New Wallpapers = Plan for the Tiny Office!

hyggeandwestandlaundry

If you felt a sudden shift in the air yesterday while you were hopefully doing something more fun than I was doing (eating falafel from a food truck on the side of the road under the JMZ in north Brooklyn, just trying to get home, my subway card as empty as my stomach…dark times.), you were most likely feeling the latest collaboration from one of my favorite wallpaper manufacturers, Hygge & West, being released into the world! This time, the wallpaper magicians at Hygge & West teamed up with Portland-based Laundry to create 6 new patterns (each of which comes in a few different colorways!) inspired by traditional Mexican designs. If “inspired by traditional Mexican designs” doesn’t sound exactly like my usual jam, you may be correct, but I love these! Each pattern is so pretty and the colors and metallics are SO good. I kind of want to design rooms around all of them and then make those rooms happen in my house and other people’s houses and just all the houses. Everyone deserves a little wallpaper.

Even though the tiny office space is currently a grotesque disaster of horror and despair, that is not going to stop me from planning what I want it to be. I tend to shy away from wallpaper in really large applications for myself (a personal shortcoming I can’t explain), but I LOVE to wallpaper little tiny spaces. It’s like a little special unexpected something to make those often-neglected spaces feel totally special and awesome. I’ve always been planning to wallpaper up one wall in the little office, but I didn’t know which wallpaper…UNTIL NOW.

moodboardoffice1

BLAM, office plan. I’m into it.

1. HYGGE & WEST: I’m going to wallpaper the long wall opposite the door with the new Diamante pattern in black/gold. GOLD, YOU GUYS. It’s going to be amazing. The pattern is so pretty and intricate, and…GOLD. It’s really important to me to add more warm-tone metallics to my life, because it is not brassy/goldy/coppery enough as it is.

2. DWR: Max and I found this Era Round Armchair at the Design Within Reach Annex store for something like $75 because the arms are a little scuffed up. I think it’ll make a nice simple desk chair——it’s comfortable but also really visually light, which will help keep the space from feeling crowded.

3. FERM LIVING SHOP: I’ve wanted one of these wire baskets FOREVER but never really had a worthy place. I think this might be the worthy place…

4. White floor! White floor! White floor! As soon as I set foot in this room for the first time, I’ve wanted to paint the old tongue and groove floor white. I’m planning to follow the same steps that Anna did here, except for the sanding part since mine is already painted and the paint probably contains lead and I don’t want to play that. I know people get all weird about white floors, but I think it’ll be OK. No shoes in the office!

5. I think I want to make a simple floating desktop out of pine boards…cheap and un-fancy. I’m not sure how much I’ll like the pine with the wallpaper, though, so I think I might whitewash it with something or stain it black or…I don’t know! I’ll have to see how things are coming together…

6. IKEA: For storage of office paraphernalia, I think I might finally buy one of those ALEX drawer units from IKEA. It’ll hold a ton and slip under the desktop pretty inconspicuously. I might switch out the casters with something less…plastic.

7. I know, a whole lounge chair! I want to be realistic about myself and my work habits, and I know I often get tired of sitting at a desk, but I don’t want to be tempted to leave the room if I need to get stuff done. I found one of these Wegner-style folding lounge chairs a couple of months ago in Brooklyn for $20. The webbing is totally torn and needs to be completely replaced, but since it was so cheap and it’s already ruined, I think I might replace it all with some simple canvas (or leather??) slings. In my head this will take no more than 20 minutes and look perfect? I guess I’ll need something to prop my feet on (any chair is comfy if you can put your feet up, right?), so maybe I’ll get a pouf or something.

8. IKEA: What with the white floor and wallpaper and that chair, this room is just going to need a sheepskin. That is all.

9. SCHOOLHOUSE ELECTRIC: Right now there isn’t an overhead light in the room, which is a little bit annoying/dark. Since we have to add lights to a couple of other rooms in the upstairs anyway, I’d like to just bite the bullet and get one put in here, too, since they might have to make holes in the walls and I’d rather have that done NOW than after the room is all nice and pretty. I think this little Thunderbird light from Schoolhouse Electric is so cute. The quality of Schoolhouse’s fixtures is really amazing and they’re well-priced, too.

10. LAURE JOLIET STUDIO: I don’t even really know how my friend Laure and I started talking online, but she’s a totally hilarious and awesome person who also just happens to be an extremely talented and accomplished photographer. She recently opened up an online shop to sell a modest collection of prints——they’re all black and white and HUGE (3′ x 4′!) and cheap, and I love them! I already got this one (taken at a natural history/hunting museum in Paris, I gather…) and I’m pretty excited to hang it up. I think the whole ensemble of this room might lean a little feminine, so obviously I need some French taxidermy and guns to manly it up.

11. CLARK + KENSINGTON: I still have some leftover paint from the kitchen, and I think it’s enough to paint the rest of the walls and moldings in this little room! Since the wallpaper is so bold and dark, I just want to rest of the walls to be a simple grey-white with white moldings. Nothing crazy!

That’s my big plan! Office by Christmas? Is it possible?

This post is in partnership with Hygge & West.

Starting in on the Tiny Office!

First order of business: you guys are the best. I truly felt like garbage about everything going on with the house when I wrote the post about my roofing woes last week, and half-jokingly solicited some consolation in the form of your renovation horror stories, and you wonderful creatures came out in the comments in force and delivered! Knowing that so many people have been in the same boat (and, often, worse boats) and reading all about it really made me feel better. Perhaps that speaks to something unsavory about my schadenfreude-istic personality, but the fact that you all lived to tell the tale was truly heartening. Hugs all around! We hopefully have a wonderful contractor starting work this week on the gutters (!), and along with getting some exciting electrical work done this week (!!!) and our heating system up and running (!!!!!), things are looking up again. Updates forthcoming!

Second order of business: after I pledged to let some qualified pros handle the roof, I started in on another little room because that’s just how I do. Nobody puts Baby in a corner. Except maybe box gutters. And when box gutters put Baby in a corner, Baby finds another corner. This corner:

corner

What corner am I in? Funny you should ask. I’m in that tiny room upstairs that I generally refer to as “that creepy closet with the creepy closet in it.”

before1

before2

I’m not sure exactly what this room was originally (maid’s quarters? dressing room? sewing room? nursery?), but I do know that it’s tiny and weird and full of potential.

before3

It has a wonderfully large south-facing window and gets terrific light.

floorbefore

After I pulled out and disposed of the several layers of old linoleum (keeping it wet and wearing a mask, lest the backing contained asbestos), I was left with basically a blank space. Unlike the larger rooms in our house, this one just has the original pine tongue-and-groove subfloor, which I LOVE. It’s already painted, too, so I don’t have to feel even a little guilty about painting it again.

I like the idea of making the room a little office mostly because it’s so compact and secluded from the rest of the house. I don’t really like to work in large public spaces because I’m easily distracted, so I’ll be better off keeping myself cooped up in here where I can’t stare at the other gajillion things I need to fix on the house. I want it to be bright and happy and minimal and cozy and pretty. It’s going to be great!

Looks like a totally fun and pretty easy little weekend job, right? Wrong.

peeling1

Like pretty much every other wall in our house, this one was originally covered in wallpaper, which is now very old wallpaper clinging to the plaster with very old adhesive, covered in layers and layers of paint. Over time (and over the course of the house freezing into a block of ice for two winters when it was vacant) that ancient wallpaper adhesive has mostly failed, causing the wallpaper and layers of paint on top if it to separate from the plaster walls. Everything you see in this picture came off the walls with a simple scrape of a spackle knife——no special products or even steam! The problem with scraping off any extra-loose areas, patching, and just repainting the whole thing is that over time more problem areas will inevitably develop. Even though it feels like I’m totally destroying a perfectly decent-looking room (which is partially the fault of these bad pictures, which mask a lot of the in-person flaws), it’ll be much better off in the long run if I do this stuff NOW and do it thoroughly and correctly. On top of the wallpaper/paint thing, the underlying plaster is also failing and cracked in a few places, so I can do a much more thorough repair job if the walls are stripped down and bare.

progress1

On top if that, it feels kind of nice to strip all this garbage off the walls before adding a skim coat and a fresh coat of paint. The picture on the right shows what the corners of the room are “constructed” out of: masking tape! I wasn’t kidding when I’ve mentioned that there is masking tape EVERYWHERE in this house, including under layers of wallpaper and paint. It appears that instead of fixing cracks in the corners of the plaster walls, a previous owner just decided to tape over them and cover it all up. While I admire the ingenuity, it’s not exactly a solution built to stand the test of time.

I know this room might seem totally inconsequential and like it should be last on the agenda, but I wanted to get to it now for a couple of reasons:

1. I’d really like to have a place to work. When so much of the house feels like complete and utter chaos, I’m really excited to have this little space done and polished to escape from it all when need be. I’m HORRENDOUS about blogging/answering email/writing/functioning generally when I’m at the house, so having a designated location to take a break and do that stuff is going to be pretty awesome.

2. Because this is a small space that isn’t that important, it’s a good place to practice all this stuff. I’ve never skim-coated a wall before or done any real plaster repair, so before I try to take on the entire entryway that basically spans two floors, the entire length of the house, and a stairwell, I think the time it will take to fix the walls in this room will be we well-spent in the long run when I take on more extensive and larger scale repairs.

progress2

BOOM—progress? If you look closely at the image on the right, you can see a bunch of plaster buttons securing crumbly plaster to the wall, some new drywall where the old plaster really couldn’t be salvaged (largely due to previous bad repairs) and the beginnings of some fancy Old Town Home-style skim coating with the help of fiberglass mesh screens! Trying all of this stuff for the first time, I’m really glad I’m giving myself this test run on this room before moving on to the more public/high-traffic/important areas. I won’t lie, it’s going to take some practice. But after spending so long on the roof trying to fix my crazy gutters, all this stuff that I probably would have been hating now feels like super fun and manageable child’s play!

I’m SO excited to get to the point where I can prime and paint these walls. They’re pretty much entirely stripped of the old wallpaper and paint at this point (I wore a heavy-duty dust mask throughout to avoid lead paint that may be lurking a few layers of paint deep…), so now it’s time to scrub them down to get rid of the paste residue and start repairing! Joint compound and I are going to be best friends——I can feel it.

My Roof Might Kill Me.

When we closed on our house, I bought this book called Renovating Old Houses because I figured it would be chock-full of interesting and valid information that would come in handy as a new renovator of an old house. Reading through the book later on, I was quickly filled with an all-consuming sense of dread: what the hell have I done. While informative, the book basically chronicles everything that can go wrong in an old house——which is to say, everything. Everything can go wrong in an old house. If it isn’t the foundation, it’s the roof, and if it isn’t the roof, then it’s the framing. The electrical will probably start a fire, the plaster will fall apart, and——of course——the asbestos will kill you eventually. I read through about half of it before I felt that it would be better for my mental health if I gave the book a little break for a while to recover from my house-hypochondria. All of a sudden, I couldn’t just see all the beautiful old things——instead, only a collection of problems, or potential problems, and a future full of regret and failure.

Old houses are difficult beasts by definition. They were built at a time before standardization, and before modern construction methods. Sometimes, that’s a good thing. Other times, it’s a massive pain in the ass.

roofold roofold3 roofold2

We knew the roof was a problem before we bought the house, and intended to have it replaced in the near future. It wasn’t until we started living there that the “near future” became somewhat pressing. I came to be one of those people who dreaded sudden shifts in weather——each new rainstorm bringing slow (and…not slow) leaks of water into various areas of my home. We did our best to do some temporary patching, but we knew the roof needed to be replaced ASAP. Because of the way our home was built——a main section with various additions over time——we have a few different types of roofing. The main pitched roof was clad metal shingles (probably installed in the 1920s?), and all of the low-slope or flat sections were covered in sheet metal, covered up over the years by rolled asphalt roofing or gallons of tar. Metal roofing is really beautiful and extremely long-lasting, but unfortunately when it isn’t properly maintained (painted every few years, that kind of thing), it tends to corrode. It corrodes further when the repair method is covering leaking sections (or the whole thing!) with loads of tar——it works well for a while, but is a very temporary solution until the tar cracks and buckles and separates from the substrate (and further corrodes the metal). This “temporary” repair method has probably been used on our house for…oh, 50 years. Not awesome.

Eventually we found a roofing contractor (long story, not worth it) who came in at a reasonable price (and offered financing options), and we scheduled the work. Things were going super well, like so:

Roofattic

Oh yeah, did I ever mention that our whole house is insulated with brick and mortar? Well. It is.

roofing

roofbeforeafter

And then they weren’t.

The problem is our house.

Remember that thing I said about old houses being difficult and complicated? Well. Unlike modern homes, our house is outfitted with a built-in gutter system called box gutters, which is part of the whole structure of the roof. I made a simplified technical drawing to illustrate. Excuse my chicken-scratch.

diagram1

Basically this means that the gutter itself is built into the cornice of our house, as opposed to the  regular aluminum gutters that contemporary homes have. The gutter structure is built out of wood and then lined with metal (or sometimes rubber, if it’s been redone recently). The problem with this elegant solution to water drainage is that a lot can go wrong over time——the house settles, a leak develops in the metal lining, or if you’re like us, both! Both awful things have happened, meaning that water leaked into the gutter system for a really long time and caused a whole mess of rot.

I was aware that this could be a problem, but every roofing contractor who looked at our house (not just the ones we hired) proclaimed our box gutters A-OK and good candidates for a quick re-lining job.

HA. HA. HAHAHAHAHAHA. *bursts into tears*

I’m the sort of annoying homeowner who lingers around whenever work is being done on my house, so when I climbed up onto the roof to check on the progress, I immediately saw some problems. The original tar-covered metal lining had been partially torn off, and underneath was a horror show——nothing but remnants of the original gutter structure remained, mostly comprised of completely rotted little splinters of wood.

rot

And it wasn’t just this gutter (although——hopefully——this is the worst). It was all the gutters that they’d exposed. Luckily at this point they’d only torn off half the areas of roofing (and gutter lining), so I immediately told everyone to stop what they were doing so we could assess the situation before opening up more cans of worms. Good move, Kanter.

Basically what happened to this gutter can be explained by this second (exaggerated for dramatic effect) technical drawing I composed for your viewing pleasure.

diagram2

The box gutter SHOULD  slope within the cornice down to a terminal at the end, where water is then released onto the ground via a downspout. But on our house, over the course of 150 years, not only did the gutter lining develop leaks, but the entire wall of the house (and the cornice) bowed out, causing the cornice to settle with a slope at both ends toward the center. Water began to leak through the gutter lining, and then settle in the middle, rotting some of the wood of the cornice and continuing to eat away at the gutter structure. Just terrific.

To make things even more fun and exciting, this kind of repair is beyond what our roofing contractor could address——it’s really carpentry, at this point, and a fairly specialized type of repair. So basically they covered all the exposed gutters with ice & water barrier and told us we needed to fix it ourselves or hire someone who could, and it needs to happen within the next month or so, before there’s massive amounts of cold and rain and SNOW to ruin our house/life.

The whole thing was absolutely devastating, honestly, and I don’t say that about a lot of things. I panicked. I went to the hardware store and bought some tools and supplies and wood. Then I got on the roof and basically didn’t get off for three days. It was cold. I might have been sick, both physically and in the head. It was awful. I wanted to be dead, but I thought maybe I could fix it myself and really, really didn’t want to deal with contractors or pay contractors lots of money to do something that my pea-brain thought I could maybe conceivably handle myself.

meonroof

I really tried.

EFFORT

At various points I thought I was doing super well and maybe I was an amazing carpenter/roofing prodigy, but Sunday night basically ended with me shivering on my roof, head in my hands, trying to figure out what to do next. I needed to come to terms with the fact that this is just beyond what I’m capable of dealing with by myself, for the following compelling reasons:

  1. I don’t really, actually know what I’m doing. I don’t think this repair is exactly rocket science, but it’s dumb for me to think I can do it correctly without any real knowledge of how to do it correctly. I’m not sure I can possibly make things worse, but I also don’t want to do it all wrong, cause further damage, or need to have it all redone in the next few years because I was too stubborn to hire somebody the first time around.
  2. I have no time for this. There are a lot of exposed gutters right now, and I’m under no illusions that upcoming rain/snow aren’t going to make all of this SO much worse. I need this to be fixed quickly, and doing it myself is not going to make it go quickly.
  3. There’s a problem of scale at work here. I’m one person, and even if I knew how and had the time, I can’t fix this many linear feet of gutter, half of it while balanced precariously on a ladder.

I’m not the sort of person who cries in moments of self-pity and dejection, but if I were, I would be. I know I try to keep things light and fun and happy around these parts (and I debated even writing this post), but honestly? This feels awful. I feel like I’ve destroyed my house. I know it’s just a dumb cornice and some dumb gutters, but this all feels overwhelming and insurmountable and sad.

We’ve had a couple of contractors out over the last few days who are familiar with rebuilding box gutters, though, and I think things are looking up. One of them in particular I LOVED, and his quote was actually relatively affordable, so hopefully he’ll be able to shuffle his schedule around and I’ll be writing a big update a couple of weeks from now about how he is amazing and solved all of our problems and I didn’t even have to sell my organs or anything AND my house has wonderful and reliable drainage that I’ll never have to touch again.

Hopefully. Fingers crossed, big time.

OK. Make me feel better. What’s the worst thing that ever happened during your renovation? Ready, go.

Fun and Funky Thoughts on Asbestos!

There’s a funny little subject that old home owners tend to be loathe to talk about, even among themselves. They’ll sit around for hours and laugh and laugh about uninsulated walls and crumbling plaster and that time they found live electrical wire poking out of the laundry room floor, just hanging out, ready to burn the house down. “Oh, look at us!” they say to each other, “just a couple of goofy lunatics, fixing things up again!”

But——save for the darkly humored and truly sick——their voices invariably drop to a near whisper when a particular subject comes up, their eyes shifting around suspiciously, lest someone might overhear. “Poor suckers——didn’t realize before they went to contract that the whole house was covered in it. Can’t replace the siding, can’t rip off the roof, heat pipes in the basement, popcorn ceilings——asbestos, man…that’s not something you want to mess around with.”

asbestos

Yeah. Asbestos. Or as I like to call ours, the Best Asbestos, because it’s more fun to say. Pretty much all old houses have asbestos somewhere, and there isn’t anything inherently dangerous about it, so long as it’s in stable condition (not flaking and falling apart) and goes undisturbed. The problem is when people start messing with it——unnecessarily ripping it off of heat pipes or crushing it up and throwing it around like confetti. Fact: When disturbed, asbestos-containing materials often release asbestos fibers. Asbestos fibers can be up to 10,000 times thinner than a human hair (so basically they’re invisible, and I think we can all agree that invisible threats are way freaky), and, when inhaled, they like to embed themselves in human lungs and wait around for 30 years or so and then be like—”hey! I’ve been here a while. About time I caused some lung cancer or incurable Mesothelioma and killed you dead!”

Oh, asbestos. Super duper rude, you know?

More facts: Asbestos can be in all sorts of things! That’s what makes it so adorable——it just wants to be at every party, and it doesn’t understand why nobody wants it. There was a time when everyone thought asbestos was super fun and groovy because it helped keep things from catching on fire, but then everyone realized in the 80s that the people who worked with it for years were all dying, and maybe it wasn’t so great after all. Now nobody wants it in their basement or their insulation or their flooring or their popcorn ceilings or their siding or really anywhere at all. It’s like the kid that pooped in the swimming pool, except nobody ever forgave him.

There are a couple of things to be done in an asbestos-related pickle. The best option is usually to do nothing at all. Humans and their asbestos can peacefully coexist for years, as long as everyone just leaves everyone else alone. The second best option is usually encasement, where the asbestos is covered up and ignored forever. Popcorn ceilings might just be covered with a new thin layer of drywall instead of scraped clean, or new flooring might be put right on top of asbestos-containing linoleum tiles. There isn’t anything wrong with this, except for when, many years later, somebody wants to run new electrical wiring or heating ducts or whatever, and they unwittingly disturb hidden asbestos-containing materials. Whoopsie! The Internet tends to agree that a little casual asbestos inhalation from time to time is not so great, but answers vary considerably as to how not-so-great it is. I, myself, prefer to believe that small levels of accidental exposure can’t be all that bad (I feel this way about all sorts of things, for the record: most varieties of drugs, trans fats, sorority girls, Lady Gaga), but who’s to say! Plenty of people think just a little bit basically amounts to a death sentence. Set a timer for 30 years, and try to forget that you’re basically a ticking bomb.

So it’s best to be careful, just in case, when dealing with these things. This is why my ceilings caused me a lot of dread. Have we talked about my ceilings? Well—out of the several rooms in my house, three of the largest ones came with not-so-adorable acoustic-tiled ceilings. There are a lot of different types of these ceilings, but basically they were probably installed to deaden noise, kind of insulate for heat, maybe hide electrical wiring or moderate to severe damage to the original plaster ceilings. It’s all one big exciting mystery, but the fact is that we have them and I would really like to not have them. The rooms all look like maybe they could be really pretty nice with some paint and general fixing, but then it’s like: BLAM—dem ceilings tho. A fresh coat of paint would help a little, but really they just need to take a hike.

The rooms in question include:

The front parlor/future library room:

parlor

These pictures are craptacular and from our first viewing of the house, but it could be so cute and so nice, right? I mean, it has that cute little chandelier and a CORNER RADIATOR!

ceiling2

Except for this…Ugh. Ceiling. Why you gotta be all?

Then there’s the dining room.

diningroom

All those cute doors and nice moldings and that crazy arched bay window area. It’s like charm on charm on charm, 24/7.

ceiling4

ceiling3

Oh right, except that mess of a ceiling. This is the room I’m most worried about, since there’s a pretty significant sag over by the bay area, which I guess was “repaired” with some clear caulk. Fancy!

Then there’s that room I always call the “middle bedroom” upstairs, which might become a master bedroom sitting/TV room kind of place. This room needs a whole mess of work (the bump-out bay window thing is a crazy disaster zone of missing windows and unpainted drywall and weird and mysterious fixes), but the thing I hate most?

middle-room

ceiling1

You guessed it. More acoustic tiles. The ceilings in the upstairs of our house are lower than downstairs, so this one feels particularly sad and oppressive instead of just all around very…blech.

These ceilings were one of the first things I noticed when we looked at the house for the first time. I remember asking our home inspector about them, and the conversation was basically like this:

Home Inspector: Really, this is a pretty great house. Solid foundation, great features!
Daniel: I know! Do you think those ceiling tiles contain asbestos, though? I’ve read they can contain asbestos.
Home Inspector: No, definitely not. I’m 99% sure they don’t.
Daniel: Oh, that’s great! What makes you so convinced? Ones that look basically exactly like these usually contain asbestos, and it’s not like the house isn’t more than old enough. Sorry to sound like a worry-wart, but am I missing some kind of non-asbestos identifying feature?
Home Inspector: Well, when you put it that way, if you’re really worried about it, I guess it’s best to have them tested because you really can’t tell about these things just by looking.

I didn’t further shame him by pushing the point about why he was so sure, but yeah—home inspector dude didn’t really know what he was saying. Which convinced me that, without question, our ceilings were most definitely chock-full of the stuff, which was a bridge we’d just have to cross some other time. We decided to forego the asbestos test that we could have written into our contingencies: partly because we were already offering a rock-bottom price, and further negotiating for asbestos abatement was not going to be a winning strategy, but mostly because we didn’t really want to add another item to the growing list of super valid and legitimate reasons we should probably definitely not buy this house.

We’ve been waiting the last few weeks to get some electrical work done in the entryway/hallway, so things have kind of reached a stand-still in there, since I don’t want to start repairing plaster until we’re done messing it up and making holes for new wiring. Naturally, my attention quickly shifted to wanting to destroy another area of my home, since that’s what I seem to like doing these days. I seem to have reached a weird breaking point with these three ceilings (particularly the dining room, since that’s the room we’re really using the most and it still looks terrible), and I want them gone yesterday. So instead of doing the truly reckless thing of just tearing them down in the middle of the night, or the slightly more reasonable thing of hermetically sealing the room and myself and going about a little DIY asbestos abatement (which is legal in the state of New York, but may not be in your state…), I decided to go ahead and be a grown-up and have those ceilings tested. I’m really very proud of this display of restraint and consideration for my own health and the health of those around me.

testing

So I went around with a spray bottle in one hand and a chisel in the other and took little samples of each of the ceilings. I immediately put them in baggies, and I immediately labeled the baggies. Then I printed and filled out a form and wrote a check and sent my samples to MACS Lab in California, where a team of scientists/magicians would analyze the samples and tell me if removing my ceilings would or would not cause me to die later in life. I watched a lot of CSI during my teenage-hood, so I have a general sense of how this whole montage looks. A dark, dramatically underlit lab full of beautiful people. Microscopes. Slides. Centrifuges. Computers with fancy graphics that either flash ASBESTOS in red or NOT ASBESTOS in green with the molecular breakdown of my mystery ceilings rotating, semi-translucent in the background. That’s definitely how it works.

Have you ever sent anything through the actual mail before? Let me tell you, the amount of waiting involved is AGONIZING. I waited for, literally—and I kid you not—DAYS to find out. I told a friend and neighbor what I was doing, and he was horrified that I even wanted to know at all. I told him my credibility in the home design/renovation blogosphere would be ruined if I didn’t take asbestos seriously, and then he stopped talking to me altogether.

ANYWAYS.

Then an email showed up in my inbox with the results. My blood pressure went up. I kind of knew what was coming, but I opened it anyway, since I’d payed a whole $35 per sample to get this terrible news, and I figured I should stop delaying coming up with a plan.

NO. ASBESTOS.

NONE. NOT EVEN A LITTLE. I read over the form a few times to make sure I hadn’t missed anything. Unfortunately it looks like I am not legally allowed to reproduce the form here (fair), so you’ll just have to believe me. It was amazing, like that time I found Mariah Carey’s instagram account. I sent a series of overly-excited tweets about the matter.

Now I obviously cannot WAIT to rip down these ceilings. I dream about it at night and during the day. It will make everything approximately 400,000 times better to have flat, beautiful ceilings. It fills me with hope and happiness to know this is a possibility that won’t cost me thousands of dollars, thousands of hours, or my life.

Of course, this quickly brought with it a whole set of very serious and important questions and decisions. Namely:

1. What is under the acoustic tiles? These tiles were nailed onto furring strips, which are secured to the original ceilings (not glued!). From what I can tell from when I made holes to take the samples, the original plaster ceilings are still right up there, waiting to be uncovered! All of these ceilings are in the oldest section of the house, so they’re probably somewhere in the neighborhood of 150 years old. A lot can happen to plaster ceilings over that amount of time, so I’m certainly not expecting them to be perfect—lots of sagging and maybe missing pieces and whatever damage that I assume caused them to be covered up in the first place.

2. How do I make the ceilings beautiful again? I really want to save as much of the original plaster as possible, and fill in where necessary with new drywall. Alex at Old Town Home has a great post about repairing plaster ceilings with a magical-sounding product called plaster buttons (or plaster washers), which help bring sagging plaster back into position. I already bought 200 of them, so I guess I’m basically a plaster ceiling repair professional.

3. Medallions? Crown molding? Old houses usually have super beautiful plaster ceiling medallions in the middle of the ceilings surrounding a light fixture. I think my ceilings would look incomplete without them, and I want to add that extra level of super amazing fabulousness, at least to the downstairs rooms. House of Antique Hardware has some really great options——a bit of an investment, but worth it. Once everything is caulked up and painted, they look just like the real thing. I’ve thought a lot about adding crown molding, too, but I think I’ll pass——it would cost a ton of money to do it right (small crown molding with the huge moldings around the doors and baseboards is going to look extra-crappy), and I don’t think it’s necessary. If I feel like we need to add it later on, we can always do that!

www-1.47parkavenue.co.uk

Whenever I think about amazing ceilings, I think about 47 Park Avenue. Aside from the very extreme British fabulousness of everything Michael does to his amazing house, I am obsessed with having ceilings like his. Also, vintage Venini chandeliers, but that’s besides the point.

I thought that we needed to choose simpler ceiling medallions because our moldings don’t have all the ornate flair of Victorian finishes, but after gathering some inspiration (this picture, namely), I feel like maybe that isn’t the case? Maybe I need to track down really elaborate ceiling medallions to go with the really elaborate chandeliers that I will someday own? I’m not sure. I guess it’s a while off.

So. Lessons:

1. Things that look like asbestos might not be asbestos. Get them tested! It’s cheap and easy.

2. My ceilings are going to be amazing! I trust we can all sleep better tonight knowing this.

3. I would sell my soul for that chandelier.

Replacing Broken Window Panes with Salvaged Glass!

“You know,” our neighbor said on our fourth day in the house, “you ought to put in smaller windows.” Max and I had been out working on cleaning up the yard, and he and his friend had walked over to introduce themselves and dispense some free renovation advice.

“Smaller windows?” I asked.

“Yeah, for heat,” agreed his friend. He leaned in over the fence and dropped his voice. “Here’s what you do. Rip out those old windows and replace them with some smaller ones. But don’t throw those away——put them on eBay. Make sure you put something about how they’re from historic Kingston. Some sucker will love that. I bet you could get a few hundred bucks a pop.”

“Yeah, historic Kingston,” the neighbor agreed, “don’t forget that part. And say how it was the first capital of New York. People are into that stuff.”

“I’ll definitely consider it,” I told them, suddenly overcome with the desire to embrace each one of our newly-acquired 150 year-old windows and whisper softly to them, reassuring them that they were safe with me.

“I’m sure you got a lot of work to do on that place, but you’re gonna want to do it before winter sets in.”

“I’ll try to squeeze it in,” I said, looking back at the house, trying to think of a way to redirect their attention. “Right after, uh, we take care of this lawn. Grass, you know??”

It probably took these well-intentioned gentlemen roughly 0.0 seconds after meeting us to deduce that homosexuals had bought the vacant house down the street, but they’d failed to put two and two together. Homosexuals love old windows. They love old moldings and doors and floors and walls, too. I, for one, would do all sorts of things before I’d tear my old windows out, including but not limited to going bankrupt from heating costs and freezing to death in my sleep.

Admittedly, friendly neighbor might have a point, kind of. Advances in window technology over the past century have made windows more energy-efficient—what with double and triple insulated panes and more airtight seals. And smaller windows mean more solid wall, which means less heat loss. Hell, maybe just get rid of the windows altogether! Who needs ’em, am I right?

But not only are old windows almost always more beautiful, they can also be pretty efficient when well-maintained (especially with decent storm windows). Even windows in terrible condition can usually be restored in a few simple steps and with a few inexpensive products. And while new production windows (vinyl, aluminum-clad, or wood) normally fail and have to be replaced after a couple decades, old wood windows can literally last centuries. My buddy Anna gives me a lot of hope when it comes to fixing up my old windows.

We have a lot of windows in this house (somewhere around 30…I’m too afraid to count), and all of them need some love. But that’s OK, because they’re super cool six-over-six double-hung sash windows that are original to the house, and almost every pane of glass is original and wavy and incredibly beautiful. The glazing on the exterior of most of them is in various states of disrepair, paint on the interior is chipping and falling off, we have broken sash cords, cords that have been replaced with chains, sash locks covered in too many layers of paint, top sashes painted or nailed closed, areas of rotted wood, broken panes…pretty much anything that can go wrong on an old window can be found somewhere in our house. Something tells me I’m going to be a pro at restoring old windows by the time we’re done renovating…50 years from now. Luckily we have storm windows on almost every window, so keeping those closed should help a little with the draftiness and offer some protection from the elements to slow further deterioration until I can really address things more comprehensively.

brokenwindows

Just to scratch the surface, though, it was really important to me to replace two shattered panes of glass. The one on the left was sadly broken a couple weeks ago (we’re guessing by some asshole neighborhood kid…ugh), and the one on the right has been broken since before we even saw the house for the first time. Aside from the the obvious concern of having gaping holes in our home when winter is just around the corner, it’s also just our responsibility as homeowners to stay on top of this stuff. It isn’t good for our house or the neighborhood to have obvious signs of disrepair and neglect on the exterior of our house, even if we’re working our butts off on the inside.

tools

Here’s my arsenal of tools!

1. A straight-edge for cutting glass. You can obviously have your glass cut for you (Lowes does it), but I wanted to try it out for myself and I had some glass on hand. This straight-edge is actually a metal transition strip for flooring because I’m disorganized.

2. A carpenter triangle, to ensure that the straight-edge isn’t set at an angle.

3. Window glazing putty. In the past, I’ve used the type that comes in a plastic tub, but I decided to try this kind out. The plastic tub kind has a play-doh-like consistency, whereas this stuff is much more liquidy. I found the other type easier to work with, honestly, but neither are super-difficult.

4. (not pictured) A heatgun for softening old glazing putty.

5. Measuring tape or ruler.

6. Glazing points, which hold the glass in place.

7. A razor blade.

8. Glass-cutting tool.

9. Glazing tool.

heatgun

To get the old glass out, I used a heat gun on the lowest setting to soften the old glazing, and my glazing tool to slowly peel it off. It’s tempting to turn the temperature up, but not only could that create lead vapors if dealing with lead-based paint, you also run the risk of overheating and cracking the glass further. This is obviously something you want to avoid if you’re just trying to redo the glazing and save the existing glass!

My pictures of the actual glazing process are horrendous (this project was particularly hard to take pictures of in-process…the lighting was a mess, and Max was busy!), but Alex at Old Town Home has a terrific run-down explaining how it’s all done. I stupidly skipped priming my sashes before applying new putty, but because the glazing on all of the windows really needs to be redone at some point anyway, I’m not going to sweat it right now. When I have the time to restore the windows for real I’ll fix it, but for now I’m just glad the glass is fixed!

newglazing

For the first window (the bottom corner pane of one of the big living room windows…boo-hoo), I thought I’d be super clever and reuse glass that I’d saved from the vestibule wall “windows.” It totally worked and looks totally fine and the dogs are clearly OK with it, but…

newpane

See that? See how the surrounding three panes of glass are all wavy and look like a Dalí painting, and the new one is super crisp and clear?

Screw you, dumb neighborhood kid.

I didn’t think it would bother me. I’m generally OK with new repairs looking like new repairs, but this is an instance when I don’t feel OK with that. It bothers me. I mean, it’s better than being broken, and I’m sure I’m probably the one person out of a thousand who will ever walk in this room and notice that one pane out of 54 in the entire room doesn’t bend the light and the view the same way that the others do, but still. I want my old beautiful glass back.

Before moving on to broken window pane #2, I was complaining about this with my friend John (whose AMAZING house tour is on Design*Sponge today!) over text message. John is a beautiful, wonderful person with terrific style who has been renovating his nearby 1723 (!!) home for the past five or six years, so I knew he would sympathize. Not only did he sympathize, but he offered to let me dig around his old window hoard in his basement to salvage some old glass! Because what self-respecting old-home renovator doesn’t keep old windows around for  a rainy day or a neighbor in need?

sparewindow

BOOM, old window. I see old windows like this ALL THE TIME at junk stores and architectural salvage types of places for practically nothing, but I’ve never really felt possessed to buy one. People are often quick to rip out perfectly good old sash windows instead of repairing them, often with the original glass and sash locks intact. John was after the sash locks, so he didn’t mind me taking some glass off his hands.

glazingremoved

I quickly went about carefully removing the old glazing with my heat gun and glazing tool. Once I felt confident that the glazing had been sufficiently removed and I’d found and removed all the old glazing triangles, I gently pushed on the backside of the glass. It popped out of the window frame pretty easily and intact. Yay!

glasscutting1

Cutting glass is really very easy, I found out. I just measured the size of the opening to figure out what size I needed and drew two small lines demarcating the width on either end of the glass. Then I used my triangle and straight-edge make sure I had a straight line to cut against.

glasscutting2

I was skeptical about how well this little glass cutting tool would work (it’s less than $4!), but it was great! Wearing protective gloves, you just run the wheel down the straight edge. Don’t be afraid to use some pressure—you only want to make ONE continuous pass, and you want to score the glass well to increase the chance of a clean break.

glasscutting3

It’s hard to get a good picture of the score line, but I hope you can see it to the right of the straight-edge? It’s subtle.

glasscutting4

Turn the glass so that the breaking point rests on the edge of a table or countertop. Apply firm, even pressure on the off-cut, and the glass should make a clean break! This is definitely easier with thinner glass like this, but the same method can work for thicker glass as well.

oldglass

It’s hard to get a great picture, but the “new” pane is the one in the top left corner! See how it’s all wavy and pretty and matches super well? I’m so pleased.

We have several more broken panes throughout the house (not shattered like these two, but with large cracks running throughout), so I guess I’ll start buying up old windows for future repairs. When I do a full overhaul on that first window and replace all the old glazing, I’ll probably go back and use this same method again. I know I’m a lunatic, but I really do think it’s worth the extra effort to maintain what I see as one of the house’s best features.

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