Well what about the pediment and the pilasters? Are they the house’s philtrum, that bit of facial real estate between the nose and the lips?
Until we had to replace our pediment and pilasters, I didn’t know what they were. Well, I knew that the Parthenon has a pediment, but I didn’t know that’s what the decorative molding atop a doorway — even a doorway in a suburban Colonial — is called. The pilasters are the fluted vertical columns on either side.
The pediment in our 80-year-old house had started to rot. Rain was getting in at the top. And then birds were getting in. A pair of sparrows spent every day pecking away at it, enlarging a hole and hoping to make a home in the punky wood. We needed a new one.
Here is one of the great heartaches of homeownership: Your house isn’t just a money pit, it’s an unsatisfying money pit. Sure, you might spend money on things you’ll enjoy — a screened porch, a swimming pool — but you’ll also be forced to spend money on things that aren’t exactly fun: a sump pump, a new toilet or a pediment.
How do you even replace a pediment? There’s no “Pediment” under “P” in the phone book. There’s no phone book. I searched online and found that you can buy the various components that make up the pediment. Our style was called ram’s head: two swoopy pieces of scrollwork with what looks like an urn in the middle. Frankly, I wasn’t too crazy about the design, but it was original to the house.
For about 30 seconds, I contemplated doing the job myself. Then I saw myself on the ground, at the base of a ladder, crushed under the pediment.
I probably wouldn’t have been crushed, actually. I’m sure you can hire some Old World craftsperson to conjure a pediment out of wood, but these days what everybody does is put up a lightweight polyurethane called Fypon.
This rankled me. I was even more rankled that none of the replacement options were as deep as our original pediment. The original wood pediment was about 10 inches deep. The deepest plastic replacement we could find was half that. I was afraid it would look silly, a teeny tiny philtrum against the great blank face of our house.
But we weren’t going to spend the money on a custom job, so we ordered the polyurethane pieces, including pilasters, which turned out to be rotting at the bottom. We found a remodeling company that could do the work. As the carpenter worked, I endured that itchy feeling that many men get when a plumber is under the sink or an electrician at the breaker panel: Why, I could do that.
But, of course, I couldn’t. Still, I wept inside as the old pediment was chiseled off the house. Though it was crumbling from rot, I was sad to see this original feature go.
And then when it was gone, I wondered whether it should be replaced at all. The house looked so cool without it!
Here’s why: Our house is brick that’s painted white. But underneath the pediment and the pilasters was the original red, unpainted brick. This left the curving outline of the pediment without the pediment itself. It was a hint of pediment — a pedihint. It looked postmodern, like the work of a daring young designer.
In the end, My Lovely Wife and I decided we aren’t daring young designers. Up went the new pieces, which looked just fine. They should last another 80 years.
I do wish one thing. I wanted to write something on the brick wall before it was covered over, some message to the future. But I couldn’t decide what. I guess I had writer’s block — or writer’s impediment, if you will.
Have you ever done work on your house and uncovered a message from a previous owner? Or have you ever put a message inside a wall or behind paneling in the hope it would be discovered in the future?
Send the details — with “House message” in the subject line — to me at email@example.com. I may share it in a future column.
For previous columns, visit washingtonpost.com/john-kelly.