Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Welcome to the Parlor


I typically write long-winded entries about all the crummy work and endless details involved in my house endeavors. This time Ill just let the pictures and a short list speak for me.

10 quick points:

1. The paint color is Underseas - Sherwin Williams
2. It was thinned a tiny bit and brushed on. To get the overly flat powdery finish I wanted I brushed the paint till it was almost dry before moving on to the next spot. This has a tendency to "polish" the surface resulting in a more dynamic paint surface. This is tedious and time-consuming.
3. a final coat of very thin paint unified the wall and fully deadened the finish - it is entirely UNwashable ...
4. The furniture is nearly all English ebonized mahogany from about 1875.
5. The center table is American made ebonized cherry with a pink Tennessee marble top - there is a matching table in the Brooklyn Museum.
6. The shorter sofa is English rosewood, 1865 (I have the catalog advertisement for it ...)
7. The taller sofa is American walnut, @1875
8. The rug is a Sabzevar, new, bought on ebay from Iran (before they stopped the imports) I love it.
9. The crystal chandelier is original (so they claim) to the house and was a nightmare to clean
10. The picture rail is new, and works.
Original wallpaper discovered under several layers of paint - I successfully soaked off the paint to see what the paper was like
before - PO's furniture ... shudder ..........
Right before moving in the furniture - yeah, its out of focus and the color is totally off ....

Ebonized furniture, faded peacock blue walls, cherry/mahogany woodwork, Chinese import porcelain, Parian "slave"  and "Azalea" by Albert Moore in an outstanding Aesthetic movement frame (the original is nearly 9 feet tall).

Looks like the Witches oven from Hansel and Gretel.

The mantle and over mantle mirror are not original, but dang don't they look like they have been there 110 years ?

The last of the lilacs ... Period clotting only, thank you.

Bathroom After photos

Wow - that took a long time ...

Nearly 2 months after we started, the majority of work in the Master Bath is done.

Sure, I still need to put in the baseboards and door and window trim, but the bathroom is now usable. I also included our inspiration photo (bottom) so you can see where our vision came from - I wish our bath was a big as the one in the photo.

Theres a closet/cabinet on the right side of the mirror for storage.

late during ... 


inspiration photo - really, what are the options with green fixtures ??

Wednesday, June 4, 2014

The start of something ... wet

Before photos of the bathroom.

I made a serious effort to take these - since I am usually in such a rush to repair or clean that I forget to take befores.

A lot of discovery going on. Don't you love that subway tile and hex floor ?

Wish me luck.

The shower area - and my gallon of vinegar. This is hideous.
Hopefully the original faucet will be reusable - I'm not confident about that with my plumber. 

The plastic tile on the wall was originally minty green. Someone painted it white with those picked out colors added. The 2 doors are to a medicine cabinet and laundry chute.

Original 1900 tile. The top cap tile was chiseled off all around to make smooth walls ready for <gasp> plastic tile installed on top. Pretty much all the original tile is trashed.

This picture just plain makes me sad.

Floor tiles. so much damage to them - only thing left to do is cover and move ahead.

Wednesday, May 7, 2014

baby steps ...

I admit it: I get overly involved in tedium.

Once the big picture is planned, and the messy deconstruction is done, I become utterly obsessed with tedious minutia: smoothing caulk so that a corner is more crisp than it was built, adding yet another wash-coat of paint to potentially improve the color saturation of the walls, micro painting  with 00000 sized brushes and barely a thimble-full of paint.

Im there, now, in the parlor ... and I am not sure how to escape.

Over the past 2 weeks the ceiling has been nearly completed (save those late night micro-painting adventures). The stenciling is still needed, but I planned for that to wait.

My old cast iron fireplace surround and stone mantle are in place, and the over mantle mirror is bolted to the wall. I have dragged these parts around from house restore to house restore for years. They are not original to the home. Accomplishing this was huge job since I had to build a structure inside of the fireplace surround to support the combined 500-600 pounds of stuff that I attached to the wall. There is a brick chimney inside the wall, and the floor is structured to support a hearthstone, but a proper fireplace was never put in.

In my desire to complete the room before moving in furniture this weekend I am in the midsts of that tedium-cyclone. My focus becomes minute and I get overly involved in adding a layer of shellac to the baseboards, edging paint, and flicking paint drips from numerous previous owners off of the wood trim.

Maybe writing it down in the first step to healing ... nah ... I just repositioned a light to show all of the tiny imperfections on a 2 x 3 inch space in a corner ... I'll be up all night.

Friday, April 25, 2014

What's a Parlor ?

Work in the parlor, the homes most formal room, and the original music room, has been progressing fairly well, but slowly. I cannot believe this has been going on since January.
With the walls painted, the original woodwork in the house looks more outstanding the I expected. I love my bright yellow ladder and note the Dollar Tree bucket and reused yogurt container ... Where would I be without all those plastic containers for wash water and such.

After skimming the walls and priming, painting and general clean up went on fairly well.

As anyone who has sanded even a tiny patch of plaster/drywall mud knows, the dang dust finds its way into places even the dog hair never reaches.

So the walls have a single coat of paint on them, the ceiling base color is done and the border colors are in place.

Last night I finished taping off the outlines for the gold line-work on the ceiling and stuck on a first coat of gold paint. to paint the gold outlines onto the ceiling I bought the "best" quality tiny-detail style roller that Lowes had ... and I can't think of a worse investment. It stinks. it is lumpy, doesn't roll smoothly and smears the paint, but I am not about to go buy more, so I painted and cursed and painted and cursed and finally got that first coat on.

Here are some photos of the room as it is since about 10 pm last night.

Now that it's getting palpably close, I'll probably find more time to post about it here. Stay tuned ...

Picture rail in place, bands of color in place on the ceiling. outlines of gold to come - see below ...

last night I finished taping and painted the first coat of gold paint ... the final design that I did is posted below and includes stencils ... I have never stenciled before ... anyone wanna help ??

Thursday, March 6, 2014

The 10 lessons I have learned while skim coating the parlor walls:

1. If you can "get away with" one coat, do it, dammit
2. That is neither skill nor cockiness in your second coat, its teeny tiny air bubbles
3. Hang draperies and framed pictures, appropriately, to hide the pin holes - they aren't going anywhere
4. Plaster dust does not appear to be immediately deadly
5. You will act out every part of your favorite musical while performing this mind numbing, endless, suicide inducing procedure
6. Invest in a Magic Trowel: the love child of David Copperfield and Chriss Angel
7. To successfully limit tracking plaster dust in other rooms you will become the master of your bladder
8. "Catching up on sleep" is the new "black"
9. Easy clean up means skim coat naked
10. The Magic Trowel is much more magical if you remove the cover sleeve before use .........

Tuesday, January 28, 2014

The Great Dustbowl

Getting smooth(er) historic plaster walls is a simple matter of filling holes and sanding ... sanding ... sanding high spots ... really. That's all it is. Oh ... and then cleaning up the DUST ...

After pulling all the paint and paper off the plaster in the parlor, I now am in mid-patch and sand mode. One thing I already knew is that sanding dust - especially spackle and dry wall mud sanding dust - is "sticky" and it gets everywhere.

I covered the 2 doorways to the room with plastic sheeting (one opening is 9 feet tall and 12 feet wide ...) to contain the dust a little. No amount of prep will thwart it, though. It's all about limiting, not eradicating. I know I'll need to clean it up later, I just don't want to spend 3 days doing it and having it end up in my bedsheets.

One thing I discovered is that you can sand a small patch of spackle with a damp sponge, which really cuts down on dust. This morning before work I "sanded" a few areas that way and then this evening I'll actually sand the whole wall one last time before priming it just to be sure to get it as smooth as possible before skim coating.

This weekend I'm diving into the skim coating part ... cross your fingers.

Monday, January 27, 2014

Discovering Wallpaper

We've been in the house just 2 months - since Thanksgiving. We have: a brand new roof, new gutters,repaired the outlet for the dryer, repaired the ceiling plaster and painted the second floor living room, watched/watching the second floor bath ceiling droop (water), held 2 dinner parties, built a few fires in the foyer fireplace, unpacked innumerable boxes and even created a plan for the basement apartment - that we need to scrap and redo.
... and we also have spent some time since Christmas (now and then) scraping the layers of paint, sand and wallpaper off the music room walls.

How do you know its original?
From what I see, there were 3 layers of paint on the original wallpaper in the room. The final blue layer was paint mixed with sand and ruined my knuckles every time I walked by. The paper was pasted directly onto the raw plaster–never painted.Its not pretty and chalky and smooth like most plaster you think of ... its kind of rough and pitted and shows some trowel marks. But in pulling it off, I get to see the room as it was shortly after the house was built - that's pretty exciting to me. 

Interestingly, while casually reading reprints of nineteenth century architectural renderings (which include things like colors and textures to be included in the house) I noticed notations for "plaster finished for wallpaper" or "hard white 3-coat plaster." Now, in stripping the paper off the plaster walls it was evident to me that these walls were just never finished super smooth to be painted. So from my really limited observation (mine and my neighbors houses) and the architectural reprints, I am going to officially surmise that these walls were intended to be papered form the get-go.

During my 6-hour home inspection there were moments of boredom while Russ the Inspector shuttled himself onto the roof looking for crummy shingles and loose chimney stones. 

The 3 inch tall patch of paper and paint that I snapped off during the home inspection. Strangely, it was repaired when we did the walk thru and I subsequently yanked it back off ...

Tough photo to take, but this is what sanded paint looks like. It's sharp,  thick, and very tough to eradicate. 

I was pacing in the parlor and saw a small turned up edge on the wall near the baseboard ... so I flipped it up. I wanted to see what was under it. I didn't know it would be so brittle as to break right off in my hand. but I did see that there was plaster under there ... and an odd maroon smear that I couldn't quite figure out. So I knelt down and looked closer at the plaster and saw that the maroon smear was overlapped stain from the wood baseboard. WOW ... I don't even own the house and I am learning from her. I then spent an hour trying to get the little scrap of paper to stick to the wall, including the old standby, "spit and hold in place."

Matthew easily pulling the dried up paper off the wall in large sheets. some at the top stuck, other areas, where the paper was repaired and filled with drywall spackle, were stuck pretty good. I think they used plastic model cement to glue it down.

About half of the wallpaper lifted off in huge sheets with just a plastic putty knife the glue was so dried up. Some areas just didn't budge. Against my better judgement, and figuring by this point that I would be skim coating the walls, I grabbed the metal scraper and headed for the stuck stuff. 

I was able to scrape off about 1/2 of what was left (1/4 of the total) using the metal putty knife and a wiggle technique to slooooooowwwwwwllllllyyyyyyy chisel away at the stuck tight paper. After testing some areas, I realized that the final 1/4 didn't have paper beneath, so I left it. 

Heres a typical pattern of stuck on paper. The top section had a border (I could not soak it off the paint) and was stuck on tighter than the wall area. The vertical seams must have been glued back down before they painted the first time with some crazy stuck kind of glue (It looked like model cement.)

End of day one - all the missing paper came off easily - no water needed. Yeah, thats garland hanging on the window on the left. We always start our projects without clearing out the room so they will prove extra frustrating and create tons more work having to clean everything that got dirty.

Through all of this I wondered if I could ever see what the original paper looked like. So I tried soaking a large sheet in plain water overnight. The next morning, to my surprise, I was able to peel away the paint from the wallpaper in a fairly large segment - maybe I'm lucky it was all latex paint. The back side of the paint had the image of the wallpaper imprinted into it. It is exciting to have discovered under the paint the original 1906 wallpaper that graced the "music room" (so oral tradition says) of the house.

The paper is like craft paper - tan and kind of rough and unfinished - and has a block or cylinder printed (more likely) white paisley-scroll-like design.

This weekend I finished washing the walls and patching holes. Next step is sanding all the walls, priming, then, GULP, skim coating. Sure I'm nervous, but I'm in ... I own a 62 pound/5 gallon bucket of mud, a drill attachment stirrer, and a magic trowel ...

Still wet, it was very exciting to see the paper with the paint removed.

detail of paper

This is how much I was able to save.

Some stable cracking that was uncovered.

baseboard showing how the stain and finish overlapped onto the plaster.

above the main archway trim. left side is cleaned of paper residue left after scraping, right side needs to be wet and wiped down.

just funny that someone had to write this down ...

Monday, January 6, 2014


The restoration has begun in earnest now that the first room in the house has been "redone." Sure, I only repainted the upstairs living room - thats all - but it gives us a place to hang out that will be free from dirt, dust and messy walls in the upcoming year(s). It is one of only 2 rooms in the house that have painted trim (the rest sport various species of natural wood trim) which was white when we moved in. I painted it Benjamin Moore "Satchel" (a really nice leathery-brown color.)

While I was painting I got a little tired and bored (painting all those tiny dentils in the cornice was exasperating) so I stuck the wet brush in a grocery bag and shuffled over to the second floor linen closet to start painting it deep blue (yeah, I love rich, dark colored closets.) In order to paint the wall near the baseboard I had to crouch down with my head partway under the bottom shelf.

"Dammit, that gap between the boards on the back wall of the closet will need to be patched ...."

Bugs give me the willies ... can't have any place where bugs can get in. I'm going to have to seal that thing up ... right now. Not knowing what to patch it with I thought, too, that drafts might be wafting thru there, so I stuck my finger into it (it was only about 1 inch wide) to feel for air and see how deep it was … nothing .... no air ... no bugs ... just emptiness. That made me nervous. Bugs or mice - or worse - could be in there, ready to run out at me any time, now.

I grabbed the flashlight for a look.

Kneeling down on the floor of the closet, knees to my chest, head scraping the bottom of the lowest shelf, I jammed the flashlight at one side of the gap and practically blinded myself shoving my eyeball into another side ...

"HOLY CRAP, there's a room back there ...

How … in ... the … ???

I need to get a better look.

I layed on the floor, flashlight pressed against one side of the gap, head pushed even more up into the shelf above, eye practically bulging through the gap .... I looked.

How could there be a whole other room in there? Wait, the closet's back wall isn't plaster, it's drywall.  This is NEW ...

What's in that room ? dead things ? money ? antiques ?

The walls in there are glossy yellow - old oil based lead paint, I am sure - and in great condition. There was a bit of wood trim - or at least I thought it was wood trim.

I need to see even more … I need to cut out a chunk of this drywall and look inside.

I cut an 8-inch-square with my matt knife ... punched out the drywall ... was nervous and actually hesitated a breath before shining the flashlight inside.

There it was … looking freshly painted glossy yellow - the servants stair case.

Other evidence and some oral history confirms that the builder of the home had servants

It was filthy in there, but the door at the bottom was still framed out and the baseboards were in great shape. The stairs themselves were covered in thick chewy layers of dirt and dust, and there was even an old twist drill bit laying on one of them. Is that a Sylvania light bulb box at the bottom of the stairs ?

Of course I immediately started calling people. This is really exciting for me. The house seems so complete — sometimes I think I won't have enough to write about, here, and I'll have to start taking pictures of food or writing about making holiday decorations to fill in the gap — that I never expected anything of this proportion to show up.

one of the only decent understandable photos from my photo taking escapade. That's the old kitchen door on the left. It looks like there are 3 significant electrical lines (and their coordinating holes haphazardly hammered into the plaster) that run thru the stairway that will need to be dealt with 

I only have a handful of photos, most are confusing since I took them by shoving the camera into the dark hole and snapping, hoping to capture some evidence of whats in there.

I'd love to just open it up … but I need storage for linens, and the kitchen would loose 4 cabinets by opening the door back up. but the kitchen does need a serious overhaul, so … Or maybe it can be storage for both the kitchen and the second floor, or maybe I can open it and line one wall with shelving, or maybe ...

Thinking about the possibilities of "what could be" is often the best part of living in an old house.