Window Restoration: Dixon Kerr
Business Name: Old House Authority Windows
Contact info: 804-648-1616 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Specialty field: Restoration and weatherization of old wooden windows and reproduction of vintage scrollwork for houses.
The character of an old house isn’t something you can pick up like a bag of nails at Home Depot. Still, woodworker and window restorer Dixon Kerr has found plenty of it lying around - in alleys and trash heaps. Believing their original windows to be rotten, inoperable or too hospitable to wind and rain, many homeowners toss them and go with plastic replacements. Dixon has picked up a lot of vintage glass, window hardware and old wood this way, which he’s recycled into his repair projects.
But removing old windows is like stripping patina from antique wood. The special quality of age it imparts to a house is gone and can’t be replaced with anything store bought. "All you have to do is walk down the street in a historic neighborhood to see the difference between a house with replacement windows and one with its originals. The new windows meet you with a blank stare. The old ones are like wise old eyes. Their glass shimmers at twilight and the wood is delicately carved. Generations have raised, lowered and looked out these windows. Why would you throw out something that valuable when you can never get it back?"
What attracted you to this field?
A renovation contractor for many years, I’ve always appreciated the craftsmanship of old windows and hated seeing people throw them away for new vinyl windows. I decided to combine my interest in woodworking with the repair of old windows. I was lucky starting out at a time when people began to recognize the importance of preserving old windows for the character they bring to old houses. New windows fall short in every way: architecturally, visually and aesthetically. By combining modern technology (energy-efficient weatherstripping) with vintage materials (old glass, old-growth wood and precision joinery), you can have the best of both worlds.
I’ve always been an avid woodworker and still have my first copy of Fine Woodworking from 1975. I’ve written for a number of publications and taught workshops in order to help people learn to do their own window repairs. My background as a woodworker has been beneficial in learning the many wood repairs needed for good window restoration. Having worked on my own for many years, I wrestled with the overwhelming demand for this type of service and my desire to keep the quality high. In 2007 I decided I could meet the demand more efficiently by combining my business with Old House Authority. By having other people handle the day-to-day business details, I could concentrate on the craftsmanship.
What’s changed in the field since you started doing what you do?
The popularity of Historic Rehabilitation Tax Credits has sparked a resurgence in the importance of preserving original windows and doors. That has helped to educate the general public about the importance of maintaining original architectural features.
Job you’re proudest of:
A woodworking repair job at St. John’s Church in Richmond, VA. Built in 1746, this is where the Founding Fathers met before the American Revolution. Visited by thousands of tourists, some of the old doors on the pews had been damaged. While installing a repaired door, I felt humbled knowing that the best craftsmen in early America used hand tools and had built what I was repairing. When I asked a docent if Patrick Henry made his "Give me Liberty or Give me Death" speech from this pew, I was told "no." It was George Washington’s seat. Thomas Jefferson had sat in the one I’d just finished before. Working in the shadow of great craftsman was inspiring and something I’ll never forget.
I’ve always enjoyed reproducing vintage millwork - gingerbread brackets, ventilation covers, sawn balusters - and would like to do more of this when time allows. Richmond, VA was a center for vintage millwork in the 19th century, with approximately 12 companies making it for the Eastern U.S. I’ve long been collecting the patterns to reproduce various pieces and can foresee a day when I expand my business in this direction.
Why does what you do matter?
Window restoration is indispensible for people who want a historically-appropriate renovation. Its also important environmentally. If we learn to recycle house components rather than replace them with inferior manufactured goods, we can help reduce what ends up in landfills as well as prevent the unnecessary manufacturing of new goods.