Interior Millwork

We had no hope for the interior of the building. Much was covered with plywood and drywall, and many modern doors and some of their frames had been installed with extreme prejudice... The original millwork was not much to look at given it was covered with up to 2mm of heavy leaded paint, completely obliterating many of the details.

In some spaces the millwork was intact (such as the Foyer), in others only the chair rails had been chopped away (such as the master bedroom, upstairs hallway, nursery and drawing room). In other rooms still only fragments of baseboard survived (such as in the scullery and pantry) while in others only window and door casings survived (such as in the dining room).

During the course of gutting modern modifications to the building we were careful to recover all original material re-used as blocking, etc. In so doing we removed more than 40 tons out of the interior of the building, and by lining up nail holes in door casings and baseboards, we were able to find examples of all millwork in the building save the dining room chair rail. We were also able to identify the location of original partition walls and moved door frames back to their original locations.

The first observation in reconstructing millwork was that it was different in each room, as was the character of flooring. On reflection, 1816 society in Upper Canada was a class society and the rooms in the house of a class society had status.

We are lucky millwork in the early 19th century was installed directly on the framing in contrast to Victorian and modern millwork that is placed over the plaster. Otherwise we would likely have lost all  interior finishings. There were differences between the upstairs and downstairs - not just in the millwork but even in  implementation.

Figure 1. Accordion Plaster Lath

The walls and ceilings upstairs were finished using accordion plaster lath. This type of plaster work used sawn planks split and spread at the ends when it is fastened to the framing, splits, used to key the plaster. Used between around 1800 and 1820, this type of plaster lath required fewer nails, but provided poor keying for the plaster. Downstairs only the ceiling used accordion lath, the walls utilizing split lath. A more traditional plaster system, ends of a quarter-sawn plank were split off to form rough boards that are nailed to the framing, gaps between the boards used to key the plaster. Another difference were the door frames. Downstairs the headers of the frames were mortised into rabbits in the legs of the frames, typical of modern North American carpentry. Upstairs the legs were mortised into rabbits in the headers, more typical of English carpentry. Finally there was a ?? and bead millwork profile used throughout the house. This was a common profile for eastern Lake Ontario from about 1812-1820. Though very similar, the downstairs profile was heavier and deeper than the upstairs profile.


Figure 2. ?? and bead profile used throughout Ham House

It seems the upstairs of Ham House was finished at a different time than downstairs, or by different carpenters.