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Fair Lane's Front Porch Gets a Face Lift

After more than 100 years of standing guard in front of Fair Lane, the porte-cochere and entryway were in desperate need of some TLC.

Our restoration experts have completely disassembled the iconic entrance of Clara and Henry Ford’s Dearborn home. A porte-cochere is a structure that extends from a house over the driveway, usually with the intention to protect the people exiting a vehicle or carriage from the elements.

At Fair Lane, the porte-cochere blends with the mansion’s low-slung horizontal lines. Add in its wooden beams and oversized eaves, and it reflects the Prairie-style influence of the home’s original design. Often one sees a porte-cochere on the side of a building, but being an auto baron, it’s interesting to note that Henry Ford had his in front!

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The porte-cochere’s beams have weathered a century of harsh Midwestern seasons, and our staff was seeing signs of wood rot and damage. The glass overhang that formed the protection was also in need of attention.

A crew from Michigan-based National Restoration has disassembled the glass, copper, and wood to tackle the repairs and restoration of the structure. Owner John Fletcher says the original craftsmanship was impressive, but they did uncover rotting wood and broken beams caused by persistent moisture issues and general wear and tear.

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Fletcher’s team is charged with preserving as much of the original material as possible, so they have carefully assessed each piece as it was removed.

Finding historically accurate replacement materials has been the trickiest aspect of the restoration process. The original wood was cypress, which is not the most uncommon of species; however, the most difficult part was finding a mill equipped to cut 24-foot-long beams necessary to make our repairs. A mill with that capacity was finally located in Florida and a craftsman closer to Dearborn was located to do the heavy carpentry work.

Although National Restoration was able to preserve most of the original chicken-wire glass from the overhang, more than 30 percent of the original glass had been previously replaced with a diamond-patterned glass. We wanted to replace that to look like the original, but the historic chicken-wire glass is no longer in production. Luckily Fletcher located matching glass at an industrial building that was being demolished on the East Coast. The demolition was paused so that National could salvage the glass we needed for the porte-cochere, as well as replacements we will have to make in the Power House.

With the materials in place, Fletcher’s crew will complete the restoration and preservation work. The project is expected to be wrapped up early this fall.

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