Search Results: "door"

How to Do Pretty Much Everything Wrong: Front Door Edition!

Warning: this post is full of disappointment and personal shame. I pretty much feel like a fraud of a home-improvement-y blogger, a terrible neighbor, an awful friend, a poor example, a cheap whore…all the bad things.

So here’s what happened.

Don’t you just love a front door? I love a front door. I mean, it’s the first thing you see walking into a house. It sets the stage and the tone. Front doors are important things. You’re welcome for these pieces of valuable information.

housebefore

More than front doors in a broad sense, I really, really love my front door. Doors, rather. Before I even SAW the newel post and the banister and the original interior doors and moldings and windows inside the house, I fell in love with our front door. It has a beautiful knob, great proportions, gracious windows, fancy molding work both on and around it, a transom window above…the whole set-up just makes my heart swell, even after walking through it nearly everyday for over a year now.

I wanted to show this before shot of the house just to show what we’re working with, here. The major problems I see are 1) the stupid exterior light mounted to the molding, right above the transom window, 2) the 50s mailbox attached to the front of the door, and 3)the overall lack of dimension and interest.

I have lots and lots of plans, big and small, for restoring the exterior of the house. It’s a HUGE job—a renovation unto itself, really—so almost all of it has to wait for a while. The good news is that the roof is done an the house looks good, so it’s not pressing. At least whoever decided to put the vinyl siding up had the good sense to keep it white.

paintonpaintonpaint

ANYWAY. Fixing up some doors is a pretty manageable project when compared to, like, tearing off a house-full of vinyl siding and repairing rotted clapboard and missing trim work and all that. That’s a Someday Project. So, at some point in early summer (yes, I’ve been holding out on you…), after I’d finished the laundry room and was itching to get outdoors, I decided I really wanted to give the front doors some attention. They’d been slathered in layers and layers of paint over the years, which left more of an impression of the intricate detail work lurking underneath than a real view. I always kind of knew that the best option for these doors would be to fully strip them down to the bare wood.

This is where things start to go south, FYI. I knew I didn’t want to take the doors down to strip them—either to have them sent off to be dipped (which is a service I can’t seem to find up here for the life of me anyway…anyone?) or to chemically strip and paint them from the ease and comfort of my living room. This would have involved closing off the whole entrance to our house temporarily with plywood, and carrying really heavy doors, and none of it sounded all that fun or practical. The outermost layer of paint was applied very recently (when the house went up for sale), but layer upon layer upon layer underneath? For sure lead-based. I knew this. It wasn’t even really worth testing because…duh.

Now, the responsible way to deal with lead paint is pretty much to not deal with it at all—paint over it and let it be. Since that wasn’t an option here (I mean, sure, it was, but a shitty option), the next most responsible way to deal with lead paint is to chemically strip it, carefully containing and disposing of stripped paint to keep it out of your home/environment. Lead paint actually can be scraped and sanded as long as it is kept wet to contain any particles, and then properly disposed of, but it isn’t really recommended. There is a supposedly fabulous product widely used for historic restorations called Peel Away which is a chemical stripper that’s made specifically to take off TONS of layers of paint and contain the lead, and that was always loosely my plan for the doors.

I didn’t do that. For some reason it got to a point where I was itching to strip the doors so badly that I was willing to make all kinds of bad decisions and own up to them on the Internet rather than order the paint stripper and wait for it to get mailed to me like a grown-up. Go me.

stripping

So, I pulled out my trusty heat gun. And got to stripping. Bow-chicka-wow-wow.

You shouldn’t use a heat gun for lead paint. You shouldn’t really use a heat gun for paint removal generally because of the risk of fire, but you really shouldn’t use it for lead paint. Not only does it release small pieces of toxic paint, but the lead can also vaporize and be released into the air you are breathing as you heat gun. So do as I say, not as I do.

Anyway. I wore a mask. So there’s that? And cleaned things up as I went along. So there’s that? And vacuumed up the pieces with a vacuum equipped with a HEPA filter…so there’s that? I handled my guilt by telling myself that I don’t have children, I’m not pregnant, and my dogs were safely tucked away in the kitchen throughout the whole ordeal. So…there’s that. I’m about to get lacerated by comments, aren’t I?

Anyway, heat gunning may be bad but it is relatively quick and relatively satisfying. It still took several hours, but it was exciting to see the detail on the doors really reveal itself as I went along. Also, the odor was delicious. 

The other exciting discovery was that, while the top layers of paint were all whites and off-whites, the bottom layer of paint? The original paint color? BLACK. AS NIGHT. I really don’t see any evidence that the doors were ever stained wood, but at this point they need so much repair work that it isn’t really an option anyhow.

This isn’t at all surprising. People think of black as this color invented by sad people in the 90s, but Greek Revival houses generally heavily employed either black or dark green paint in various places: on the exterior of window sashes, on shutters, and on doors. The idea is that the black helps these elements sort of recede, which in turn makes the house look more like a Greek temple—which would have just had voids for windows instead of moveable sashes to protect from the elements and whatnot. Cool, right? I’d pretty much planned to paint the doors black regardless, but knowing that it was the original color made the decision even more of a no-brainer.

post-sanding

After using the heat gun to remove nearly all of the paint, I used my mouse sander to wet-sand the doors, still wearing a mask. Again, not the best plan in the world…but it is what it is. It worked. It’s been a couple months and I’m alive.

hardener

Seeing as the wood on these doors is somewhere around the 150-year-old mark, and some of it was a little rotted and a little dry and brittle, I wanted to give them a little extra boost in the hopes that they’ll last another 150 years without some jokester deciding to rip them out to put something shitty in their place. Anna recommended this Minwax Wood Hardener (please, get your mind out of the gutter!) stuff, which she’s used on window sashes with great success, so I figured I’d give it a try.

You guys, I have no idea what’s in this stuff. Probably cancer. Probably explosions. Probably the brain cells that it kills on contact. I don’t even care, because it’s kind of amazing. You just brush it on (with a brush you’re OK with throwing away). It dries almost immediately. The wood looks amazing—kind of like it’s just been polyurethaned—and it feels…hard. Yes. My wood was so hard. I’d like to tell you more about that, but maybe there are kids out there reading this.

HARD. WOOD. INSTANTLY. I wanted to rub it all over everything.

afterminwax

I know some people will say that the doors looked really beautiful at this point and I should have sealed them and left them as-is. If I were running some hip Brooklyn restaurant, then yes, you would be correct. If I’m trying to restore an old house that already looks a little like it’s falling down? No. There’s also the issue of this being outside, which means Mother Nature, which means rain and snow, which means rot, all of which does not add up to doors that have already seen about 150 winters and some rot and large gaps having a whole lot of future longevity. Sorry, Charlie. Paint, caulk, and wood filler is the answer here.

siliconecaulkandbondo

I used paintable silicone caulk (which should hold up better than latex) to fill in all the voids where water might collect, and Bondo as a wood-filler to reconstruct the rotted corners. Bondo isn’t really recommended as a wood-filler, particularly for exterior wood since it doesn’t expand and contract like wood does, but I know lots of people who have used it on rotted wood with great success and swear by it. It’s also relatively inexpensive and easy to work with. I buy the type that’s marketed as an auto-body filler, which is pink instead of a more natural wood color: it’s cheaper and I’ve been told it’s the exact same thing, aside from the color, which you’d be painting anyway.

bondo

Bondo is really great to work with. It’s a two-part epoxy that smells like toxic death, but basically you just have to smear it on with disposable tools (I like a paint-stirrer), wait for it to dry, and then sand it into the correct shape/finish. When I need to achieve a certain shape (like reconstructing the rabbet in the inside edge of the door), I like to use a piece of wood temporary to fill the negative space and wrap it in cellophane, which the Bondo won’t adhere to. Once it’s dry, it’s easy to just remove the piece of wood and the cellophane and sand down from there. It’s pretty much impossible to get a smooth finish during the application, but it sands very easily. I like Bondo.

primerpaintsample

ANYWAY. After the doors were Bondo’d and caulked, I primed them. Since I’ve used it so much in the past with great results, I went with Zinsser’s B-I-N shellac-based primer. This stuff is super thin and dries almost immediately, and can go over both latex and oil-based paints as well as seal in unpainted wood so that the knots don’t “bleed” through the paint over time. In my experience it’s always provided a great base for fresh paint to adhere to. I plant to use it on our interior moldings before painting them, just as an added precaution against future chipping/peeling. It’s great stuff…for interior. It even says on the can that it’s only for “spot” exterior work. Maybe I should have read the can. Maybe I should be less dumb.

molding-outlines

One of the things I noticed when I stripped the doors down was that it looked like, at some point, there was some additional molding work on the doors that kind of framed the windows. See the outline? Kind of? It was more apparent in real life. It looks like it had been removed long ago, but all of a sudden the doors looked kind of incomplete without them. And since I clearly like to torture myself and replicate original molding work and it wasn’t so hard to deduce what the molding probably looked like by looking at the moldings on the panels below…why not?

Unsurprisingly, the dimensions of wood I needed were not easy to come by. I figured the molding around the windows probably matched the outer two pieces of trim on the lower half of the doors—sort of an oblong half-oval shape and a very thin piece of molding surrounding that. I found something resembling the thin outer piece (close enough!), but the half-oval stumped me. I thought maybe I’d use my router to make something, but then it occurred to me: base shoe! Base shoe molding is different than quater-round because one side is longer than the other. Maybe if I took one piece of base shoe, and glued it to another piece of base shoe…I’d get the right shape?

half-oval

People, it totally worked. All I had to do was glue the long sides together (I used Gorilla brand wood glue), use painter’s tape to tape it together tightly while it dried, and sand the whole thing one it was dry and the tape was removed.

addedmolding

This was my singular stroke of genius throughout the whole project. I used 3/4″ 18 gauge brad nails along the length of the new glued-together trim piece for some added support, and then I was able to cut them to the right lengths, just like a regular solid piece of trim. I placed a thin line of construction adhesive along the back before using my nail gun to affix them to the doors, and then used the same paintable silicone caulk to fill the voids and nail holes.

I don’t want to self-congratulate too soon since I’m a little concerned that the half-oval piece will separate over time, but so far, it’s holding up great and looks completely legit. I don’t think anyone would ever look at my doors and pick out that the molding around the windows isn’t original. I’m pretty proud of it.

lightpatching

During this, I also filled in the hole where the old exterior light fixture had been installed. This fixture was removed when we had the new exterior lights installed (which are much better placed now, I think! they really illuminate the house beautifully at night), leaving a large hole in the top of the molding surrounding the door. I used my jigsaw to square-off the opening and then screwed a small scrap piece of lumber to the inside of the molding. Then all I had to do was cut a 5/4″ thick scrap piece of lumber to the right size, screw that into place (attaching it to the scrap I’d screwed on inside the molding first…for some reason I don’t have a picture of it—ARGH!), and cover the whole thing in Bondo. Realtalk: I still haven’t gotten to sanding down the Bondo, priming, and repainting this area. Call it dysfunction. Call it distraction. Call it sucking at life. Call it whatever you want but it’s the truth! Excuse me while I go burst into tears.

oldbell

While I was at all of this nonsense, I decided to also replace the doorbell. The old doorbell was actually really cute and understated: the problem was, there were two! Since we’ve pretty much done everything else to take this two-family home back to a single-family, taking the second doorbell out of the second floor was kind of the last thing on the hit list. I’ll admit that I felt a little sappy and emotional with this one…the house has come such a long way in the past year, and having just one single doorbell at the front door as the final nail in the coffin for this house being an on-again-off-again rental for the past almost 80 years felt really exciting.

Changing out a hardwired doorbell is SUPER  easy. The voltage on the cables is so low that you don’t even really need to turn the power off. It’s all pretty self-explanatory.

doorbell

I ordered the new doorbell from House of Antique Hardware (I got the “antique brass” finish). The price is good and I think it looks really cute, but I have to say that the quality is just OK… one of the screws did snap during installation and the button doesn’t work flawlessly. It’s fine, though, and it works well enough that I’m definitely not rushing to replace it unless it breaks. I had to patch in some of the molding with Bondo, which now needs to be primed and painted…I’LL GET TO IT, OK?

transombefore

I also removed this weird situation in front of the original transom window! At some point, somebody added a stationary storm window of sorts in front of the transom (just a piece of glass with some small molding holding it in and a “decorative” center brace…). Not only did it look bad, but it blocked all access to paint or maintain the transom window itself and the surrounding trim. I know this was put in to help with heating, but honestly…the doors are so drafty that I’m pretty much positive it wasn’t making any real difference. What really needs to happen is for the doors to be properly weather-stripped, and maybe a heavy velvet curtain hung on the inside of the house right inside the doorway in winter to keep the drafts out. Since we don’t have a vestibule, I think that’s going to be the best answer to the whole heat-loss problem. Sure, a brand new airtight door would also do the trick, but…no.

mailslot

I also installed a mail slot!! No, it’s not original, but it certainly feels more authentic to the house than the 1950s metal one, and it’s also nice that our mail gets delivered directly inside the house now! Taking a jigsaw to these old doors might have been the most panic-inducing thing I’ve ever done, but I’m so happy with how it turned out. The quality of the mail slot is great—super heavy, super substantial—and the only thing I had to do was swap out the screws it came with for longer ones, since our doors are 2″ thick and nothing is really made for that anymore. No big deal.

afterpaint1

EEP, painted doors! I do want the mail slot to look a little less…new. The brass bits are pretty shiny and I’m kind of just waiting for it to develop a little patina to blend in a little more.

I painted the doors with Benjamin Moore’s Onyx, which is a color I’ve loved for years since I used it on the doors in my apartment! It’s such a perfect black—it’s a little less intense than a true off-the-shelf black paint, but doesn’t have any trace of a blue undertone, which always seems to be my problem with paints that look off-black or charcoal grey on the swatch. I love it. Anyway, I bought a quart of the Aura exterior paint in pearl finish, which is something between a semi-gloss and an eggshell. I was SO EXCITED.

doorsafter

So, the doors look pretty good. Until you got up close a few days later.

bubbling

HOLY BUBBLING AND PEELING. Ugh. Ugh Ugh Ugh. More Ughs.

After all that fucking work…this. THIS SHIT. I’m so unhappy. Hold me.

Admittedly, I did not really research the best primers to use on exterior woodwork…and apparently used one that doesn’t even claim to be good for exteriors. Its also just doesn’t seem like the primer and the wood hardener interacted very well, for some reason, since the paint and the primer both started bubbling almost immediately—not just the paint. Major bummers.

I also think painting exterior stuff black with latex paint when the weather is really hot WITH the sun also beating down on it is maybe just a bad plan, generally. The bubbling is definitely way worse where the sun really hits it…I’m sure it’s getting HOT, which is no good for paint adhesion. Anyway, it’s just all a horrible mystery that ended in terrible sadness. Beautiful doors. Beautiful ruin. All the sadness.

I hate that I have to redo this now. Yes, the hard part is done…all the layers of paint are peeled off, the molding is restored, the mail slot is in, the doorbell is exchanged…but do I have to strip the doors AGAIN? I know the answer is probably yes. This sucks.

One weird discovery I made during this whole ordeal was when peeling off the cheap pine stops that were providing some weatherstripping. The weatherstripping was totally dried out and useless and wayyy past its prime, but what was interesting was the paint underneath—not on the doors, but on the surrounding moldings.

understopblack

BLACK. The bottom layer of paint on the doors AND the enormous molding surrounding it was BLACK.

So…was the ENTIRE door surround black? Not just the doors? Well…

moldingblack

I took my investigation a little bit further by chipping away the old wood filler and caulk between the base of the molding and the tongue and groove flooring that extends about a foot and a half out in front of the doors. I had delusions that I might strip and stain that bit of flooring, but I think I’m more inclined to just repaint it a better grey. This grey it too blue and I’m not a fan.

Anyway, yep…the bottom-most layer is black, even on the outer parts of the molding! Wasn’t really expecting that one…

Before, I was thinking I’d just paint the transom window frame black and the rest of the moldings white and call it a day. Like this poorly done photoshop mock-up:

frontdoorrendering1

Sure, yeah, it’s nice and all. I like it.

frontdoorrendering2

But knowing (or, at least think I’m knowing…) that the whole thing was originally black…do I just go for it? It would be pretty dramatic. Obviously I like DRAMA…I mean, I live for it. This photoshop mock-up is so poorly executed and flat-looking and therefore not very convincing, but maybe it could be amazing if I actually did it? The 50s metal banisters definitely need to go, and the exterior light clearly needs to be swapped out, so try to ignore those. Hmmm. Hmmmmmmmmm. Decisions.

I guess I’ll finish the doors when the weather cools down a little and hope the paint really sticks this time. Basically this whole thing was a semi-unsafe bummer and failure of a DIY project, but I guess I feel like the heavy lifting is done and all I really have to do is figure out how to make some paint stick. Still, going back and re-doing a job I already tried to do…lame. I guess that’s just how it goes sometimes.

Has this kind of thing ever happened to you? Words of wisdom? Good advice? Prayers for my soul?

Also, to all the lead-fearing folk out there: rest assured I have since procured Peel Away and will be more responsible in my lead abatement efforts from here on out.

The Doors are Open!

before1

before-2

When our house was divided into two units in the days of yore, one of the more unfortunate-looking alterations was blocking off these two doors right inside the entryway. The one in the top photo leads to the front parlor (accessible through a door in the dining room), and the one in the second photo leads to the big living room (accessible through another door in the back of the entryway. You can see how this looks on the floor plan here.). Luckily, the original doors were right on the other side of the plywood, but unfortunately they were both locked! It kind of begs the question of why the additional plywood barrier was really necessary at all, but then again, old houses come with a lot of questions about why things were done the way they were done.

My best guess is that blocking the doors this way was an attempt to further insulate the downstairs apartment from heat loss and sound, particularly if the owners chose not to heat the entryway, since it wasn’t part of anyone’s living space. You can kind of tell in the pictures that instead of just nailing the plywood up and calling it a day, whoever did this also took the time to smear a bunch of wood putty over all the nail holes and surrounding the entire edge of plywood, creating an impenetrable seal that made it more or less impossible to rip the plywood down from the front without totally messing up the surrounding moldings. Fun!

I thought we’d rip this plywood down on, like, day 1 in the house, but that didn’t happen. It didn’t happen on days 2 or 3 or 4 or 5, either, and after living this way for a few weeks, I just hit my limit of having ugly plywood sheets erected in my entryway. There’s only so much a person can take!

keys

Like most old houses, ours came with a big heavy box of keys. Almost none of the keys are labelled, so I have no idea what most of them do or if they even match any existing locks, but I was hopeful that one of the 5 skeleton keys would have to fit the locked doors.

Nope. Of course not.

We went down to the local locksmith shop, and after re-trying all of our keys, he moved on to a huge handful of skeleton keys he brought with him. No dice. Naturally.

Instead, he had to go back to the shop and make us a custom key. I would take a picture, but of course now I’ve misplaced it among our renovation disaster. We don’t really have any reason to ever lock these doors, but I hope I can find it somewhere, since we spent like $80 on all this drama and I want my souvenir.

ANYWAY. Locksmiths are magicians. He got the doors open. There was much rejoicing.

doorsblocked1

At some point, I started to wonder what was in that 6-ish inch space between the plywood and the door. Maybe there would be hidden jewels! Stacks of money! A family of borrowers!

There was none of these things. Instead, there was a big panel of weird fiberboard sheathing stuff, similar to homasote. Then with that out of the way, there were also pieces of wood running horizontally behind the plywood, nailed into the door frame. The horizontal boards were then wood-glued and nailed to the plywood, and all of the edges had received a generous coating of caulk, just for good measure.

So thorough. So impressive. So annoying.

I had thought that with the doors open, I’d be able to just knock down the plywood by running at it and throwing my body against it until it came tumbling down, a strategy I learned from handsome men encountering locked doors on TV. But with all these added reinforcements, that seemed like a recipe for a couple broken ribs, so the shrimpy nervous Jew side of me re-evaluated.

crossbraces

I started by removing all of the visible nails that I could from the doorframe with a pry bar.

jigsaw

Since the plywood still wouldn’t budge, even with the nails gone (shocker!), I broke out my jigsaw and just started cutting out sections of the wood, all haphazard and sloppy-like.

debris

Then I started kicking out sections, like the man-beast that I have become.

I went so H-A-M on this plywood, you guys. So very H-A-M.

actionshot

This action shot doesn’t begin to portray how badass I was in this moment.

Nothing can portray how badass I was. You just have to believe.

vogue

Here I am, vogueing, you know, as you do. I realize now that this post would be so much more primal and saucy if I had been naked behind that piece of plywood.

NEXT TIME.

linus

Before long, the doors were open! There was light! There was air circulation! There were new ways to get from room to room! SO. EXCITING. OMFG.

Pausing for a second, this view is the exact reason why I have no real interest in altering the existing layout of our house. I love the amount of symmetry and order that the original layout has——the way that these doors are directly across from each other (the angle of the photo makes them look a little off, but they aren’t), which is repeated with the other door to the big living room and the dining room, and the doors from the parlor to the dining room to the kitchen. A lot of people (both here on the blog and in real life) keep suggesting that I do things like widen the entry into the front parlor or open up the wall between the front room and the dining room, but that would completely throw off the proportions and sense of order that I think make the interior layout of this house really special. Designing a house this way doesn’t just happen by accident, and I think it would be an enormous mistake to start futzing with things like that.

I tried explaining this to Linus, who clearly doesn’t care.

mekko2

We get it, Mekko, you’re a beauty queen. We’re trying to talk about doors, here.

Now we just have to take the vestibule wall down! I can’t believe we closed on the house almost 2 months ago and it’s still there! The deal I made with myself is that I’d do that as SOON as the kitchen is done (celebratory demo is kind of like champagne, yes?), which means its days are verrrrrry numbered.

 

Black Doors!

There are moments in a relationship when you realize you’ve gone and found yourself a good thing. Max came home from work one day back in August to a sweltering apartment and my small, crouched figure slumped on the floor. The trouble was that somebody had stuffed wads of newsprint inside the walls that conceal our pocket doors, thereby blocking their ability to open all the way. Because this was during my it’s-hotter-than-hell-outside-fuck-it-I’m-a-nudist phase, I was unshowered and wearing only underwear. And maybe socks, for modesty’s sake. Strewn about on the floor surrounding me was a collection of our household items—a set of tongs, a broom handle, an umbrella I’d broken—and the pile of old newspapers I had slowly persuaded out of the walls over the course of what was, realistically, a several hour long effort. This is behavior that I have come to recognize as the norm for Single-Daniel, but is probably better avoided during the fragile first six months of a relationship. Yet there I sat, dirty and frustrated, reappropriating our spatula as a sort of primitive tool, much like an ape.

While alone it’s easier to focus exclusively on the task at hand, but the presence of another person inspires a sort of quick self-inspection, followed by an assessment, followed by shame. Alright, you might think, he’s seen me. Play it cool. Do you look ridiculous? Yes. Do you have a compelling reason? Certainly. And when he opens his mouth to say something like “What in the fuck are you doing down there?” you need to explain yourself. Hurriedly, you try to come up with a reason why the doors sticking out a couple of inches instead of receding nicely into the walls is a pressing problem riddled with threatening functional implications. Further, one that can only be addressed while sweaty, dirty, and mostly naked. You decide to bypass the accusatorial interrogation and just skip to the explanation.

“Some asshole past tenant stuffed about a million newspapers into our walls, and that’s why the pocket doors won’t open all the way, which looks all weird and is probably why they keep skipping off their tracks and I’ve been trying to fish them out but they’re really stuck and I lost track of time and I’m really sorry but I broke your umbrella.”

“Which newspaper?” he replied. And there it was. Not angered, nor shocked and appalled, nor even slightly surprised that he might come home to find me in such a state, there was something immensely comforting about his apathy.

“Oh, just a bunch of horse racing schedules and statistics and stuff, from the mid-70s. Nothing interesting.”

“Oh, bummer.”

And then I went back to sticking my arms into the wall and he told me about his day at work. And it was good.

Aside from what is now obvious (that Eugene Tombs was nesting in our apartment), all of our doors had an exciting laundry list of things wrong with them. The paint was chipping off the pocket doors. The bedroom and bathroom doors didn’t close. All the hardware had been painted over by careless landlords and tenants for years, and was not only ugly but also didn’t work. Poor doors. So abused.

When I first moved into this apartment, during the brief period that it was still technically just my apartment and I could be as big of an asswipe as I wanted to be, I told Max that I was going to paint all the doors black. I told other people this, too, all of whom expressed deep concern. “Really? Black? Like, black-black?” FUCK YES, BLACK. But let me just say:

Before:

After:

Yeah. They’re rad. I love my black doors. The color is Onyx by Benjamin Moore, in Pearl finish. It’s basically the perfect, perfect black. I want to live in a world of Benjamin Moore Onyx.

All the doors in the apartment (there are only three other ones, including the front door) are getting the Onyx treatment too, and I love it. Bedroom door before:

And AFTER!

I love them. Love them. You can tell me anything. Tell me they’re ugly. See if I care. I do not care. You know why? Because I love them.

LOVE.

My affection isn’t just a paint fetish thing, though. It’s also the hardware. I’m so happy with how the hardware turned out. Because it had been painted over so many, many times, it all had to be carefully cut and scraped and stripped away from the doors. Here’s a fancy close-up image I made by cropping a much wider image I had, because I took no proper before pictures. My blogging fanciness knows no bounds.

Stripping paint off stuff is one of those intensely tedious, endlessly satisfying tasks that just keeps you coming back for more. Once I got it all detached from the doors, I stuck it in a pot of boiling water (and a little dish soap), and let it simmer like a delicious hardware stew for a while. Like so:

No, I do not still cook food in that pot. Luckily, it was from a thrift store and I don’t feel too bad about it.

After a bunch of the paint has boiled off, it’s time to move this party to the sink, where you’ll scrub and pick at the stragglers while burning your hands through latex gloves beneath scalding running water. It’s fun! Let your kid do it, he/she will have a phenomenal time.

All kidding aside, it’s really kind of amazing to restore something like this—probably well over a century old—to an original, functioning condition. Hearing that door click! closed for the first time was super rewarding, and using the doorknob everyday feels like such an awesome privilege that I totally fucking deserve. 

Aside from that, I think we can all agree that the mix of the black door, the white trim, and the brass/pewter-y hardware is pretty dope. It’s all J.Crew-Men’s-Shop-Yale-Club-Old-New-England-Classic-Fancy up in here. All of those associations make perfect sense to me.

The pocket door hardware was slightly more challenging because it’s not actually very old, so the brass was super shiny and new and weird looking when I stripped the paint off them. I found something online that told me to wet them with vinegar and stick them in a hot oven for a few minutes, which would help age the brass. Usually I’m not a fan of trying to obtain faux-old finishes, but this was tiny and subtle and totally worked and I love them now.

Best for last? Okay. Best for last.

The bathroom door was a whole crazy mess of gloppy old paint and filthy and sadness.

Like, gag me with a spoon, as my father would say. But you know I’m all about that black porcelain knob.

Insert some boiling water, some taking the door off its hinges, sanding and sanding and sanding down the bottom so it would close, a few coats of paint later, and…

Here’s the outside. The wood handle makes my heart sing. I just rubbed on a couple coats of Danish oil after it dried out from the boiling and it’s so pretty.

On the inside of the door, under all the paint was this super cool lock. In case you can’t make it out, it reads: “New York City 1883 Make.” EIGHTEEN FUCKING EIGHTY THREE. That shit is old, and awesome. It had a petrified cockroach carcass inside of it. That’s history. I think it was painted black originally but the boiling took off all the paint and I ended up liking the raw metal, so I spray painted it with a matte clear coat protection so it wouldn’t rust in a steamy bathroom.

Wider angles to come, when I get my act together and photograph the bathroom. Things are looking a little different in there! (See what I did there? I love to play the tease.)

The Doors, Again.

Back in June, I put together a tutorial on how to apply removable fabric to windows in a post entitled “The Doors.” But I was mostly talking about one door. My bedroom door. Eva wasn’t moving in for a few months so there didn’t seem to be a huge rush in getting all those panes of glass covered with fabric right away on hers, too. Particularly because shortly after I completed my own door, I decided that what I’d done was more of a test run than a final product. Once assured that the fabric was there to stay (until I decided to remove it, that is), I would tear it all down and start over with something better.

What I loved about the fabric solution to our privacy issues was not exactly the fabric itself, but the way it allowed light to filter in while still creating privacy (in lieu of fussy curtains or frosted window film that would have been impossible to cut perfectly). The fabric was just a plain white twin XL sheet, rendered obsolete by the vow I made with myself to never again live in a dorm or sleep atop a twin bed. Not that there’s anything wrong with either of those things, I just happen to hate both of them.  So while the sheet was a perfect material to experiment on, it never really had the right texture and always seemed just a bit too plain to really look finished and intentional. About two months later, I found just the right fabric in, of course, my natural habitat: IKEA.

RITVA curtains, 20 smackers. They were a little pricey for this (since I’m sure I could have done better in an actual fabric shop), but the fabric they’re made out of was just so perfect. I needed it.

And then it sat. And sat. And sat. And other projects happened all around it while it continued to sit. And Eva’s door? Not covered. I thought one day she’d want to take care of it herself, or tag-team it perhaps, but it turns out Eva has about the same enthusiasm for home improvement projects as she does for blogging. It’s not for everyone, I know. So I finally just sucked it up, got my shit together, and did both of our doors in one fell swoop. And you know what? It turns out that it’s really helpful to be able to follow your own tutorials on the internet. Me, (re)teaching me. How inspiring.

See what I mean? I love the texture—sort of like a linen, but different. Complex, geometric, and interesting while still simple, clean, and modern. I think it’s just right.

I know it’s hard to get worked up when the “after” looks essentially the same as the “before,” but I swear the new fabric makes a big difference in person. If you’re still bored, here’s a “before-before” from May, just to make things more exciting and dramatic.

In any case, super nice to have both doors done—all matching and looking handsome together. One step closer to a living room that doesn’t exist in a sorry state of neglect. It’s getting there, slowly but surely.

The Doors

There are a bunch of quirky things about our apartment, among them the doors to our bedrooms. What follows is way more detail than you or I ever wanted to know about our doors. But I’m giving it to you anyway. Because that’s just the type of generosity (narcissism) this blog is all about. Here’s a picture of them from before we moved in:

There’s definitely something charming about our old, pre-war doors. I don’t really know how old they are, but they’re solid wood and way more interesting to look at than the 60s hollow-core bathroom door. And the wavy-glass windows let a lot of nice light travel through the apartment, which is a big plus since some of our windows provide sweeping views of brick walls and other peoples’ kitchens. But they’d seen their share of sloppy paint jobs, and for a couple of roommates, the glass doors are just a little weird.

Sloppy paint, gloopy hardware

The hardware had all been painted over a bunch of times, and because I like to make things difficult, I decided to take the doors of their hinges and remove all the hardware. Cue the utility knife, paint stripper, putty knife, screwdrivers, and quietly whispered expletives.

Then I boiled it all in water with some dish soap in a specially designated pot I picked up from the thrift store down the street. This is the cheap-o version of the crock-pot method, but it seemed to work just as well. Most of the paint peels off really easily after it’s all cooked for a while, but the little crevices needed some toothbrush persuasion.

I sanded all the pieces lightly and then hit them with a few coats of  Rust-oleum matte black spray paint out on the fire escape. Meanwhile, I was busy painting the doors on our living room floor. It was quite a production.

But after the hardware and doors were back in place, none of that work did anything to solve the privacy issue. The obvious solution would have been some kind of fabric curtain made for french doors, but that all seemed a bit frilly for our place. I’d been planning on using frosted glass window film I’ve seen used many times before and have actually used myself. Usually, I’d recommend it: all it takes to apply is some careful cutting, a spray bottle full of soapy water, and a squeegee. It looks great when it’s up, provides privacy, still lets in light, and most importantly is really easy to remove and doesn’t leave any sticky residue. So I bought some (from Ikea, but Home Depot carries wider rolls for a little more money).

But once I put up a few testers on a couple of the panes to see how it would look, I wasn’t happy with it. Because these doors are individual panes (the old fashioned way, y’all) and the glazing around the panes doesn’t form perfectly straight lines like you might find on a new window, there was no way to get the frosting film perfect. It didn’t look terrible, but I didn’t like the way there were accidental slivers of light around the edges or the air bubbles that formed where an edge wasn’t making direct contact with the glass in some places. And those bubbles really only get worse with time.

So I weighed my options. I went back to curtain solutions but that seemed both a little pricey and I didn’t find any I liked, which would have meant sewing. Which I can do, but it seemed like a lot of effort for something I wasn’t really digging anyway. I researched some aerosol spray-on window frosting that doesn’t actually etch the glass, but I read mixed reviews on how removable it was and it didn’t sound very durable (it-looks-good-as-long-as-you-don’t-touch-it. Ever.). I considered double-stick taping on wallpaper or something, but that would have looked awful unless I did both sides, and even then I’m not convinced it would have looked good. It also would have blocked the light.

I had read a couple years ago about a process of applying fabric to walls using cornstarch– a renter’s alternative to the semi-permanence of wallpaper. So I hopped on the internets and found the original post where I read about it and then was reassured by an Apartment Therapy post on the topic that it would be fine for windows as well.

I decided to hack up one of the fitted sheets that I bought for my dorm’s twin extra-long bed, using one of the test panels of the frosted glass as a guide. I just lightly traced it with a pencil and cut out ten rectangles to fit the panes.

Then I made the paste, which is just regular cornstarch and water. I used two tablespoons of cornstarch dissolved in 1/4 cup of water, and then added it to 2 cups of boiling water. This forms a sort of thin, misty, perverse-looking jelly.

Don’t forget to iron, kids.

Make sure the windows are nice and clean and apply the paste liberally to the back to the fabric. A chip brush might have been more appropriate than my pastry brush (its first use, appropriately, being for something like this instead of food), but it doesn’t matter. Then slap the fabric into place and use a squeegee (or credit card or anything with a hard, straight edge) to squeeze out bubbles and, as it turns out, lots of the paste you just brushed on. Have paper towels on standby. After that’s done, I lightly painted a coat of paste to the front, making sure to cover the entire surface but light enough that it wasn’t gloppy.

The fabric is much more forgiving than the film, as you can see in this side-by-side (fabric on the left, film on the right). I did cut the fabric slightly bigger, but you don’t have to worry about it bubbling around the edges because the fabric will stick to anything.

And here it is today after it all dried overnight. I can report that the starch seems to be holding really well and doesn’t look crusty or weird. And while a couple of the panes could use a re-do with a slightly bigger piece of fabric, I’m happy with how it turned out. Even more privacy than the window film, still lets in light, fully removable, and no harsh chemicals or specialty products. And not counting the previous cost of the window film (about $6 if I remember correctly), the whole project only cost $1.99 for the cornstarch, of which I still have plenty for the next time I whip up a refreshing vat of gravy or remove some errant blood stains. Plus, the project was so easy that we can change it up with a different fabric at some point in the future. But for now, I’m just going to go lounge around naked in my room.

Back to Top