All posts tagged: Entryway

Light it Up!

So, due to having zero time and zero energy and no exterior electrical outlet and the house feeling like a construction zone and 3/4 of our family being Jewish (in fact, I am counting the dogs), we did not do anything in the way of Christmas decorations this year, outside or inside. Instead, we did the early-stages-of-renovation alternate version where we change up our seasonal lighting scheme by having some electrical work done.

How’s THAT for holiday cheer?  So festive, even if the neighborhood may not realize/notice it. It’s subtle.

houseinsnow

That photo was taken on Saturday night, when we were getting a ludicrous amount of snow in Kingston! Snowy Kingston is so super pretty, and even though we’ve done almost no exterior work (well, half a roof counts I guess, but you can’t see it from this angle…), the house looks beautiful. The house was covered in snow the first time we ever saw it last December (almost a year ago!), and it feels really good to see it this time around looking more and more like a place where people live and a place that people love.

ANYWAY, the point of this photo is the new exterior lights! Look how bright it is!

oldlightporch

Obviously this is a picture of the hole left behind by the old light fixture and not the fixture itself, but I guess at some point in the 70s or 80s, the previous owner had one of these beauties installed here. It was the only exterior light, meaning that the house was pretty under-lit, generally. Aside from being a crappy size and style for the house, the placement of the fixture sort of didn’t make sense and marred an otherwise (potentially) very beautiful entryway.

newporchlight

Yay, new light! Obviously I have to patch up and paint that old hole (ASAP, before creatures colonize it…), and obviously this “fixture” is only temporary until fickle me can find one I really want, but having it centered over the overhang makes everything a million times better. The impetus for doing this right now was that I had to coordinate the electricians to come on the same day as the roofers so that they could run the new electrical from above, while the roof was torn off. Otherwise, they might have had to cut holes in the original tongue-and-groove ceiling, which was not going to fly. Both the roofer and the electrician were skeptical of this Extreme-Contractor-Coordination Plan, but it totally worked because I’m a bossy genius.

This fixture was slightly more presentable when it had a shade, but unfortunately it fell off roughly 5 seconds after I secured it and climbed down from the ladder. Dumb cheap lighting.

BUT THAT’S NOT ALL.

newporchlights

There’s lighting over the porch now! For the first time ever! So exciting!

When it’s dark out, this new lighting goes a loooonggg, long way toward making the house look taken care of, which is really exciting and really important in a neighborhood where that often isn’t the case. I’m also excited for when it gets warmer again and we can chill on the porch under our new lights. These lights are on a dimmer switch, so they’re perfect for lighting up the house or just providing a little ambiance when we’re hanging out on the porch. And who doesn’t love ambiance? Can’t get enough of that ambiance.

The fixtures that are there are just these guys from Lowes (which actually aren’t so bad, especially for the price, if you need something generic that looks historic and whatnot) but I think they’re a bit under-scaled, which bothers me. The original plan was to put a hanging pendant in front of the door and two flush-mount or semi-flushmount fixtures over the porch, but after living with the temporary lighting for a while, I actually think I want to nix the pendant and just have three matching flush/semi-flush-mount fixtures. Greek Revival houses were built to resemble Greek temples, and I think adding a hanging fixture would kind of disrupt the architecture. All the columns and the cornice and the trim details (of which there should only be more when we remove the vinyl siding…) are dramatic enough, so I think all the exterior lighting really has to do is highlight all that stuff.

By the way, given the amount of protection the cornice/fascia provide, the electrician assured me that it wasn’t really necessary to get exterior-grade lighting for here (as long as it’s flush-mount), which is exciting. I still might, just in case, but exterior lighting in general is tough. Like super hard to find anything that isn’t so ugly. Looking at interior options that would look good outside really opens up the options in a huge way.

BUT THAT’S NOT ALL. Stuff happened inside, too!

lightinentry

Remember this, in the entryway? Well. It was the only light source in the entire downstairs hallway. The hallway is over 30 feet long and kind of narrow, and having one teensy sconce trying to light up the whole thing was just not going to cut it.

I went back and forth a lot on whether or not to keep the sconce, and in the end decided to get rid of it. I know! First of all, it was connected to some pretty old wiring (lots of our wiring is pretty old and there isn’t really anything wrong with it, but it still feels good to replace it whenever it makes sense…), but I also felt like the space wouldn’t really be lacking anything without it. It isn’t original to the house (though it may be original to the house having electricity), its placement was sort of arbitrary, it wasn’t effective…blah blah blah. I still have it in case we want to use it elsewhere!

wallafter

Part of the reason I haven’t really made any headway in the hallway is because I wanted to wait for this electrical work to be done, and I’m glad I did! Look at all those holes! Now I can finally start to patch up and repair the walls, which will be so exciting. It’s going to be a longgg process, but getting this entryway/hallway situation checked off the list is going to be a huge accomplishment. 

ceilingfixtureafter

Yes, this light fixture is also completely terrible, but the fact that it’s THERE and that it WORKS is all I really care about at this moment. It’s centered in the entryway between the front door and the base of the steps. The ceilings are almost 10 feet here, so it definitely needs a big amazing chandelier. It’s going to be soooo good.

backofhalllight

In the back of the hallway (man, these pictures just get scarier and scarier…), we added another light that’s on the same circuit as the one in the front of the hallway. The shade for this one also fell off and shattered into a million pieces (I promise I’m not an idiot; these light fixtures are just really poorly made…), but for now it’s not like it’s even the worst-looking thing in this photo. So.

I think for here, I’ll probably do something pretty small and flush-mount, so as not to compete with the big guy down at the other end of the hallway. Just something that does the job…

upstairslightoldandnew

Then UPSTAIRS, I asked the electricians to move the existing light. It was basically centered over the area at the top of the stairs (in front of the bathroom door), which was annoying for two reasons:

1. The ceilings upstairs are only 8 feet, so putting a chandelier or pendant there would have been tough/impossible.

2. This is the only light source in the upstairs hallway, which meant that the other end of the hallway was super dark.

newupstairslight

Moving the fixture over the stairs solves both of these problems! Now that it’s more central, it lights up the entire space a bit better, and since it’s over the stairs, we have plenty of head-room to hang something way more exciting than that little crappy thing with grapevines etched into it.  I just kind of eye-balled the placement, and if I could do it all over again I might move it 6″-1′ back toward the bathroom, but it’s done now so I’m choosing to think it’s perfect!

cree

Before I end this long, rambling post about things that probably only I could get excited about, I wanted to mention my new(ish)found favorite lightbulb: the Cree bulb. This is a big deal in my life.

FINALLY, FINALLY, FINALLY, there is an energy-efficient bulb that is:

1. Very energy-efficient. It doesn’t even get warm when it’s left on for hours and hours, which is my scientific way of knowing it’s good for the world.

2. Not terrible to look at, like acceptable to put in a regular lamp or anything where it’s still mostly covered. But SO much better looking than a CFL.

3. Dimmable. For real dimmable. Actually dims really nicely.

4. Lasts forever. Package says it will last 20 years. That just seems ridiculous, but I guess we’ll find out.

5. MOST IMPORTANTLY: it gives off nice light! Like actually! OK, it’s still a teensy, tiny bit different than a good ol’ incandescent, but I’m the pickiest person alive and I have zero problem with the kind of light this bulb gives off. I basically can’t stand ANY kind of CLF, halogen, or other types of LED’s, so this is huge. Just make sure you get the SOFT WHITE, not the daylight.

We’ve been using these bulbs wherever we can and they’re really great. At about $12 a pop at Home Depot they aren’t exactly inexpensive, but the idea is that the energy savings over time (and, in theory, not having to buy any new bulbs for a couple decades…) helps them pay for themselves. That math is too complicated for me, but I WILL say that it feels good to FINALLY have found something that’s better for the environment and doesn’t make me want to gouge my eyes out with an icepick.

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.

 

The Doors are Open!

before1

before-2

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

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

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

keys

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

Nope. Of course not.

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

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

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

doorsblocked1

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

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

So thorough. So impressive. So annoying.

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

crossbraces

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

jigsaw

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

debris

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

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

actionshot

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

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

vogue

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

NEXT TIME.

linus

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

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

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

mekko2

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

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

 

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