I had hoped the stoop project would be relatively simple.

Scrape, maybe a little sanding, repaint, and be done with it.

NotSoMuch. That was wishful, wishful thinking. But hey; a girl can dream.

The arched top of the woodwork didn’t look too bad from the ground but, when I got on the ladder to scrape some of the flaking paint, I saw the real truth.


The entire left side of the arch and much of the keystone was completely rotted. Squishy, crumbling, disintegrating in my hands kind of rotted. Blerg.


It came off in pieces.


Giant, chunky pieces. And we were able to assess the damage. (That’s my dad! Hi, Dad!)


And by “damage”, I mean the lacking left half of my arch. FML. Do you know how much custom millwork costs? Lots. Like LOTS and lots. Plus wood is quite susceptible to rotting.

Don’t get me wrong, I love wood (that’s what she said) but, in this application, it seems expensive and problematic. Historically accurate. But expensive and problematic.

Yes, it can be sealed. Yes, I could use something pressure treated. Or use the right flashing. Or whatever. There are lots of ways to make wood, the historically accurate choice, work. I know. But they all require maintenance. (AKA – upkeep; AKA – continued work hours down the line.)

Here is where the restoration peeps are going to want string me up by my toenails.

I am renovating. I am not restoring.

This was a choice Rob {my wasband} and I had made when we bought the place and I still think it is the right choice. I love the historic details. By no means am I ripping everything out and trying to make the house what it’s not. I am trying to renovate in a historically mindful manner but I am not restoring this home.

To me, that’s a really important point to remember.

I am not restoring; I’m renovating. If I was restoring, I would be using period accurate materials and methods (where possible). I would be doing my best to return this house to exactly how it looked back in the 1880’s when it was built. But I’m not. I don’t want to.

I don’t want to live in time capsule. I like the modern + historic melding of aesthetics and I sure as heck like the modern technologies we’ve developed.

That’s why I chose to replace the arch with foam.

Say what?!

Yup. Foam.

Architectural foam, to be specific.

The idea was first floated by my mother. We were chatting out various options while lifting rotted pieces of wood arch off the top. The arch, for anyone having a hard time with scale, it actually rather large. It’s 77″ at its widest and the molding is about 10″ thick. Chunky, to say the least. Looking at the pieces, it was obvious that the curved piece was likely carved out of a single piece of wood.

With a rowhome, context and surroundings become incredibly important. I am one of 4 houses in our row. Two houses have 1 style arch, the other two have a second style of arch. The neighbor who shares my style arch is RIGHT next to me. Because we match, it’s important to have whatever replacement I chose look exactly how it used to look. Fixing this problem shouldn’t change the look of the house. I want to replace the arch with something that looks EXACTLY like the old one.

Going back to the discussion with my mother. She remembered that the crown molding I used in my second floor bathroom was foam and asked if they made anything like that for the outside. I wasn’t sure but the idea certainly had promise. Foam is great because you can carve it however you like, it’s incredibly light and relatively inexpensive.

Turns out, architectural foam is an actual thing. Used on LOTS of buildings like every single CVS, Walgreens & McMansion. It can be finished to look just like painted wood, so you’ll never know it wasn’t. It is purely decorative, so you can’t use it for anything structural, but that’s not an issue here.

So that’s the latest & greatest. I’m going to recreate my arch out of this stuff –


Once all the eggs & rotten tomatoes stop flying for not using real wood, we’ll chat about the who’s & how’s of making this new arch a reality. Carrie out.

{ducks for cover}

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16 Responses to Arched

  1. Leslie says:

    How cool. Looking forward to your review.

  2. kelliebelle says:

    I think it’s brilliant. No eggs here. I respect and appreciate our past but love our technological advancements and modern convenience. And now I’m think of how I can use foam. I had noises about the foam crown moulding!!

  3. priscilla says:

    I’m just glad you’re back!

  4. Susan Nelson says:

    No eggs here, either! It makes total sense both from a cost and maintenance stand point. One question, though…it looks like from the pictures that there isn’t a whole lot of mortar on the bricks that were under the previous arch-are you going to have to repoint that brick, too, before you can install your new arch?

  5. Melissa says:

    I don’t blame you for this one bit. I’m sure if you had endless time or money, you’d be first in line to get that arch replaced with the real thing. But I’ll tell you what–if I was working under the pressure of a lawsuit that had forced me to not only reallocate my inside budget to the outside, but also abandon much-needed work on the interior of my home–you know, the place where I actually LIVE–I’d be all over foam too.

  6. dixontz says:

    I’ve gotten out the eggs. But only cuz it’s Saturday morning and I’m HUNGRY!! I still maintain you are BRILLIANT, Carrie! Can you hear my applause from New Zealand? If I could be half as fortuitous, hard-working and clever with tools as you, I’d be one happy chickiedoo. Keep up the amazing fight for your house and your vision! I, too, look forward to your next blog. 🙂

  7. dixontz says:

    Hmmm… *scratches head* I’m SO SORRY “dixontz”, I don’t know how I replied as you… I’m new to this blog response thing, so I don’t know what I’ve done wrong here. I imagine this post will do the same. If someone would like to tell me how I mucked this up, I’ll try not to do it again!

  8. Sarah says:

    Your mother is brilliant.
    Which of us wouldn’t lovingly replace
    the artistry, solidity and organicity of a by-
    gone era.
    All you need are looks and a whole lotta
    Seems like the former tis no problem- the latter,
    well…..your energy, power and creativity go a long way in mitigating limited means.
    If I were a betting woman I’d put money on
    said arch more than rivaling the real thing.
    And your mother is still brilliant.

  9. Margaret says:

    Foam is probably a better choice outside, it will not rot.

  10. J-C says:

    I’m a carpenter/woodworker, so I would probably just rebuild it in wood myself (and save a ton of money), but I understand the costs involved, and as someone who also treasures “historically accurate preservation” and period-correct restorations, I totally understand your situation. As long as it looks the same, once it’s painted, it really won’t matter what it’s made from. I was actually going to suggest that you might be able to CAST the current pieces and make them from urethane/foam or fibreglass (anything durable and waterproof, really). I’m looking forward to the progress on this.

  11. Sounds like the perfect choice. I love homes with characters but there are reasons that some of these new products exist – they may e better. I love wood as much as the next girl (that’s what she said) but it just doesn’t last like other options. And the cost of something custom like that? Unreasonable.

    Hope the foam goes well.

  12. mandalynns698 says:

    I followed your link to check out your bathroom reno….all I can say is that if your mastery of design is as good outside as it is in (which we all know is true), then the outside of your house is going to put your neighbors to shame! Carrie, you have major skill!

  13. Great idea! Like others have said, as long as it matches, who cares what it’s made out of! I can’t wait to see the after.

  14. I wouldn’t feel guilty about the foam as you can see that being used on a few historical buildings throughout Newark including the old firehouse on market st. The only tip I would give you is make sure the seal on the top of the foam is good as foam doesn’t reacte well to water that gets behind the stucco sealer.

  15. Emma says:

    I love the distinction of renovating vs restoring. I think if you’re staying true to the soul of the house, you’re golden. And I also think that if foam had been available in the 1880s, they would have used it. If wood were the be all, end all perfect medium, the foam would not have been invented.

  16. Ragnar says:

    I wonder how long the foam is really going to last!

    In central Europe many buildings are stucco over brick and insulation usually means EPS sheets on the exterior with a thin (like 1/8″ or less) coat of stucco. Doesn’t last long. One bicycle handle bar slammed against the wall and there’s a big hole. Woodchucks are also supposed to badly damage the insulation. Across the street they replaced the entire insulation roughly 25 years after the house was built. Considering how soft the foam of the architectural mouldings is I wouldn’t expect to last them any longer, or much shorter if anything bumps into them. Applying a thin and brittle layer of stucco over the soft foam doesn’t really seem to improve things.

    Unfortunately, foam mouldings are the course of time it seems. Back in the old days we had solid cement or lime stucco mouldings (either mail-order or cast in place), nowadays these are almost extinct and all new decorative mouldings seem to be foam. At least foam mouldings look better than flat fronts with the entire ornamentation chopped off… *sigh*
    (flattening facades was considered a great way of modernising the city from the 1930s to the 70s, including financial incentives!)

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