The Dining Room Ceiling. Oops!

plasterdisaster

It seems to me that there are only a couple of general strategies to choose from when undertaking a major renovation. The first is to just bite the bullet and do it all at once, often before even moving in, usually with lots of assistance from trained professionals. Any walls that need to come down have the chance to come down, systems get upgraded in one comprehensive effort, and then everything gets put back together, painted, decorated, and BOOM…that’s it.

Then there’s the other strategy, whereby one chips away at things piecemeal for a matter of years, never with enough time or money, living endlessly in a state of chaos and destruction that hints only vaguely of progress. In an effort to avoid going completely insane, one might try to keep things contained to, say, a single room, only moving onto the next thing when that space feels more or less completed.

This isn’t an altogether bad plan, so long as one does, in fact, stay focused on one or two relatively contained projects. Where the strategy fails is when, on Saturday morning, one might decide that despite everything else going on (the entryway/stairwell/hallway, the upstairs office…), now’s as good a time as any to see just what’s going on under the dining room ceiling. Because why not?

ceilingbefore

Backing up just a little bit, our dining room ceiling was clad in nail-up acoustic ceiling tiles probably in the 1960s or 70s. Aside from being completely at odds with the architectural style of the house, they had sagged and become discolored over the years, and the crown molding that was added around the edges looked cheap and out of place. Check out that area above the arched bay window  molding——the ceiling covers the top of the molding, and the added crown further cuts it off and just makes everything look generally awful.

There was never a question in my mind that the tiles had to go, and after having them tested for asbestos (negative!), the seemingly pain-free process of getting rid of them was just soooooo tempting. It haunted me daily. We’ve been using the dining room almost constantly since we move in, and during every meal I’d just sit there, plotting.

I knew from when I took the asbestos sample that the original plaster ceiling was lurking up there, but its condition was a huge mystery. Because this renovation is fueled by 1 part coffee and 1 part delusion, I had this adorable idea in my head that the tiled ceiling was probably installed for sound insulation (since the second floor used to be its own apartment), and that the original plaster ceiling above would need a little repair work, but be completely salvageable.

tileremoval

This idea was relatively supported when we started to take down the tiles. The ceiling above, though full of many, many cracks, didn’t appear to be sagging or very damaged. Taking down the tiles themselves was going really fast, and then we’d just have to take down the furring strips and restore the plaster. “I’ll be painting by the end of the weekend!” I thought.

Oh, Daniel. You sweet handsome thing.

furringstrips

Moving across the room, though, things started looking…not so good. I’m kind of pissed that this picture is so bad because it REALLY does not portray the amount of damage that this ceiling had. There were HUGE areas of plaster completely missing, lots and lots of other areas where the plaster had separated from the lath and was crumbling and sagging, and other areas of pre-existing drywall patches that had seen MUCH better days. About 1/3rd of the ceiling was in somewhat decent shape, but the rest was a total disaster.

missingplaster

Oof. This is not exactly what we were hoping for.

missingplaster2

A lot of the plaster was being completely supported by the furring strips, so when those came down, things really started to fall apart. I still held out hope that things would be OK, but by the time the furring strips had all been removed, it became pretty clear that this ceiling was just past the point of repair.

I know that at this point plenty of people would just cover the entire thing with thin drywall and call it a day, but something about adding more and more layers to things just feels viscerally wrong to me, probably because it’s been the renovation method of choice for this house for the last hundred years. Not only does it make future renovations and upgrades much more challenging, it would also slightly lower the ceiling height (which wouldn’t be a huge deal, except that it would cover the very top of that arched molding since it’s so close to the ceiling already) and add even MORE weight for the structure of the house to hold up, which just seems like an all-around bad idea.

Even though I’m not a restoration purist by any means, it’s definitely disappointing that this ceiling wasn’t salvageable. I know plaster can be brought back from pretty dire-looking conditions (Alex from Old Town Home has a terrific series of posts about this very thing), so I was prepared to have to do a lot of work, but I really didn’t think the whole thing would have to go. I tend to think plaster is superior as a material to modern-day drywall, particularly as a sound insulator, and from an aesthetic standpoint, it just feels sort of lousy to be removing original features and materials from the house (that’s why we bought it, after all!). It also sucks to be responsible for a bunch of waste that now has to get carted off to a landfill, but removing the ceiling and starting fresh kind of seemed like the only decent option.

We learned a couple of interesting things about the house in the process of removing the ceiling, though, including that at some point the dining room was divided into two rooms! To illustrate, I made this crappy Sketch-Up model. I’ve been working on teaching myself Google Sketch-Up for a few weeks now, and I’m maybe finding it a little addictive and a fun way to plan out future renovation projects. I’ll probably bombard you with more Sketch-Up renderings every now and then, since I really can’t stop myself from making them…

diningroomwitholdwalls

Anyway, look at that funny little room carved into the dining room! My theory is that the house has gone through a couple of periods of being a single family home versus being split into two apartments. Obviously we know how the house was divided up the last time it became a two-family in the mid-70s or so, but I think it was also converted to a two-family in the 1930s (we’ve found an apartment listing in the local paper at our address from 1938!), then possibly converted back to a single family in the mid-1960s. In any case, I’m guessing that this little room inside the dining room functioned as a bedroom after the 1930s renovation, and maybe the door outside the archway was an entryway? I have no idea if this makes sense or is interesting to anyone else, but I thought it was kind of cool.

demoprocess

ANYWAY, back to plaster removal. If you’ve heard anything about how intense removing plaster is, BELIEVE EVERY WORD. It took us about 3 intense days to get the whole thing down, first of all. The dust was INSANE—despite closing all the doors and masking everything off, dust still got EVERYWHERE throughout the entire house. It doesn’t seem like it’s physically possible, but it is very possible. The biggest challenge, though, was probably the weight of it all. We might be relatively scrawny dudes, but I’ll still say that moving around bags and bags and bags of downed plaster was bonkers. It’s so very, very heavy, and so dusty, and there’s so much of it, and the whole thing just feels insane.

gaslines

We didn’t find anything terribly notable in the ceiling, but it is sort of fun and cool to see the original gas lines that lit the original light fixtures before the house was electrified. The lines are disconnected and don’t do anything now, but of course we’ll leave them in place anyway. It’s fun having that kind of history lurking behind the walls!

We saved all of the lath, just in case I end up wanting to reuse it somehow (or just give it to the very talented Ariele to do something pretty with).

bagster

To deal with all the waste, we gave Bagster a try! Have you seen this? It’s basically a massive IKEA bag, which you buy at Home Depot for about $30 and fill with all your crap (in our case, hundreds and hundreds of pounds of plaster). We filled the entire thing with the plaster ceiling and the furring strips alone (the acoustic tiles were light enough that they could go out with the regular trash, and we saved the lath!), which is just sort of an astounding amount of material to think about, particularly when I picture the relatively small and neat stack of drywall that will replace all this. The pick-up/dumping fee was $162 (it varies by region), so while it wasn’t exactly cheap, I’m not sure we could have saved any significant amount of money by using any other disposal method, and I really did not want to shuffle around 40 contractor bags of plaster any more than I had to. Overall, it was a great experience.

postdemo

Even though the whole ordeal kind of sucked, it actually feels really good to have everything opened up, cleaned out, and ready for the next step. We’re planning to run new electrical lines while it’s so easy and we have the chance (our house is mainly wired with fabric-seathed NM wire inside of armored BX cable…there isn’t anything inherently dangerous about it, but we might as well upgrade it when the opportunity presents), and having the entire ceiling open should also make it pretty easy to get some new electrical to a couple of spaces upstairs, too, which would be really exciting. The house in general is under-electrified (not enough lights or outlets!), so even though I wasn’t really expecting to do this now, it feels exciting that we can check some of this off the list sooner rather than later and be able to see at night and plug stuff in.

As for finishing the ceiling, I can’t really decide whether or not to attempt it myself. I definitely want drywall (as opposed to tongue-and-groove wood or tin tiles, both of which just aren’t right for the house aesthetically), but I’ve never drywalled before and I really don’t want to screw it up! It doesn’t seem like the hardest thing in the world, but the taping and mudding definitely takes some technique, which seems about 10 times harder to master on a ceiling. I’m in the process of getting a few quotes to hire it out, so I’ll probably go that route if it isn’t wildly expensive. I’m sort of wimpy and defeatist when it comes to drywall, I admit!

I’m super excited to get the dining room a little more together. I really love the architecture of the space, so it’s one of the rooms I’m most excited about in the house. I’ve been doing lots of planning and scheming and thinking about how I want the room to look (and a little more work since these photos were taken last week…), and I’ll share it all soon! It’s going to be great.

Also, Happy New Year, everyone! I don’t generally do the resolutions thing in a very formal way, but I do want 2014 to be full of lots of fun, lots of projects, and lots of blog posts. I hope you’ll hang around. Thanks for helping to make 2013 so much fun!


118 Comments

  1. Good job! Plaster and lath is a major mess! Your ceiling reminded me of growing up in an old farm house with an old cracked ceiling. One night my brother and I were rough housing upstairs and a 5×5 piece of plaster fell down on my mom sitting on the couch! Not long after that my dad came home and the entire ceiling was torn down by my very irate mom. That got dad in gear quick. Keep up the good work!

    • OMG, that’s horrifying!! Was she injured?? We kept talking about how dangerous it would be if a section of plaster fell on us! Yikes!

  2. first commenter wow!

    You continue to amaze and inspire – and imagine the photos belie the extremely messy conditions to get to the last one! good luck with the drywall – i know folks who have tried it and then decided half way thru to get someone in and say its DEFINITELY worth the money as the pros do it faster and better! not saying you couldnt do it but learning on a ceiling? maybe a wall for the first time? (although, again you could do it if anyone could!)

    • Yeah, that’s kind of how I feel about it…I’m TOTALLY willing to try drywalling and learn how to do it, but scared to try for the first time on a ceiling and mess it up. There’s nothing worse than a bad drywall job!!

  3. It reminds me of your own personal version of this plaster ceiling collapse: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-england-25458009

  4. I’m no expert, but I have dabbled in applying/sanding mud and I don’t think you want your FIRST attempt at drywall to be a ceiling.

  5. Wow, progress!

    I wonder if the arch was original to the house? The proportion seems out of sync, a bit, with the doors in the room, and the fact that even with the old ceiling removed, it hits very close to where the ceiling SHOULD be…it’s interesting (and lovely).

    • Hey Anne! See my response to Steve a bit further down, but yes! I think the archway is original.

  6. It’s funny how something that seems like a small project turns into such an ordeal.

    In my house renovation fantasies I continually dream about replacing all of the drywall in my house, including the ceilings, as I peel the latex paint off the ceiling in my hallway (fun fact: if you shoddily paint cheap latex over really old oil, it peels, and if you only painted one or two coats, it peels in tiny, tiny pieces like sunburned skin).

    But, there’s about 2 feet of insulation blown into my attic and I just know there’s no way they put any type of barrier in place, so taking down the ceiling drywall means most likely ending up with all that insulation inside my house. I’m also quite worried about fucking up drywall. Seemingly so simple, but it requires a certain finesse/technique.

    • YES. The charming-but-terribly-redone Beacon Hill apartment I live in has the same paint issues, and it eats me up inside that I can’t do anything about it! I’ll just grumble while I squirrel money away to afford my own renos later…

  7. I sadly know what you mean. Our original ceiling was in a pretty good shape except for the THOUSAND HOLES they made to fit in the lower ceiling. Pwepwepwe. When we took down everything we saw that the original electricity wire started to blacken the wooden beams. So it seems to be a blessing in disguise. We had everything plastered so it looks like the original ceiling now. We plastered a few rooms ourselves, it is possible. Isn’t plastering an option for you?

    • Hmmm, I’m not sure I know what you mean by plastering! Like you skim-coated drywall, or you actually replicated the traditional plastering process? The first option is definitely an option (I do want it to look like it belongs and not like a new renovation!), but I’m drawing the line at sourcing horsehair! :)

      • We didn’t do the original plastering process on the ceiling (they used straw, mortar and plaster, what a mess to take that down) but indeed isolate the ceiling and then put drywall on it. In the end we put more plaster on it than just skim-coat it, I think the reason for that is that the drywall base wasn’t that straight in the end. The walls were a different matter: we plastered them on the bare brickwork. But we have a small house, drywall and plaster would mean losing a couple of centimeters. And this layer of plaster is pretty solid.

      • They sell special drywall/plasterboard that is base meant to be plastered over. I don’t think they stock it at lowes/home depot type places but you can special order it.
        I only know this because I work for a company that makes drywall and I had to sit with our R&D guy for two hours to learn all about gypsum. I have no experience with drywall out side of that beyond fixing small holes.

      • Thanks, Amy! A few comments above have talked about Blueboard and plaster veneer, which I think is what you’re describing…it’s basically used in high-end construction and historic restorations. For a ceiling, I’m not really convinced that it will make an appreciable enough difference in the final result (assuming the drywall is done well!) to justify what I’m assuming is a significantly higher pricetag, but it’s definitely something I’ll keep in mind if we end up having to tear out any walls down the line.

  8. Honey, I hope you protected that gorgeous dining room light fixture!

    CB

    • You’re definitely joking, right?? Trust me, that light fixture is a total piece of garbage!

  9. Your experiments with sketch-up make me feel little less self-conscious about mocking EVERYTHING up in photoshop and illustrator. How did you guys come across the rental advertisement?

    • Newspapers.com! We’ve found out some fun stuff by searching the address and the names of previous owners and tenants using it.

      You should try Sketch-up! It’s really not very hard at all to get the basics down, and it’s really helpful to be able to move around in the space, view it from different angles, etc. etc. (huge congrats on all the exciting developments, by the way! Can’t wait to see more pictures of the house, and so happy to hear about the wedding!! You two!)

  10. I love those first two photos. You look so sad :) Also love that you finally got your hands on the family dining room furniture and then proceeded to (temporarily) destroy the dining room. DIY never happens in the right order but at least it’s happening. Happy New Year from NZ

  11. You might look into blue board and plaster veneer. Some people say its easier than drywall and mud. you could put a couple of panels up on the walls in your garage and just practice, see what you like better. I’ve heard many pros say that you might not be able to get a pro level plaster finish, but you can get a very nice finish on your own. as a plus, you don’t have to sand after plaster. Good luck!!!

    • Thanks, Alan——I’ll look into it!

      • I’m going to second blue board and plaster veneer. My husband was able to complete an entire bedroom wall in one day. No hours waiting for drywall compound to dry and little/no sanding. I know it can be more difficult to find plaster, but since you’ll be getting some for the hallway repair, it will be on hand, anyway.

  12. We have a plaster-and-lath home as well (1920s American Foursquare) so I can just imagine something similar behind the walls and ceilings as what you found. We haven’t taken out any walls or done anything more major than painting on our plaster, but I have heard that it is a huge mess to demo that stuff. After all the work you’ve done, I think you deserve to put your feet up and let a contractor do the drywall! I love hearing other people’s stories about their old houses (there are so many of us, and every single house is different), thanks so much for sharing.

  13. ‘I have no idea if this makes sense or is interesting to anyone else, but I thought it was kind of cool.’

    This is why I love your blogs. <3 (And it was totally interesting to me.)

  14. Daniel,
    1) you and Max look adorable and VERY strong & muscular,
    2) I love sketchup, can’t wait to see more!
    and 3) good job so far and good luck!!!

  15. We had to replace a ceiling on our second floor – the rental unit of our 100 year old two family home- when we bought the house it just looked like a little crack – by the time we closed on the house chunks had fallen and it was not ready to rent in so many ways. But this was a relatively easy fix as we too decided it was not what we wanted to be our first diy project so we paid $500 and got a brand new plaster celing – they used blue board and then skim coat plaster and then do a lot of sanding – now it’s the best looking ceiling in the house, the first floor mostly has the dreaded acoustic tiles :(
    Any way, find a good plaster guy and you will be happy every time you look up after a great meal.

    • Thanks, Rachel! I hadn’t really considered blue board + plaster veneer, but that’s sounding like a good idea. That’s about the price range I thought it would be (maybe a little more), and that definitely gives me hope…I’ve only gotten one quote back (over $3k!) and it freaked me out…I thought it would be MUCH cheaper. The cost of labor generally isn’t very high around here, so I think I just need to keep looking!

  16. Oh man…I just love coming to your blog to see what you’ve been up to. Thanks for sharing your progress with us. It’s impressive what you’ve accomplished thus far. Cannot even imagine how tired you must be after every work day. Kudos to you!

  17. I love your dust bowl photos! I’d been wondering what crazy project would be next. That is very interesting about the old room set up. There was a big move in the depressions of 1873 andThe 1930s where people really doubled up on housing. My house was originally a single family but was turned into a rooming house where 12 unrelated men lived at one point during bad economic times. (City directories used to list residents by address)

  18. This is non-ceiling related but I just want to say, I’m really happy to see you using the word addictive. What is this ‘addicting’ word that just popped up out of nowhere???

    • Thank you for this comment! The “word” addicting drives me nuts.

      • We must band together and fight this scourge on the English language! Also gift as a verb ie ‘gifted’. What’s wrong with received?

  19. You absolutely blow me away! Had to get a beer and settle in when I saw there was a new post. I’m old enough to be your grandmother, and I wish I was!

  20. Love the portraits of you guys. If you put them up in sepia or black and white you’d be hard pressed to say what year they were taken. Retro cool!

    I have also torn down a ceiling in my condo to soundproof with Quietrock.
    Wish I had done the giant Ikea bag thingy ….would have saved a lot of time and tears lol

  21. I think the clippings I found about the rental and whatnot were from newspaperarchive.com. Did you find something new?

    • Oh, whoops! I ended up joining Newspapers.com to see if I could find more stuff, and I think a lot of the same stuff came up, including the apartment listings, but I might be wrong! Thank you for correcting!!

  22. Wow! Very cool. I would recommend having a limit on the amount of projects you have going on. It can be disheartening when every area is a area where work is being done. Other than that, respect. I kind of like the beamed wooden ceiling look in the last pictures by the way. I have seen it in several finished houses and it can be absolutely beautiful.
    Happy New Year!!!

  23. We took the plaster down in our hall and I felt terrible filling the contractor bags only like 1/3 the way but they were completely un-lift-able with any more.

    We’ve drywalled twice now. The first time we just used a utility knife and it was a nightmare. Yesterday we did another round using a drywall saw, t-square, and rasp and the difference was crazy. Took like a quarter of the time. I hate getting tools that only do one job but those are totally worth it. Also – one person vacuuming the dust while the other person sawed helped a lot.

  24. I’ve done some drywall, including a ceiling. Putting the sheets of drywall up is easy, as long as you have enough help to hold it in place (it’s pretty heavy). Tape and mud…ugh. Not so bad on the walls, very bad on the ceiling. We finally had some pros come in and finish up. They had these cool stilts so they could reach and walk around. Maybe you could hire someone just for the finishing?

  25. You look like Dickensian street urchins. Fantastic.

  26. Those people were trippin’ with their $3000 quote to drywall the ceiling. It would take a crew about 10 minutes to rock that ceiling and I think the job was just too small. Okay, 15 minutes. I don’t know how far apart your joists are but you might want to go to the expense of furring out the whole thing if they’re farther than 16″ apart. It would give you a chance to shim the furring strips so the whole thing is nice and level. Blueboard and plaster is the higher end way to go and don’t agree it’s any easier and drywall. Plastering is an art.

    Also, agree with Ann that the different door and window heights are peculiar. Are all the casing profiles the same?

    • Thanks, Steve! I thought that about the quote, too. I’m definitely getting more quotes, don’t worry!! I think whether I use blueboard or drywall, trying either out for the first time on a huge ceiling is probably not a winning strategy…although I do like the idea of finding a good plaster guy. I guess I’ll try to figure out what the cost difference would be…

      It is peculiar, but I do think the archway is original! The casing profiles are the same…the horizontal baseboard moldings and vertical door and window moldings are continuous on the first floor of the house (you can see some pictures here that show what I mean!), so it’s very obvious where doorways and things were added. The two remaining windows in the bay also match all the other original windows, and the foundation and cornice on the exterior both seem to match, as well. The enclosed side porch that the door in the bay leads to, however, was a later addition, and I’m pretty sure there was originally just a third window where the door is now.

      (also, welcome to the blog! I’ve looked at your exterior overhaul so many times for inspiration——AMAZING transformation. You have a gorgeous home and have done things so well!)

  27. If you do your own drywall ceiling, you must, must must get a drywall jack to hold it up. You can rent them from Home Depot or similar places. It is vitally important that you level what you’re nailing the drywall to, so you’ll want to spend time on ladders with a level and strips of thin wood. It is work but not unreasonable – as in most things, doing the prep is the most tedious part. Good luck with whichever you decide – if do it yourself, may it be a successful experience which raises your self esteem instead of ending in tears, and if hiring out may it be a joyful experience of prompt, expert people rather than shameless hucksters. Either way, Happy New Year!

  28. We drywalled our kitchen ceiling – after a drum trap in the upstairs bathroom overflowed apparently creating a downpour into the kitchen below when I was in the shower. I mean those shitty popcorn ceiling tiles needed to go, but finding them floating in a lake that was my kitchen floor was not how I envisioned it happening.

    Anyway, the drywalling. It was not fun, but it was not too bad (says the girl not actually holding up the drywall during the process.) I think it’s doable, especially if you can wrangle a friend who has a bit of experience – it took us 2 half days over one weekend. But if you can find a good quote, I can see wanting to just hire out ordeal, you are already doing so much on your own! Good luck and either way that room is going to look so much better!

  29. I’ve used google’s newspaper archive before, but while it can find people, it doesn’t want to search for addresses. I’ve seen the address of my home mentioned in articles about the people that lived there (luckily only one family lived in the home). But when I search for the address only nothing comes up. Even in the old fashion notation with the street direction first – E111 Main.

    I’m sure your dining room ceiling will be wonderful when done, even if it takes months or years. I totally understand that bug in your bonnet that takes you from, “that needs to be fixed” to “I have to do it right now!”

  30. I think you got that family furniture into the dining room and you nesting instincts kicked in?!

  31. Those first pics of the 2 of you – hahahaha. Just so funny. You look like you should be starring in a Cohn Bros. movie.

  32. I definitely have sympathy. We had to hack off the plaster in our downstairs kitchen to a height of 3 ft shortly after buying our place,it was one of the hardest and least enjoyable jobs I have ever done. But necessary to inject damp proofing into the walls. One of the things which made it really hideous was having to completely remove an ancient fitted kitchen, then rip out the faux wood paneling (wood grain effect on hardboard) which hid the hideous electrics (cables tacked onto the surface of the plaster) and botched walls (it seemed a pantry had been removed but the holes in the walls were never made good so just areas of crosshatched base layer plaster on two walls). It took 3 years to finally get that room sorted and needed a new concrete screed floor, a full replaster and some brickwork to block up the little pantry window which had been left there painted over and covered by the panelling…

    Our upstairs lounge has a ceiling covered with polystyrene tiles – sadly they are stuck up there, glued to the original plaster ceiling. We have lived with them for 20 years and even now I don’t think we are as brave as you – after some of the other hodge jobs we have uncovered in this house I’m scared even thinking about what might be lurking up there!

  33. Hi, think about just leaving the wood beams and floorboards cleaned and stabilized, but visible! Their rough warmth could complement-by-contrast with the refined trim and pale color of the room below. Imagine incorporating uplighting onto the beams, bouncing off the underside of the boards above. How great to leave some parts of the history of the home’s structure visible, rather than covering up that rough-but-beatiful wood with banal tidy drywall. Another option would be to leave everything exposed but paint it a matte white, like a Louise Nevelson sculpture. …an invitation to think more like an architect and archeologist, less like a decorator!!! Thanks for the blog, a real inspiration and beautifully written.

    • Same thing occurred to me — I think the exposed beams and floorboards would look beautiful painted white. But that does leave the problem of how to hide all of the old and new wiring in the ceiling (unless one wants to go all-out industrial which I don’t think is Daniel’s direction).

  34. As someone who did ROOMS and ROOMs of drywall and taping on my old Bklyn townhouse (many many moons ago), here is what I think re: the skill(s):

    1) Your instinct to not start with a ceiling is a good one.

    2) But…do not be put off by drywalling walls. With the right tools and some guidance (doesn’t Home Depot do some classes on this?), you can easily master drywalling, given how handy you are.

    3). But…taping is a whole other story. I did all the taping in my 4-story house (the plaster walls and ceilings were soooo bad and damaged, largely we had to drywall everything). The garden floor is where I started and the taping there is r.o.u.g.h. The dining room ceiling is where I finished three years later and it’s beautiful. But that’s what it takes–3 years and an entire houseful of surfaces to get good.

    Bottom line: I say try your hand at drywall if the occasion rises again. It would be cheaper, I think, to do your own drywall and then job out the taping.

    Good luck!!! It’s so fun to follow your adventures and relive mine!

  35. I agree with the person who said the exposed beams look nice. I too have seen homes with wooden beams across the ceiling that were breathtakingly beautiful. In my opinion it is worth living with it that way for a while and see if it inspires you. And no drywalling or plastering will be needed . . .

    • Here is the best example I could find: http://style-files.com/wp-content/uploads/2013/10/farmhouse-1.jpg I have another one in my mind (somewhere in Italy or Spain) that has not been painted. But sadly couldn’t find it.

    • http://style-files.com/wp-content/uploads/2013/10/exposed-wall-8.jpg another example (still not the one I was looking for).

      • I TOTALLY agree that exposed beams can look great (as they do in both of those examples, and lots of others!), but it’s just completely wrong for this house. I think it works well in farmhouses or spaces that are much more rustic (or even just more architecturally ambiguous, like the first example), but this house will reallllly lend itself much better to being restored and buttoned up than made into something it isn’t! We’ll have plenty of fun getting more creative with the decor, but I do want permanent finishes to be relatively historically appropriate and in line with the original architecture of the house. It’s for the best, I promise!

  36. I vote for exposed beams … that’s how I like my beams. I think they could be really gorgeous! You could even insulate/drywall between them and still leave them peeking out (I think).

    FYI – drywall work is also VERY DUSTY. I generally like to shower every few hours while I’m mudding, sanding, etc because it’s just. that. grody.

  37. Oof! Sorry it didn’t work out for this ceiling, but it’s not horribly unexpected given what the furing strips probably did to all of those keys when they were nailed in. It’s amazing how gritty that old plaster is when it comes down on your face/hair, but the shower afterwards is one of those euphoric life altering experiences. And like you said, the weight is unreal!

    We found some of our original gas lines too, which is one of the coolest things we’ve found in our walls (besides the 1980’s film camera mirror selfie from the hunky Norwegian named Thor that once owned our house).

    One thing to keep in mind when you’re putting up the rock, the lathe makes things level even if the joists are wonky, so you might need to attach some to the bottom of the joists as you’re applying the sheetrock. I didn’t realize this at one point and ended up with a warped ceiling section that I had to take down and do over.

    Well, we’re cheering you on and can’t wait to see more. And don’t worry, you’ll have plenty of chances to try out the skim coating in Every. Other. Room.

    • 1980s selfies of Thor!! OMG. #dreams

      I asked myself so many times What Would Alex Do? throughout this whole thing (you’re the plaster guru!), and while I don’t know if it would have been this, I’m glad you don’t seem to think I majorly screwed up! I really did want to save it, but it really was worse than these photos even show and it just seemed completely impossible! But you are very right…we have LOTS of skim-coating in our future.

      Definitely noted on leveling out the ceiling! You might be able to kind of see in the pictures, but I left the original shims that were nailed between the lath and the beams in place, and I’m hoping that helps a little bit with the whole leveling situation. I reallllly don’t want a wonky ceiling, but yeah…there are definitely some irregularities!

      • WWAD? I need a bumper sticker. The answer is usually “Take 10 times longer than necessary and make the whole process hideous.” But that’s just me.

        I think you made the right choice. At a certain point you simply can’t fix it. You could always hire someone to come back in and do actual plaster on the ceiling. We had a few friends in DC do just that a few years ago and their plaster guys actually cost lest than the quotes they received for sheetrock. They used the diamond metal lath and were in and out in about 3 days. The only caveat is you have to wait for up to 6 months to paint.

        I thought I saw the lath still on the undersides of the joists, but then I couldn’t tell if it was just a visual trick. Good call on leaving it.

        I definitely think you can do the sheetrock yourself. However, I wouldn’t do it without renting one of the lifts. We put up some 5/8″ sheetrock on our ceiling and needed three people. Two to lift precariously over the ladder while the thirds quickly screws it to the ceiling. Not fun.

  38. I know it was a dirty job, but it looks so much better already! I hate those ceiling tiles :)

  39. Wow! I know this is just the beginning but it looks so much better already. I know that this is not the job that I should be envious of, but I’m so jealous that you get to do projects like this while I sit in my apartment watching the new season of Rehab Addict and living vicariously through you.
    My husband and I have been looking online at real estate in Kingston and they’re a crazy huge mansion on East Chestnut that sitting on over an acre. It’s definitely a bigger job than I could ever handle, but I can dream!

    • Oh, trust, I have looked at that listing SO many times. It’s AMAZING. I’m sure there’s plenty wrong with it, but with the right loan and the right vision…

      Just come up and we’ll all go look at it together! I’m dying to go inside.

    • That place is unbelievable!!! If it weren’t a 5.5 hour drive for us I’d be all over that place. Friggen amazing. The newel post with that creepy face alone has me sold. Damn, now I want to live in Kingston and sink the next 20 years of my life into restoring and renovating every facet of that place. It could be like our very own American Horror Story house without all of the murder.

  40. Plaster is so, so heavy. I remember swinging that sledge hammer for the first time and filling up a five gallon bucket with plaster debris… and then, not begin able to even lift it. We emptied out six big rooms – walls and ceilings – because they were trashed and moldy and disgusting – and it was 13 tons worth of plaster. Four hands, two backs. If I never shovel plaster crap off a floor again I will die happy.

    Also, it’s a complete pain to wash it out of your hair later.

    We ended up having to use resilient channels (z shaped metal) on the underside of the floor joists above because the old lumber sizes weren’t as precise as new stuff. The tops were level at the floor, but varied as much as 3/4″ at the bottom. The resilient channels let the large drywall sheets sort of “float” to level, without losing much height at all in the room. A much easier solution over suspending a track system for drywall installation.

    In the end, even without the plaster (which is lovely, I know) – but reinstalling all the original salvaged trim – the rooms look so good I think. And I do love a gorgeous (flat) ceiling. I’d stuff as many things into those open joist bays as you can. Think of this as a gift from the plaster gods, not a curse.

    • Huh, thanks for letting me know about the resilient channels! I’ve never heard of that before, but that might be a good solution for us…

      • You likely haven’t heard of resilient channels before because they are primarily used in commercial construction as a method of increasing sound and fire ratings in floor and wall assemblies. They absorb vibrations in addition to acting as furring strips, so they will help with sound transmission between floors. Bonus!

        (I can’t remember which room(s) sit(s) on top of your dining room and I’m too lazy to go and look at the plans again…though I’m really surprised that, given how often I have pored over your blog, I don’t know your plans by heart…)

      • Huh, fascinating! I feel like the sound thing is the biggest bummer about losing the plaster, so I’m intrigued!

        Over the dining room is the small office that I’ve been working on, our bedroom’s closet, and the “middle bedroom,” which may someday be a sitting/TV room kind of space.

  41. I can’t express how relieved I am when I see you go off on renovating tangents when you haven’t finished the other room(s) yet. I say this because this week we started demolishing our back verandah and rebuilding it, while we still have not finished the kitchen we started over 14 months ago. In fairness two people had fallen through it so it needs doing, but still.

    As for the drywall, I’m assuming that’s what we call plasterboard, I’d hire someone to do the ceiling if you haven’t tried it before although I think with your attention to detail you’ll do fine if you want to do the taping and mudding yourself. You know unless you want to fly me over to do it for you (somehow I think it might be cheaper to pay an actual professional).

    Beware lifting the sheets is fairly heavy and trying to hold them in place while you screw or nail them in can be tricky. I’ve promised myself we’re buying a screw gun before we do the next room!

  42. Ohh, just looking at your first picture makes me want to hold you really tight, guys, you look so tired and hopeless!
    But great progress with the ceiling! The beams look gorgeous, and I can’t wait to see how it turns out!
    It’s one of my dreams, you know, to have time, money and an old house to renovate! (But I have none, so!…)

    ;)

  43. I’d also recommend skim-coating the blue board with plaster. This will give you a look that’s more similar to your other ceilings and walls. And 3K seems ridiculously expensive for one ceiling (even for me in Boston) – you should definitely keep looking for quotes.

  44. I feel we just might be renovation approach twins- I am well known for my random decisiveness about tackling projects when the mood strikes. I vote you would be great at drywall. Perhaps hire someone else to install it for the ceiling, but the taping and mudding is pretty easy stuff for a detail-oriented person like yourself!

  45. Your excitement is infectious! It makes me want to go rip something up. Almost. Good luck with the electrical!

  46. Happy 2014, sir!

    Try dry walling sometime (although I’d be nervous to do it for the first time on a ceiling). Overall it’s pretty fun and not too complicated. The first time I did it, I practiced in a small spot.

    Oh and the pics of you and Mr Max are way too erotic for my sick and sleep deprived mind right now! GQ better watch its back.

  47. Oh god I hate dry walling. Maybe it’s because I’m super impatient and all of the taping, mudding, sanding, sanding, sanding, sanding takes for-freaking-ever. I want so badly to get better at it (I’m awful right now) but I’m just not quite sure it’s something I’m cut out for!

  48. You should definitely tuck those “dust bowl” pictures up into the new ceiling. If not for the paper mask, they would look like they were from the original build.

  49. OMG! while looking at your pictures all i could think of was: what a couple of badass brave dudes! i would be too afraid of all that stuff just falling down on my head…
    Good luck!

  50. Oh Daniel, don’t do the ceiling drywall yourselves. For the love of god, man! Think of the sanding. Oh, the humanity!

  51. You should probably have some nice small prints of those portraits made…. and hung along with a “before” photo of the house:)

  52. Unlike you, we went the UNsmart route and put all the plaster into garbage bags. One room fills 40+ bags…good times had by all…

    But after doing a whole house, we became quite speedy at taking lath and plaster down. One person with a crow bar and one with a shovel…we are un-freakin-stoppable ;)

    And you will be unhappy if you doing the drywall mudding yourself. And sanding the ceiling is the #1 worst reno job. :)

  53. Well talk about taking it down to the studs! I cannot wait to see how this turns out. One thought though – have you thought about allowing space or wiring for ceiling speakers – something small and discreet that doesn’t take away from the architectural detail of the home? I imagine you and Max will have plenty of awesome dinner parties in the future (regaling guests with humorous ceiling demolition stories) and a nice consistent background music will definitely add a touch of class. Just an idea (one I am sure you’ve already considered!)

  54. Hire it out! Best money you will ever spend. Drywall peeps will be in and out before you know it.

  55. Oh my, oh my – flashbacks! We just went through this ourselves over the summer, tearing it all down, and we looked just like you two. Filthy, constantly, but loving it.

    In any case, just a suggestion… we had a lot more structural work that had to be done (our ceiling was sagging, causing the second floor to have a huge dip), but we hired it all out, including the drywall part itself. Hiring out the drywall is surprisingly inexpensive, so grab a couple of quotes! You’ve already done the hard part.

  56. Would it be absolutely crazy to sand and paint the ceiling instead of finish over it? I personally really love modern decor mixed with refinished old exposed ceilings. If the ceiling is in too bad of shape what about crisp white or a nice black?

    I can’t imagine plastering/drywalling a ceiling on your first try (but if anyone can do it – you can!)

  57. Yes, Sketch UP models! More! More! More!
    They’re so helpful for seeing the room you’re working on in context of the entire house. I’ve gone back to the posts with your plans to get that perspective multiple times as I follow your work on this house. I’m still a renter with dreams of renovating one day. I get to live vicariously through you, even the plaster demo parts.

  58. I feel every ounce of your pain. We only took out one ceiling and it was a small one, but we did take out walls and hauling plaster is so freaking painful. It’s the most despised job of the entire renovation for me i think. We filled 5 15 yard dumpsters with plaster. Not even sure how many tons I hauled down the stairs. My shoulders ache with the memory. Definitely hire out the ceiling. Not for amateurs. I did learn to drywall this summer when we finished the little room. It’s not a horrible job, but it’s not the most fun either.

    I have a love-horror relationship with your blog. After four years, we have finished up the last of the major renovations on our dream dump. I love seeing what you are doing, but like I said, my joints ache looking at it. Keep up the good work. I never would have thought we could bring this monstrously ugly house to the elegant home it has become.

  59. I love how, in those picture, you guys match the walls. And, the exposed beams don’t look nearly as bad as the drop-in tiles, so at least it looks a little better until you do get the ceiling done.

  60. Hi! I finally have figured out how to comment. I love your blog! It is sooooo interesting to see all your improvements. Our house (REAL Upstate NY – Syracuse) is 100 years old and we have experienced the same sort of problems. Keep up the good work.

  61. The pics of the two of you kind of look like someone took really old timey photos and colorized them.

    (I know it’s capturing your misery but you both look adorable.)

  62. I just took one look at the first photo and went into full-on PTSD flashbacks from my own experiences taking out a lath and plaster ceiling. I knew right away what this post was going to be about and it stressed me out!

  63. Leave it exposed. Those exposed floor joists would look awesome

  64. My entire life is “1 part coffee and 1 part delusion”, that sentence made me smile.

  65. If you can get a reasonable quote on the drywall (and decide that’s the option you’re going with) don’t hesitate. DIY isn’t that hard, if you’re a detail person (not me), but doing your first job on a ceiling with as many potential traps as yours? Leave this one to the paid professionals, or you’ll potentially spend every evening looking at a badly taped joint until you tear the whole new assembly down…at least that demo would be easier than this one? Good luck!

  66. Do the drywall work yourself, it will be a doddle for you with your super handy ways and it will be so so much cheaper – hire/buy a drywall hoist, it makes it amazingly fast and easy to get the sheets in place. I did my first drywall diy on a ceiling while I was 8 months pregnant and it still looks great 4 years later…

  67. I’m so impressed by how much work you guys manage to do yourselves. I’m not doing any renovating, but I just feel so inspired every time a read a post like this from you Daniel. That was one heck of a hard slog . . .

    Happy New Year to you both! Hope you’re surviving the weather where you are – stay warm!

  68. Vacationing down in Key West we were walking on a dock and met a couple from
    the village in NYC – she from Brazil ( Adrianna ) and Barry. We had a nice chat
    about our dogs and as she left yelled back to check out your blog? Funny! We live
    in Stone Ridge, work in Kingston and know your lovely house on Clinton.
    I have enjoyed some of your latest posts. Good luck! The heating system is awesome!

    • Oh my gosh, that’s so funny! Yes, Adrianna and Barry are wonderful people and great friends! What a small world. Welcome!

  69. If you do the ceiling yourself, I second the recommendation to rent a drywall/ceiling jack. When I saw the workman using one to put in our ceiling I thought that thing was a piece of genius!

  70. Having redone ceilings, I definitely recommend hiring it out, especially if you’re not experienced with drywall. It’s tiring, and it takes practice to get good at the taping and spackle.

    Also, you might want to take the opportunity to throw some insulation in the ceiling. While it’s only one room, it will help with energy efficiency and with sound. In our old place we really wished we’d done it in every room, but we didn’t think of it until about halfway through. Even when we only had one room with it, it made a big difference for heating.

    Oh the things you find when renovating! Our last place had a little more than we bargained for, and we’re taking a break from places that need that level for a while. However, it does make one feel pretty bad ass to conquer those projects!!

    • I agree! Insulate as you go!! Makes a huge difference and now is the time. And, if you’re only doing a small but at a time, you can shell out for the denim insulation instead of the horrid pink fluff.

      • I actually think insulating between floors is the last thing we want to do! At least in a house like this with our heating/cooling situation (radiator heat and no A/C), I’m pretty sure that you really do want the hot air to rise and help warm the second floor during winter and escape/rise to the attic during the summer. My understanding is that insulating the building envelope is what you want to do (exterior walls and attic), but insulation between floors is really only done in the case of separate living units on each floor.

  71. I would say you don’t just need to hire a pro, you need to hire a very good pro. I have seen people very experienced with building suffer a bad outcome from things as simple as one off wall or not enough screws in a moist area. That’s in new construction houses, I’m guessing there will be more than a few unique issues when drywalling that ceiling. Don’t get me wrong, you seem to pick things up very fast but hire a very skilled pro on this job, you won’t regret it. Try out drywall on easier project with some help from someone with experience :)

  72. Oy! Only half of my craftsman cottage has plaster but almost all of West Cottage does. I love and hate it at the same time. When we took out a plaster wall in one of the bedrooms and replaced it with sheets of gyprock it took us ages and ages to smooth the seams. Would not recommend going for ceilings. Best of luck and many happy discoveries and easy repairs for 2014. PS. Would love some photos of the pups hanging around. :)

  73. I knew I was in for a good [amusing] read when I saw the photographs of you two guys looking like rejects from a chain gang, but the story got suspenseful right away! Horrifying pictures of the ceiling.

    I have a little old fixer-upper — nothing architecturally interesting — that came with one electrical outlet per room, and most of them won’t accept a three-prong appliance, e.g., a computer and peripherals. I’ve been living with work-arounds for 20 years, and I’m getting pretty tired of it. My plan? Tear-down and rebuild!

  74. A Happy New Year to You!

    “Awww, look at the two of them! What did they do now!” was what I called out when I checked here for news. Ceiling down – dear me, you can never give yourself a rest, can you! (But I totally understand that.)
    Picture by picture it looks better and better, and with the exposed beams, I thought, Well why, that’s nice and open, why not just leave it?, but I get what you mean in your other replies. It won’t go with every house, stylewise. Or might it be possible to go half-exposed? Well what do I know, my “renovation projects” are not going any further than repainting the walls.
    Seeing all the work you did there, now my back doesn’t hurt as much anymore after having scrubbed all the tile grout today. You must have adamantium spines!

    I know your house will look fantastic when it’s done! Thank you for sharing the process!

  75. I’ve been following your blog for awhile and never commented…. I love that you are taking on this house. I love older homes… they have such character that you can’t find in the newer ones.
    I have done a lot of work on my older home (although my house is much smaller than the one you are tackling!) Doing the mudding/taping yourself on a ceiling if you don’t have much experience probably isn’t a great plan. I hate the mudding/taping part so how I handled it… I put the drywall up with the help of my step-dad… then “traded” work with a girlfriend. Her and her husband where expecting their first baby and wanted the nursery painted, but he hates painting…. I just finished drywalling my bedroom and was dreading the mudding/taping. So he came and did my work and I went to do his. For the other bedroom again I drywalled and then paid someone to do the mudding/taping.
    And if you think it was messing tearing down the plaster…. just wait until sanding the drywall starts… that stuff gets EVERYWHERE!
    Something to watch out for…. if you are taking the plaster down off the walls and drywalling them the drywall will be thinner than the slats and plaster, so you have to watch how that will effect the floor once the baseboards are back up. Sometimes there will be little cracks where the flooring should be continued, but the old plaster wall used to hide.
    Good luck! Each small step is going to take a lot longer than you thought it would, but take your time…. it will be well worth it in the end. :)

  76. This post really resonated with me. I tried drywalling my ceiling once and failed. I wish you luck. I wrote about my experience here: http://oinkety.com/bruce-the-drywall-guy-is-an-artist/

  77. We had the exact same ceiling – with an extra layer of suspended acoustic ceiling tile hiding mini nail in tiles like yours and plumbing running in inconvenient places.
    I’m sure it’s been said several times (so many comments – too lazy to read them) but pros for the ceiling is well worth it. They have drywall lifts and stilts for muddimg and it takes more sanding than you think… That said, I’ve done some large size wall pitching and it can be very satisfying.
    It may sound odd, but pros to paint the ceiling is also something to consider. I know – pay for painting?! – but after priming and painting the ceilings (3 coats total) of my entire house I’d gladly pay someone!
    Anyhow, lovely house, lovely blog. Glad to see your progress!

  78. *patching

  79. Daniel, I found my way here this morning, via a comment someone left on Urban Cottage blog and a sidebar entry on another blog. I have been sitting here reading for over an hour. What you are doing to your house is what I did to ours five years ago … and the renovation continues, at a slower pace now that we are living here. (How I wish I had been blogging, or knew what a blog even was, while this place was my full-time job.) Your adventure with the dining room ceiling mirrors my thought process with our living room, without the acoustic tiles. I sit there and scheme, but haven’t pulled the trigger yet.

    Anyway, since I have enjoyed this place of yours so much, I am off now to subscribe, or follow, or whatever, so I can be here whenever something new is posted. Until then, I will continue reading. It is delightful to ‘meet’ you!
    Connie
    (hopefully this didn’t post verbatum on two different entries. Had a connection problem on your gutter post, so I moved to this one to leave my note. Copied it before hitting submit, so I didn’t lose it in the glitch.

  80. Why remove the lathe? In any event, sure either drywall or plaster will be fine. Sometimes drywall ceilings show seams. In the meantime, you could put up some inexpensive Indian bedspreads or something, will look cool.

  81. I can totally relate to this. My husband and I just took down the plaster ceiling in the 1910 house we’re renovating. To get to it, we had to take down a drop ceiling then acoustic tiles just like yours. We wanted to keep the plaster ceiling (it was actually in fine condition) but the homeowners before us chose the lazy route and glued the acoustic tiles directly to the ceiling instead of using furring strips (dealing with their many cheap fixes has been so, so infuriating). Anyway, that stuff seriously weighs a ton! We’re also going to go the drywall route.

  82. We’ve done several drywall ceilings ourselves, and the results were much better than I would have thought when we started. However, I gotta say that while the work isn’t hard, it is VERY tedious, and takes a lot out of your shoulders. I would LOVE to hire pros the next time the subject of drywalling ceilings comes up.

    I am quite interested in how you approach this project because we have NASTY drop ceilings in three rooms that Gotta Go just as soon as I can convince DH that they are a higher priority than he thinks they are. (Lord knows, as much as I piss and moan about those ceilings you would think he’d have caught on by now – but I digress.)

    I love your house and the things you have done so far. Can’t wait to see what you come up with next!

  83. Those first two shots are like a Kenneth Cole ad.

    As a trained archivist, nothing continues to give me more pleasure than the mysteries and quirks of old houses and the items and people they house. So, thank you!

    (P.S. If you do run across any hunky Norwegian selfies, please do the right thing and share with us!)

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