in locating beautiful, solid pieces of walnut that were large enough to cover those surfaces. The main issue with long spans of wood, however, is that they will always warp over time. So there was an initial fear that the kitchen cabinet faces would warp and be ruined.

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What were the Uniquely Versatile solutions?

The first step in solving the problem was to communicate with designers working on the project. With regards to the sink wall, the solution was to simply compromise on the pattern, and face the cabinets with a classic vertical grain rather than risk the possibility of warping. To create a horizontal appearance on the surface of the nine-foot long island, a laminating method was used. A few boards of walnut were glued together along their long edges in order to add stability.

Laminated wood still carries the possibility of warping. By alternating the grain patterns on the boards (essentially flipping every other board so that the grain pattern is opposite the one before it), more stability is added to the wood,  creating a preventive measure against warping. We were also able to retain the horizontal grain pattern that the client wanted, and applying these solutions to the project resulted in a stunningly beautiful set of kitchen cabinets.

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Versatile is always looking to come up with inventive solutions for the challenges faced when collaborating with others. Our creative team worked with the talented designers at Arciform to achieve their client’s needs for this beautiful home in Southwest Portland.

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Air Infiltration — Window Word of the Day

Air Infiltration
 Air Infiltration: The amount of air that passes between a sash and a frame; Measure in terms of cubic feet of air per minute per lineal foot of crack (margin).

Air infiltration is the major cause of heat loss or gain in a home. A reduction in air leaks will provide a more comfortable environment and improve energy efficiency in the home. Some ways to prevent air from leaking through windows include using caulking or weatherstripping and replacing glazing compounds. One of the best solutions for historic homes is to have failing windows restored; windows can also be replaced. Restored windows can last many years with proper maintenance.

If you’d like to explore how to correct air infiltration issues that may be occurring in your historic home, contact Versatile at quotes@versatilewp.com  and a Client Services Specialist will be in touch.

Block House Café — Custom Case Study

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In the heart of historic Dayton Oregon, The Block House Café recently moved into the 1886 First Baptist Church on Main Street. Working alongside architect Paul Falsetto and Fackler Construction, Versatile created a large back bar with surrounding cabinetry, wait-station, and tabletops from old floor joists in the building.

Block House Café Goals:

To create a large, functional, and aesthetically pleasing back bar that hides the seismic bracing. Re-purpose original floor joists to create tabletops and a bar top.

 Block House Café

Block House Café Challenges:

The biggest challenge we faced with the back bar, which included 10’ high walnut pieces, was installation to conceal three alcoves that were created by updated seismic structuring. The tabletops and bar top proposed a few challenges. They were created from wood salvaged from the original floor joists from the building. We were concerned about the tabletops cupping or warping. We needed to create a flat, smooth surface on the bar top as there were many wormholes in the wood.

The Block House Café

Block House Café Uniquely Versatile Solutions:

We worked around installation problems of the bar by pre-building it in 3 separate pieces. Along with some tolerances to allow for variations in the walls when it was installed on site. The three pieces overlapped once installed to look like one piece of furniture while hiding the bracing behind.

To address the tabletops potentially warping, we added a dovetail key underneath to tie the planks together. By attaching the key to the middle plank only, the planks could expand and contract naturally, but not warp or cup. And finally, to create a smooth, flat surface on the bar top. The wormholes were filled with clear epoxy rather than a colored putty. Since the natural color of fir changes over time, the clear epoxy will make a smooth surface without worry that the wood color would ultimately shift away from the color of the putty. Versatile’s experience and expertise allowed us to anticipate potential issues and create solutions before they became real problems on site.

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Replacement Sash for Historic Review — Custom Case Study

This lovely condo building on the National Historic Register was in need of refurbishment. There were strict requirements to meet in order to maintain the historic character of the building. Their budget precluded custom replacement sash and other window components. Here’s how we helped their contractor, PATH Construction, find a Uniquely Versatile solution that was right for them.

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    What were the design goals of the project (including any performance, historic review or unusual specs?

Historic accuracy on a budget was the name of the game.  The primary hurdle was matching an historic glass stop profile on all the replacement sash. No manufactured window company could provide the beaded profile and the project’s budget did not allow for custom windows.

Replacement Sash

  1. What challenges did the project face?

We were challenged to meet very strict historic requirements for this building which is now on the National Register. We also had to stay within a tight budget for a project this size.  These requirements included a specific glass stop profile, no visible vinyl or balance system on the front of the building, and maintaining the original window sizes. This included the 1 round top window on the 3rd floor.

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  1. What uniquely versatile solutions were used to address those challenges?

Versatile mixed a variety of products from Marvin (Wood Magnum Tilt Pacs, Ultimate Double Hungs, Ultimate Awnings, fiberglass Integrity sliders and double-hungs in the basement).

 

Replacement Sash

However, even Marvin was unable to produce the beaded profile glass stops so Versatile purchased the window systems from Marvin without any glazing.  Our shop then machined the custom stops and glazed the windows ourselves using the same Cardinal Insulated glass that Marvin would have used.  The result was a “custom” window at a manufactured price.

 

Replacement Sash

It was delightful to assist in the restoration of this important piece of Portland’s architectural history in the heart of NW Portland.

Hot tip: these lovingly restored condos go on the market this week and they won’t last long. Check them out at NW 21st and Flanders.

 

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Custom Double Hung Window — Custom Case Study

2164 NW Aspen Ave 2

This may look like a humble little double hung but what appears to be straightforward actually involved a lot of attention to detail, careful coordination and amazing craftsmanship.

When this job is finished it will be very difficult to identify the original windows from our new window; aside from the fact that the new window operates like butter.

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The Challenge

Our colleagues at Kem’s Woodworking needed to help their clients meet current egress codes for a new basement bedroom with a historically accurate window that matches all the original double hung windows throughout this 1930’s West Hills home.

Kem’s cut a hole in the exterior wall directly between two existing windows and challenged Versatile to deliver a window that looked like it had always been there.

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The Uniquely Versatile Solution

Versatile built a traditional weight and pulley double hung to the necessary size to meet the egress requirements. We matched the reverse ogee interior detail and the exterior stucco mould exactly.

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Even the stepped exterior window sill was reproduced to match all original sills.

(The picture below shows the window before the finish painting was complete.)

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The Result

You would be hard pressed to identify at a glance which window was added to the home and which were original. Sometimes, the best Versatile solutions are the ones that are impossible to identify once they are installed!

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Stairwell Lift Door — Custom Case Study

Sometimes the answer to a tricky design challenge isn’t a choice between manufactured and custom options. Sometimes the answer is to use the best of both. Here’s how we tackled one very unusual vertical lift stairwell door with a combination of manufactured and highly custom Versatile solutions.

The Challenge

Versatile client Bobby Meeker had a very unusual request. He wanted to create a privacy barrier between his main floor and the master suite above but his narrow stairwell did not have enough clearance for a traditional door to function.

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He wanted it to be beautiful and he needed it to integrate seamlessly with the traditional style of his home with no visible operation. And it needed to lift vertically. There was no room in the stairwell for a traditional swing or pocket door. But there was plenty of room for the door to lift up out of the way into the upper portion of the stairwell.

The Uniquely Versatile Solution

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The  inspiration was a door our Director of Product Development, Alan Hart-McArthur, saw in a 1920’s Bungalow in SE Portland.  From that original inspiration Alan set out to devise a weight pocket and track system that was robust enough to support the weight of the door, large enough to house large steel weights, and yet still low profile such that they didn’t take up too much space on the stairs.

The results are 15’ long weight pockets that house nearly 40 lbs of solid bar stock steel in each side and yet are a little over 3” deep.

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The Materials

The door is a standard VG fir Simpson door with Prairie grids.  The client then took it to an artist named Ron Branch who sandblasted the custom tree branch etching into both sides of the insulated glass. The door was finished with clear coat and the weight chases and tracks were primed and then painted to match the walls and trim. By using a manufactured door for the base design, the client was able to free up budget that could then be applied to creating a very custom and visually stunning etched glass design.

The Result

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The door lifts easily into the upper portion of the stairwell and the narrow weight pockets blend in visually with the rest of the space. We had so much fun helping Bobby find his Uniquely Versatile solution!

What tricky design dilemma would you like our window and door designers to tackle next?

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Custom Wood Island — Custom Case Study

Turned legs, maple butcher block featuring end-grain detail and a mixture of stainless steel and wood elements come together to create an unusual and challenging design puzzle for the Versatile Wood Products team as they work to create this custom kitchen island for a client in Lake Oswego, Oregon.

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Here you see how the end grain has been integrated into the maple butcher block counter, creating a durable cutting surface and a beautiful checked pattern.

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Here’s a longer view of the counter, showing the unusual scale of the piece. A stainless steel prep sink and counter will be integrated into the triangular notch shown here, with extremely close tolerances needed for the end result to be flush on both edges. Versatile Carpenter Jeff Vasey has needed to customize each surface that intersects with the stainless steel counter to ensure a smooth transition between the two elements, resulting in at least one edge that tapers simultaneously in two different directions. You’d never know it to look at it, but some serious hands-on engineering goes into translating an architect’s design into a durable and high quality finished product.

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Here’s the stainless steel counter that will fit into the notch. It is still wearing its protective plastic skin while they finalize work on the counter surface.

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Here you can see the 10 turned legs that will form the base of the island. Electric outlets will be integrated into the island using a hollowed out  leg to hide the wires.

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Versatile Drafter/CNC Operator Rex Vaccaro creates detailed shop drawings for each custom cabinet we construct in our shop to ensure that the carpenters have all the information they need to successfully interpret the designer or architects vision.

We can’t wait to see that vision turned into a completed reality.

We’ll keep you posted.

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