For seven months, a team of craftsmen have been working on the wood trim of the first floor with completion expecting in September. It’s hoped that there will be sufficient funds to begin work on the second floor as soon as the current work is completed.
John Hulley, a woodworker for 40 years who owns Hulley Woodworking, put the dream team together. The nine craftsmen range in age from 40 to 60 and they’ve worked for some of the best woodworkers in the industry, including Kittinger Furniture Co. in Buffalo. Two of the Martin House cabinetmakers have been recruited for the finish work.
Hulley probably knows the wood in the Martin House better than Wright did himself. He and his crew have removed every stick of wood trim from the house. Hulley made a drawing of each piece, mapped its location, examined it to see if it could be saved or scrapped, and then either refinished or remade it. And then his workers put it back.
Nearly all of the wood has been saved — either returned to its original position, or saved for patching areas lost or damaged over the years.
The restoration team has gone to extraordinary lengths to preserve the appearance of the trim as well:
“We start with stain,” he said. “Then it’s shellac, glaze, shellac, toner, touch-up, shellac, spray varnish, brush varnish. And between all coats of finish is sanding. It’s like ten steps.”
Hulley makes many of the finishes himself. He buys shellac in 55 pound bags of dried flakes and dissolves the flakes in ethanol alcohol.
“It’s really hard to tell the difference between the new wood and the wood that was here,” Hulley said. “And that was the plan. We’re not trying to fool anybody. If the historic preservation trust comes in and says what’s new, we can show what’s new, what’s old. But we’re trying to blend in, we didn’t want the new to stick out. It would look kind of dumb to have an old board next to a new board and have it look that way. It kind of defeats the purpose of bringing the building back to 1907.”