Maybe it’s because I only stayed in my last apartment for a year and now I’ve been in this place almost 15 months (crazy, right??), but I just have this itch. By which I do not mean that I have an irritating skin condition, although while we’re being honest, I do sometimes develop a small rash under my watchband if worn for extended periods during the summer, an affliction that is somewhat devastating.
I love my apartment. I have no interest in moving any time soon. But recently I’ve been going through this disconcerting phase where I basically want to change everything. If I don’t want to get rid of the furniture, than at least I want to rearrange it or re-stain it or reupholster it or dunk it in a vat of bleach and call it artsy. I keep regretting all these decisions that I made a year ago and wondering why I didn’t think of things earlier, like maybe before I drilled 4,000 holes in a plaster wall or painted entire rooms. I toggle between wishing everything was just finished already and knowing it will probably never be finished because by the time things could be considered finished, I will just want to change them all over again. I’m like that. Some people call it indecisive. Some people call it charming. Max calls me a torturous asshole.* But really, who’s to say?
*Max never actually says that, he’s much too fearful.
The thing is, I guess I really feel about my apartment the same way I feel about my face: aside from a few “problem areas,” if I’m being honest with myself, I actually think it’s kind of pretty and most reasonable people would be OK with living inside it.
So since it ain’t exactly broke, I’m trying to refrain from breaking it with the sole purpose of trying to fix something I really can’t afford to break in the first place. Which is just an idiotic way of saying I don’t have money and I don’t have time and I need to stop fantasizing about a new sofa.
In order to distract myself, I’ve been trying to tackle some long-avoided but low-cost projects that aren’t too labor-intensive, at least while I try to save up and carefully plot my next move. Which is why I decided to paint the radiator in the living room.
Get a load of this horror show. We actually have two very old, very heavy, very cast-iron radiators in our apartment (the other one is in the bedroom), but for some reason I always found this one uniquely gross. Maybe it was how the feet were all yellowed and weird? Maybe it was that the silver paint chipped and flaked and collected on the floor like a light dusting of toxic lead paint confetti? Maybe it was that the monsters who previously painted this room bright red managed to spill some paint on the radiator, smudge it around a little, and let it dry, like hateful demons?
I don’t know why. Maybe just because it’s big and vaguely silver but mostly a mess but had significant untapped potential to be pretty? Like, what is the function of an old radiator other than to be charming? Except for heat and whatever, smart ass.
I guess the reason I didn’t do this earlier is because part of me has a very hard time accepting that I can’t fix everything exactly how I would ideally fix it in a perfect world. I knew I could paint it, but what I really wanted was to do this beautiful old radiator right, which would involve having it sandblasted and powder-coated, which would really reveal the gorgeous Victorian scroll-y patterns and make it gleam like some tortured 19th century factory worker just died in the process of making it. I looked into that stuff, but obviously it’s pricey as fuck and just definitely not an option. I thought of trying to strip it myself, but even that just seemed incredibly intense and potentially hazardous for a radiator I don’t own. But still…adding another layer of paint and 100% accepting that a thorough restoration is just never going to happen took some time.
Once I talked myself through that little year-long bout of crazy, I was ready to go and armed myself with some supplies.
1. The first step was to use a wire brush and a spackle knife to chip away at any loose and flaking bits of old paint. A word about this: yes, I’m sure it was lead paint. No, I don’t freak out about shit like that. I don’t have babies crawling around and I kept the dogs away and everyone survived it. People ask me all the time about lead paint, what precautions to take against lead paint, whether looking in the direction of a lead paint-covered object will kill you, and to be honest, I am not the authority, or even an authority on things like this. But from the advanced research I’ve done on the Google machine, it seems like lead paint is more or less harmless as long as you just leave it alone. If it’s flaking, flake off the pieces and seal all that shit in by painting right over it. Remain calm, don’t start eating the flakes like a freak, clean up when you’re done, and chances are you’ll live to blog about it. Or whatever it is you do.
(All this said, if you’re a worrywart, I encourage you to do your own independent research and make your own decisions about what you’re comfortable with. I’m not here to pressure anyone. I’m just here to dance.)
2. After you’ve flaked all the loose paint off, it’s a good idea to give your radiator a good cleaning. Of course, it was my half-Swedish half-unicorn friend, Anna, who knew exactly how to clean an old cast-iron radiator and shared her secrets with me after I voiced my frustrations one day. That magic fuzzy wand you see above is a dryer vent brush. Fun, flexible, and stylish, this glorious thing perfectly gets into all the nooks and crannies of old, crusty radiators. If you have a radiator and have never known how to get to those tricky inside parts, and then you buy one of these brushes: BE NOT ALARMED. That first cleaning will be—how shall we say—enlightening. But so worth it. Wear gloves and consider protective eyewear and a mask.
After you’re done cleaning, sweep and vacuum any dust/dead insects/loose change/misplaced teeth up off the floor. Consider making a shadowbox, disregard the idea as vile.
3. I kind of skipped ahead with that first picture, but it’s a good idea to protect the area under your radiator, just in case of any paint drips. I’m only making note of this because it’s so very uncharacteristic of me to take the time to do something so precautionary, and I feel extra proud of myself for doing it.
4. You’re ready to paint! Now, I know a lot of people like to spray paint their radiators, which is great and all, but I did NOT feel like masking off everything in the general vicinity and dealing with fumes, or trying to detach the whole radiator and drag it up to the roof, so I opted to just use regular paint with a regular brush. I also know that some people use paints made specifically for high-heat applications, but I’d also read in several places that this really isn’t necessary, particularly depending upon how often the radiator is actually used. Given that our landlords turn our radiators on about three times every winter, I figured it would be safe to just go with what I had around.
I started off with a coat of oil-based primer (the can of Zinsser in the supply photo above). The primer helps seal in weirdness while also bonding really well to the old paint and giving your new paint a great surface to adhere strongly to, preventing future chips over time. When in doubt, prime.
5. After you’ve let the primer dry a few hours, it’s time to paint. For some reason I had a can of this stuff already, which was perfect. Oil-based enamel is kind of thin and smooth and really coated the radiator nicely without getting gloppy, and dried into a very hard, very shiny, very durable shell. It really is the next best thing to powder-coating, in my opinion.
I kind of freaked myself out during the painting that I couldn’t get my brush much past the outermost parts of the radiator and worried that it would end up looking crappy and unfinished, but that’s definitely not the case. If you stand really close and look between the sections, I guess you can kind-of-sort-of tell, but really—it looks good. Like really good.
Am I right or am I right?
I mean, yeah, it would be nicer if it were stripped down and restored all fancy-like. But for a few hours and a couple coats of paint? Big improvement. And since I already had all the supplies, it was free. I like free.
I moved everything out of the corner so you could get a full view. Take it all in.
And this is a picture of my dogs because deal with it.