19 March, 2008

Wild West Show

We love this view of The Box House:

This view, not so much:

Isn't that bizarre? It totally looks like one of those fake Old West buildings from a John Wayne movie. Looks real enough straight on, but peek behind and you realize it's just a fake front.

That's because the roof of The Box House is not flat; we're not as entirely box-shaped as I've led you all to believe.

Traditionally, Chicago winters see a lot of snow. That's a lot of weight to be sitting on a flat roof. So the early designer sloped the roof toward a gutter on one side so the water would drain off. And it works very well. But it ain't pretty. I imagine the intent of the parapet was to block the view of the sloping roof, giving a clean, straight line to the front of the building.

I took these pictures last fall during our inspection. Note that the holes in the membrane were fixed by the P.O. prior to close; I look forward to seeing how they held up over the winter.

That's a pretty big slope, isn't it? If you're far enough along the roof, you could be standing up there and folks on the sidewalk would probably not notice you:

That's Ted (in profile) with our inspector. We've used this guy on two properties so far, three if you count when our condo association hired him for an envelope inspection, and he freakin' rocks. If you're in the Chicago area and need a recommendation, drop me a line and I'll get you his contact information.

So, back to our Wild West facade:

The gray siding encloses a set of porches that lead down to the basement. (The only way to get to the basement is via the porch access; each level has an interior door.) The porches are original to the building, but I'm not sure exactly when they might have been enclosed. They are unheated, so I suspect we'll only use them part of the year unless we get them insulated. The siding is made of vinyl.

We'd like to make this side of the house prettier. During the summer, the trees in the parkway will be flush with leaves and block the view, but for three quarters of the year this weird facade will be visible. It will be even more visible when we take that fir tree out; as much as I hate removing a tree that big, it is growing about a foot away from the foundation. The P.O. already warned us about roots coming into the sewer system that need to be removed every year. (Don't fret, we'll be planting several more trees in the yard, just not so close to the house.)

Do you think growing ivy on it would help soften and hide the vinyl? I like the ivy growing on the neighbor's house, which is visible in the photo with the inspector. But I'm not sure if ivy can adhere well to vinyl. Does anyone have experience with it?

I'm not sure what our other there options are for improving this view. Any suggestions?


Anonymous said...

Ivy does lots of damage although I don't know how it would go up siding as I've only seen it on brick/stone. I have seen where people build a simple trellis a few inches out from the actual wall and have the ivy grow up the trellis and it looks great; you don't have to worry about damage, or, if you get sick of the look it's easy enough to take down. I think the ivy is a great idea.

Amalie said...

I know that ivy damages brick, stone, and the mortar between because those are porous materials. But I'm not sure about vinyl-- I grew up in a little turn of the century house that had real clapboard siding and we had ivy growing up the front of the house. So I know it will latch onto painted wood...I just pulled some off of the side of our house (since it's brick, I'm trying not to let my nostalgic love of the stuff interfere with my need to keep the house, oh, I don't know...intact) and I was looking at the way it attaches to flat surfaces with a spidery webbing that stiffens up. It's a real doozey getting it off.

So, I wouldn't think it would have too much trouble adhering to the vinyl, but I wonder if a trellis would speed up the climbing process...? It would look beautiful and camouflage that side of the house. So appropriate-- like it had always been there!

StuccoHouse said...

Ditto the comments on ivy damage. From what I understand on vinyl it likes to work it's way up and under the vinyl. It also makes any repairs tricky. Maybe something like clematis that wraps it's tendrils around something instead of using suckers (?). Real clapboard or hardiboard claps would make a nice replacement for the vinyl, if the vinyl is the issue. If the porches are unheated, I personally would be tempted to open them up and really use them during the summer.

us said...

Wow it's so bizarre that it's actually pretty cool. My only suggestion is to try to unite the colors somehow, by either painting the brick (not my vote) or changing the color on the vinyl siding. Can you paint siding btw?
I should know this as I have it on my house - but I'm a newbie.

Joanne said...

I had been told previously that ivy is okay to grow on brick, provided your brick and mortar are in perfect condition, and that it can actually help prevent some weathering. But on our 80-year-old building, we have enough mortar issues! No way can we grow it on the brick portion. Still, so many people in Evanston grow ivy, and it looks so pretty...

I know, I know, then there's the health issues, as ivy attracts mold and insects, etc. Probably won't be doing it all all.

Anonymous--I love the idea of scattering trellises around the house; stay tuned for spring planting!

Amalie--Hearing from you that it's a bitch to remove ivy once it's established sent me off to do more research. Thanks!

Stuccohouse--Oh, you've stumbled into our can-o-worms issues! What to do with the porches is a constant debate. At present, they are the only way to get to the basement, and that's where the laundry room is. Or will be. Right now, we have a couple of 35-year-old machines in a drab, crumbly room. Uncovering the porches is tempting, but it would create a potentially icy and definitely bone-chilling means of doing laundry during our six-month-long Chicago winters.

The enclosure is actually two layers; what looks like beadboard on the inside--I'll get a photo eventually--with vinyl siding nailed to it. I'm not sure what, if anything, is in between, but it's thick enough to support windows. We're now talking about maybe enlarging the windows or adding more to the front portion. There are windows at the side and back, so the porches are quite airy. And I personally don't want the expense of new windows.

Hallie--I've started to explore ways to paint vinyl siding, and it is possible. The first step is to absolutely scrub everything down first. (Does not sound fun). But I'd definitely like to unite the colors, or do something to pull the eye away from the siding. Make it more of a backdrop.

Thanks everyone for your input!

Jean Martha said...

Can you insert hooks up near the roof in 10-12 intervals and run thin twine to the ground for the ivy (or whatever) to grow up/on?

Christopher Busta-Peck said...

My suggestion, in going with my tendency to do things in the most interesting, and therefore most expensive way possible, would be to at least partially unenclose the porch. Screens would be installed, with the design provision for storm windows, in the winter. This would appear to solve both the issue of the aesthetics, as well as the practical problem of basement access.

I only suggest going to such lengths because my favorite part of my parent's house is the screened in porch on the first floor. A nice breeze flows through it, keeping it a good 10-15 degrees cooler than the rest of the house, and making it the perfect place to eat meals in the summer.

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