All posts in: Kingston House

The Renovated Living Room!

longviewfromkitchen

Before we bought the house, I used to have this recurring dream all the time. I’d walk in the front door of my apartment, start walking down the hallway, and before I made it into the main living space, I’d see a door I never noticed before. Sometimes I’d discover the door while I was moving around furniture or art or fixing something up, but inevitably I’d find a way to open it and behind it I’d find a whole new room. Apparently this dream is not all that uncommon, particularly among small-space dwellers.

The thing about the newfound room was that its potential purpose was never immediately clear. There was always something kind of off about it…like it would be really long but not very wide, or wouldn’t have any windows, or there would be a two foot high step in the middle of the floor. After the excitement faded of just knowing the room existed, figuring out what to actually do with it became a significant source of stress, one that usually kept me pretty occupied until I woke up. With the basic setup of kitchen, living room, bathroom, and bedroom already covered by the rest of the apartment, where did that leave this newfound bonus space? You can see the predicament.

The room in the front of our house has always felt a little like that dream. The main floor of our house is very simple: you walk in to a nice entryway/hallway, where the stairs are located. On the left is a large living room (currently bisected into two rooms and in need of a ton of work), and on the right there’s a kitchen (and laundry) in the back, the dining room in the middle, and then this room in the front. The size of the room is generous, the ceilings are high, and the three large windows let in tons of nice light. With the “big living room” just across the hall, I was initially really resistant to making this room a more formal living space (like a parlor) or a less formal one (like a TV room/den), because I don’t really like the idea of spaces that feel too formal to get used on an everyday basis. We really don’t need a bedroom on the first floor, and while I sort of liked the idea of a nice library/study kind of set-up, using this room as another office space felt potentially sort of awkward and maybe not like the best use of space.

I know. Cry me a river. What an obscenely ridiculous issue to have.

ANYWAY. The real revelation came when I stopped for a second to think about our renovation. I’ve been at this for a year and a half now, and the house still needs crazy amounts of work. With the big living room low (maybe last…) on the priority list, it’s going to be a few years before we even get to that, and I don’t want to wait that long to start living (rather than glamping) in the house! So…living room it is. Sometimes I forget how easy it is to switch things around after the real work of the renovation is done…nothing has to be set in stone decor-wise. So I may not know exactly what this room will be in the long run, but right now I’m just celebrating that we finally have a place to hang out and kick back that isn’t our bedroom. It feels so…house-like.

chimneywallbefore

Let’s recall how this room looked two years ago, the first time we saw the house! The patterned walls were so insane. EVERYTHING (walls, ceiling, doors, trim, windows, floors) was in need of attention, some of which have since been addressed and some haven’t. You can see here where part of the baseboard was missing and the floor had been patched in, presumably after the removal of an original mantel/wood stove/stone hearth that would have sat on this wall.

chimneywallafter

And here we are today! Everything is still a huge work in progress—we already owned everything in here so it was just a matter of setting it up enough to be presentable and comfy ASAP. Decor-wise it’s falling way short but that isn’t the point of this post!

plasterceilingdemo

cornerduringdemo

skimcoatingprocess

ANYWAY. There’s a deceptive amount of work contained in these before-and-after photos. I had to completely demo and replace the wall that the “fireplace” is on, the ceiling got completely replaced, and I spent hours and hours repairing and skim-coating the remaining original plaster walls. New electrical got run, old exposed pipes were re-routed to be inside walls and ceilings, and every surface had to be pretty meticulously prepped before getting painted. Oh, and the fireplace! You can read all about the process of creating that over here.

cornerbefore

In this before picture you can see the acoustic tile ceiling (which got demo’d, along with the remains of the plaster ceiling above it, to make room for new drywall) and the exposed radiator pipes overlapping the window molding. I was originally inclined to keep the radiator pipes as-is, but it seemed worth it to throw the money at burying this plumbing while the ceilings were open, and I’m really glad we did! Oh, and you can see the homemade radiator cover that I removed…I can’t imagine wanting to cover up that corner radiator. It’s so cool!

after

Annnnddd, it’s a room! Let’s see…the sofa originally belonged to my grandparents, then my parents, and now I’ve inherited it in my parents’ recent downsize. Black leather and chrome is really not at all what I pictured for this room, but the size is great (space is tight for a real full-size sofa) and I love it on its own, so I want to make it work. I think it’s from the early 70s and both sides can fold up or down, but I kind of dig it in this chaise formation. The lamp next to it is vintage from a junk shop in Brooklyn a long time ago, the coffee table came from the trash (I think it was made by Urban Outfitters several years ago and is clearly “inspired” by the George Nelson bench…), the vintage rug was a hand-me-down from my uncle years ago, and the wire chair was thrifted. I made the dog bed.

The window shades are temporary, by the way. They’re basically just $8 sheets of white vinyl wrapped around a cardboard tube from Home Depot that I bought just to give us some privacy until I figure out what I really want. What I really want is a decent quality solar shade that will provide some privacy but still let lots of light in, but it can’t cost a million dollars. Thus far, finding such a thing has been a total fool’s errand, but I hold out hope.

hallwaydoorbefore

This is the door from the hallway, which was boarded up on the other side when we moved in! We had to have a key made for the old lock, and after the door was open, we just had to tear down the plywood to restore the original layout.

hallwaydoorafter

And after! The piano came with the house. The brief history is that the house was built about 1865, and the son of the original owner lived here until his death in 1962. He played organ at one of the local churches and was also a music teacher (he taught out of the house starting in the 1920s), so I’m guessing that’s why we have it now! It’s EXTREMELY heavy—I can’t imagine trying to get it out, so I’m glad I like it! Neither of us play piano and it’s very out of tune and in need of some repair, but it’s a nice piece of house history to hold onto. The mirror on top was a recent thrift find (I think it was $8 at AmVets), the crocks and oversized jacks are vintage. The bench is Scandinavian from Craigslist—at some point it might be fun to find an old piano bench that matches the piano a bit better, but this is fine for now. The Hudson Bay blanket is by Pendleton.

door

After a lot of excruciating debate, I decided to continue with the black doors! I grew to really like them in the dining room, so I think I’ll carry it through the rest of the house. I think it adds some really nice richness and depth, which can sometimes sort of fade with white-on-white rooms. The original hardware was stripped (I like to spray paint the hinges black to prevent rusting) and put back, with the exception of the keyhole cover, which was missing on this door. I found a few antique ones at a local salvage place (to the tune of 5 or 10 bucks each) that are almost exact matches to the original—I’m keeping my eye out for more since we’re missing quite a few.

fireplaceandshelves

Clearly I need to find something bigger to put over the fireplace, but that can come with time! The piece that’s there now is by our friend Matt Robinson, which I love but it’s just too small for here.

Also, SHELVES! I really love the way these turned out. The hardware is just cheap track shelving from Lowe’s (it’s almost exactly the same as Elfa but cheaper). The vertical tracks are screwed into wall studs (I had to do some test-drilling to find them, but it wasn’t anything a little spackle and touch-up paint couldn’t fix), and the brackets just snap into place. I think the trick to making this kind of shelving look good is using solid lengths of wood—these are just regular 1×12’s cut to size and painted white—I used the same paint that I used on the trim. I even reused the wood from our now-defunct apartment shelving, which saved about $50. Told you I never threw lumber away. I think all-in, the shelving cost about $150 but I wasn’t keeping super careful track.

fromhallway1

They look totally decent, right? I left about a foot on either side to give them some breathing room, and I love that they float above the baseboard. Keeps things feeling light, even though they’re clearly holding a lot of books. Approximately 1,200 pounds, actually! I know it is decidedly Not Blogger to use bookshelves just for books and not a bunch of nicely styled accessories, but we need the space. They’re also organized by category instead of height or color and the spines face out so I’m pretty much losing all around on this one.

Whatever. We got books. Deal.

chairandshelves

I love you, Norell chair. I found that sucker on my birthday for $250, which was kind a splurge for me but I couldn’t help myself!

I feel like it looks like the shelves are sagging in this picture, but I don’t see it in real life. Weird.

light

I bought the light fixture a few years ago on sale at West Elm, which is a bummer because they don’t make it anymore! I came really close to getting rid of it a while ago, but I’m glad I kept it around because I really like it in here. I have plans for the crystal chandelier from the before pictures, but I felt like it was sort of small for this space.

I used the same ceiling medallion in here that I used in the dining room. As in the dining room, I mixed together watery primer and plaster of paris into a paste-y consistency and slathered it on before hanging the medallion to fill in a lot of the crevices and soften the details—I think it goes a long way toward making it look old and authentic. Once they’re up, caulked, and painted, I think they’re very convincing!

radiatorafter

Since apparently I can’t stop painting things black, I also painted the corner radiator! I initially planned to have this radiator sandblasted and powder coated since it’s covered in quite a few layers of paint, but I figured it couldn’t make things drastically worse to just paint it out in the meantime. Now I really like it! It really brought out the details of the pattern and I really don’t mind that it’s not pristine. Just ignore the floors…this is after a lot of scrubbing but they just really need to be refinished. Hopefully a spring/summer project.

Typically I’d use an oil-based enamel for radiators because of the heat, but this one was already covered in a lot of latex paint so I didn’t want gamble with adhesion and peeling/cracking over time and all that. I found a pre-mixed can of high gloss black latex enamel by Valspar at Lowe’s, which was amazing to work with. This is just one coat! It covered great, dried fast, and so far hasn’t bubbled or anything like that, even with the heat turned up. Hot water radiators really don’t get hot enough to require high-heat paints, but the fact that this paint is for interior and exterior use makes me optimistic about it holding up for the long haul.

chimneycupboard

One of my favorite details in the room (the whole house, really) is the itty-bitty chimney cupboard! I guess this would have originally been used to store firewood and stuff, but I’m so glad it’s remained intact even if its purpose has been obsolete for many decades. The little brass/porcelain latch came out so cute after stripping the paint off. I love it.

fromdiningroombefore

windowshotafter

This is the view from the dining room door. It’s so nice to be able to have the door open now! If you ignore the craziness and chaos everywhere else, it sort of feels like the house is…not a construction zone. I like that.

Building the Faux Fireplace!

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Since I’ve been dealing with something of a forced hiatus from working on the cottage due to the gas/heat issues, I’ve taken the opportunity to refocus on my own renovation. Remember that? A lot of people in my life have assumed that since I’ve taken on a whole other renovation, my own house must be close to completion. VERY FALSE. I could try to list all the things I still need to do, but it would take you like three days to read and give me a panic attack, so just take my word for it. It’s a lot.

wallbefore

I’ve talked before about the room at the front of our house, which was likely originally a parlor. It’s the first room t0 the right when you walk in the front door (you can look at a floor plan here), and essentially rounds out the side of this floor I’ve been working on since we bought the house—first with the kitchen, then the laundry room, then the dining room. A while ago, Max and I decided that this room would be a study/library/office type space (since there’s a much larger living room right across the hall), but we’ve since sort of switched gears on that. Realistically, the “big living room” is probably a couple years off—even though I’m dying to get to it, it’s low on the priority list. I don’t want to wait that long to have some kind of space to sit and hang out and entertain, though, so I want this to be the living room for now! It’ll still house the books (or most of them, anyway), but also a couch and a couple chairs and stuff like that. I’ve been working hard to get it done-ish before the cottage drags me back into its clutches.

ANYWAY. I’ve talked about this before, but one of my big conundrums with this room was the feeling that there was something missing. The wall that the room shares with the dining room is bumped-out, and there’s this narrow/shallow little closet on the side that I’ve been informed is called a chimney cupboard, and would have been used for wood storage and whatnot. You can kind of tell from the crappy picture above (taken at our first walk-through) that there’s a large patch in the floor in front of this wall, and that the baseboard ends abruptly.

I’m not sure exactly what was here originally, but I have a couple reasonable guesses. There’s a chimney behind the wall (which has since been dismantled below the roof line, so doesn’t actually do anything), and a vent hole up near the ceiling. The floor patch indicates that there was some kind of stone hearth set into the floor here, and likely a wood-burning stove sitting on top of that. Our house was built around 1865, and since radiators didn’t come into use until the end of the century (and could have been installed here as late as the 1920s, perhaps), wood stoves would have been the original heat source. As for a mantel, it’s anyone’s guess. There’s a beautiful marble one in the big living room, but whatever used to live on this wall has been gone for a long time.

Given all of this, I had this big idea. Why not put something back in that spot? Even if it didn’t actually serve a functional purpose, a proper-looking fireplace would go a long way toward anchoring the room and providing some nice ambiance. The fireplace in our apartment is purely ornamental, but just the fact that it’s there gives the room so much. So that is what I set out to do. Fake fireplace plan: a-go.

A quick word about the fakey-ness of it all: I feel so weird about this kind of thing! I sort of think of myself as a modernist renovating an old house, and this kind of thing feels distinctly not-modernist. It’s the same feeling I get about putting up a bunch of foam ceiling medallions (which I’ve faux-aged on top of it!) or trying to recreate original molding work like I did in the laundry room. What’s so wrong with new work looking…new? Isn’t there something much more honest and authentic about just embracing all the original detail that does remain in this house, and allowing the new work and materials to just be what they are? I don’t know. I think about it a lot. But at the end of the day, I guess I want the house to seem more impeccably preserved than it actually is, for better or worse. So I’m going with it!

atjohnshouse

SO, now that I’ve written like 700 words and bored you to tears, let’s get into how this faux-fireplace party went down. It started with this mantel. Back in MAY. Yeah, this took a while from start to finish. My wonderful and insanely talented friend, John, ripped this mantel out of his house during his own renovation, but had stashed it in his basement instead of tossing it. His house was built in 1723, and this mantel was fabricated and added in the 1920s. I’d say John’s renovation sensibility is a bit more purist than mine, so he worked with a woodworker to custom build a more period-accurate mantel to replace this one (which is gorgeous, by the way). So anyway…John had a mantel, I needed a mantel, John didn’t want any money for it, I like free things…it worked out.

wallopeneduo

When I got the mantel home, I opened up the part of the wall where the old mantel would have theoretically been, wondering if I’d find a firebox or just the chimney. Just the chimney! Since there wasn’t any depth to work with inside the wall, whatever would go on the inside of the mantel had to be essentially flush with the wall. Hmmm. Hmmmmmmm.

mantelinplaceish

I dragged the mantel into place-ish (Linus assisted), just to get a sense of how it would look and feel. Even though this thing is quite a bit newer than my house, I feel like it plays really nicely with our moldings. As you can tell from the floor patch, it’s about a foot or so wider than what was here originally, which is something I sort of fretted over before deciding to just go with. I really didn’t want to get into trying to hack the mantel down to the “right” size (I liked the proportions of it as-is), and I really liked the idea of using this mantel in particular because I had it, I didn’t have to pay for it, and I liked the whole story behind it. Something new or salvaged just wouldn’t have held the same meaning to me.

hearthcutout

So, onwards! I removed the old patch job with no real plan about what was to go in its place, but sometimes you just need to dive in and figure it out later.

guttedwall

Unfortunately, this plaster wall was just beyond the point of trying to salvage. The plaster had separated a lot from the lath, it had some very significant cracks, and had undergone some failed repair attempts over the years with lots and lots of joint compound but nothing (like mesh tape, plaster buttons, or screening) to stabilize the plaster from further shifting. Even though I want to save as much of the original plaster walls in the house as possible, the best course of action here was to just start over, so that’s what I did!

lathshims

Since new 1/2″ drywall wouldn’t match the original depth of the plaster walls, I experimented with reusing the original lath strips, this time nailed directly onto the wall framing. I could have also just left all of the lath in place, but I’d already taken it down and this allowed me to still salvage the bulk of it for some other use down the road. I have no idea what to do with all my lath, but I’ll come up with something!

drywallinplace

Putting up the new drywall was no big thing. Since the underlying framing wasn’t very smooth, the drywall wasn’t either—but I had a plan! I actually wanted it to be a little irregular to mimic the look of the other plaster walls.

drywalled

I used fiberglass mesh tape and joint compound to cover the seams and screw holes. You typically do three coats of joint compound with new drywall and then finish off with a fine sanding before paint.

skimcoatingwall

I wanted to experiment with getting more of an authentic plaster look, though, so I opted to skim-coat the entire wall with joint compound. I just used the pre-mixed all-purpose stuff, and I wasn’t too careful about it: I wanted the thickness of the skim-coat to vary slightly along the surface of the wall. In some places it’s barely there at all, and in some places it’s probably about 1/8″ thick.

skimcoatedwall

Here’s a terrible picture of the whole wall skim-coated. The whiter spots are where the joint compound is thinner and dried faster. It doesn’t look at all like a textured wall or anything—it’s just very very subtly uneven so that it doesn’t stand out as looking flat and new. I sanded it all before painting and it really is indistinguishable from the plaster. Yay!

marble

Ok, moving on…one of the big challenges was figuring out the material for the hearth. There were a few options here. Sometimes, like in our apartment fireplace, you’ll see a tiled hearth—but tile is tough to pull off without the whole thing looking brand new. New tile isn’t made the same way as old tile and doesn’t have the same character, so I’d either have to get really spendy reproduction tile or find something salvage. What I thought I really wanted, though, was a nice slab of honed marble. I mean, what’s more classic and pretty than marble, right? Since the size I needed was somewhat irregular (about 75 inches with a flexible depth, ideally between about 16-24 inches) I thought maybe I could find something cheap-ish in the remnant section of a stone yard.

Wrong! I took myself to a local stone place (that mainly does countertops and stuff) and found this really gorgeous slab. It was honed, it was about the right size, and it was even a little damaged along the edges and had a couple scratches, which I sort of liked. But then it priced out at over a thousand dollars, so I burst into tears and ran away. Soapstone was even more expensive, and granite was a little cheaper but still too much money, and I didn’t want granite at all anyway.

bluestone

Then it dawned on me: what about good old Kingston bluestone? I suppose it’s even possible that that’s what was here originally, but who knows. I could probably find something that was locally quarried, super pretty, and much cheaper than marble or soapstone. It would reference Kingston history and even sort of tie into the exterior of the house, which is lined with bluestone sidewalks and pathways.

It just so happens that John, the same friend who gave me the mantel, worked for a couple of years as a stone mason when he first moved up here. My friends, bear in mind that this man is an optometrist. Almost 15 years ago at this point, he decided to take a break from optometry, pretty much just for the sake of learning something awesome that he felt passionate about, and I guess that thing was building stone walls and stuff. He worked as an apprentice under a stone mason named Sean Fox. So when I mentioned wanting bluestone, John knew who to call!

Sean was awesome to work with. I told him what I was doing and what I wanted, and he helped me find slabs that were good options. He also has the cutest German Shepherd named Dante, who is modeling the slab that I chose! The slab was thicker than I anticipated (Sean said that a thinner slab was likely to crack either during transport or once it was in place) and cost $400, which I figured was reasonable. I don’t know if I could have found the stone cheaper elsewhere, but at that point I was excited to have found something I liked and from somebody who understood what I was after. They had to cut the slab down slightly to fit my dimensions, and then burned the edges just a bit. I didn’t want it to look machine-cut, but I also didn’t want it to look overly rustic and rough-hewn, either. He did a perfect job, and I got to pick it up a week later.

FYI, bluestone is HEAVY. I don’t know how much this thing weighed, but I’d guess around a thousand pounds. Seriously! Sean loaded it into the back of John’s pick-up with a forklift, but it was up to me to figure out how to get it into my house and in place on the other end. Yikes! So one day, I finagled all of the people working over at Bluestone Cottage to take a break and walk over to my house to help with this thing. The whole ordeal was VERY STRESSFUL. I don’t have any pictures because I was helping and also shielding my eyes and generally terrified that the whole thing would go crashing through the floor and down into the basement and the whole house would collapse. But between about 6 guys, we were able to get it inside and into place and it wasn’t even as horrible as anticipated. I had to cut out a little more of the floor beforehand, but that wasn’t a big deal.

summercover

With the mantel in my possession and the hearth in the floor (and not going anywhere, ever), I still had to figure out how to sort out the space inside the mantel. I really fly by the seat of my pants, evidently! John actually gave me some cast iron insert parts that were with the mantel back at his house, but they were designed for a firebox and wouldn’t work here, since the wall doesn’t actually have any depth. I really needed something that would cover the entire surface and give the illusion of depth behind it without actually requiring it.

Enter: the fireplace cover! I went to one of the salvage places in town and found this big old rusty cast iron beauty. It isn’t so hard to find the arched (or sometimes rectangular) surrounding part, but the summer cover that goes inside it (exactly what it sounds like—a decorative cover to conceal the firebox in the months when the fireplace wouldn’t be in use) is a bit more rare—and finding the two together is even more challenging! I got really lucky that this one was waiting for me. The dimensions were perfect, and the detailing is just gorgeous! It’s definitely very Victorian (my house is more Greek Revival—in other words, pre-Victorian), but I love it all the same. It came home with me for $150, which is more than I wanted to spend, but after some poking around online seems to be a steal of a deal.

drywalltracing

OK, so! Mantel—check! Hearth—check! Summer cover—check! The next decision was AGONY. What to put between the inside edges of the mantel and the summer cover? Usually I’m pretty decisive with this stuff, but this whole project seemed so full of unknowns and opportunities to royally fuck everything up and end up with something that looked super dumb and super faux and lame and I was very afraid of that happening. The idea of tile was kind of nice, but it was the same issue with the hearth—new tile would result in the whole thing looking new and kind of cheesy, and vintage or repro tiles are so hard to come by and so expensive, and I’d already spent way more money (remember, I’m $550 deep at this point!) on this project that is purely aesthetic and was supposed to be essentially free. Then I went through this long phase where I thought about doing brick veneer tiles and painting them, but I eventually got over it and nixed that idea. I became mildly obsessed with old fireplaces everywhere I went—studying them to figure out what would look authentic and be feasible, and what I landed on was a plastered treatment. You see this a lot in old houses—maybe a brick surround that’s been plastered over and painted. Often the hearth is also painted, but I wasn’t about to slap paint on my bluestone!

So anyway. More faux. I turned the mantel around, screwed a scrap piece of 1/2″ drywall in through the back, and traced the outer edges of the cover with a sharpie. The inner part of the cover is deeper than the outer part, if that makes sense, so the outside needed a lip to sit flush with, while the inside needed a little space behind the face of the drywall. I have no idea if I’m explaining this well. Then I took a drywall knife and cut an inch or two inside my sharpie line and removed the inner piece. Then I (finally!) moved the mantel into place and secured it to the wall by screwing a few 4″ screws through the front and into studs. Then I simply patched the holes (I like Ready Patch for small things like this—it sands down smoother than wood putty) and caulked the places where the mantel meets the wall. Then I just had to patch in a few floor boards and the original molding that I pried off and saved way back when I started this whole rigamarole.

roughskimcoat

Since drywall is so flat and smooth, I used more joint compound to create the faux plaster effect. I was very liberal with it—sort of slathering it on with a 6″ putty knife, intentionally creating and leaving ridges and imperfections along the way. You can sort of tell from the picture how the texture looks, but it wasn’t super evident until I got to the painting step. Anyway, once everything had about 36 hours to dry, I gave it the lightest sanding and moved on.

wirecupbrush

Because the summer cover had been sitting outside for so long at the salvage place and was covered in rust, I used this wire brush attachment on my drill to clean up the surface and prepare it for paint. These things are great for stuff like this! Then I went back in with a regular wire brush to get in the nooks and crannies of the pattern. I’d say all the prep took maybe an hour, and then I just wiped it down with a damp microfiber cloth and let it dry.

coveron

Securing the cover ended up being easier than anticipated. Before I put the whole thing in place, I painted a piece of drywall black and screwed that into the studs, so that you don’t see the framing through the holes in the summer cover pattern. Because the summer cover interlocks with the outer part, all I did to secure the whole assembly was use existing holes in the summer cover pattern. I drove two large screws into the studs behind—you can sort of see the screws in the picture above. The heads are sunk into the existing holes in the pattern, and after the paint, you have to really search for them. Nobody will ever notice except me. And everyone I tell.

painting

FINALLY, PAINT TIME! I had about half a can of high-gloss black oil paint from the failed kitchen floor experiment of yore, and so I broke it out here. This makes the project, as far as I’m concerned. The gloss black accentuates the texture of the faux-plaster business and the intricacy of the summer cover, but I think keeps everything looking understated and classic and pretty. Oil paint is so nice to work with once in a while for small stuff like this—there’s really nothing like it. After this first coat, I caulked at the transition between the cover and the faux-plastered surround and then painted a second coat. The finish is so hard and smooth and pretty. I’m thrilled with how it turned out!

fireplace3

ANNNNDDDDD, DONE. I love it. I really do. It completely changes the room. I don’t feel like it dominates, but it does provide a focal point and just a certain ambiance that was missing before. And I feel like it just fits—like you’d never walk into the house and think it was added recently or even really pay a lot of attention to it at all. That’s exactly what I wanted.

Fireplace2

I’m happy with the way it ended up fitting on the wall, too! Even though it’s a little wider than whatever was here originally, I don’t think it feels out of place or two big for the room.

I love the bluestone, but I do keep wondering what would happen if I tried to darken it up a little bit. I’m sort of afraid to touch it because I don’t want to ruin it, but I wonder if mineral oil would have the same kind of effect on this that it does on soapstone? I don’t know. I’ll live with it for a while and see how I’m feeling some other time.

I’m resisting showing wider shots of the room because it’s actually almost done! Told you I’ve been working hard. There are still a few major items to check off the to-do list, but I’m super excited about the way it’s coming together. It’s so weird and exciting to have this whole other usable space in the house! I can’t wait!

Blogger Special: I Built a Bench!

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It’s no secret that my blog has changed a lot the past couple of years. When we bought the house, my little thrifting/DIY-logue sort of turned into all-out balls to the walls renovation craziness. I’ve written (and perhaps you’ve read…) entire posts about semi-technical plumbing matters and roofing and skim-coating walls and all manner of things that were barely on my radar before all of this lunacy started. I never made some kind of conscious choice to start doing that, but this blog is, after all, a loose reflection of what’s going on in this area of my life…and that’s the kind of stuff I’ve been up to.

Sometimes I need a break from talking about that stuff, though. I miss the other stuff. The smaller projects. Those fun little things that take a couple of hours and then…BOOM: NEW THING! I lovingly refer to these projects as Blogger Projects. Projects can be more or less Blogger, depending on their materials, steps, and length of time to complete. To me the most Blogger Projects involve four basic steps:

1. Reuse a mass-produced object that a reader can go buy.

2. Embellish said object. The options here are literally endless. There’s glitter. There’s washi tape. There’s spray paint. Did I mention washi tape? Well, there’s washi tape.

3. Complete project in 30 minutes to 1 hour. Obviously then you have to photograph it while the light is still good and throw together a post so devoting too much time to the project itself is just unwise. Everyone will pin it and forget it anyway so it doesn’t even really matter if it falls apart right after the pictures are taken.

4. Promote that object because damn, you’re one clever blogger and you thrive on the attention.

Obviously there are degrees of blogger-ness, and I’ll leave it to you to create your own scale. Like, to me, if a project involves washi tape it’s Very Blogger and might score a high 6 or 7. But put that washi tape in a chevron pattern and that’s a 10 out of 10 right there. Super Duper Blogger.

Point is, a couple of weeks ago I got the itch to complete a Blogger Project. On the scale I’d maybe put it at a 4 or 5 for various reasons I’ll get into, but it’s still relatively Blogger.

ottomansbefore

I bought these funny little ottomans at Target, oh, maybe over a year ago, so I lose some Blogger Points because I can’t tell you how to buy them. They’re discontinued now and long gone. They were part of the cheap dorm “Room Essentials” line and I think they were $15-20 each. I really disliked the color of the bases and the top (it’s just a cheap piece of foam with a cheap nylon upholstery overtop), but the shape of the bases is so nice! They’re powder-coated steel, so they’re very sturdy and seem well-made, too.

Anyway, I didn’t know quite what I was going to do with them at the time, but I knew the bases would be useful for something. My other big idea was to get two pieces of marble remnants cut for the tops and use them as bedside tables. I could have sworn I bought four, so if the other two ever resurface I’d still be down to make that happen.

So anyway. Thing from Target. 1 point.

rustoleum

Where would bloggers be without spray paint? I mean really. I unscrewed the upholstered tops from the base and threw them away. Then I wiped off the bases with TSP substitute (they’d been sitting in my basement for a while and were sort of grimy), waited for them to be totally dry, and hit them with a couple coats of matte black spray paint. It was a little tricky to get into all the nooks and crannies what with all the angles on the bases, but I managed. I’m a professional.

Spray paint: 1 point

presanding

This is where things get really exciting. I’m fanatical about saving any old lumber that comes out of my house, which is becoming a huge problem over at the cottage, where there is lots and lots of old framing lumber . Even just lath and framing lumber feels totally wrong to just throw away, especially because I know it technically can be reused in interesting ways (that I am unlikely to actually do, let’s be real). Anyway. I had 4 six-ish-foot long old 2″x4″ studs that came out of our downstairs bathroom ceiling during demo. I still have to talk about how the rest of the demo of that room went! OOPS. Anyway, these studs are probably about 150 years old, super splintery and grimy and gross, but I threw them in the basement anyway because that’s what I do. My basement is truly horrific.

Anyway, I’m going to give myself a Blogger Point for reclaimed lumber. I’m on the fence about this but I think it qualifies.

sandingprocess

Anyway, after yanking and hammering through all the old nails, I sanded the old studs. I generally find sanding wood pretty exciting, especially when it’s like this! The wood on the right hasn’t been sanded and the other two boards on the top have—huge difference, right? I just used 60 or 80 grit on an orbital sander and went over all sides until the studs no longer seemed super rough. It’s hard to know when to stop with wood like this, and a lot of it comes down to personal taste. Trying to get the wood too smooth would sacrifice too much of the dark spots and overall patina, so I tried to keep the sanding fairly minimal—just enough so the wood didn’t seem like a splintery hazard. Remember that any type of finish will also darken the wood and bring out the natural tones, to the post-sanded, pre-finished wood is much lighter than it will look when all is said and done.

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Ideally I like to use more natural-looking, oil-type finishes for stuff like this (like Tung Oil Finish or Danish Oil), but in this case the wood was still kind of rough and I decided good old water-based polyurethane was the way to go. I have to say, I really like this stuff. The satin finish gives a nice amount of sheen without looking shiny or plastic-y, and it does a really effective job of not only sealing the wood, but also smoothing out imperfections and sort of filling in the grain on softer woods like this. The water-based stuff dries super fast, too, so usually I brush it on, wait half an hour, lightly sand, and brush on another coat, and repeat. 2-3 coats is usually best.

construction

Constructing the bench was very simple. I just used 3 12″ steel mending plates (which I also sprayed black—one on each end and one in the middle) and screwed them into the wood with #10 1″ zinc wood screws. Done. After that, it was just a matter of screwing the bases into the new wood top through the original holes. Easy peasy.

Basic pieces from hardware store: 1 Blogger Point.

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Aaaaaand, bench! Done! In the dining room! I like this thing. It was simple to make (the whole thing took a few hours, but most of that was just waiting for stuff to dry), and it’s high enough to act as additional seating if we have lots of people over and need to expand the table. I like that I don’t have to keep extra chairs floating around in the room for that. I threw an IKEA sheepskin on top because, well, it’s very Blogger to do that sort of thing. 1 point.

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I really love how the lumber turned out. It’s really smooth to the touch because of the polyurethane, but it still looks rough and worn and old, like I like it. The color is so rich, too. See why I can’t just throw it out? I have a problem.

So anyway. Thing from Target. Spray paint. Reclaimed lumber. Basic hardware store supply. Sheepskin. 5 Blogger points. Not too shabby.

OK, back to our regularly scheduled programming super soon. I have COTTAGE DEMO to discuss!

EDIT: It has been requested (mainly by my mother and brother) that the dogs be included in this post, so here we go. Mekko wasn’t in the mood to have her photo taken but Linus doesn’t know what’s going on either way, so here! He’s getting groomed tomorrow.

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Look! We Have a Dining Room Again!

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We’re coming up on a year and a half in this house (insane, yes? not just me? k cool.), and even though I’m super proud of the progress that we’ve made in some ways, I feel like we’ve barely even scratched the surface in others! We started in the kitchen out of necessity, then I moved onto the little office so I could teach myself some stuff before I had the opportunity to mess up the more important spaces, then I dove into the laundry room because we were losing our minds trying to keep up with our filthy lives and our lack of laundry-doing ability.

I’ve been dying to really get into the more major rooms in the house, though! The kitchen and laundry room were kind of an exercise in working what we were working with (and in the laundry room, trying to add back some character and detail to tie it in with the rest of the house), and the little office was, well, small and more of a learning exercise than anything else. For the past several months, we’ve basically been living between the kitchen, the laundry room, and our bedroom, since all the other rooms were either jam-packed with stuff or under construction.

NOT ANYMORE! I don’t even really know where to begin talking about the dining room, other than to say that I love this room and have since the very first time we saw the house. It’s the perfect size, it gets beautiful light, it has a bay window (replete with fancy archway!), original moldings, old doors, old windows, all that good stuff. It’s been mocking me relentlessly. When we first moved here, I was completely delusional and wanted to have it pretty much done by Thanksgiving, which definitely didn’t happen. Then we tore out the ceiling in December, and since then the remodeling/restoration process spiraled into much more than I realized it even could when we toured the house initially. Aside from, you know, getting a new ceiling, there was also the matter of removing a non-original closet and sealing up the doorway, getting exposed heating pipes removed and buried in the wall, swapping the radiator with a different radiator and completely changing its location, re-running a lot of the old electrical work, repairing and skim-coating the walls, stripping down and restoring sections of molding, and finally the easy stuff like caulking and painting and moving furniture in and all that.

But! The hard stuff is DONE. I’m not going to say the room is done, because we literally just got it to the point of functioning like a dining room and I’m positive it will change and evolve as time goes by, but whatever! It’s a real room and worth taking pictures of! So there! Eep!

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Here we are on Day 1! The room was rocking some pretty ugly acoustic ceiling tiles, a bad light fixture, and some very wild walls that I will admit to appreciating without wanting to actually live with. The good thing about these walls is that the pattern is actually painted with a patterned roller over walls that were skim-coated probably 50 years ago, so aside from a section of wall across the room, there wasn’t really any wallpaper to strip!

Anyway, I’m a sucker for this view. The molding work in our house is one of my favorite things about it (I love how the door and window casings miter into the baseboards—I don’t think I’ve ever seen that anywhere else!), and the original doors and hardware still make me so swoony and sappy. The door on the right leads into the front parlor (the future library room) and the door on the left leads to a shallow linen closet that I haven’t touched yet.

ANYWAY. READY?

Me too.

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Look guys! It’s a real house and stuff! I’m so super stupid happy about this development. Like so happy.

After the ceilings went up (which I’m soooo glad I hired out, after so much internal debate), I went to WERK repairing and skim-coating the necessary sections of wall. I don’t really have tons of pictures, mainly because it was super boring and I was bouncing back from mono and generally living a lot like a zombie, but it happened? Here’s a really bad photo from the other night that sort of shows what I’m talking about:

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When all was said and done, I’d say the walls were about 50% joint compound and 50% the old pattern craziness. I tested the walls for lead, and luckily the test was negative, so I gave the pattern a sanding while I was sanding the final skim-coat just so I wouldn’t see the dimension of the pattern through the new paint. Totally worked. Groovy.

I painted all of the skim-coated sections and the new ceiling with drywall primer before painting. I mention this because drywall primer is like $10-13/gallon, and new joint compound and drywall REALLY suck in the first coat of paint, so you don’t want to be wasting your more expensive paint on that first coat. The drywall primer does a good job of sealing everything in and prepping for your actual paint.

SPEAKING OF PAINT! I’m so, so, so happy with the paint color. I kid you not: I have somewhere upwards of 20 light grey paint samples stashed away. I hated everything once I painted samples on the wall. Grey is so hard. I was really after a very pale grey, but one that would never, ever go blue or purple on me. I’ve noticed that I really prefer warm grey colors for old houses, so I needed something that had more of a yellow undertone than blue, but wouldn’t look mayonaisse-y or yellowish. It felt totally impossible.

And then something miraculous happened: I got myself a tester can of a Benjamin Moore color called Soft Chamois, and it is PERFECT. It’s everything I’ve ever wanted, I think. It reads very white in the room, but up against actual white, it’s clearly definitely not white. When I started painting late at night, I had a mini panic-session that involved a lot of “am I painting my walls…tan?” but it dried into this gorgeous neutral that never looks cool and also never looks tan/taupe/yellow/custard-ish/etc. Greys and whites are so hard because what looks great in one space might look completely different and awful in another, so I can’t say that this color is perfect by any means, but it’s perfect here and I’m so glad I found a winner! The trim and ceiling are both painted Benjamin Moore Simply White, which is a fairly bright white that’s a little bit warmer than just pulling the can off the shelf. I love how it offsets with the walls. I’m basically very happy about the whole situation.

For all of the paint, I had it color-matched at Lowe’s to the new Valspar Reserve line, and I can honestly say that it’s the nicest paint I’ve ever used! And that includes Benjamin Moore Aura. It’s about $45/gallon (compared to $65 for BM), and the coverage was INSANE. I didn’t prime any of the crazy bright green pattern, and the Valspar Reserve covered it in one coat and looked flawless in two. I ended up using less than a gallon of paint on the ceiling and only a little over one gallon on the walls. I made sure to clean all of the moldings with TSP substitute before I painted, and it’s already dried really hard and solid and smooth and looks awesome. I’m really impressed with it.

So now that you know about my harrowing struggle of choosing a paint color, more pictures? Let’s do it.

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One of the things that drove me crazy about the drop ceiling was the way the archway clearly did not fit under it, so the situation was remedied with some creative crown molding work and a ton of caulk. It was not good. Trust.

Since the radiators were probably added somewhere around 40 years after the house was built, I didn’t feel bad about changing the location of the one in the dining room. It was very oddly placed between the opening to the bay window and the other window, obscured the moldings of both, and generally cluttered up a wall that already has, well, a lot going on.

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Yayyy! One thing I did NOT do was get into the bay window. I’m saving that for another time. There’s some water damage to the windows and moldings in there, and it’s going to be one of those slow jobs that I can deal with another time. So I stuck a Fiddle Leaf Fig in it because that is what I do.

SOMEDAY, the other window in the dining room will look out to the outdoors, but right now it faces into that weird enclosed porch situation on the side of the house. The side porch is really horrible and falling apart and full of tools and stuff, so I hung a cheap vinyl shade on the outside so I wouldn’t have to look at it in the meantime. Fancy!

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Because who DOESN’T love before-and-after shots carefully taken from the same angle, here’s another one! The closet on the right is the one that I removed (the space became part of the pantry). The door and casing were removed entirely (hoarded in the basement, of course, because you never know) and I framed in the doorway and patched it with drywall. Then I skim-coated the entire wall…aside from some missing baseboard molding (again, different project, different day), you’d never know the doorway was ever there!

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All that work didn’t end up being all that important, I guess, because I went and bought an enormous antique cabinet and stuck it where the door used to be anyhow. But anyway! I swear I did all that hard work and stuff.

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While we’re here, let’s talk about this cabinet! I LOVE it. It’s about 4 feet wide and 8 feet tall, and I found it at a clock shop in Uptown Kingston months and months ago. I casually stalked it for a few months, and then the store owner decided to renovate and clear things out at discounted prices, and sold it to me after some back-and-forth for $450. I’m guessing parts of it are about the age of the house (maybe a little older), but I have a feeling that it used to be part of a longer run of built-ins and various parts have been tacked on over time, like the crown molding and the bead-board backing, and I think the doors might actually be old storm windows…who knows! The point is that it’s here, and we got it into the house, and somehow Max and I managed to hoist the top onto the bottom all by ourselves, and I think it’s somewhat magnificent.

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The interior of the whole thing used to be this custard yellow color, but I don’t play that. When I got it home, I wiped down the inside with TSP substitute, primed it with shellac-base primer, and painted it with two coats of semi-gloss Bedford Grey, which is a Martha Stewart color that I had leftover from painting the frame and rolling cabinet in the laundry room.

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I love how it turned out! Bedford Grey is SUCH a good stand-by kind of color. For now at least, the top pretty much just holds pretty stuff I’ve picked up here and there (mildly obsessed with that green crock, FYI), except that big wine decanter in the bottom left corner that doesn’t fit anywhere else. The drawers hold napkins, placemats, candles, all that kind of stuff, and the bottom has all our tech crap like the printer and modem and airport. And also booze. It also holds booze.

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Let’s take a moment to recall how awful the ceilings were. SURE, FINE, they could have been a lot better with a coat of paint, but the best thing was really to take them down, even though it ended up meaning taking the plaster ceiling above it down, too, and truly starting over.

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We can agree that this is way better, right? Like if we agree on nothing else at least we can agree on this one thing.

You never really know how a drywall job has panned out until after you get it painted, and I’m happy to say that these ceilings are terrific! The guys did such a great job. Even though I wish blueboard and plaster veneer had been an option budget-wise, I’m more than OK with this.

The medallion, by the way, looks great. I’m thrilled with the size of it (32 inches!), and I think the design really suits the house without overwhelming the room.

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Before I put the medallion in place, I ended up painting it with a mix of watered-down primer and plaster of paris, which I mixed into kind of a soupy paste and slathered on. The mixture helped fill in some of the crevasses and soften the details, so the medallion looks more like real plaster and more like it’s aged along with the house and been painted a bunch of times. I feel a little ridiculous about all of this, but WHATEVER. IT HAPPENED. WE’RE ALL GOING TO HAVE TO LIVE WITH MY FAUX-FINISHING WAYS.

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You might recognize the light fixture from our kitchen renovation! I bought this thing at a thrift store in Sweden for $7 a couple of years ago, and I still love it in all it’s knock-off-y glory. We tried to love it as a kitchen light, but we wound up really needing something that diffused light better and more evenly, so the kitchen got a simple globe light and this went back into the lighting hoard. I LOVE it for the dining room, though. I think it looks adorable and it casts perfect light for dining, especially when it’s dimmed down all romantic-like.

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Max and I found the figure drawing at an antiques store for $40 a while ago. I sort of forgot about him but then I was hunting around for something to hang over the radiator and out he came. Nothing says “Welcome to Gay Gardens!” like a strange naked man on the wall while you’re eating dinner, am I right? I dig it. It was between this or a large oil painting I found, which Max swears is a portrait of Sigourney Weaver. (I tried, Sigourney.)

Those who have followed my slow descent into total madness closely may recall my fondness for the NORDEN table from IKEA. When I mentioned wanting this table, there was SERIOUS dramarama and outcry in the comments about how terrible and cheap and awful this table was, but I like what I like and I found one on Craigslist for $250 and I was like GET IN MY HOUSE, NORDEN.

A word about the NORDEN: it’s a very nice piece of furniture. The size is more than generous, it’s solid wood, it expands, and it’s so simple and versatile that it could work in a million different spaces and look amazing. This table is from 1999 and was used in an office, where I can only assume it took a beating, and it’s still in awesome shape and solid as a rock despite having been disassembled and reassembled multiple times.

will say, though, the design of this table has changed a bit over the years. IKEA has since made the table longer, for starters, but they’ve also changed the top—on the older NORDEN tables, each strip of birch is continuous from one side to the other, but now the top is made of many smaller pieces and looks more like a butcherblock. There’s also something different about the finish…my table is super smooth and the new ones have the slightest texture and feel a little…plastic-y? I don’t know…it’s still a really nice piece of furniture (especially for the price) but I do think the older design is nicer. Luckily the seller had saved the original assembly instructions, so I could figure out how to put the thing together!

Anyway. I have no idea if it’ll stick around forever. But I’m totally happy with it for now and I actually like the way it looks with the chairs, so…that’s that.

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OK, so, the doors! After I’d painted the walls and trim, I felt comfortable pulling the trigger on painting the doors black. I did this in my apartment like 3 years ago, and loved it there, and I already had the black paint, so I went for it! I really live on the edge that way. I used the same color: Onyx by Benjamin Moore, which continues to be my favorite black. It’s very slightly off-black, so not as stark as a true black paint, but it never looks even a little bit navy to me, which is a huge pet-peeve of mine with almost-black colors.

I’m going to be totally honest: I’m not entirely sure about this yet! We hung the doors 2 nights ago, and at first I was like “OMG I HATE IT” and then the next morning I was like “ok, maybe I don’t hate it totally” and then by last night I was kind of into it. I think it’s the white hardware that’s sort of throwing me. The hardware is original and beautiful and non-negotiable, and I knew maybe it was kind of a risk to do something so high-contrast, and…I think I just need to live with it for a while. I call them my Wednesday Addams doors.

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I love this itty bitty mirror. Just saying.

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I think that’s about it! I don’t  know what else to say! I’m so happy to be able to use this space again, and excited that I pretty much just get to futz with it from here on out. The only really major thing left is to refinish the floors (they’re in terrible shape…somehow the pictures make them look a lot better!), but that should really wait until more of the house has been renovated…it’s probably a next spring/summer thing. We’ll get there!

Now onto the next room! I vote library.

First There Were Ceilings, and Then There Were Walls!

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First thing’s first: MONO UPDATE! Since I know everyone gives as many shits about my health as I do (lately, more shits than usual)—I feel a lot better! The fevers are gone, the sore throat is pretty much gone…I feel alright! Mostly I’m just spending a lot of time being mocked by my unfinished dining room and unfinished library and unfinished entryway and unfinished house and being told by everyone to put down the joint compound and trying really hard to not do a whole lot. This is difficult for me, because I like doing stuff. The whole thing is basically excruciating, since it’s making me turn toward things like my horrendously untended email inbox and sorting through mail and other stuff I hate doing. Luckily, in an act of stunning forethought—prescience, maybe—we got cable about a month ago and I have been settling RIGHT into the fragile Victorian lady lifestyle I was maybe always meant for? If fragile Victorian ladies had HGTV?

I have seen so many people decide to Love It and even more people decide to List It. I have watched Handsome Scott McGillivray transform many an income property. I have literally spent countless hours debating whether those Property Brothers like boys. And that’s just the Canadian stuff! I’ve also re-watched a lot of Rehab Addict and even discovered that Daryl’s Restoration Over-Hall is actually a really engaging show, and I was totally FREAKING OUT during the auction on Flipping the Block. All in just a few week’s time! So I’d say this whole mononucleosis experience has been time well spent. I never knew more about the mass public’s love of “open concept” living than I do now. Nobody likes walls anymore. It’s all been very informative.

ANYWAY, whilst in the thick of my mono-ness, I awoke last Saturday morning at 7:30 AM (which is not so fun when you are a feverish mucus-y disaster FYI, but I soldiered through) because the magical skim-coater wizard man arrived to start working on the hallway walls! I let him in, dragged myself back upstairs, went back to sleep, woke up a few hours later, dragged myself back downstairs to assess the progress, then went back to the warm, safe embrace of Canadian Home and Garden Television. While somebody else fixed my house. It was the most luxe ever, maybe, except for the nausea and stuff.

I tried to explain to the skim-coater that I was sick with Mono, but I’m not sure he totally understood, which made the whole thing feel extra bratty and ridiculous. Like, “here, I have an idea! You do this awful task for hours on end by yourself while I lounge around! If you need me, I’ll be upstairs, lounging.” I was riddled with shame throughout.

In case you need a refresher on the past year, the deal with this hallways was this:

1. When we bought the house, it had a few extra walls and doorways (one that bisected the entryway to create a vestibule, one at the back of the staircase to create the entry to the first floor apartment, and one at the top of the stairs with a door to the second floor apartment that continued down the length of the hallway, wrapping the stair banister). The two doorways at the at the front of the house were also blocked off. All of that came down last summer in various fits of demolition madness. (here, here, and here)

2. Also last summer, I spend days and days stripping wallpaper off all the walls and exposing the bare plaster. BOY WAS THAT A GOOD TIME.

3. In all the intervening months, it didn’t really make sense to fix the hallway walls because we were messing with electrical and plumbing, and I figured since these walls were already in pretty rough shape, it made the most sense to try to contain all of the holes to the hallway. So the walls basically got more and more destroyed as each new electrical path got run, we re-routed heating pipes through the walls, etc. etc. By the end they sort of resembled Swiss cheese. EVERY SINGLE contractor/handyman/electrician/plumber/acquaintance who has walked through my door has informed me that I should just cover the walls in 3/8″ drywall and call it a day, but I never considered that. First of all, it would be too easy, and I like things to be difficult and miserable. Second of all, I want my plaster walls to look like plaster walls! Drywall just isn’t the same. So there.

4. All along, I was planning to fix these walls myself. I spent a long time teaching myself how do major plaster repair and skim coating in the little upstairs office, so I felt like technically I was capable. And if I am technically capable of something, I should do it, right?

WRONG. Sometimes that logic is just bad. After seeing what a bang-up job the skim-coater did on a section of the hallway ceiling, my basic thought process was this:

Me: Wow, look at that ceiling.

Me: Yeah, I bet you could never make it look that good.

Me: Shut up, asshole, I totally could. It would take me many days and be miserable and messy, but I could.

Me: You probably couldn’t. Also, note that it took that guy like two hours to do this. And it’s so smooth. He barely has to sand it or anything. You could never do that.

Me: I’ll show you! I’ll show you when I tackle these walls!

Me: You should see how much it would cost to just hire it out.

Me: Hire it out?? Are you high?? You disgust me. How will I learn? How will I grow? How will I feel the satisfaction of looking at these walls and thinking smugly to myself “you did that, you handsome fox”? Never.

Me: What’s that? I couldn’t hear you from up there on your high horse. Just price it out.

Me: OK, if it’ll shut you up.

So that’s what I did. And the quote was $500. For the entire hallway, upstairs and downstairs.

Now, $500 is good amount of money, don’t get me wrong. But this is a BIG job and skim-coating is one of those things that takes skill and stuff. I was expecting something more like 1-2K, so $500 to have someone come in and do the whole thing in a couple of days AND have it look really good?

I never said I was a role model. I thought it over for like a day and then I was like WHY IN THE WORLD AM I EVEN THINKING ABOUT THIS? YOU’RE HIRED.

Because the thing about skim coating? It’s fucking miserable. Especially if you aren’t good at it, it’s just messy and slow and miserable and dirty and just not fun even a little. Then, since I’m not that good at it, I have to rely on a LOT of sanding to get everything smooth. Which is both tiring and also messy. And the space was so big and then the Mono happened and I was just like…UGH. I’d rather do ANYTHING else. Does anyone watch The Leftovers on HBO? A professional skim-coater is basically my personal Wayne. He could take my pain away. I just had to let him and also pay him money.

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Just so you don’t think I’m a total pussy, prior to making this decision, I had actually started working on skim-coating the upstairs hallway, and it was going characteristically slowly and miserably. I started with trying to repair areas of the ceiling and this crazy area in the stairwell. I got into this a little bit back when we got into our box gutter catastrophe, but basically this whole wall of the house has bowed out over time, and since this is about the center of the house, the bow is the worst here. About a foot of the plaster at the top of the wall had totally separated from the lath and was just sort of hanging there, and the whole wall sort of coved inward and just looked super funny and wrong. Also, obviously, the main exterior wall has separated a great deal from the perpendicular wall at the top of the stairs, and the whole thing just looked AWESOME and totally not like a crumbly busted up mess at all.

abovestairs2

Soooo, I started by using my oscillating tool to cut out fairly large chunks of the plaster (basically cutting out everything that had separated from the lath) and replaced the chunks with 1/2” drywall screwed into the lath and studs where possible. Since the big gap between the two walls wasn’t really big enough for a drywall patch (and there wasn’t really anything to screw into), I did a totally wrong thing and used spray-foam insulation, sort of to insulate but mostly as a rigid backer for my reconstructed corner. When the foam was dry, I used a utility knife to cut it back below the surface, and then constructed the corner using fiberglass mesh tape and joint compound (the 45-minute setting type powered kind).

Whatever, it totally worked. Sometimes you just have to do what works.

Then I had to use more fiberglass mesh and joint compound to try to blend the drywall with the plaster and make the corner look good, and all of this standing on a super high ladder super far above the floor and…ugh. This is what I’m talking about. I did this for hours, and it still looked bad, and needed more work, and it was tiring, and…I just hate skim coating.

So anyway. Handing over the reigns to somebody with more experience and more skill to finish off the mess I’d made just felt so GOOD AND RIGHT AND BEAUTIFUL. So sue me. Take away my DIY merit badges. See if I care.

upstairs-hallway-after

I don’t even care, because LOOK AT MY WALLLSSSSS.

No seriously, open your goddamn eyes and look at them. They look like real walls. HALLELUJAH.

I know it’s just some joint compound and the walls aren’t even painted and the ceiling still needs some work (I hired him just to do the walls, so I still have some work to finish up there…) and the doors and the trim look like mayonnaise now, but MY WALLS LOOK LIKE WALLS!!! That corner above the stairs ended up pretty wonky (not as wonky as the picture makes it look), but whateverrrrr. Old house, don’t care.

demopic

Let’s remember what this looked like just a couple weeks ago….

frontdoor

And now!! Words cannot even express, y’all. Not walking into the house and immediately seeing so quite so much craziness is so thrilling.

process

For those interested in the process…I was kind of out of it during this whole event, but I was paying attention somewhat to how things were happening. Basically…

Step 1: All large holes and voids were filled with 1/2 sheetrock, which were screwed to lath or studs. For smaller pieces, he had this special technique of making the piece of sheetrock just the size he needed, then removing the excess rock from the outer edges of the paper, so the paper sort of overlapped the seams. Huh!

Step 2. Despite all of the many holes, these walls were actually in really solid shape with very few large cracks. If I were doing it myself I might have tried embedding large pieces of fiberglass mesh screen at least on parts of the walls, but he just dig out the cracks a little, covered them with fiberglass tape, and skimmed over that. Let’s hope it holds up! Plaster is a fickle mistress and continues to shift and crack over time, so it’s sort of hard to say how this will look in 5-10 years. I hope good.

Step 3. Skim-coating! Interestingly, the pro just used a 6″ knife, a mud pan, and a 10 or 12″ knife for the whole thing—no hawk and trowel nonsense. That’s pretty much exactly what I do…he just did it a lot better and faster and had better control over everything. He also mixed his own joint compound using a mixture of pre-mixed all-purpose joint compound, water, and 45-minute setting-type powdered joint compound. I thought that was interesting…my guess is that mixing in pre-mixed joint compound gave him a bit longer working time and made the final coating a bit easier to sand. The powdered stuff dries REALLY hard, which is nice, but this is fine too. I’m not complaining.

Step 4. Sanding! Since he had so much control and skill during the application, the sanding wasn’t too terrible. Definitely hard, definitely dusty, definitely took him a few hours, but not terrible.

june2013 august2014 september2014

After over a year of feeling like the progress on this house has been sort of slowwww, all of a sudden it’s feeling pretty fast! I couldn’t resist going back to one of the first photos I ever took of this area and comparing it to today…it’s a HUGE difference! Even thought there’s still a very deceptive amount of work to do in this space (even just getting all the moldings ready to be painted is going to be an enormous task! And don’t even get me started on the stairs…), it’s soooo exciting to finally see the house really taking shape into what, I guess, it’s always kind of looked like in my head! I knew she’d clean up nice.

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