High Victorian Interior Wood Railing Restoration Home Built in 1878

The “Painted Ladies” of San Francisco are famous around the world. They are also one of the main reasons I choose to locate my woodwork business in the Bay Area.

Northern California is also famous for its coastal forests. Few people realize that California is mostly a desert. Yet along the northern coast the fog off the ocean added greatly to the available water. The result was forests of giant redwoods sometimes thousands of years old and also giant fir trees.

Here is the math: the average annual rainfall in northern California is just over 20 inches, not enough to produce nor sustain a forest. Yet right along the coast the needles of the redwood and fir trees captured the ocean fog and condensed it into water. This “rain” water then dripped off the trees to the extent that the measurable water hitting the ground from both the rain and the fog was over 60 inches a year! Giant trees use giant amounts of water.

The timber necessary to build a state of the art city was available here. But spectacular cities also need money and that was provided by the Gold Rush.


This “rain” water then dripped off the trees to the extent that the measurable water hitting the ground from both the rain and the fog was over 60 inches a year! Giant trees use giant amounts of water.

The gold had to get to the rest of the world in order to produce value and it was up in the high Sierra Mountains 200 miles east of San Francisco Bay. Rivers provided that means of descent to the sea and the sea provided a passage to the world.

Fast wide rivers flowed west from the mountains to the Bay. The biggest ships of the day could sail around the Cape of Good Hope and they could sail into San Francisco Bay. But they could not get over to the East Bay where everyone lived and where the big rivers brought in the barges in from the golden mountains. Sand bars prevented this. The area to the west side of the Bay, hard against the Pacific Ocean, was a baren, desolate place. But it had a wind haven and deep water for those big ships and thus the city of San Francisco was founded and became the port. All the wealth from the Gold Rush and all the wealth from the old growth forests of redwood and fir flowed through this barren place and created the “Merchants of San Francisco”.

Railing Restoration in High Victorian Home Built in 1878
Exterior of High Victorian Home built in 1878
Railing Restoration in High Victorian Home Built in 1878
Inside of High Victorian High with view of the restored interior railing Home
Railing Restoration in High Victorian Home Built in 1878
Entryway to the restored interior wood railings and matching new balusters for the staircase
Railing Restoration in High Victorian Home Built in 1878
Restored Railings with matching new balusters for the staircase
Railing Restoration in High Victorian Home Built in 1878
Restored Victorian Balustrade
Railing Restoration in High Victorian Home Built in 1878
Custom made new balusters

The Painted Ladies of San Francisco are a beautiful tribute to this history.  They stand like museums today, flashing their decorative facades for all to see.   Yet few get to see the interiors. I was privileged to work on many restorations of these Painted Ladies.

When the owners of this high Victorian bought it, it was very run down.  They were committed to restoring it to its former glory and willing to take the time.  The staircase was deteriorated but repairable.  The old rail system was badly damaged and would not have met modern code even if repaired.  They came to me with a set of stair parts they had purchased from the demolition of an old court house in the midwest.  Could I repair these old parts and use them to create a “new” Victorian balustrade?  The answer was yes and no.  The beautiful old railing had twisted and warped somewhere along the line.  I tried to work with it but it quickly became clear it would be easier to re-produce it.  The balusters presented a second problem.  They were stunning but difficult to work into modern codes.  In the end we used the old balusters along the balcony and made matching new balusters for the staircase itself.

Railing Restoration in High Victorian Home Built in 1878
Profile of Victorian Handrail made from Scratch
Railing Restoration in High Victorian Home Built in 1878
Profile of Victorian Handrail made from Scratch

The railing was made from scratch.  The inside diameter of the curve is 10 1/2 inches.  This would be the plan view.  As this railing flows from the balcony 180 degrees in this tight circle it also falls 42 inches.  In the art of stair building this is called a “wreath”.  Or an easement because it eases from on plane, direction and elevation into another.  It is truly three dimensional. It is one of the only 3 dimensional pieces in the otherwise rectilinear process of building.

Railing Restoration in High Victorian Home Built in 1878
As this railing flows from the balcony 180 degrees in this tight circle it also falls 42 inches. In the art of stair building this is called a "wreath". Or an easement because it eases from on plane, direction and elevation into another. It is truly three dimensional. It is one of the only 3 dimensional pieces in the otherwise rectilinear process of building.
Railing Restoration in High Victorian Home Built in 1878
View while walking up towards the balcony. As this railing flows from the balcony 180 degrees in this tight circle it also falls 42 inches. In the art of stair building this is called a "wreath". Or an easement because it eases from on plane, direction and elevation into another. It is truly three dimensional. It is one of the only 3 dimensional pieces in the otherwise rectilinear process of building.
Railing Restoration in High Victorian Home Built in 1878
Top view of custom new handrails, restored railings, and new balusters
Railing Restoration in High Victorian Home Built in 1878
View from top to the bottom of the staircase

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