“Render Unto Caesar”

by Nika

Caesar: 5. Any temporal ruler; the civil authority (Matt. 22:21)

Render: 16. Building Trades. A material made of aggregate, a binder, and water, used as a coating for walls and ceilings and as a sculptural and artistic material in architecture. Render may be used to cover less visually appealing construction materials.

The Porch Ceiling Transformation, Thus Far


There are times when I have arrived at a crossroads in life, a point where a decision had to be made without any certainty regarding the correct course. At these times, I have looked around in surprise and wondered, “How did I get here?” I expect this is a common experience, and distressing to all. I am at just such a point in my renovation of the old house.

The decision which must be made regards my front porch ‘ceiling.’ The ceiling has been newly refurbished with tongue planking and painted traditional “Haint Blue.” I think it is lovely. It was originally a plaster ceiling, but water had seeped behind it and the plaster was disintegrating. My contractor informed me that the ceiling could not be patched, but must be replaced in its entirety.

Before replacing it, I did some homework. First, I collected pricing and found that plasterers are few, and plaster is very expensive. Second, I consulted my local Historic Commissioner, who approved the choice of more economical tongue and groove planking as the ceiling material. This approval was based on a survey of homes of similar age in our Historic District, such as the Searcy House ca. 1832, seen below. Keep in mind that this is my first attempt at historic preservation. I am well-intentioned.


Now the plot thickens. I naively assumed that the local and State Historic Preservation Offices were part of the same hierarchy and would operate in harmony with one another.

I was disabused of this notion when the Alabama State Historic Preservation Office turned down the tongue and groove planking option. It seems I must replace the ceiling (again) with the original material – plaster, which is also known as ‘render’ in the building trades. I can exercise my freedom as a property owner and keep the ceiling as is, but that decision would mean giving up the possibility of the (much-needed) tax credit for historic preservation. After all, with two children at university next year, every penny will be precious. However, I must pay the substantial plasterer’s bill now in hopes of future reimbursement. And, that is particularly painful. Finally, even replacing the ceiling does not equal a guaranteed tax credit, it simply increases my chances of receipt.

I am prostrate at the feet of bureaucracy. A decision must be made soon – but my way forward is unclear.