The master study

During the frenzied summer of 2016 restoration work focused on making habitable the bedrooms and bathrooms for our family. We faced a couple deadlines that focused our efforts on a very specific scope – a place to eat, bedrooms for the kids and bathrooms for all of us. We were determined to move in before school started just after Labor Day and we had to vacate our rented house so that the owner could close on the sale of the property. Throughout that first summer, Jim Alexander’s cadre of skilled tradesmen attacked the interior renovations and Craig Barbour mobilized roofing crews, carpenters and masons to tackle critical exterior repairs. While these projects advanced at a furious pace through the long summer days, I staked out the master study as my business office and parts depot. From that corner office looking out onto the farm yard, I could keep an eye on progress and try to stay ahead of the work with timely material orders and prompt payment of the invoices. It was organized chaos on good days and damage control on those days when nothing seemed to come together. … but that’s another story. As summer drew to a close and contractors finished up their assigned tasks, we took stock of what we had accomplished considered where to focus our energies and resources for considerable work that remained ahead.

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Insofar as I was fully committed to the restoration work and had no outside employment or other distractions, I realized that I needed to get our records in order and finish a space that could serve as a home office or a safe haven when every other room in the house was in some stage of overhaul. So, we launched into the master study on the naïve assumption that it would be an easy make-over. After six months of constant surprises, cost overruns and unavoidable delays, you would have thought I might have realized that no project would be easy. In addition to being a project of fairly modest technical complexity, the study was also an attractive objective because of its significance as the inner sanctum of the estate’s founder and chief executive – Ruben Gridley Wright. It was in this room that Ruben’s expansive business interests were controlled, and the family’s wealth was amassed through shrewd investment and enlightened management. And so it was this room that we determined needed proper restoration.

Master study – work in progress

Like every room in the house, the study needed a complete rehab of all interior surfaces. The sashes and frames needed to be stripped and refinished, electrical improvements were required to enable use of personal computers and communications equipment. The only light fixture in the room had stopped working sometime over the summer and a large hole in the ceiling needed to be patched where a bathroom drain pipe had been re-routed into a proper utility chase. Fortunately, the built-in cherry desk and wainscot work panels were in generally good condition and only needed light sanding and a fresh coat of lacquer to restore the original finish. Old cracked plaster came off the lath strips in big chunks and dropped between the wall studs into the basement. After removing the deteriorated plaster, running new branch circuits for lighting and receptacles went smoothly and we were able to insulate around the utility chase that had been constructed in a void between the study and master bathroom. The most tedious task with any of the interior renovations is the plaster finish work. There is no effective way to keep the plaster dust from seeping through gaps beneath doors, cracks in floor planks wall penetrations for utilities or the knotholes that the resident mice exploit to roam about at night. So we labor through many iterations of sanding and cleaning until we get to a finished surface suitable for painting then spend another day just trying to clean up the plaster dust that migrated to every adjacent room in the house. The intricate millwork around door and window frames is a particularly vexing collector of plaster dust: the white powder can only be dislodged by slow and tedious scrubbing with a toothbrush and oil soap. Fortunately, the master study has an exterior door leading on to the back porch so we isolated the room from the rest of the house as best we could and used the exterior door to remove debris and fetch materials and tools from the basement.

New carpet from Pucci’s in Fredonia added the finishing touch and we managed to fit in a large antique filing cabinet and a free desk. The completed office can comfortably accommodate two people working on computers while I tend to the farm records and compose an attack plan for spring planting at my desk. It helps that the office sits directly above the utility room in the basement where a massive steam boiler pushes steam through a network of pipes feeding 22 radiators throughout the house. The heat radiating from the boiler and the header pipes rises silently through the floor and keeps the study comfortably warm even on the coldest winter nights.

Perhaps it was no coincidence that Ruben selected the corner room directly above the boiler for his office. And in planning the layout of that office, he judiciously planned windows and fenestrated doors facing the farm yard and nearby fields thus allowing a commanding view of the farm enterprise he presided over.

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