He had pulled up the old fence from around the pool at the Broadview Hotel in Wichita, Kansas, a large project he was hired to restore for the Drurys. Lew Lewis had simply removed the old boards and suddenly knew that the wood planks were still perfectly fine that he could find a use for them somewhere. Many years, moves and projects later...
His new office, now complete, brick floors, venitian plaster walls and the handcrafted ceiling and beams are no exception to the immaculate detail that Lewis adheres to.
The office was once just another bedroom with a ceiling that sat just a little too low for Lewis’ taste. And so, he took the ceiling out and found twelve normal support beams; none could be adjusted or removed without raising some serious questions about structural integrity.
After about half a minute, Lewis had a plan. He would do to these beams what he had done to the beams in the Drury in downtown Santa Fe. No removal, no movement at all, just some creative cosmetic work. He and our superintendent would create twelve boxes that would encase the beams giving the appearance of the old Santa Fe style scaffolding while not changing the beams structural purpose.
“You’ll hear the name John Gaw Meem a lot.” Lewis said, who took a few seconds to make sure I heard the name correctly. “He designed the old hospital. So when it came time to remodel it into the Drury, I did what I thought he would do.”
The old St. Vincent’s hospital has a very interesting history. For instance, it used to be an orphanage run by a rag tag team of cabbage stealing nuns. John Gaw Meem, a man best known for bringing a modern mindset to the rigidness of traditional Santa Fe buildings, designed St. Vincent’s Hospital that took up an entire city block with its stacked, block windows and sharp, angular facades. Eventually, the beautiful building fell into disrepair. A new hospital was built and sadly for almost a decade Mr. Meem’s grand building was used mainly as a movie set.
It wasn’t that no one could think what to do with the looming space. It was in the middle of downtown two-hundred-year-old Santa Fe, surrounded closely by galleries, narrow brick streets, and a cathedral. Every foot fall was steeped with deep history and local lore. It would take a company dedicated to problem solving and a problem solver dedicated to preserving history in order to make any real progress. That’s where the Drurys came in; hiring the one person they thought was capable of helping them restore the grandure of a Santa Fe icon. His knowledge of the Historic guidelines that needed to be upheld, experience with difficult restoration issues and application of techniques that are both time and money saving.
But Santa Fe isn’t the only thing that has a story to tell. The fence Lewis rescued from the Drury’s Wichita hotel stood as a guard to the pool. Thinking it could be of use somewhere, Lewis had packed it up and moved from state to state, home to home, just waiting for the opportunity to use it in some new way. That fence now hangs, lined up with the John Gaw Meem inspired beams, over his desk in a rustic, chicly shabby covering. Every piece was put through a planer, a wood resurfacing contraption that shaved away years of different paint colors. Grey, green, an awful brown-salmon color that thankfully is only on one board. Layer on top of layer, all meticulously shaved off so that the sunny wood underneath could shine through.
As the new Onsite office receives its final details, more and more attention and history are poured into every nook and cranny. It's that kind of attention Lewis will bring to the buildings and homes of our community.
The loose gravel had probably begun to dig in and dimple her shins as our superintendent sat on the chilly driveway, rubbing the last coat of wax in the finished door. I stood over her, trying to block out of the bright New Mexican mid-morning sun, snapping picture after picture of the fascinating last detail of the multiple day process that was perfecting the doors to Onsite’s new office.
She explained to me that in order to obtain the old-world Santa Fe look, something that I’ve come to describe as Imperial Spanish, that the doors had first been cleaned with mineral spirits. This removed any dirt or debris from the doors and also, opened its pores. As a woman who has spent most of my life trying to hide pores and imperfections in my own exterior, I found that odd. Lynn, our superintendent, explained that she wanted the pores to be opened so that the painstakingly chosen stain would seep deep in to the wood and change the color while not robbing the wood of its natural patterns.
The wax, our owner explained to me, is a soft coating, softer than Polyurethane. Highly synthetic and extremely flammable, Polyurethane sets into hard, almost candy coating. And of course our wax, a mixture of bees wax, carnauba wax and citrus oils, was nowhere near as TOXIC as common polyurethane coatings. Our owner later told me that this was the exact reason why our superintendent spent hour after hour on the chilly ground, going through her own version of Karate Kid (wax on, wax off).
“If you use Polyurethane, you have to use paint thinner to clean the brushes and tools you put it on with. That all runs into the sewage system and into the ground.” Our owner, Lew Lewis, explained to me. He, himself, has a home sustained by a well on his property.
Lewis is also a beekeeper and for the past several months, has struggled to keep his bees happy and alive, a common problem for beekeepers in areas that have high levels of development. If his bees have been visiting local water sources that have been contaminated by chemicals, such as Polyurethane, it could cause Colony Collapse, which in turn can drastically affect an entire area’s eco system.
“Waxing is one the oldest traditions in woodworking, and of course, bees wax has been around for forever. It dries hard. You can still wipe the door down with a Pledge wipe, but the wood can still breath. Poly just coats it and it loses something.”
“She’s also not breathing in a synthetic product.” Lewis said speaking of our superintendent who is also his daughter.
The wax we used for our gorgeous doors is also a green product and is VOC acceptable. Time consuming yes, but after seeing the finished product, I am now definitely a fan of wax sealing.
The stain set in a rich chocolate, slowly bleeding into a deep eggplant in certain places. Leaning against the creamy Venetian Plastered walls, the effect was dramatic and instantly gave the impression of tradition.
I INSTANTLY fell in love with them. Instead of a harsh shine, the wood almost glows, radiating with pride, and with each passing day, the color riches and the wood finds itself being continuously accentuated rather than unforgivingly preserved.
I have never been more exciting to move into anywhere than I am to move into THIS OFFICE!
How We Did It: step by step explanation to follow in published blog