Ladies and Gentlemen, May I Present: CEILINGS!

It’s been a long time coming, so I won’t drag it out: WE HAVE CEILINGS AGAIN! SEE?!?!?!?

diningceilingafter

Backing up *just a touch*, since you know how I like to get into the nitty-gritty of it all…wayyyyy back in December, I got it in my brain that it was high time to see what was going on under the acoustic ceiling tiles in the dining room and front parlor (which we’re calling the library now, I guess!). I don’t even totally recollect my logic with this one…we’d been in the house 6 months, we’d basically JUST gotten heat, I was working on the upstairs office, the laundry room was pretty much next on the list…and for some reason I decided to destroy two relatively functional rooms? And not only that, but remove ceilings in the dead of winter in an uninsulated house? I can’t be accountable for my actions. Going back and reading the posts, apparently I didn’t really know why I did it then, so I especially don’t know now. It just happened.

ceilingbefore

To review: the ceilings both looked basically like this. I was not a fan. The tiles were probably installed in the 1960s or 70s, and then bad crown molding was installed around the edges.

I was HOPING at the time that they’d just been put up over the plaster to add a little heat/sound insulation. I had grand delusions of removing the tiles and finding a pretty plaster ceiling above it, in need of only mild repairs. Hell, there could even be the original ceiling medallions, hiding right up there! Who could know!

missingplaster2

It quickly became clear that the tiles were installed as a quick and easy solution to conceal the original plaster ceilings, which were COMPLETELY trashed. I really wanted to save them, but they were just way too far gone.

The demo of these ceilings was HORRENDOUS. It took days and was so incredibly dusty, and heavy, and generally completely hellish. Even considering the condition of the ceilings, it still felt crappy having to remove so much original material from the house, but we had to do what we had to do.

postdemo

After the demo, things pretty much looked like this. At the time, I was completely delusional about how long it would take to get new ceilings in the rooms. I literally remember telling people that I thought we’d be drywalling in a couple of weeks. All we really had to do was run a little electrical and slap some drywall up. How long could that take? I’d have ceilings in no time!

Man. So untrue. So terribly false. I’m basically the village idiot of Blogland.

First of all, having the ceilings open just seemed to afford more and more opportunities for “invisible” improvements, so what started as just re-running the existing electrical (which was, like, 3 circuits) ended as re-running all the existing electrical as well as adding a bunch of new circuits to feed receptacles and light fixtures and coaxial ports and crap upstairs. We also took the opportunity to do some alterations to the plumbing, which I’m really excited about. Next post! It’s too much to get into all of it right now.

ANYWAY, the whole ordeal seemed to drag on forever. Even though the ceilings were wide open, the walls were not, and there was a lot of fishing wires from the panel in the basement, up through the walls, and across the ceilings, up through the second floor, up those walls, up into the attic, through the attic floor joists, and down into the ceilings upstairs…it was hard work. And since my electrician is both busy and flakey (and cheap, and licensed in Kingston, which is why I keep working with him…), what was really something like a 4-5 day job got spread out over MONTHS. Then we had to get it inspected, which took an additional couple of weeks to schedule…and maybe I added some more things to the plumbing list…it just went on and on.

The plus side of the slowness is that I feel like it really gave me the time to think everything through. So in the end, we’re basically DONE with electrical and plumbing for a while (until the downstairs bathroom rough-in, I guess), which is very exciting. I feel like I really took advantage of the opportunities presented by having no ceilings and I can look back without regrets. I think. I hope.

SO. After months of hemming and hawing over whether I’d attempt to do the ceilings myself (and hearing lots of input on both sides—thank you!), I hired it out. The general consensus seemed to be that this was a job better left to the pros, and since we’re talking about big, important spaces in the house, I REALLY didn’t want to spend weeks trying to DIY this and then end up with bad-looking ceilings, especially after all the work and expense of everything behind the ceilings. Max wisely flat-out refused to be involved, so between all the materials, renting equipment, and at least hiring a second set of hands, it’s not like the DIY option was all that cheap, either.

Part of the serious complication with this job is the joists.  The house is post-and-beam construction, so the wood is hand-milled and irregular. With plaster and lath, a lot of that irregularity can be compensated for by a smooth plaster job. Drywall isn’t really like that, though—it’s rigid but has some flex, meaning that unless we wanted a really wavy ceiling where you’d probably see every joist (and worse, every seam!), it was imperative to level everything out. In the dining room, the archway molding in front of the bay window is only about 2″ below the joists, meaning that dropping the whole ceiling wasn’t really an option. Even if it had been an option, who wants to do that? So the goal was to keep the ceilings as HIGH as possible while still making them as level as possible. Big task. Scary to entrust to a stranger. Scary to DIY. Everything is scary. Hold me.

So I got four quotes, and they were ALL OVER THE PLACE.

1. The guy who swooped in and repaired our box gutters the first time around, Shane, gave me a quote for the dining room and the library. He understood the issue with the joists, and I really liked working with him before, BUT he didn’t seem to have too much drywalling experience, so that kind of scared me. Then he came back with a quote: $3,200. Yikes. Everyone says drywall installation is cheap and fast, so I wasn’t expecting that!

2. Guy #2 I found on Craigslist. He was more of a handyman, but seemed to have experience with drywall. He was also super hot, which is a huge bonus in my book. Unfortunately, he didn’t really understand the issue with the joists, and kept telling me that it should be fine to just shim out a couple small spots and slap the drywall up, which didn’t sit well. His quote for the two rooms: $1,600, including materials. Definitely an improvement, but I didn’t feel like he understood the complexity of the job so I sort of knew I wasn’t going to hire him.

3. Guy #3 was recommended by one of the electricians. Electrician guy told me he was SUPER cheap, had done work in his own house that turned out flawlessly, and he was really friendly and responsive over the phone and showed up when he said he would and all that. I really liked him—he seemed to understand everything I was saying, had good solutions, and was experienced. He assured me before leaving that he’d give me a good price and that he wasn’t the type of guy trying to gut clients. I actually asked him to quote for the two rooms AND the pantry (since it’s small) and skim-coating the old drywall ceiling in the hallway (more on that in a minute). His quote: $7,800. ALMOST EIGHT THOUSAND DOLLARS. Jesus Christ. NO.

4. Then this guy moved in next door. I introduced myself, and he was really nice, and we’d talk every now and then through the fence. It took me a few weeks to notice that on the side of his truck, there was a decal for his construction business! And it specifically listed drywall as one of his services! So I asked him what he was up to, and if he wanted to come over and give me a quote, and he said yeah, and came over, and took measurements, and talked to me about my concerns, and was generally lovely and confident that he could do a good job. I asked him for the same quote as guy #3 (both rooms, pantry, and downstairs hallway skim-coating), but he said the hallway wasn’t really even worth skim-coating and we should just rip it down and start over. His quote: $1,800 + materials.

I honestly have no real idea how much this should all cost, just to be completely frank. $1,800 still seemed kind of high to me, to be honest, but that was more colored by everyone telling me how cheap drywall installation should be. The whole joist-leveling thing makes the job WAY more complicated, so I’m assuming that was a big factor. It’s not a small job and required several days of work and 2-3 people, so the number actually seemed pretty fair, even if it was higher than I was hoping. Thinking I could maybe save a little bit of money, I asked for another quote for JUST the two rooms, excluding the pantry and hallway, and the price dropped to $1,600 + materials. So for an extra $200, I can have both of those spaces done quickly and by professionals? I mean. OK. And this guy lives next door, which might make things awkward if he does a bad job, but also makes him easy to find and less likely to flake out on me since we see each other almost everyday.

SO. HE WAS HIRED.

ceilinglessfoyer

In preparation for his arrival, I tore down the ceiling in the hallway. This ceiling was already replaced with sheetrock in the early 70s, but it looked TERRIBLE. I don’t really have any pictures detailing that, but I guess this was when drywall was still nailed up instead of screwed into place. There were seams EVERYWHERE because whoever installed it used fairly small pieces of drywall. You could literally see every single nailhead, some of which had been slathered in caulk. There was about a 1-2″ gap between the ceilings and the walls, which had been stuffed with newspapers and paper-taped over. Paper tape doesn’t really adhere to bare plaster, so the tape had all separated over time…the whole thing was just a damn mess. So even though I wasn’t super excited about MORE demo, it was the best option.

ceilinglessfoyer2

The first time drywall was installed on the hallway ceiling, they installed it over the lath (but had removed the plaster). Since the lath isn’t structurally necessary and just added thickness (which was a bummer, because the sheetrock covered the top of the molding around the front door), I opted to remove the lath, too.

What this ceiling taught me is that I never want to hear ANYONE complain about demo’ing drywall. It was literally child’s play compared to plaster demo. The whole thing came down in about an hour and was bagged up and in a Bagster in another hour, and I barely even broke a sweat. The hardest part was taking down the lath and cleaning up all the plaster keys that were hanging out above it, but it wasn’t so bad. Max helped me and we had it knocked out and cleaned up in a couple of hours.

ANYWAY. Then the plumbers did some more stuff with that ceiling opened up, and then it was time for the drywallers to come in! EEEEP!

The drywallers brought in all the drywall first (they overbought by a couple of sheets, but that’s OK…I’ll end up using it elsewhere, I’m sure!), and some 2″x3″x8′ pieces of lumber. Their original plan to level out the joists was to nail 2x3s to a few of the really wacky joists and get on with things.

Once they really got up in the ceiling, though, they realized just how wonky everything was. Some of the joists were off by a good couple of inches, the whole ceiling was sloped, all the joists were bowed in the middle…yikes! So my contractor quickly re-evaluated and went to buy enough 16-foot 2x4s to sister in every joist. When they got back, they ran a laser level to figure out the low point, and then ran the 2x4s *slightly* above that level so that we’d still be able to see the top of the moldings when the drywall went up. They then planed down a couple of really low spots on a couple of joists—it was a negligible amount, so it definitely shouldn’t affect anything structurally or anything like that.

edwin

This is about the point at which I became really glad I hired this out. Yes, it’s a good chunk of change, but I don’t think this is a solution I would have come to by myself, and it literally probably would have taken me weeks and ended up mediocre and I would have been so sad forever. They had the tools and the know-how and enough hands and bodies to get it done.

sisteringjoists

The guys spent almost the entirety of Day 1 working on leveling out the joists, which I was so grateful for! Once the new, straight 2x4s were in place, you could really see how wonky the original beams are—all of the sistering really made all the difference, here. Since I opted to go with a flat fee instead of an hourly rate, I’m so glad they really took the time to do things right.

insulation

I decided to add some R-38 fiberglass insulation just to the exterior walls, basically butting up against the brick nogging. A lot of readers suggested insulating the whole ceiling both for heat and sound, but you actually don’t really want to do that in a single-family home. If the house was still divided into apartments and on two separate heating systems, then yes, but here you actually want the heat to rise in the winter to help heat the upstairs and in the summer so that both floors don’t turn into oversized saunas. There is blown-in cellulose insulation between the upstairs ceiling and the attic floor, which is pretty much exactly how it should be given the house’s current arrangement. If we ever get around to finishing the attic, we’ll likely remove that insulation (that should only be, like, the worst job ever) and insulate the attic walls and ceiling (probably with closed-cell spray foam insulation, because technology).

libraryceilingup

Watching the drywall go up was, like, the most exciting thing EVER. Even before the taping and mudding, the difference in the rooms already felt HUGE. After living in these cavernous, dark spaces for almost nine months, the drywall immediately made everything feel infinitely brighter and taller and more complete. After all that time, I think I sort of forgot how amazing the natural light is in this house. Of course it’s one of the reasons I fell in love with it in the first place, but getting more of an inkling of how it will look all finished and painted and beautiful is super duper thrilling.

foyerceilingmudded

I’m SO glad we decided to spend the extra time and money doing the hallway ceiling. The guys only used 5 separate pieces of sheetrock (instead of, like, 15, as before!), and it’s all level and smooth and very *slightly* higher than it was before, and it just looks great. The guys taped the seams with fiberglass mesh tape and did 3 coats of joint compound before sanding. I think this photo is after coat #2 of joint compound.

topofarch

I spent a lot of time fretting with the contractor over how important it was to be able to see the top of the archway in the dining room after leveling out the joists and installing the drywall. It was a tight squeeze, but it’s ALL THERE, which is all I can really ask for. Considering it’s been covered up with acoustic tiles, crown molding, and a mess of caulk for the past 40-ish years, it feels really good to be able to restore this funny feature. I need to finish stripping the paint and caulk off of it (I’m definitely not stripping all of the molding, but this is too messed up to just paint), but I think it’s going to look amazing once it’s all done! I tried Peel Away 1 on a section of the arch just to see how it worked, and it works well! Cleaning/neutralizing the stripped wood indoors is sort of a huge messy hassle, but it’s one of those things that’s just going to require a little extra time and care. What else is new!

backofhallwaybefore

One area that I’m particularly impressed by is in the back of the hallway. Only this patch of the original plaster remained in the entire space, and because of the way it curves and slopes and seemed very solid overall, I didn’t want to demo it and try to replicate it with drywall if I didn’t have to. On the last day of work, the contractor brought in a different guy to do the final skimming and sanding on the ceilings and sort out this mess. The new drywall sat about 1/2″ above the placer, and you can see how a lot of a previous skim-coating job had failed and fallen off over the years, and I was just crossing my fingers that they could get it to look acceptable.

backofhallwayafter

WELL. HOT. DAMN. This skim-coating guy was a MAGICIAN. He did this in, I don’t know, a couple hours, and it’s FLAWLESS. It’s so, so beautiful. I keep just walking to the back of the hallway to admire it.

This is when I made the most big-boy decision ever.

You guys, this hallway is really big. Over the stairs, the wall extends, like, 20 feet high. I’ve already done the work of demo’ing non-original walls, opening up original doorways, and stripping all of the wallpaper from the plaster. In the intervening months, several new large holes had to be made in the plaster to run the new plumbing and electric stuff, and now the walls need significant patching and repair and then all need to be skim-coated. Since I spent so much time and effort up in the tiny office teaching myself this skill, and I know I’m technically capable of it, it’s always been the plan to do the hallway walls myself.

Well, after seeing the dope-ass job this guy did on my ceiling in a few hours (which definitely would have taken me days, and probably never looked as good), I asked how much it would cost for him to just skim-coat the entire hallway, upstairs and downstairs. The answer was $500. I debated for a couple of days…and then I decided to go for it.

Here’s the thing. Skim-coating is not fun. I’m OK but not great at it. I’m sure it would turn out fine, but it would also take me weeks and be super boring and messy and exhausting, and that’s a LOT of time to dedicate to something so relatively inexpensive to just get someone else to do faster and better than I can. I can think of about a thousand things I’d rather be doing with that time. I don’t overwhelm all that easily, but the list of projects on this house is a bazillion items long and if throwing 500 clams at this hallway gets it paintable and way more complete within, like, the next WEEK (omg, I know), I’m soooo down.

So that’s that. I’m so excited for the skim-coating wizard to come back and work his magic. I’m excited to not have to do it. I’m excited to clean up all of the drywall dust all over the house without feeling like it’s a waste of time because I’ll just be making more dust for weeks on end.

Oh, and WHAT’S THAT NOW? I ordered a ceiling medallion as a test to see if I liked it.

Choosing ceiling medallions, for whatever reason, has been one of the most agonizing parts of this entire renovation/restoration thing I’m doing. I’ve literally been thinking about medallions since before we even closed on the house, and bookmarking various products for over a year. I think it’s so hard because the house does have so many of its original features intact, but the ceiling medallions are long gone and we don’t know what they looked like. I’ve always felt strongly that the medallions need to look appropriate to the house, which means they should be appropriately Greek, elegant, and grand, but also sort of blend in so that what’s essentially a big piece of foam glued to the ceiling doesn’t end up being the stand-out architectural feature, you know?

I did a fair amount of research on what would fit in style-wise with the Greek Revival of it all, which led me in a more ornate direction than I was originally inclined to go. I didn’t want to go crazy with something super intricate and Corinthian, for the aforementioned reason of wanting it to blend in, but I also feared going too simple would end up looking kind of 1920s and all wrong. Finally I just closed my eyes and hit the order button on this guy at Home Depot (which really has an amazing selection of medallions online, but not in the stores) and hoped I wouldn’t hate it when it came. I chose it because I felt like the size would be pretty grand, and it’s kind of middle-ground on the intricacy spectrum, and it has that acanthus leaf motif which is typically Greek Revival.

Even when I opened the box, I kind of wasn’t sold. It seemed like maybe it was too big and maybe just completely wrong. But then I had Max stand on a ladder and hold it up to the ceiling, and I pictured it all caulked and painted and with a light fixture hanging from it, and now I’m ON BOARD with this thing. I need to order two more, which kind of sucks because of COURSE I picked, like, the most expensive piece of foam on the planet, but I think it’s just right.

I think I’m going to paint it with some watered-down joint compound or something before hanging it, to kind of fake some age into it. It looks a little too new and the pattern looks a little too defined to me.

ANYWAY. WOW THIS POST GOT LONG.

Now that the ceilings are done, next up on the agenda is finishing repairing the walls in the dining room and prepping everything for paint!! AND THEN PAINTING. AND THEN MOVING FURNITURE BACK IN. AND THEN CRYING TEARS OF JOY.

It’s all happening!


78 Comments

  1. SO EXCITING! It’s really coming along! CANNOT WAIT to see what colors you pick for paint!

  2. Jealous! We are in the process of removing gypsum board, plaster and lath in our kitchen in order to fix bathroom plumbing. Can’t wait to have everything put back together again so I can start doing the fun stuff like painting.

    • Oh, and by the way, I bought the oscillating tool you recommended a while back, and it made life SO much easier as we demo things! Your blog has been very helpful.

  3. A good skim coat guy is worth his weight in gold.

  4. When we moved into our place the ceiling rose (what we call ’em) in our kitchen had been painted. Along with the cornices. It had been painted, in a fit of mid-90s fervour, navy, yellow, white and blue (to match the mid-blue walls). Our new neighbours pointed out in fits of laughter that some genius had painted these little round white motifs with a yellow spot in the middle… so our ceiling rose looked like it was ringed with fried eggs.

    Hilarious AND kitchen-appropriate. The doofus we bought the house off (I have not enough words for the bad things he did in the name of ‘restoration’) was apparently pretty sad that we repainted such elegant, detailed roses in ceiling white.

  5. This is so awesome. Also I think it was a very prudent, adult-y decision to hire out the hallways. This way the work will be done now rather than…later. You can almost start agonizing over furniture placement now!

  6. We are disproportionately excited for you.

  7. Now that’s a good neighbor! I’m no expert, but that sounds like you got a good deal.

  8. My cheeks hurt from grinning. This is really and truly serious Progress (capital “T” and all). Your enthusiasm for these milestones and the innate beauty of your house is the sweetest thing ever, except for your dogs.

  9. In the future when you want to find out what the original fixtures most likely looked liked, I would suggest asking a neighbor with a house built around the same time. As for the ceilings, they look awesome. Going with a professional was a good decision, and I am glad you came up with such a conscientious and convenient contractor. I think that going that direction for the skim coat is wise as well. It will be $500 well spent because you will be able to use your time to do other things that will be more beneficial in the long run. Probably demoing something else, knowing you!

    • I’ve thought about that, but I don’t even really think it’s an option! Pretty much all of the houses around us are Victorians that have been chopped up into apartments over the years, so I don’t know how much help they’d give us!

  10. The prep work is always the biggest PITA but the most rewarding when you finally get to do the fun stuff-paint/furniture/decor/etc. Love to see your progress-we’re in a rental right now and it’s all NOT happening home-reno wise for now…(Almost Famous FTW!)

  11. Love the medallion.
    I used your suggestion to get paint off of antique knobs. Worked great, thanks!

  12. $1800 is a steal, sadly! We scraped the popcorn off our ceiling this spring and paid $950 just to have someone come out to re-tape the messed up seams, skim the wonky spots and do a coat of primer. Another company charged me $250 to replace two sagging sheets of drywall in another room. Note to self: learn how to drywall.

  13. This post was EPIC….Love how the ceiling looks. Cannot wait to see the next chapter to your home Reno. The aging of the medallions sounds like a great idea too…

  14. it’s great to see guys who really know what they’re doing do it. sistering level joists would just have made my brain implode. and the perfect skim coating for that large space done, and all cleaned up in a couple days’ time really is worth the money. i’m glad you too the plunge. i’m glad you fretted about the arch, it looks beautiful and must be so happy to come out of the darkness and be fully seen again. yay.

  15. It must be SO exciting for you and Max to see it all starting to come together. Wise decisions to hire out the drywall and skim-coating!

  16. That skim coat on your ceiling is so flawless! I’m in awe of it. I think you totally did the right thing in hiring him to do more work for you, he’s a genius!

  17. Amazing! It’s really coming together! Looking forward to seeing what light you are going to put up with the lovely medallions. I’m impressed by how much taller the rooms look!

  18. I am really glad you’ve put some insulation in! I’ve been concerned about that.

  19. What a relief if must be to know you made the right decision in hiring it out. It looks really great!
    I really like the medallion you chose, it seems to be the right balance between too ornate and too simple. I bet they will look amazing when all in place. As always, we can’t wait for pictures!

  20. Bravo!! We just completed the same thing in our kitchen — drop ceiling was covering a destroyed plaster ceiling. We removed everything and replaced it with drywall. A hugely messy, dusty, dirty job! Well done :)

  21. Wow, what a post!

    Glad you just went ahead and hired it all out for the ceilings, and later the entire hall. Not an expert, but it sounds like a good deal was struck with the guy next door on the drywall and skim coating.

    The dining room does look SO much better indeed, and the hall is already looking much better, though it’ll look much better once the walls are done, ready to be painted/papered or whatever you decide to do to finish it off.

    I think have a room or two DONE will help spur you on to get more of the house done. Don’t fret, there will be plenty of things you can do DIY wise throughout the house, but things like this where the rooms are large, tall etc, are best left to those who know and have the experience, places like your little study upstairs, you can do.

    Loved your enthusiasm in this post BTW. Keep it going!

    • Yeah, exactly! There are NO shortage of projects here (skim-coating and otherwise!), and right now I’m just DYING to actually start, you know, living in these areas of the house. It’ll feel much better when the mess and mayhem is more contained to a few specific rooms…right now the whole house is a construction zone and the idea of being able to paint have those spaces feel more complete in the next couple of weeks is just too good to pass up.

  22. Progress!!! The ceilings look wonderful, and I’m so happy about the arch :) Can’t wait to see you work your magic on the painting and all the finishing touches!

  23. Wow. It looks amazing. Looks like you chose the right guys for he job, though I’m a little disappointed Hot Guy didn’t pan out.

  24. Oh wow that must be a huge load off your mind! Looks great!

  25. This is soooo exciting, congratulations!
    I’m so glad that your contractor worked out! I just came back from visiting my mom, who’s renovating an old house upstate. The contractor she chose strung her along for over 5 MONTHS to drywall her house (the plaster was in bad shape and covered in layers of old wall paper and she chose to just have it all ripped out) and when all was said and done, he did a terrible job. I went home for a week to help her paint, and when I started to look around the house, I wanted to drive over and punch the guy in the face for taking advantage of my mom’s trust and inexperience with contractors and renovations. The drywall is completely wobbly and wonky, with giant gaps above all the original molding – he opted to end the drywall just above the moldings rather than setting it in behind it, telling her to caulk the gaps. The worst part of the whole thing is the ceilings. Just like your house the original joists were really uneven, but instead of leveling them, he just went ahead and screwed the drywall up as is. Each panel is a different level and every seam was VERY noticeable. My poor mom is a total perfectionist and I know it’s going to haunt her, but she doesn’t have the money to start over so we spent the entire week, which was supposed to be spent painting, trying to re-mud, smooth and sand the ceilings to make them at least appear to be somewhat level.
    I wanted to cry. I feel so bad for her.
    Its a very welcome change of pace to read your post and see what it looks like when done well.

    • Oh man, that’s terrible, Tux! I’m so sorry. I feel bad for your mama, too. Hopefully it can get sorted!!

  26. That is a FINE skim coating job! Wow! I estimate in the Netherlands it would cost you at least a thousand euro’s to get the entire hall done tough!

  27. That’s awesome! They look great and the $500 skim coat seems like a wise choice. I hired someone (a guy off CL — the only one who turned up to give me an estimate) to remove a destroyed tin ceiling and install a new drywall ceiling, skim coat, and paint it on the top floor hallway (very tall, very scary ladders involved as the bulk of the work was done from a stairwell), plus paint two other ceilings and he charged me $1500. I don’t know if it was a good price or a bad price, but there was no way on earth I was doing it and I could afford it and he got ‘er done, so I was happy with it. I think you got a great deal and a good worker who did a good job — priceless!

  28. So exciting! Your ceilings look fantastic! And you got a really great price. Drywall may be “cheap” but someone forgot to mention ceilings are expensive. You could easily spend $3,000 on just one 12 x 15 room, especially when reconstructing and leveling the structure underneath. We’ve done a lot of plastering and drywall at all kinds of prices high and low and what you paid is extremely reasonable. Congratulations! This is money well spent! And in the world of DIY renovation, you are booking — moving very quickly. Just one thing: When they come back to skim coat your existing plaster walls, do please have them use a very thin layer of pink PlasterWeld followed by fiberglass mesh before they begin the first skim coat. Otherwise you will be crying because the whole thing will start cracking in six months and will be a complete mess in a couple of years. And not only will that will be horrible and expensive to re-do but it will be even harder to do then it is now, because by then you will have refinished floors to protect, not to mention furniture, paint, etc.

    • Yeah, that’s kind of what I figured out!! I guess “cheap” is all relative.

      Thanks for the tip on the plaster weld! I’ll look into it! Definitely afraid of everything cracking and falling apart, even if it looks great at first.

      • Sure! This is what all the professional plasters do (the ones who do decorative plaster, and only plaster). You brush on a thin coat of the pink PlasterWeld. Then you just apply the fiberglass mesh on top of it, on every surface you’re going to skim coat, and it sticks very easily. The mesh comes in these giant rolls. Then skim coat away as usual. It’s very easy and will keep your plaster looking awesome and smooth for years.

  29. I usually don’t post, but I wanted to say I’m so fucking happy for you! I’ve been following this for a while, and I’m really glad that the painting stage has almost been reached in some of the main areas. Happy dance!

  30. I am just wrapping up a stupidly complicated, seemingly neverending move and crawled into bed tonight feeling worn out and more than a little cranky. This post not only made me laugh, and made me happy for you, but also put my upcoming apartment shifting and decorating dramas to scale. Big things happening at your (Kingston) Nest – congrats and thanks for the reality check.

  31. On the insulation, we just had our attic cleaned out (original woodchip insulation isn’t great when you live in the cold north!)
    They brought this giant vacuum truck and a huge hose and basically vacuumed the whole thing out.
    Our contractor, who isn’t one to shy away from tough/messy jobs said he wanted nothing to do with cleaning it out another way (there was a bit of cellulose in there as well). I think they actually spent the money for the truck after not including it in the quote.

    Something to look into when you get there.

    • Wow, I didn’t know that existed! OK, that’s DEFINITELY my plan now! I can’t imagine trying to get rid of all the cellulose myself.

  32. Hot damn is right! It looks amazing! Cannot wait to see how it all turns out!

  33. So I guess you are still on talking terms with your neighbour! Congrats on the progress :)

  34. YES!! So happy for you and your beautiful new ceilings. Reading this and seeing the work your contractor neighbor did makes me want to pack up my little ’20s bungalow with all its cracking plaster and haul it up to Kingston for those guys to do!

  35. $1800 sounds like a very good price to me. I paid $500 for one large, high-ceilinged room, and we had already done the leveling. And that was in super cheap rural Indiana. People say drywall is cheap because it is in comparison to the other trades. $500 was nothing compared to the $35,000+ I paid for electric, plumbing, and HVAC.

  36. Look at it this way: you would be spending more than 500.00 worth of your time to do the hall. And you owe it to your home to do right by her. What color grey did you finally choose for the hall? You did choose one, right? Right?

    • Yep, that’s exactly how I’m looking at it! If I paid myself $500, it would probably work out to, like, 30 cents/hour. Ha.

      I’m not totally sure about the paint!! I need to get some on the wall before I’ll feel confident about it! Stay tuned!!

  37. Looks amazing! You’re right about removing blown in cellulose insulation it is the worst job EVER. We just finished removing 33 huge garbage bags of the hellish shit from our attic. Curious if you looked into real plaster medallions?

    • You know, I did very briefly…I think the selection and price of the foam ones won me over. The foam is really easy to install, and once it’s all caulked and painted, it really is indistinguishable from the real thing.

  38. okay now I’m obsessed with medallions….I think one would work in my dining room…my house is from the 20’s..so picking the right one is the issue…hmmmm

    home depot website..here I come

    • Let the debate begin!! Machen Supply also has some really nice options, and you can sort by style. I didn’t end up finding what I wanted there, but it’s much less overwhelming!

  39. Every thing is looking great. One question though..are you going to try and remove the wallpaper or skim and paint right over them? I know that you have a plan and I’m excited to see finished rooms. You are doing an amazing job and doing it much faster than I could even imagine. Keep up the great work!

    • Oh! I should have mentioned–the “wallpaper” you’re seeing is actually paint! It was painted over the walls using a patterned roller, after a previous skim-coating job (which, yes, looks like it was done right over the wallpaper, but it’s held up fine after probably 40+ years and there really isn’t any way to remove it, anyway!). The hallway was painted right on top of the wallpaper, so that could be removed. I think the walls in the two rooms will just get sanded to bump down the texture of the pattern so that I don’t see it through the paint, but I think that should be all it really needs.

  40. GAH!! It looks freakin fantastic!!

  41. Looking good! One thing that bothers me (because I have it in my house) are the exposed radiator pipes at the back of the hall……any plans on boxing them in?

    • So, the plumbing stuff I didn’t get into in this post is actually about having all of the exposed radiator pipes re-routed into the walls/ceilings, so those two that you’re seeing are the only ones left! They feed the upstairs bathroom radiator, and will eventually be removed as well…either re-routed through the downstairs bathroom walls OR just removed entirely and the room will have a different heat source. That involves planning the bathroom renovation, though, which is about 800 mental steps ahead of where I am right now! I guess they could be boxed in, but in this case I think it would just look more awkward than just having the pipes exposed.

  42. Yay for progress… Since you seem to have an expensive taste in ceiling medallions (not judging at all!), did you consider making them yourself? There might be a slight risk of ruining your beautiful 150$+ piece, but do you think a plastic tub, silicone moulding compound, your medallion as a mold, and some plaster to fill’er back up could get you less expensive pieces that are also slightly imperfect? I’ve seen similar things done in concrete – admittedly not so detailled, but maybe it’s do-able? All the best with everything, very excited for you and Max!

  43. So beautiful. A good plasterer is a magician, I swear. Whilst I love the grandness of your house, when I think of dealing with all that trim I’m glad our house is a very modest middle class house from the 20’s, and not only are there no flourishes, everything still has the original shellac.

    Those joists are CRAZY. We just levelled our island ready for countertops and there was an inch difference across a 48 inch span.

  44. Just seeing the “before” pictures would have made me tired before beginning, you’ve got lots of courage and I’m sure the result will be stunning. Can’t wait to see the ceiling medallion installed.

  45. Hello there,
    I can’t wait to see the result!

  46. What a difference! While I’m dissapointed that hiring professionals deprived us of much eloquent agonizing had you done them yourself I’m excited that will may soon see a few ‘finished’ rooms.
    I’m curious to know how the $7800 guy would justify the huge difference in quotes.

    • My guess is that when tradespeople make quotes like that, it’s because they don’t really want the job. Maybe they have other jobs lined up and don’t desperately need the work, maybe it just looks a terrible pain in the ass.

      • I’m a cake decorator for a larger company, and we definitely have a pain in the ass fee. My bakery does a high volume of 8″ round cakes and sheet cakes, so when people come in wanting intricate shaped cakes (ie: “I want the whole cake to be an airplane!”), we start the price at roughly three times the normal rate and it rapidly gets more expensive with size and detail. We can technically do it, but we’re really not set up to be that kind of cake shop and it will disrupt the rest of our business for the weekend, so we set the prices extra high to encourage people to choose something more simple.

  47. “he said the hallway wasn’t really even worth skim-coating and we should just rip it down and start over.” He sounds like a dangerous friend for you to have!

  48. So much progress in a couple of days is intoxicating, isn’t it? I’m a DIYer, but I must say I love having competent men & women working on my house from time to time. Makes me feel pampered. I’ve hesitated putting up the foam medallions in my 1906 house, because of the crispness thing you mentioned. I like your idea of softening it up. I’d try mixing the drywall mud with paint, rather than water, for a good strong bond with the medallion. I might even go for it myself down the road :)

  49. Looks great!
    I want to see the final result already..

  50. I think you got a good price, especially with the quality of the work they did. No matter what, I find the quotes always come back higher than I expect. I don’t know why I’m always surprised by that. You’d think I would have learned by now.

  51. BEST $500 you ever spent, I’ll bet. That is one boss skim coat job on the hall ceiling!

  52. Love the progress! The photo looking up the stairs shows the carved detail of the woodwork–nice future project. Quick question: Do you suppose the opening above the stairway to the 2nd floor was larger?

    • Thanks! I don’t think that space was originally larger, no! Although it would be nice if it was today, since particularly tall people will hit their heads if they don’t duck coming up or down the stairs. Ah, old houses. :)

  53. This is stunning. Congratulations, truly!

    I’m hoping this makes you feel better: we needed about 20 square feet of drywall work done in our bathroom. All of the quotes except one were in the $500–$800 range. And this was for textured walls, which I did not want. Smooth-as-a-baby’s-bottom walls would have cost us an extra $300ish. Four quotes. Three of them were all in the same ballpark. We ended up going with the low bid and regretted it. Thankfully, we’re crafty enough that we could patch the holes(!) left by the “handyman.”

    Don’t second guess what you paid. The work looks AMAZING! Can’t wait to see the next post. Cheers.

  54. looks awesome daniel!

    i think i need your neighbor’s #. after meetings with several folks, i decided i was going to tear down the little esopus creek cottage and build new on a slab due to foundation issues, but i didn’t feel good about tossing a primarily structurally sound, albeit in need of some help, building into a landfill. so now I am looking into possibly moving it into the back yard (since the price may be about the same as tossing it in the trash) and maybe still building a new structure, but doing a no frills reno on the cottage and using it as a small getaway in the meantime and guest quarters in the future.

    i don’t know. i have like 500 floor plans and am guessing my hope of being in before winter is likely dashed (isn’t that always the way), but surely will need a contractor either way. i have already received some bids, but your neighbor sounds good. i will email you.

    best / / jill

  55. Gorgeous and smooth! Ceilings are so awful to mud, tape and sand! I know. I did all the ceilings in our house. Ugh…If I could have gotten a quote like yours I’d have hired it out but the numbers were nearer 5 grand. When you skimcoat the plaster walls I cannot say enough that you must use mesh everywhere–not just on the cracks. I did that like a good girl and now 4 years later they look worse than before I touched them. It makes me hate the house. Luckily I only one floor the wrong way. Buy the rolls of mesh and cover every inch. I didn’t use the pink plasterweld but I did use “hot mud” –the 90 minute kind and everything still looks good years later.

  56. I’ve been binge reading your blog (read about three years of your DIY adventures in two weeks, so it feels to me like you’re making great time on your house!) and wanted to commend you, like others have, on spending the money to have the hallways done by someone else. Its hard to give up control sometimes (if you’re anything like me) but in this case I think its well worth it! Anyways, really enjoying the blog. :)

  57. OMG ceiling medallions. Pinterest boards and emails full of them. I spent months looking at them. I actually examined all of the variations in the original moulding in our two-flat and tried to find curves in medallions that replicated those. I finally found a real plaster one and bought it for our bedroom, but couldn’t find a plaster one that was big enough for the dining room. I was crushed, but gave in and ordered the plastic. YOU CANNOT TELL THE DIFFERENCE WHEN THEY’RE ON THE CEILING. Seriously, it is one of the most ridiculous design dilemmas in the world. Multiple people have asked if the plastic one is original to the house (I did paint it the same sheen as the ceiling, but still, not much work at all). I hope your post on this is widely circulated to save more people this traumatic experience!

  58. I have a question for you about Peel Away 1. I have two old doors I salvaged and I need to strip them. One of them in significantly older, probably has lead paint all over it, and will require some wood putty or some such to repair parts of it once it’s stripped. My question for you is, have you tried Peel Away 7, too, and would you recommend one over the other.

    Right now, these doors are not hung, so I don’t have to work indoors, which makes me think that using Peel Away 1 wouldn’t be as messy as it could be, but the thought of not having to neutralize after stripping is so appealing (punny!).

    • I’ve only used Peel Away 1, so I can’t speak to how 7 works. Peel away 1 DEFINITELY works very well, I will say…I applied it very liberally, used the wax paper, and waited about 24 hours, and it really did take all the layers off. The neutralizing was a pain in the butt, though…I ended up taking the affected molding off the wall entirely so I could just do it outside with the hose. I hope that helps?

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