55 Ashley Street

55 Ashley Street
55 Ashley Street is a Queen Anne Style house, but it is distinguished by the ornamental woodworking in the crown of three of its four gables and by its second front door, which is as fully decorated as the main front door. The main front door has a small porch that is tucked under an overhanging second story, while the second front door has an awning.

When NINA acquired the house in 2013, its facade was clad in asbestos and asphalt shingles, neither of which were original to the house, and the rear porch had been updated with modern materials. The house had last been operated as an illegal two-family house, and as a consequence the second floor in particular had been substantially altered, including the conversion of a bedroom to a kitchen.

NINA restored the house to its original single-family footprint and sold it to an owner-occupant. Rehabilitation work included the removal of the existing modern shingles, restoration of the front and rear porches, and repair of the ornamental woodwork in the gables. Interior work included a new kitchen, new bathrooms, and new energy-efficient mechanical systems. Important architectural elements were retained or rebuilt throughout the house.

This house is next door to NINA's home at 51 Ashley Street -- in the picture to the right, you can see 51 Ashley to the left of the photo, with the painting of the porch underway -- and we did this homes together to make the rehabilitation of both houses much more efficient and cost-effective. These two homes represent the last of the blight on Ashley Street between Huntington Street and Garden Street, and their completion signals the end of our 10-year effort to remediate the blight here.


55 Ashley - Before & After

One of the challenges of this house is photographing it -- it has a glorious weeping cherry tree in front of it, but this tree makes it hard to get a good shot of the house square on. Below are before and after shots taken in the winter, when the leaves are of the tree.


A Closer Look at 55 Ashley

55 Ashley ranks as possibly the most unique home NINA has worked on. As noted above, this house was distinguished by its decorate woodwork in the gables and the "second" front door, but its shingles also stand out. The house did have standard wood clapboard, but it also had what we described as "inverted fish scale" or "scalloped" shingles that we have never encountered anywhere in Hartford. The clapboard and shingles give the house a sense of layers, and we chose the paint colors to highlight this architectural feature.


The Two Front Doors

The two front doors: we called them the main front door and the "second front door." We weren't sure how else to refer to it, since "side door" would signify something entirely different, and "secondary" implies that it isn't as grand as the main front door. And the doors are equally grand: both have large central panes framed by multi-colored stained glass panes, and both have similar paneling beneath the glass opening. Even more interestingly, they both retained their original doorbells.


There is one big difference between the two doors, and it supports our decision to differentiate them as "main" and "second" front doors -- only the main front door has a mail slot. Our best guess is that at one point in time the house had a front entrance for guests and visitors and one for the family. Guests and visitors would come into the foyer and then could be led into a front parlor that could be shut off by pocket doors. The would then have been allowed entry into the more private parlor, which is directly off of the second front door, after the family had the opportunity to greet them (or decided they wanted the visit!). One additional theory: at one point the house had an office, possibly for a doctor. In this case, the front parlor would have served as a waiting room, with the more formal parlor serving as the office. But it's all guesses at this point, so if you know, please contact us to let us know!

The Gables

Lastly, there are those ornamental woodwork in the gables. Again, these appear to be unique in Asylum Hill. They were in very bad shape when we bought the house, and the woodworking on the east side of the house had been particularly damaged by the installation of a television antenna (almost -- almost! -- a historic artifact in itself). The ornamentation wasn't limited to the gable crowns, either: there were carved discs attached all along the eaves of the gables.


Heading Inside


55 Ashley Interior - Before

The exterior was in surprisingly good condition when we acquired the house. As you can see from the photos above, the original sashes were in place, and that's not something we find in the houses we work on. Typically, those houses are blighted, and if they have sashes they are inexpensive, inefficient, single-pane modern windows. 55 Ashley Street can't really be considered blighted, at least not as we usually refer to "blight." That it had asbestos shingles and had been vacant for an extended period of time placed it squarely into the category of problem properties. But here we found not only original sashes but also original molding, original front doors, and original pocket doors. Below, you can see for yourself.


The Real Kitchen

The real kitchen deserves a special mention, because it turned out particularly well. Slide the bar to see the transformation of the kitchen.