A Window Restoration Specialist’s Centuries-Old Techniques

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The brownstones and other townhouses of Brooklyn are like an urban version of California redwoods. Some of them date back some 160 years to the days of horse-drawn railroads, mutton chops, and petticoats. When Peter Madias stands before one of them, he can almost take them in at a glance. “It’s the joinery,” he said. “It all starts with the joinery.”

person at work

Madias is a rarity, a window restoration specialist whose company, Method Restoration, has been helping preserve the character, beauty, and functionality of historic homes in Brooklyn for 14 years. Thing is, he’s exacting: He’ll only take on projects where the window and the surrounding jam haven’t been “messed with.”

“The most important thing to me is that the windows are original,” he said.

wood repair in process

A former commodities trader turned contractor, Madias came to his calling as the owner of Method Restoration while watching the crew he worked with rip out windows and throw them in a dumpster. “I kind of felt that it really wasn’t the right thing to do,” he said. “The windows were of better quality than anything new they could buy.”

When one of his clients asked if he could restore these old windows instead of throwing them out, his career pivot to specialization was set in motion. It’s not lost on him that he had gone from a commodities trading job obsessed with the future to a restoration calling obsessed with the past.

damaged window

Simply put, Madias believes that old windows are superior to new replacement windows. Their bigger panes let in more light and they last pretty much forever if properly maintained.

“In the 19th century, most things were built with certain types of joinery — mortise and tenon and bridle joints that were joined mechanically and designed to be taken apart and put back together, to be maintained over centuries by anybody that was skilled in carpentry or woodwork,” he said.

corner of window repaired

Ask Madias to elaborate on the rock-solid building techniques of long ago, and he’ll offer one of those “aha” insights. “The wood they used was harvested from old growth forests. The trees would struggle for light, which created tight growth rings that produced wood that’s impervious to insects and rot, and that’s why they’re still around 200 years later.”

Aha! Madias says take a cross section of a new piece of wood versus something from back then, and anybody can see the difference. “So you can’t just use an off the shelf pine,” he said. “I use a wood that’s not going to soak up moisture and rot in five years. You have to use something that’s designed to be outdoors. Something that is weather resistant.”

window restoration

When he’s doing an initial assessment, the first thing he’ll look for is whether the windows are out of square. “The house starts to sag after a while and the [window] openings come out of square and the sashes are square — they don’t change. So if the openings come out of square, and they’re not going to tear the openings out and replace them, then the windows have to be made into non-square shapes to fit the non-square openings.”

Typically, he’ll take the paint off and take the glass out. If there’s damage to the wood, and they’re going to be stained, he’ll repair them with almost invisible Dutchman repairs. He’ll use a linseed oil based glazing compound to seal the glass into the wood. “That’s what they used centuries ago,” he said. “We’re still using that, not caulk, which is typically used.”

When it comes to window lifts and other accessories, Madias says clients generally don’t want to take the patina away. “We just want to clean them up a little bit, and keep that metal looking like it’s 100 years old or so, that worn look that is not easy to duplicate.”

brick house with bay windwos

“You know, with today’s different construction techniques, some might consider them better, ” said Madias. “But from a serviceability standpoint, I think the old way was a better way.”

Find more information, visit the Method Restoration website.

[Photos via Peter Madias]

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