27 Aug - 2018

Ask a Historic Preservation Consultant: An Interview with Mary Delaney Krugman

Mary Delaney Krugman Associates, Inc., Historic Preservation Consultants, is an award-winning, woman-owned firm with special expertise in historical research, preservation planning, and regulatory compliance with regard to a diverse array of historic resources. We spoke with Mary about some current trends in home renovation, her own past as an artist, and what drew her to historic preservation as a career.  

FK: How did you become interested in historic preservation?

MK: When I was a child, my mother loved history and dragged me around to cemeteries looking for family tombstones, so I had an early exposure to looking at the past. I painted in oils in high school and after college became more serious about it, trained in New Jersey and New York, and exhibited in various places, including a solo show after some years. Soon after that, I entered the graduate program in Historic Preservation at Columbia University. I think people should change careers every 10 years – it keeps you fresh! Actually, I’ve been doing preservation for 26 years now, so I broke my own vow. I was also a lawyer for six years. Historic preservation combines history, political science, art, and law. In preservation, I can use both my left brain (the logical side) and right brain (the artistic side), and enjoy that my career allows some artistic expression in photographing my various projects.

FK: As an architect, I am always interested in the history of the house, as well as the current vision of my clients as we make design decisions. What are your thoughts about this process?

MK: In my view, it takes a while to get to know your house. You have to first figure out the feel of your house and live in it as it as. Find out what things drive you nuts about it. Do those things first! I have a farm in upstate New York from 1860. There are several buildings and a lot of different issues involved. I’ve been there four years and I’m still figuring out what to do next.

FK: I’m often asked about recommendations for paint colors for the exterior and interiors of the homes and buildings we worked on. What are your recommendations?

It depends. There are guides to historic colors, but colors can be updated. They don’t need to be totally historic colors. As I mentioned, I come from a fine arts background so I appreciate that there is a lot of personal preference in color choices. On the outside of the house, however, I recommend avoiding blue, unless it’s a soft gray-blue. Make your house at home in its landscape, and make color choices depending on the era of the house. Classical homes can be white, or white trim with yellow or gray for the body. Craftsman houses should use ochres, mossy greens, and earth colors. Modern houses, if not glass and steel, often use white.

FK: Many people want to change the windows on their homes to more energy-efficient ones. What do you think about the way these choices may change the feel of the house?

MK: Windows are the soul of the house. I don’t like changing them. They are part of the story and life of the house. I prefer to work with what’s there, rather than replace them. If the windows are not historic, you can go to more energy-efficient ones, but look at the history of the house to determine the correct style of the replacement windows when making those choices.

FK: When I moved into my house in the late 1970’s, the first thing I did was to strip the painted woodwork. Now people are painting their woodwork white as the first step in brightening up their homes. What are your thoughts about this?

MK: In the 1950’s, woodwork was often painted white – it was the style of the time. I grew up in a 1910 house with chestnut woodwork, which was lovely. I believe that if the woodwork is oak, chestnut, or cherry, or some other valuable wood, it should not be painted.

FK: The U.S. Department of Interior guidelines for additions to historic properties recommend that you build additions in a way that you can tell the new from the old instead of making a seamless addition that blends old and new. What do you recommend?

MK: I recommend very subtle individual changes that can identify an addition as contemporary. However, windows should line up with the historic building and the trim should be similar to the original. Slight changes in the architecture and details can mark the addition as contemporary. One shouldn’t mimic the historic structure in a new addition – it would be confusing. A historic building is unique and should remain unique.

FK: You mention that you studied Brunelleschi’s Dome in Florence as part of your study of historic preservation. Could you tell me about that part of your preservation studies?

MK: I became fascinated with Brunelleschi’s Dome from a footnote in a textbook when I was studying historic preservation at Columbia. I then went to Italy for the first time and visited Florence. I toured the dome with the engineer from the University of Florence who was in charge of the Cathedral of Santa Maria del Fiore computer monitoring project, who later invited me to dinner at his house. I didn’t know what to bring as a gift, so I brought him a Robert A. M. Stern book on post-modern architecture in America. He was very excited. He said they have a lot of classic architecture in Italy, but not much opportunity to do modern work.

The engineer was monitoring the spiral cracks in the brickwork of the dome. Brunelleschi thought that the invention of a herringbone pattern in the brickwork of the vault would direct the weight down to the ground. It was built using an inner and an outer shell that allowed the dome to be built without central scaffolding. But because of fluctuating temperatures, the heat on the exterior, and the cool interior, there was thermal expansion that caused some substantial cracking around the dome. The University was keeping a close eye on these things, so that they did not compromise the integrity of the structure beyond its endurance.

FK: Professor Vincent Scully of Yale University said “In America, save everything. We don’t have that much history compared to Europe.” Do you agree with this?

MK: Not all the time. Something has to go. Life goes on. Historic preservation is for managing change, not freezing it in time.

FK: How would people contact for you for consultation about their historic buildings?

MK: They can email me at mkrugman@mdka.com.

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