The Apartment, After 2 Years of Living: The Bedroom

bedroom1

I never really intended to stop posting about our apartment entirely, but in the excitement and stress and overwhelming magnitude of projects that our crazy fixer-upper house has to offer, I guess that’s kind of what happened. Max and I both still have to be on the ground in NYC for various reasons, and while we can work remotely from Kingston some of the time, it’s a bit too far out of range to really make for a practical regular commute. Consequently, we still spend about half of our lives in the same Brooklyn apartment we’ve been renting for a little over 2 years now——and as much as I love Kingston, our house, and how happy the dogs are there, I do still love the apartment. This is the place where I became a Brooklyn resident and fell in love with the better borough. It’s the first place that I really got to share with my boyfriend——now future-husband——and it’s the place where we made a little family with a couple of fur-babies. It’s seen us through school and a weird collection of jobs, ups and downs, highs and lows; it’s been the backdrop of parties and good times with so many people we care deeply about. I’ll concede that I develop deep attachments to spaces and places, but this one will probably always rank as one of the most important.

Aside from that, there’s no way Max and I would have gone for it with the house if it weren’t for this apartment. I fell hard for this place as soon as Max and I saw it for the first time, and I don’t think that feeling ever really went away. It wasn’t because it was the most beautiful place, but it was the most beautiful place to me. If it’s not  plainly obvious, I might have kind of a weakness for trying to fix up busted up things (apartments, houses, furniture, dogs, you know), and I just remember being obsessed with how special this apartment could be with some love and care. Plenty of people think I’m crazy for spending a dime of my money or a minute of my time——as a renter——fixing up someone else’s property, and my answer to that is usually something like “well, I want to like where I live.” And that’s part of it, of course. But it goes deeper than that, too: I immediately felt a kind of weird responsibility and visceral drive to get this apartment back on track and set it on a better path. If my landlords don’t care that the cornices are rotting and the roof leaks and the hallways and stairs are filthy and there’s the occasional rat in the basement, that’s their prerogative. But for my part, the least I can do is care for my little section of this place that I love so much.

And so I cared. A lot. And I learned how to do all sorts of things, which gave me the confidence to take on something much more involved when I felt that same feeling all over again when we stumbled upon our house in Kingston. These approximately 450 square feet of living space became not only a crash course in renovation, but also a place to experiment, and try things out, and find a happy middle-ground between Max’s taste and my own. And in the process, it probably brought a lot of you here. And I wouldn’t trade any of that.

I tend to be very process-driven with my life and my blog content, and the apartment has always felt——and continues to feel——like a place in progress. Because of that, I always felt a little funny about writing before-and-after posts about it. And while things still aren’t really done (and I’m not so sure they ever will be, which is OK too), they’re in a pretty good place. The apartment is cute and comfortable, the big stuff is taken care of, and while there are still things I really want to do, they aren’t terribly pressing and will probably happen verrrrry slowly. Renovating a house doesn’t really leave tons of time or energy for the kind of pace I kept up when we were living in Brooklyn full-time.

So! Anyway! The apartment bedroom! I apologize that the photo angles between the before and after pictures don’t really match up, but all the before pictures are just quick snaps I took on move-in day. I wasn’t thinking!

beforebedwall

As you can see, the wall color was not exactly something I would have chosen, and everything was desperately crying out for a fresh coat of paint. The ceiling and moldings probably hadn’t been painted for at least a couple decades and were super chipped up and dirty and yellowed.

bedroom2

I love the bedroom in the apartment now——clean and simple and comfy. The white paint (Benjamin Moore’s White Dove) made the room feel totally refreshed and MUCH bigger. The bed is still the same IKEA hack I did a longgggg time ago——an upholstered $50 FJELLSE bed frame, which has held up really well even after over 3 years of use. The bedside lights are also an IKEA hack, and the side tables are vintage Danish shelves that my friend Maya sold me. The shelves aren’t as deep as I’d prefer for bedside tables and don’t offer any closed storage, but the wall-mounted design keeps the room feeling more open and easier to clean, so they’ve stuck around! The art was inherited from my grandparents’ home——it hung in their bedroom, too, and feels really special to have here.

beforedoor

Oh man, those red walls in the distance!

When we moved in, the bedroom door (kind of out of frame on the left) was falling off the frame, and the pocket doors didn’t open and close (turned out there were mounds of newspapers from the 70s and 80s stuffed into the wall cavity behind them!). All the hardware was hidden under layers of paint, the overhead light was awful, and while those little shelves were helpful at the beginning and a good idea for making use of that corner, I wasn’t really a fan of how they looked and they didn’t really fulfill our storage needs.

doors

Yay white walls! Yay black doors! Yay doors that open and close! Lots better, yes?

Bedroomshelves

I think I’ve mentioned a couple of times that my parents are moving out of the home I grew up in, which I’m more or less OK with because it means I get to take stuff! These Elfa shelves from the Container Store used to hang in my bedroom. The great thing about Elfa and similar systems is that it’s totally modular, so it was easy to rearrange the parts to fit the dimensions of this little wall (they used to hang in a long, horizontal formation, so all I had to do was buy two new vertical tracks). There aren’t really too many other options for non-awkward book storage in the apartment, so tucking the books in this corner feels like a good use of space. I also really like the way the Elfa shelves look!

beforedresserwall

shelves

So, this looks terrible. Those shelves went up in a fit of panic when Max moved in and brought a whole library with him, and I’ve basically regretted it ever since (the shelves, not Max moving in). They used to be COMPLETELY full, but we’ve been bringing an IKEA bag full of books with us to Kingston almost every time we go back, so this is all we’re left with right now. It’s still a lot of books, admittedly (and it’s not like there’s really anywhere to put them there, either!), but I’m very excited to take these shelves DOWN, finally. The new shelves in the opposite corner are all we really need here (maybe more than we really need, but whatever), and it’ll be nice to finally not be looking at this DIY-gone-wrong. Also, it’s a good wall for a piece of art (which, at a better scale, will in turn make the dresser look nicer), so that’s exciting. Of course I used CRAZY toggle anchors to hold those shelves up, so I’ll have to spend some time doing a bunch of plaster patching and repainting this wall before that can happen. But it’ll be worth it, because this picture makes me mad.

bedroomcorner

I hung up those little pieces of art a while ago, but I just like the way they look together and in those cheap IKEA RIBBA frames. The drawing on the bottom was found in my grandparents’ house, too (not signed, no idea where it came from or who the artist is!), and the one on top was made by my mommy! I found it years ago while snooping in old boxes in my basement and stole it immediately, and have somehow carried it around with me to every place I’ve lived for the past five years but never hung it up! I FINALLY stuck it in a frame and asked her about it last time she visited—I guess she made it as a young teenager during a brief phase when she enjoyed making art and experimenting with India ink? My mom is not the most artistically-inclined person, so the whole idea of that really tickles me.

The brass slanted candle holders were originally from Dwell Studio, but I bought them from Jennifer at A Merry Mishap at some kind of amazing discount on her instagram account, @ammextras, where she sometimes sells amazing things she doesn’t want anymore. Which is a totally brilliant concept, and also got me these totally brilliant brassy things I love so much. Thanks, Jennifer! The little vases were like 10 bucks at a stoop sale, and the coaster was thrifted.

shelves3

So that’s my room! I’m pretty happy with how it’s evolved in two years. Once those shelves over the dresser are down and the wall is fixed and there’s something arty hanging there, I think I’ll be happy with just calling it DONE.

The Guest Bedroom is Like a Real Room and Stuff.

before

One of my favorite rooms in our whole house is what I’m sure was originally a nursery. It’s very small, on the corner of the second floor, and accessible from both the hallway and the main bedroom——meaning that it has two large doors, two large windows, and a radiator. For some reason every time I post a floor plan of the second floor, I wind up with loads of comments suggesting that I turn it into a third bathroom, but there’s no way that’s happening. Aside from the obvious plumbing nightmare, I like it way too much as a room. It’s filled with light, it’s super cute, and it’s probably looked more or less like this for 150 years or so already (we’ve yet to nail down an exact date of our house…partially because I’m a little lazy and preoccupied and partially because it’s complicated stuff!), and I don’t really want to mess with that. It even has the original gas light fixture! It’s too nice to be a closet and too small and awkward to make a great office, so for now we’re using it as a small bedroom, as intended.

mekkoandlinusonbed

After we got a little smart and ditched the queen-sized air mattress for a real mattress for our own room, we kind of just threw the air mattress in here for guests. It took up basically the entire room. Very often we’ve had actual guests, but when it isn’t Nora’s room (or Chandler’s room, or Katie’s room, or Emily’s room), it’s Mekko’s room. Mekko is a little diva when it comes to her sleeping arrangements——she doesn’t like to be crowded by Max and Linus and I, so she elects to sleep on her own at night, and who am I to deny her that small luxury? Sometimes during the day she’ll allow Linus entry into her domain, but only if he promises not to lick her or impede on her ability to sprawl.

After a while, I began to feel a little bit guilty about forcing our houseguests to sleep in a glorified dog crate, though, so Max and I started keeping our eyes out for a cute little twin bed that would fit the room better.

amvets

Hooray for quick trips to the city of Buffalo. Hooray for AmVets. Hooray for $20 bed frames. So many hoorays.

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: thrift stores very often have tons of vintage bed frames, I assume because they don’t sell very well. The matching rails are usually in a weird pile somewhere nearby, so it’s just a matter of finding the right pieces. Then you’ll want to MEASURE, since old beds can sometimes be non-standard sizes——and while it’s possible to modify and old frame to fit a standard mattress (or have a mattress and sheets made to fit the bed), that’s a whole headache I’d rather avoid. So. MEASURE. It’s very hard to eyeball it when it comes to bed frames——they ALWAYS look tiny without a mattress. You can pull up standard mattress sizes on your cell phone while you wait. Then you can cut the slats yourself out of 1×4 pieces of lumber at any home improvement store. BAM. Easy bed.

Also: regular mattress, no box-spring. No pillow-top thick monster mattress shenanigans. Max and I have bought both of our mattresses at a Sleepy’s clearance warehouse center at steep discounts, and they’re both great mattresses. Never pay full price.

That is everything I know about buying beds. Use this information responsibly.

guestroomfromdoor

We really aren’t even close to making this room a real priority and have just sort of thrown thrifted stuff in it, but it actually looks pretty adorable! Mekko feels super civilized about it, as you can tell.

Based on the condition, I’m guessing the bed frame is from the 1950s or so, but these spool “Jenny Lind” beds have been produced for approximately forever——this style (with turned corners on the headboard and footboard) began to be produced around the 1850s (you can read a good history of these beds here!). Even though it’s a little sweeter and more traditional than the stuff I’m normally attracted to, I like that it’s cute and classic and goes well with the house. I think Max and I are both having fun mixing things up, here——we’re buying furniture slowly and as we find it, with the loose criteria that we love it and that we have a place for it, and we’ll just sort of see where it all lands and how it plays together. Also, $20 bed.

sidetable

I bought those little teak side tables this weekend off Craigslist! Good news: $20. Less good news: I traversed both a nearby nursing home and a clandestine gas station meeting to procure these tables. Long story. But they’re here now, and they’re cute!

The little rug weaving thing came from an auction. Yeah. I go to AUCTIONS now. Steppin. It. Up.

Separate post. Exciting times. Auctions are bananas.

I thought the colors were a little bright and silly and not my taste, but I bought it anyway because it was cheap (I AM HUMAN I AM FLAWED) and then Max threw it on the floor in here and it looked cute! I know, I am full of exciting stories today.

chairlitho

I hung art! I had it in my head that it didn’t make sense to hang art until the walls are restored and painted, but you know what? That’s going to take a long time. I’ve accepted it. My time is limited. The least I can do is grab a hammer and a couple hooks and just start hanging stuff up so it isn’t sitting around in piles. What’s one more tiny hole to patch? Nothing, that’s what.

I like this funny little litho, though. We found it at a yard sale a couple of weeks ago. It kind of toes the fine line between pretty and ugly, between tacky and not-tacky, which is sort of how I like most things in my life to be. Aside from my body. Everything else should be a little ugly.

It maybe needs a better frame at some point, but whatever. I’m into it and its weird 80s-ness. I can’t explain. Art just has to speak to your soul.

In addition: chair! True to form, I have been slowly accumulating a very stupid and nonsense amount of chairs I don’t need and someday will probably have to get rid of when my friends and family mock me. Right now, though, I can put them in corners and pretend people will sit on them. Who doesn’t want to just sit in a chair in a corner under that magnificent bright blue 80s lithograph? I don’t know anybody who wouldn’t want that out of this little room.

Details

Here are some more snapshots, in case you’re not following all the complex data being thrown your way. Cute dog. Cheap bed. Cheap rug. Cheap tables. Cheap chair.

I have no idea where Mekko’s bandana came from. It just showed up in our apartment one day, so we put it on her. She’s pleased to look even more androgynous than ever.

olddetails

I’m excited to really get to work on this room someday. It has the same American Radiator Company “Rococo” style radiator as the rest of the house (except smaller and flesh-colored), that crazy gas fixture, and a beautiful old sash-lock with a little ceramic knob just waiting to be stripped and restored. I want to make sure it’s staying a bedroom before making any big decisions about it (wallpaper? overhead light? rug? furniture? curtains? blinds? did I miss anything?), but anyway. It’s going to be way cute.

above

Until then, Mekko is not complaining.

 

MINE: Vintage Rosewood Credenza

It started off all casual-like and innocent. I was sitting on my sofa in Brooklyn, checking my email. I noticed one from a reader——we’ll call her Priscilla, because her name is Priscilla——informing me of a new thrift store opening near Kingston. I sent a quick response saying that I’d driven by it and was excited for it to open, and thanked her for making sure I knew about it. My readers are the best readers because they understand that a new thrift store is a big important event in my world and take the time to email me about it.

*hugs*

But then she messaged me back saying that they’d actually already had a soft opening and were quietly selling furniture already, basically rewarding the hardcore thrifters who will even try to go to a thrift store that doesn’t look open yet. “I’ll go check it out!” I told her.

“They have a nice rosewood credenza right now,” she told me.

And that’s when things went from friendly and casual to gravely serious and intense. Nice. Rosewood. Credenza. If I smoked crack, these words would be a lot like someone saying “hey there, want some crack?” I said something about how I hoped it would still be there when I got back the next day, but Priscilla somehow knew what I really wanted, which was for her to send me pictures of Nice Rosewood Credenza and also measurements and also offer to buy it and let me pay her back later. I didn’t ask for any of this because I have a little bit of shame left in me, but I was very complicit in it when she kindly offered all of these things. She and I don’t know each other, mind you, but there’s nothing like a little long-distance thrifty furniture shopping to turn complete strangers into old friends.

Lest you’ve never had the pleasure, let me tell you: rolling into a thrift store parking lot in a borrowed truck to pick up old furniture purchased on your behalf by a stranger? Totally new levels of fancy. This day also happened to be my birthday. Then the cashier told me I had nice teeth. Then I met another reader while waiting on line (hi, Kirsten!). Maybe hauling furniture around is not everyone’s idea of a fabulous way to spend their birthday, but I’m not one of those people. There’s pretty much nothing else I’d rather be doing, particularly when nice rosewood credenzas are involved.

credenza3

Oh heyyyyyy girl! Right now it’s in that front parlor room (which I’m thinking should be a library) because this is the only wall long enough to hold it! I’d like to put it in the dining room eventually, but that will involve removing the door to a non-original closet and patching in the wall and baseboard, which is a pretty large project that I don’t want to get into quite yet. I really want to focus on finishing the entryway before I start tearing apart more rooms in the house (I think I’d literally lose my mind if things were more chaotic than they already are), but that’s the long-term plan for this thing. It’ll be nice to have a serving surface in the dining room, and it’ll provide easy access to all sorts of handy things. And by “things,” I really just mean booze.

credenza2

I dig this thing. It’s six feet long and a little taller than countertop height. I like the weird proportions and the wood grain, and I really love all the storage. This is basically our first and only piece of storage furniture, so after months of stuffing things into closets and keeping them organized in piles on the floor, we finally have a place to store things in a more civilized and adult manner. It could use a little oil on the feet, but otherwise it’s in really great condition. I know maybe this whole scene looks very dated and kind of nuts (and it doesn’t help that I really need a new camera)——what with the wallpaper and the chipping paint on the moldings and the messed up floors and the old electrical outlets and light switches——but SOMEDAY. Someday the house will be fresh and clean and not covered in insane dizzying patterns and this credenza will look really good.

I think. I hope. We’ll find out together!

Upstairs Kitchen is Gone!

I’m aware that some people grew up engaging in wholesome sorts of activities, like reading the Bible or watching Schoolhouse Rock. For such individuals, that type of stuff might have played a significant role in their understanding of how people should act and how the world should function. My family wasn’t really like that, though. Instead, every Sunday night, we tuned into a little television program called The X-Files, which I now realize was all part of my parents’ never-ending commitment to help raise the next generation of neurotic Jews (this, along with poor digestion). There, with eyes wide and hearts racing, we were taught the secrets of the universe while also having the shit scared right out of us. The fancy-pants parents of today would never stand for this sort of thing, but this was the 90s. Things were different then.

I’m just going to assume that you live on planet earth and know what The X-Files is. If you don’t, you need to take a good long look in the mirror and ask yourself what you’re doing with your life and commit to making a change. Then go get a Netflix subscription. The X-Files hasn’t really seen quite the same trendy resurgence of late that shows like Twin Peaks and Buffy have, but it’s only a matter of time. As a home design blogger, I feel semi-qualified to make semi-confident trend predictions about these things.  You’ll want to stay ahead of that one so that you’re cool when everyone else begins to recognize that the first 6 seasons of The X-Files were the best TV ever produced.

ANYWAY. In the pilot episode of The X-Files (which, admittedly, we watched as a re-run), there’s some crazy stuff happening with UFOs and aliens in Oregon, which Mulder and Scully go out to investigate. At one point, they drive through an area with radio signal interference, which Mulder mysteriously takes note of by spray painting an X on the road. Later on in the episode, they drive through the same area again, but THIS TIME Mulder checks his watch:

903x-files

Then they see a flash of blinding white light.

whitelight

When it’s over, Mulder looks at his watch again.

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They mysteriously skipped over nine minutes of time. Mulder gets out of the car to find the X on the street. Scully follows behind. They discuss it in the pouring rain at night time, because most things happen in the pouring rain at night time on The X-Files. 

x-files1

THEY LOST TIME, YOU GUYS. BECAUSE OF ALIENS AND STUFF. Awesome. Best show.

I bring this up because this is more or less how a lot of home renovation projects seem to be taking shape. I’ll walk into a room to grab something, or think I’ll spend 20 minutes or so working on a project, and then I’ll come to and realize that the sun has set. I’ll check my watch and realize I haven’t had anything to eat or drink in many hours. I haven’t even peed.  Then I take stock of my surroundings and realize that things look completely different than they had when I walked in. Maybe I have an open wound or two that I either failed to notice or failed to attend to while in the thick of things. All that time spent in the middle is muddled and fuzzy, a sort of abstract blur of tunnel-vision activity.

This is how the upstairs kitchen in my house vanished. I’m pretty sure I went in to grab a bottle of olive oil in the early afternoon. Then, POOF! Magic! It was the middle of the night and the kitchen was gone! I have only this series of photos to piece together what I guess happened in the interim.

kitchen

First of all, this was the upstairs kitchen, which was presumably installed when the house was split into a two-family. It’s at the back of the house, directly above the downstairs kitchen, and was very ugly. I’ll admit that it was actually pretty functional (this is the kitchen we used while we renovated the downstairs kitchen, so I’m actually really glad it was here!), and almost all the components of it are being reused elsewhere. The stove, for instance, we moved downstairs for our kitchen (since the original stove was a busted-up piece of scrap metal), and the cabinets went to the mudroom (and, probably someday, the garage) and hold all my tools. The still-working but very old and inefficient fridge was donated, and the sink was kept just in case we want to use it for a future remodel.

ANYWAY. I demo’d that shit all by myself over the course of an unexplained time lapse. This is sort of how I did it, I guess:

sinkcab1

I started with removing the sink, which I figured would be the most difficult. It was. The plumbing had already been disconnected at the basement level (I think ahead and stuff), so there wasn’t anything super technical to worry about. Just a lot of disconnecting things without adequate tools. Without adequate tools is becoming kind of a theme of my life——I’m FINALLY learning that I need to invest in decent tools when I need to buy them, and replace the cheap-o ones that are all breaking with something better when they inevitably give out. Cheap crappy tools were fine when I was just playing around in my apartment, but they’re not ideal for house renovation.

Anyway, the sink plumbing came apart super easily. I thought it would be easy-ish to just lift the sink off the base once the plumbing was disconnected. HAHAHAHAHA. Oh, Daniel. When will you learn.

See that strip of white behind the sink? Well. The sink was sort of built into that strip. That strip was made of three pieces of 1/2″ plywood glued and nailed together and screwed into the studs. WHYYYYYYYYY.

sinkcab2

Sawzall time! Note how this sink base is A) the worst thing you’ve ever seen and B) super hand-made meaning super-badly-made meaning built like a tank. I really did think I could just take this whole thing out as a single unit, and I’m pretty sure it ended up as just a pile of splinters, infused with my rage.

undersinkwoodprying

Once it was gone, I got to wondering what the deal was with the platform that the sink base was sitting on. In another room, there’s something like this under a radiator, which the wood floor was clearly laid around, so I figured that this was the same kind of deal all along. Then, whilst demoing, I had the following conversation with myself:

Me: What if this piece of wood is actually on top of the wood floor? What if there is more wood floor underneath it?
Me: No, definitely not. It’s the same as under that radiator. The floor probably rotted out at some point so they cut it all away and added this thing. Or something. Your house isn’t the fucking Secret Garden.
Me: I really think this is a possibility. I don’t know why you’re always so negative.
Me: Because everything is terrible. You know that.
Me: MAYBE THIS WON’T BE TERRIBLE JUST GIVE ME A CHANCE.
Me: You’re going to regret this.
Me: We’ll see about that. By the way, your left arm is bleeding.

So I dug in with my pry bar. And hammered, and pried, and stuff, and probably hurt myself again.

prying2

WHAAAAAT. There WAS wood floor underneath the weird platform thing! I was all:

x-files2

Anyways. Then I removed the sheet vinyl floor, which I was pretty safe about, I guess. It’s possible that the backing of this kind of sheet-vinyl contains asbestos, but luckily there was no adhesive used to secure the flooring to the wood floor underneath. I used a box-cutter to cut it into strips, rolled it up (spraying the backing with soapy water as it was exposed, although the sheets weren’t tearing or coming apart or anything scary like that), and bagged it all up.

By this point, many hours had passed. I guess Max finally got curious about my whereabouts and came upstairs and was all:

scully

And I was all:

mulder

And the kitchen was all:

beforeafter

OK, I know it still looks a mess, but it’s exciting that it’s…not a kitchen anymore? It’s just a regular room that needs a lot of work?

floors

Pretty much the big exciting news is that the floor is actually in pretty great shape! Turns out all those years of being covered up did a nice job of protecting it, so while down the line we’ll probably want to refinish it, it can totally just be cleaned for now and look fine.

after2

I still have to rip out that pantry thing in the corner, but after the sink cabinet…well, at least I’m semi-prepared emotionally and mentally to deal. It’s going to be a pain.

after1

Anyway, this is a pretty good room. It will be a pretty good room. That door leads to a terrible set of exterior stairs that you can see here (which we’re hoping to have removed soon!), and the window has a piece of plexi on the outside, so it doesn’t open. The walls are all made of this weird fiberboard stuff (not plaster, not drywall), which is in pretty lousy condition and has a gross texture, and now half of it is ripped out to make way for new plumbing for the upstairs bathroom (long story, different post…). Basically, it will all need to come down to the studs at some point.

But! Underneath that pillar thing between the window and the door is a brick chimney! Above that super low ceiling (I think it’s 7.5 feet) is nothing! There’s no attic over this part of the house (the kitchen and this room were a later addition, probably around the turn of the century), so someday I’d love to loft the ceiling in here, which will make the whole room feel much bigger. So…refinished wood floor, lofted beadboard ceiling, two windows on either side of an exposed brick chimney——hello master bedroom? That way, that middle room can become a kind of flex space——like chill-out zone with a TV (we don’t want a TV in the main living room, but…I like TV. So.) and a pull-out sofa, which will eliminate the awkwardness of having the access to this room attached to another bedroom. Here is a diagram to better explain what the hell I am talking about, lest you have not memorized the entire layout of my house:

floorplan2

Something like that? I am tired just thinking about getting there. Let’s hope for more magical X-Files alien time lapses, yes? Skip ahead to a time where this is all done?

Cool. Great plan.

Removing Wallpaper! Forever!

lightinentry

One thing we knew from the second we peeked through the windows of our house for the first time was that the previous owners——or some previous owners——had a serious affinity for wallpaper. With all the other horrors our house has endured over the years (the kitchen! the bathroom! the other kitchen! the other bathroom! the closets! the attic! the basement! the living room floor! the side porch! the mudroom!) the task of peeling back the layers of paper and restoring pretty much every wall in the house just didn’t seem like such a big deal. I’d never removed wallpaper from anything before, but it’s the sort of thing people do all the time. And not, like, crazy lunatic blogger people who run out of subway tile at 4:30 in the morning and weep about why Lowe’s can’t just be open 24 hours. Like totally normal people who might even have below-average handiness abilities but they do have two working arms and a pulse, and are therefore capable of peeling wallpaper.

patternbefore

This is the part where typically I talk about how wrong and stupid I am about everything and how it was actually so hard and physically and emotionally trying and made me want to be dead. Not so! Peeling wallpaper is actually kind of fun and maybe a little relaxing and overall a pretty gratifying activity. It’s messy and terrible and incredibly tedious and takes forever and leaves you with jelly-arms, but that’s my idea of fun and relaxation. Removing old wallpaper is misery-fun, which is my favorite kind of fun, which is why I was so excited to dive right in as soon as the horrible vestibule wall was down. My friend Nora was in attendance as well (she is the fairy godmother of our renovation, officially), so we went after all the loose bits that were already coming off the wall:

entryway-wall

Which is where we left off last time, with things looking like this. I’ve mentioned this a few times before, but it bears repeating: one thing that makes our wallpaper perhaps a little different than other wallpaper is that the outermost pattern——the one in the picture above——is actually painted on, most likely with a patterned roller. The problem is, when you have 150 year old plaster walls with layers of wallpaper and paint on them, and then a house that sat vacant for two winters to freeze and thaw, that old wallpaper adhesive will fail and the wallpaper will come away from the wall in a way that is not cute or charming. I know there are those among you who think this wallpaper is pretty and I should have made an effort to keep it (*cough*VESTIBULE WALL*cough*), but  that’s just not happening. Aside from being in horrible, way-too-far-gone condition, it’s just not very pretty. Believe me. It will all be so much better someday.

ANYWAYS.

removaltools

After all the loose bits were scraped off and thrown away, it was time to bring in the big guns. Luckily, we were able to borrow some supplies from our neighbors, Julian and Philippe (whose house Max shot for Design*Sponge today!), who are veteran wallpaper strippers.

I’ve gotten a lot of comments since I started posting about the house regarding wallpaper removal, and people have some strong feelings. Use strippers! Don’t use strippers! Use water! Use vinegar! Use steam! Steam is the devil’s work! And so on. So I’m just going to say that this is the method that’s worked best for me, after playing around with a few different methods over the course of this whole fun stripping adventure thingy.

SUPPLIES:

1. Electric kettle: I don’t know how I lived for so long without one of these, but it’s amazing! We use it for coffee and tea and stuff, but it heats up water to 200+ degrees in a couple of minutes, which really speeds up the whole process. The wallpaper steamer takes a while to really get going enough to emit steam (like maybe 20 minutes), so it really helps to pour already super hot water into it.

2. Wallpaper scoring tool: this tiny thang is the most important tool in the wallpaper peeling arsenal. Basically you just run it all over the wall and it creates hundreds of tiny holes in the surface of the paper, which allows the hot liquids/steam to penetrate into the underside of the paper. It’s ABSOLUTELY essential.

3. Spackle knife: I like to keep a couple handy, since the smaller one is good to get into corners and other tight spots. I think there’s a scraper specifically for this, but any old putty knife should do the trick.

4. Wallpaper steamer: People have a lot of feelings about the merits of steam, but I found it really pretty necessary. Some people mentioned steam causing their plaster to fall apart or get squishy, but it really didn’t affect mine at all. Except for the parts that are already damaged, our plaster is in shockingly solid, great shape. 

5. Handheld wallpaper sprayer: This is my new favorite thing. IN THE WORLD. All it is is a little handheld sprayer, with a pump on top to pressurize the container. That way, the spray is long and continuous, unlike a spray bottle that gives you carpal tunnel from all the repeated squeezing. Also, the plastic is much more rigid than a regular spray bottle, so pouring 210 degree water into it is A-OK. It won’t melt or anything! I added a couple drops of laundry detergent to the water, which I figured probably couldn’t hurt and would, at the very least, make things smell nice. After I was finished stripping wallpaper for the day, I used more hot water mixed with a wood floor cleaner to Swiffer the floors, which is now my new favorite floor-cleaning method.

scoring-tool

scoringtool

Did I mention how important the scoring tool is?? SO IMPORTANT. I got into a groove where while the water was heating up, I scored the crap out of the paper. Back and forth, up and down, round and round, and back again. The more you score, the easier everything is. Scoring is the least fun part of the whole thing because it makes an unpleasant noise and requires a little strength, but it’s very necessary.

SCORE. Don’t forget it.

After I’d scored a decent-sized area (I liked working in about 6’x6′ sections), I doused the whole area generously with super hot water from the wallpaper sprayer. After dousing, I kept myself occupied for about 5-10 minutes (maybe scoring another section of wall), then came back and doused the same area again. After waiting a minute or so, I was able to peel fairly large pieces off the wall with relative ease. YAY BARE PLASTER.

That method worked well for about 3/4 of each wall, but the rest of it really needed the steamer. All I did was hold the head of the steamer over any stuck areas for about ten seconds, and for the most part they scraped right off afterward. It really works best if you peel RIGHT after you take the steam away. After all the wallpaper was mostly gone, I sprayed the wall again and scraped off any clinging bits of backing paper and stuff and moved on. That’s it!

joint-compound

In case the mysteries of my house weren’t bountiful enough, I just wanted to share that generous portions of my walls were actually covered with wallpaper and paint, which was then skim-coated over with joint compound, then repainted in the same pattern! WHYYYYYYYYY. The same removal techniques pretty much worked for these areas (and the plaster underneath was——for the most part——totally fine, so I’m not sure why anyone did this in the first place!), but it just made everything extra-hard and extra-miserable. By which I mean extra FUN and WALLPAPERTASTIC.

progress

I didn’t take tons of “process” photos, but you get the idea. Lots of old painted wallpaper, all over the place. I lined the floor with plain white paper (an easel roll from the kid’s section of IKEA), which helped moderately in protecting the floor and made clean-up slightly easier. The adhesive on our paper was so old that it didn’t really stick to the floor even if it landed there instead of on the paper, but I’ve heard that can be a problem. So protect your floors. You know. Use your brain and stuff.

entry2

ANYWAY. Hours and hours and hours later…CHECK IT OUTTTT.

Yeah. I so don’t miss that wallpaper. Even though we’ll need to give the plaster a final scrub-down to get off any remaining adhesive, repair big holes and other damage, prime, and figure out what the hell we’re doing with the ceiling before we can paint, THIS IS SO EXCITING. 

stoppingpointdownstairs

I’m SO CLOSE to being done with peeling the entire first floor hallway. I had to stop in this back corner because the only light source in the entire entryway/hallway is that tiny little sconce up by the door, and I was doing this at night and I just couldn’t see what I was doing well enough to deal with this corner. Soon!

entry4

But check it out! This wall: totally peeled! That hole is from where the basement light switch used to be, but I guess at some point it was relocated to the inside of the stairwell. I think it makes more sense there anyway, so I have to patch this hole. It was previously patched with masking tape, so I think there is room for improvement.

entry1

YAY! YAYYYYYYY! Now that the walls aren’t so wacky, can’t you totally see the soft white/grey walls with the white moldings and the black doors and the rug and the chandelier and everything being so beautiful? GUH. I can’t even wait. This is the phase where I kind of wish I could just hire everything out, if only so it would be done, like, yesterday. It’s going to take a ton of work to get there, but someday it’ll be amazing in here.

entry3

Now that the big ugly dumb wall is gone, this picture is possible! I still love that stairwell as much as the first time I saw it (so, so much). I *think* my new plan is to strip and refinish the treads, stained to match the dark mahogany-ish color of the newel post and banister. Then I’ll paint the risers white. Yeah? I considered just stripping and sealing the treads (which are probably pine), or just painting both the treads and the risers, but I don’t really want to introduce another wood tone between the flooring and the banister. I think if the treads and the banister match, though, it’ll look great.

Speaking of, THANK YOU to all the amazing people who gave their input on refinishing the floors in the comments of my last post! To clarify, the photos do make the floors look better than they are, but the floors in this area are actually in pretty good shape. The floors in the front “parlor” room and the dining room, though, are a mess, and it’s all continuous flooring (no thresholds), so it doesn’t really make a ton of sense to refinish one room without just doing it all to match. I’d also like to use either a water-based poly or some type of other sealer (Osmo?) to cut down on the yellowness of the current varnish and minimize the inevitable scratches that the floor will continue to get with time and use. All of that is probably quite a while down the line (I’d like to deal with the walls and ceilings first!), but just the idea is really exciting.

As for doing it myself…the general consensus seems to be that it’s POSSIBLE, but it’s difficult and takes forever and has a high potential screw-up factor, so I think it’s probably worth saving up for having it done professionally. I don’t really want to spend weeks of my life dealing with sanding and refinishing floors, especially with everything else that I could be doing with that time, and it sounds like maybe it’s not as expensive as I thought.

I have no idea what to do about the ceiling, though. As some point this ceiling was replaced with drywall, but it looks TERRIBLE. All the seams are super obvious, and the “repairs” over the years have just made everything worse. I guess it might be worth pricing out how much it would cost to just have the ceiling re-sheetrocked, taped, and mudded (assuming we do the demo and the priming/painting), but I don’t know. Maybe this ceiling is salvageable. I just keep staring at it an no answers are coming to me. I really don’t want to deal with drywalling a ceiling. That just sounds incredibly crappy.

upstairs1

I made some progress in the upstairs hallway, too! I couldn’t really reach the area that’s left, and I’m not quite sure how I’ll deal with it yet. It’s really high! I’m guessing it will involve some creative ladder positioning and a death-defying balancing act, which I’m sure Max will dutifully Instagram for your viewing pleasure before I plummet to my death?

upstairs2

I don’t know. More pictures. I took a lot of pictures. You can see where the wall used to be. That repair shouldn’t be too bad, and then it’ll be like it was never there!

upstairs3

And that’s how far I’ve made it! So close to being done! Hopefully over the next couple of weeks we can finish the stripping, the patching, and can get some paint on these walls. I never thought I’d be this excited about painting, but all this prep work really makes that seem like the fun part.

fromstairsbefore

fromstairs

Just because it wouldn’t be complete without a little before-and-after action, behold! This whole area really has made a total turnaround already. I can’t even describe how dark and sad and scary this whole entryway/hallway was before, what with the closed-off doors and the extra walls and the peeling wallpaper…I’m just overjoyed  that it’s starting to look like a nice house again.

Paintswatches

Uh-oh, I’m already looking at swatches! I actually had these already from choosing a color for a client, but I’m not sure if I LOVE any of them here. I feel like I’ll spend my entire life looking for a grey that doesn’t go blue or purple, and is warm without being at all beige or taupe or anything like that. Also, super light but not in a way that reads as white. DOES IT EXIST? I need to paint a sample of the trim color on another board to see how they relate. That will help. I’ll figure it out.

 

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