How to find missing pieces for an iron bed

Plus, how to ‘air out’ a basement apartment


A salvaged iron bed has some missing and broken parts. Replacements can be fabricated from cast epoxy or brass. (Reader photo)
July 2, 2014

Question: I recently salvaged an old iron double bed that is unfortunately missing the side rails and a few decorative pieces. One decorative piece at the top is crushed, and the pieces that used to be on the ends of the scrolls are gone. Can you recommend a relatively local dealer who can sell me the missing items?

— Bethesda

Answer: Sally Shaffer at Sally Shaffer Interiors in Kensington (301-933-3750) recommended Ferdynand Dyba (240-305-5757; artsman54@msn.com). She refers mostly wood repairs to him, but he repairs other kinds of antiques, too. He finished a brass bed last week.

After looking at the pictures you sent, Dyba said he could make the missing pieces from cast epoxy. Because the bed will be painted, those parts would look the same as the metal ones. Including refinishing, which he said would be the most expensive part, he estimated the cost at $800. But that wouldn’t include the rails. “I’ve only worked on beds that had all the parts before,” he said. “So I’d need to do some research on where to get the rails.”

Another option, though farther away, is Brass Beds of Virginia in Richmond (800-409-0340; www.brassbedofva.com). The company manufactures new brass and iron beds and also does repairs. “There were about 50 variations of the dovetail joint for the side rails,” Pat Hudgins, the owner, wrote in an e-mail after seeing your pictures. His company uses a similar connector, with the taper going from 1 inch wide to ¾-inch wide. If your connectors match, you’re in luck. If the openings on yours are smaller, the company could enlarge them. If the openings are larger, the work-around is more complicated. “In the past, we have been able to remove the females from an old bed and weld ours on, but this can be costly,” Hudgins said.

Hudgins said his company can make the missing decorative pieces from brass. For refinishing, he recommended sandblasting to remove the rust and paint, then repainting via the powder-coat process.

He estimated that replacing the side rails would cost $84 if the ones his company makes will work. Any alterations would cost an additional $50 an hour. Brass pieces for the missing decorative parts would be about $35 each, plus labor to install. Sandblasting would cost around $135; the powder-coat finish, $85 to $225 depending on the number of coats and the degree of perfection you want.

Question: I live in the beautiful basement apartment of a rowhouse. There are many benefits to this apartment — great location, custom fixtures, lots of built-in bookshelves. I have a nice skylight, but unfortunately no windows that open. I do not have a separate entrance. My door leads to my landlord’s space upstairs. I have houseplants, but there is still a lingering staleness to my apartment. Is there a way to “air out” my apartment?

— Washington

Answer: One obvious issue is whether your apartment is legal to rent. The city’s Department of Consumer and Regulatory Affairs has a Web site that discusses issues involved in basement apartments that you might want to read; see www.rentmydcbasement.
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. Do you have an emergency exit? That’s an absolute requirement for any separate living unit. But if you share your landlord’s kitchen, the code considers you a roommate and the rules pertaining to basement apartments don’t apply. Still, every bedroom needs an escape route to the outside.

Because you love your apartment, you might be disinclined to get legalistic with your landlord. But knowing the rules might at least give you some bargaining room in finding (and paying for) a solution. Bruce Wentworth, an architect and contractor who owns the design-build firm Wentworth Studio in Chevy Chase (240-383-1227; www.wentworthstudio.com) suggests talking to a mechanical contractor about installing a makeup air unit in an exterior wall, with a switch so you could bring in outdoor air as needed. Depending on how difficult it is to drill through the wall and whether power is easily available, he estimated the total cost might come to about $1,000. If your unit doesn’t share any of the building’s outside walls, a duct with an in-line fan could bring in fresh air.

If your building has a heating and air conditioning system with ducts that run through the basement, adding a return air vent in your unit could also help. It wouldn’t directly bring in fresh air, but by increasing the circulation, you would get more of the fresh air that’s enjoyed by the upstairs space. Adding the vent would also send air into your unit through the HVAC system, conditioning it and making the air in your unit seem fresher and less musty. “I have one in my basement and it works really well to keep the basement pleasant,” Wentworth said. However, he cautioned that if you do have an official apartment in the basement, adding this kind of vent could compromise the code requirement to isolate living units so fire doesn’t spread rapidly from one unit to another.

Have a problem in your home? Send questions tolocalliving@washpost.com . Put “How To” in the subject line, tell us where you live and try to include a photo.

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