Of Nails and Doors

GENEVA – The last job on my Sunday chores list involved repairing one of the original interior doors in our circa 1913 Geneva flat. I say circa, because that is the date stamped on the abutting building of identical construction to ours.

While there are plenty of older buildings in Geneva, ours is probably among the few that was virtually untouched (for better or worse) until very recently.

The original condition of the building – in spirit if not upkeep – was one of the selling points when I found the apartment; I was sad to see the 100 year-old single-pane windows go recently, even knowing how inefficient and noise transparent they were.

Beautiful single pane/brass fit cedar framed windows remaining in building.
Beautiful single pane/brass fit cedar framed windows remaining in building stairway.

Until four years ago, the building had the original grenier rooms in the attic – ostensibly rented to working class families or students at some point in the 1960s, complete with a wash room, an old cook stove, a rabbit’s warren of independent rooms and the remnants of 100 years of urban dwelling.

Though I often thought to do so, I never got around to documenting the living museum in pictures, with a few exceptions such as the sign below, rescued two years ago before the attic rooms were converted into new apartments.

Hand painted French sign
Hand-painted sign prohibiting residents from using the wash room before 7:00 in summer and 8:00 in winter, and after 19:00 at night. A communal cement wash basin still stood in the attic.

Today, the ghost of workmen past, pulled me counterclockways while I was repairing one of the five interior doors in our flat of as many rooms.

My first surprise was on finding the hinges sandwiched between two sealed panels of the door, creating an “invisible” fasten. A crack in the panel had loosened the hinge and exposed the barely flared head of a finish nail.

It was when I removed the cut nail to replace it with a wood screw, that I realized the door hadn’t been touched since it was installed nearly 100 years earlier.

Rue des Confessions Bldg
Cut nail pulled from one of the original doors in my circa 1913 apt.

And I fell in love with my apartment all over again.


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