Coffeehouse Conversations - A Recap

In honor of the Coffeehouse opening, we wanted to repost links to all of the Coffeehouse Conversations videos. As you may recall, these short videos document a broad-range of parts of the project, and feature many of our staff members who have worked on the project. Many thanks to the Colonial Williamsburg Foundation Division of Productions, Publications, and Learning Ventures, who produced all of these videos.

All of the videos require Adobe Flash® to view. If you don't have Adobe Flash installed, you can download a free version from Adobe's website.

Coffeehouse Conversations 10 - A Particular Charm

We've posted the tenth video in our Coffeehouse Conversations series; this episode is entitled A Particular Charm, and features Jim Horn, Vice President for Research and Historical Interpretation.

In this episode, Jim gives a summary of the project and its results. He describes the project's attempts to create as accurate an 18th century Coffeehouse as possible, inside and out. Jim also discusses the role of a Coffeehouse in Colonial society, as well as the role of Charlton's in the environment and experience of Colonial Williamsburg. Coffeehouse Conversations is produced by the Colonial Williamsburg Foundation's division of Productions, Publications, and Learning Ventures.

The video is 4 minutes and 37 seconds in length, and requires Adobe Flash® to view. If you don't have Adobe Flash installed, you can download a free version from Adobe's website.

Coffeehouse Conversations 8 - Plaster Works

We've just posted the eighth video in our Coffeehouse Conversations series. This episode is entitled Plaster Works, and it features Conservator of Architecture Matthew Webster; it also shows members of the Historic Masonry Trades Staff, bricklayers from the Maintenance Department, and members of the Conservation team.

In the video, Matt describes the process of acquiring lime from oyster shells, and then goes on to explain the composition and application of plaster in the Coffeehouse. Coffeehouse Conversations is produced by the Colonial Williamsburg Foundation's division of Productions, Publications, and Learning Ventures.

The video is 6 minutes and 13 seconds in length, and requires Adobe Flash® to view. If you don't have Adobe Flash installed, you can download a free version from Adobe's website.

October 26th Update

Here's a list of work both recent and soon-to-occur at the Coffeehouse. This time, we’ve posted even more photos, including a few from earlier in October.

Last two weeks of work

  • Completed hanging doors
  • Continued installing hardware
  • Installed stone steps at porch and cellar kitchen door
  • Continued interior painting
  • Installed two additional shelves in west passage
  • Installed five leaded glass casement windows and four interior shutters in cellar
  • Repaired plaster and then whitewashed porch ceiling
  • Hand scraped floors
  • Completed paving at front porch and repairs to main sidewalk
  • Installed stainless steel shelving in servery
  • Installed dishwasher in servery
  • Closed-in dumbwaiter shaft in cellar
  • Completed fabrication and installed three benches for front porch
  • Fabricated dresser (offsite) for kitchen and installed

Next two weeks of scheduled work

  • Install handrails at front step and ADA ramp
  • Install handrails at interior stair winders
  • Complete hand scraping floors and stair treads
  • Repair plaster and re-whitewash where additional shelves installed at west passage
  • Complete installation of all door locks and hardware
  • Install grab bars and mirror in restroom
  • Complete painting and touchup interior and exterior
  • Install sign post
  • Install audio system and put into operation
  • Fabricate and install pales and gate on east yard fence and apply finish
  • Install post light
  • Install telephones
  • Install carpet and wall paper
  • Begin installing furnishings
  • Replace glass in lanterns with blown glass
  • Remove portion of gravel and install crushed shells on path to cellar doors
  • Remove post and rail fence along west side of path and relocate portions as directed
  • Repair path to Revolutionary City seating area

Photos by Clyde Kestner and Joshua Muse

October 12th Update

Here's a list of work both recent and soon-to-occur at the Coffeehouse. We’ve tried to include more photos this time, to better showcase the recent construction.

Last two weeks of work

  • Continued painting throughout on first and second floors
  • Continued installing doors and hardware
  • Completed final site grading, sod, seed and straw
  • Installed gravel paths from Revolutionary City path to cellar doors
  • Installed the remainder of double hung windows and shutters
  • Installed custom stainless steel servery equipment
  • Installed ceiling tiles in servery
  • Installed lighting fixtures
  • Closed in dumbwaiter shaft at bar
  • Installed plumbing fixtures in servery and restroom
  • Installed east fence posts and rails
  • Removed and reset pavers in main sidewalk in front of building
  • Excavated and poured concrete footers for the sign post, post light and two stone steps
  • Installed pavers for front walk and two stone steps
  • Installed dampers in kitchen fireplace
  • Put plumbing systems into operation
  • Completed conventional smoke detection system in cellar and security system

Next two weeks of scheduled work

  • Complete hanging doors and installing hardware
  • Complete interior painting
  • Install five leaded glass casement windows in cellar
  • Whitewash porch ceiling
  • Complete paving at front porch and repairs to main sidewalk
  • Startup HVAC systems
  • Close-in dumbwaiter shaft in cellar
  • Complete east yard fence and apply “red tar” finish
  • Install sign post
  • Install audio system
  • Cleanup interior
  • Install landscape plantings
  • Complete fabrication of three benches for front porch
  • Fabricate dresser (offsite) for kitchen

Photos by Joshua Muse

September 18th Update

Here's a list of work both recent and soon-to-occur at the Coffeehouse.

Last two weeks of work

  • Completed installing trim and panel walls on second floor
  • Completed plaster in west stair passage, all the second floor rooms and porch ceiling
  • Installed five doors in north room and west passage
  • Began final coat of paint in southeast room
  • Continued making hardware offsite
  • Cellar window sashes shipped to England to install leaded glass
  • Completed work on corner cupboard offsite
  • Began installing hardware for first floor doors, locks, etc...
  • Began work on the post and rails for new east courtyard fence
  • Closed-in of dumbwaiter at bar
  • Installed shelving on south wall of exhibition kitchen
  • Installed pre-painted window sashes in southeast room

Next two weeks of scheduled work

  • Conduct a thorough cleanup inside now that plastering is complete, and continue daily cleanup as necessary
  • Finish painting in SE room
  • Apply whitewash to second floor rooms and west stair passage
  • Begin painting trim on second floor and west stair passage
  • Install window sashes in north room, stair passages and second floor
  • Install doors for second floor rooms
  • Install shutters on front elevation windows
  • Close-in dumbwaiter shaft in cellar
  • Continue making hardware off-site
  • Begin building the dresser for cellar kitchen off-site
  • Complete boxes for cellar kitchen to conceal ducts
  • Complete making posts and rails for east courtyard fence and begin making the pales

Photos by Peter Inker

September 3rd Update

We just wanted to share a quick list of work both recent and soon-to-occur at the Coffeehouse. We're getting to the home stretch!

Last three weeks of work

  • Completed metal lathe & plaster in north room (1st floor), east stairway, and the southeast room (2nd floor)
  • Completed installation of metal lathe in west stairwell, and the rest of second floor
  • Applied scratch coat of plaster in west stairway
  • Completed installing trim on the second floor
  • Installed three doors in the southeast room (1st floor)
  • Installed shelves in second floor closets
  • Began painting in southeast and north rooms (1st floor)
  • Installed door frames for all four interior doors in cellar
  • Installed horizontal wall sheathing on two walls in cellar kitchen
  • Completed installing floor tile in restroom and servery (basement)
  • Continued making hardware offsite
  • Continued work on corner cupboard offsite
  • Completed installing wood lathe on porch ceiling
  • Obtained material for the post and rails of new east courtyard fence

Next two weeks of scheduled work

  • Continue cleanup inside, and provide protection during plastering for trim, mantels, etc...
  • Complete plastering and whitewash of west stairwell and south room (2nd floor)
  • Apply scratch coat of plaster in north room and closet on second floor (last room!)
  • Begin plastering porch ceiling
  • Install window sashes in southeast and north rooms (1st floor)
  • Install doors in north room (1st floor)
  • Apply final coat of paint on trim in southeast and prime and paint trim in north room (1st floor)
  • Close-in dumbwaiter shaft
  • Continue making hardware and complete corner cupboard offsite
  • Begin making posts and rails for east courtyard fence

Photos by Joshua Muse

Plaster

Recently, we received a few questions on the blog regarding about plaster. Fortunately, Matthew Webster was again nice enough to share his expertise on the topic. Matt is Conservator of Architecture here at Colonial Williamsburg, and is deeply involved in the Coffeehouse project.

The plastering project here at the Coffeehouse is largely accurate to the 18th century. Many people expect to see rough surfaces, poor materials, and distressed finishes; however, eighteenth century craftsmen were not only masters of their trade, but also of their materials. Plastering in the following manner has a number of advantages over modern techniques, especially when dealing with period framing.

All of our framing was cut by hand and arrived “green,” which means there can be variations in the surfaces, as well as movement long after the frame has been erected. Wallboard and gypsum plaster are very rigid, and these variations and movement would show as buckles in the wall or cracks. Lime plaster is much more flexible and can take minor shifts. It is also self healing, as the moisture will allow available lime to migrate to cracks.

Lath

The plastering process begins at the framing where lath is affixed as a “skeleton,” which the plaster is attached to. Instead of wooden lath, we have used metal lath, which is really the only aspect of plastering where we have used non-18th century material. While both types are functionally equivalent, and do not affect the finished look of the wall, the metal lath saves us an enormous amount of time and materials.

On the other hand, the Coffeehouse’s porch ceiling is being built using wooden lath. Its proximity to the street means that guests can view the whole process, done in a historically accurate style by a costumed member of the Historic Trades department. The wooden lath is split by hand, and is then attached with nails. Nearly 1,600 of these lath nails were produced at the Colonial Williamsburg blacksmith shop for this ceiling alone. It will take several days to split the lath and nail it to the ceiling.

Plaster

We do have pieces of original plaster from the Coffeehouse, and these samples tell us the depth, number of layers, and makeup of the plaster. Analysis tells us the plaster is made up of four primary components. Hydrated lime is the first major component, and is made from burnt oyster shell that has been slaked and placed into a pit for at least six months. The oyster shells for the Coffeehouse plaster was burnt and slaked in the Colonial Williamsburg brickyard. For more information on slaking lime, see this blog entry from March.

The second component is sand: Sand is a major component in the coloring and texture of plaster, and is also a bulking agent which doubles the overall volume of the plaster. The sand used for the original Coffeehouse plaster had a very fine and worn grain, indicating that it most likely came from a creek or river. Sand with similar color and grain was obtained for the new plaster, giving it a similar appearance.

Our final two components are brick dust and clay; though less well-known than lime and sand, they were almost always present in plaster and mortar. Clay acted like a plasticizer, which allowed the plaster to stick as it was applied, as well as spread easily on the surface. On the other hand, brick dust was added as a strengthening agent, as was a small amount of horse hair. The mixture ratios for the plaster are 45% lime putty, 45% sand, 7% clay, and 3% brick dust.

Layers

Once the lath is installed, a scratch coat is placed. This is a thick layer of plaster, heavy with aggregate (sand), which serves as a leveling layer. The depth of this layer varied depending on changes in the wall, but averaged about 3/4-inch. Once applied, the surface is scratched to allow the next layer to adhere. At the Coffeehouse there are only two layers, the second being the finish coat. The finish coat is approximately 1/8 to 1/4-inch thick. This layer is troweled to a smooth finish, just as it would have been in the 18th century. The walls are then kept wet and troweled for 4 days to allow the plaster to slowly dry and avoid cracking.

Surface Treatment

The plaster needs to cure for no less than 6 months before oil based paints or wallpaper can be applied. This is due to a process called saponification, where the alkalinity of the plaster degrades the oil and glue causing failure. To bridge the time between the completion of plastering and the finish treatments, whitewash is applied, which is also a common 18th century practice. The whitewash applied to plaster is simply thinned lime putty, and has roughly the consistency of milk. Approximately six coats are applied; the whitewash provides a temporary finish treatment, and also helps to heal micro cracks in the plaster.

Photos by Peter Inker and Joshua Muse

August 14th Update

First, we wanted to mention that the Coffeehouse webcam is up and running again. Thanks to Project Manager Clyde Kestner, the camera is now located just to the west of the porch, and shows the preparation work being done in order to plaster the porch ceiling.

And, as usual, we’re sharing a quick list of some of the work that has recently been completed on the coffeehouse, along with work that will be done in the coming weeks.

Last three weeks of work

  • Installed metal lathe and plaster on ceiling of southwest room and applied whitewash
  • Completed installation of metal lathe in north room, adjacent closets and east stairway
  • Applied scratch coat of plaster in north room, adjacent closets and east stairway
  • Completed installation of west stair
  • Completed installing trim on first floor
  • Continued installing trim on second floor
  • Installed shelves in first floor closets
  • Completed installation of supports for hung ceiling in servery and restroom area
  • Began installing floor tile in restroom and servery
  • Continued making hardware offsite
  • Fabricated window sashes for cellar windows
  • Continued work on corner cupboard offsite
  • Completed installing trim at porch ceiling and began installing wood lathe on ceiling

Next two weeks of scheduled work

  • Continue cleanup inside and provide protection for trim, mantels, etc. as required
  • Complete plastering north center room and closets, and apply whitewash
  • Complete installation of trim and mantels on second floor
  • Obtain inspections of framing and electrical on second floor
  • Complete installation of metal lathe in west stairway
  • Install metal lathe in second floor rooms
  • Begin plastering west stairway and second floor
  • Install window sashes in southeast and southwest rooms
  • Apply primer coat of paint on trim in southeast and southwest rooms
  • Complete installation of wood lathe on porch ceiling
  • Complete installation of coffee bar and close-in of dumbwaiter shaft
  • Complete floor tile in servery and restroom
  • Continue making hardware and complete corner cupboard offsite
  • Willie complete drawings for cellar exhibition kitchen shelving/boxes to conceal ducts
  • Obtain material and begin making posts and rails for east courtyard fence at Great Hopes Plantation

Photos by Peter Inker and Joshua Muse

August 6th Photo Update

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