Window on DC: Making Meaningful Wall Art

Last year, my neighborhood lost a longtime resident and cherished neighbor and, as her house is redeveloped, I was able to salvage a bit of Petworth history and a memory of one of my favorite neighbors, Miss Erma.

 Miss Erma Greeting Bea on Her Porch

Miss Erma Greeting Bea on Her Porch

Miss Erma was among one of the first residents I met on my block when I moved in several years ago, and I miss walking by her house to say hello during daily dog walks (she's pictured at left enjoying a regular visit from my pup). As the construction crew rehabs her house and prepares it for new neighbors, I was fortunate to snag the two original windows from her house that were left for the next haul of debris. 

I have never reclaimed a piece of history for wall art before (though I have often thought about it watching HGTV or visiting Community Forklift), so I decided this would be a worthwhile opportunity. While there are many articles and blog posts online about taking vintage windows, doors, mantels, etc. and repurposing them as art, tables and more, I was surprised how few mentioned the possibility of lead paint. Luckily I was acutely aware of the likelihood of led paint on the frames (houses on our block were built in the early 1900s), and I bought a test at the local hardware store before doing anything.

As suspected, the windows showed signs of lead paint, so I halted further work until I could get the supplies needed to take precautions before preparing them to come into my home. I am not an environment hazard expert, but I found this information from the New York Department of Health helpful in deciding on my approach. 

While I had toyed with keeping the glass (after removing/replacing panes, and even adding a mercury glass effect), I ultimately decided to leave the windows without glass (they are substantially lighter for hanging, as well). While wearing protective gear, I removed layers of caulk and used a wire brush to remove loose paint and a coarse sandpaper to tackle any potential splinters. After a quick cleaning with soapy water to remove any remaining dust and debris, I let them dry before sealing with Varathane Triple Thick Polyurethane in a matte finish. The poly dried to a tacky finish in two hours and was ready to come inside a few hours later (no smell at all).

I decided to hang the windows with the weathered white paint facing out, pairing with an existing original drawing already hanging in my home. I love having a constant reminder of a dear neighbor and a bit of DC's history on my wall. 

Have you recycled any architectural elements for your home? I'd love to hear about them!