You’ve heard that expression – variously credited to Mies van der Rohe, John Ruskin and Friedrich Nietzsche – that God is in the details. I often find myself whispering that affirmation as some stupid insignificant thing has me bogged down. And it’s never truer than with a whole-house renovation.
Take our house for an example. By the time we bought it in 2008, it had had a long nasty life as a cheap and overworked up-and-down duplex. For the sake of conversation, let’s say you are working on your kitchen and pantry. The re-do is 95 percent complete. The new cupboards have been installed, as well as new appliances and new lighting. Sheetrock on the ceiling was knocked off to reveal fabulous 90-year-old shiplap. The wood floors have been refinished, and the walls and woodwork painted. One of the final jobs is finding interior door hardware from the 1920s, because that’s your home’s vintage and you are striving for a certain degree of authentic detail. (There’s that word!)
Cameron and I each have our areas of expertise in the home-renovation universe. I’m the color person, he touches up the paint. I buy decrepit old light fixtures on eBay, he cleans and rewires them. I design the garden, he installs the drip irrigation. See how this is breaking down? I am the idea person; he executes.
One of his most remarkable executions has been the hinges that he is currently installing on all of our interior doors, room by room. We are currently still finishing the kitchen and pantry.
Perhaps you’ve never given much thought to hinges, so long as they worked properly and didn’t squeak. But it turns out there are many different types – strap hinges, piano hinges, surface hinges, swing-n-stay hinges, knuckle hinges and pivot hinges, to name a few.
Cameron fell hard for a half-strap half-butt style with ball tips that we found at Historic Houston’s salvage warehouse. Like many salvaged metal items, the hinges were paint-spattered and rusty. They had probably been brass-plated decades ago, but when we found them the brass finish was gone. They cost about $8 per hinge, and we needed two or three sets for each of 13 interior doors. Interestingly, these particular hinges came from a 1920s River Oaks house on Pine Valley that had been demolished.
We like unlacquered brass and have it throughout the house, so we wanted these hinges to conform to that style. Short of re-plating them, how do you make cruddy old steel hinges look like gently used old brass hinges? Here is Cameron’s recipe for making old hinges look new and then old again.
The first photo shows the hinges as we found them – spattered with various paint colors and covered in rust. Cameron cleaned them using a wire brush attachment on his drill. This is the tedious part of the project, but it’s easier if you have a clamp or vise on your work table to hold the hinge. Be sure to wear eye protection, and don’t forget to clean the pin, too. Caution: Old paint, like the kind on these hinges, probably was lead-based, so wear a mask, too.
The second photo shows the hinges all shiny and clean after a thorough wire-brushing. If you prefer bare steel hinges, you can stop here and just give them a protective spray of polyurethane or similar product.
But, as noted above, Cameron wanted the hinges to look like brass. The secret? Baking the bare-metal hinges in a very hot oven – about 500 degrees – until they darken to your liking. The hinges shown in these pictures took about 40 minutes. The timing is variable and depends on the look you are after … and how many times you open the oven door to check on them. You will notice an acrid odor when you bake the hinges, not altogether unpleasant.
This is how the hinges looked after being baked.
And this is how they look after being installed on a set of pantry doors.
Nice, eh? Two doors down, 11 to go.