All posts tagged: Foyer

First There Were Ceilings, and Then There Were Walls!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Me: Wow, look at that ceiling.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Me: OK, if it’ll shut you up.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

upstairs-hallway-after

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

june2013 august2014 september2014

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

Radiator Shuffle Update!

About a month ago, I posted about shuffling around a few radiators in the house. We removed exposed heating pipes in the dining room that fed a radiator upstairs and moved them onto the other side of the wall in the pantry. Then we moved the hallway radiator onto a wall in the dining room, and then we moved the original dining room radiator onto a different wall in the hallway. And by “we,” I mean my plumbers. The only part I did was boss people around and pretend I didn’t notice them smoking Newports in my basement.

Apparently, I’m a very “while we’re at it, why don’t we just…” type of renovator. I thought we were pretty much done messing with the radiator plumbing, but then I started looking around the house and thinking about how nice it would be to eliminate more of the exposed heating pipes. It’s funny, because it really isn’t something that bothered me before, but if I had to choose between exposed heating pipes and not-exposed heating pipes, I mean, no contest. Sometimes I see before-and-after pictures of historic restorations, and burying the heat pipes is always such a nice touch. I wouldn’t even have been thinking about any of this if our ceilings were intact and all of that, but while everything was wide open anyway? Seemed worthwhile to explore the options.

exposedpipeslibrary

Here’s an oooollllllddddd picture of the exposed heating pipes in the soon-to-be-library downstairs, which feed the radiator in our bedroom upstairs. They ran up through the floor, right in front of the window casings, and up into the ceiling. Not so great, right?

I actually asked my plumber about losing these pipes a while ago, and he basically said that we’d need to run them up the opposite wall (where the faux-fireplace will be) and then across all of the joists, basically meaning we’d need to drill two 1″ (0r 1.25″, maybe?) holes through each of the 14-ish joists, which just sounded like an all-around bad idea. I get twitchy when the electricians have to drill out a new path for a few electrical wires in the basement, and that’s nothing compared to this. Realistically I guess it would probably be OK, but I get really freaked out about messing with major structural elements like that. So I nixed that idea.

This is the kind of thing where it comes in handy to, like, have a brain and sort of know what’s going on with your house, though.

After we knew we were ripping out the ceiling in the hallway in preparation for the new sheetrock to go up, I started thinking about running the pipes up through a wall cavity in the hallway wall and across the ceiling, parallel instead of perpendicular to the joists. I ran the idea by my plumber, and he said it was a good one, and I felt pretty clever, and we decided to do it.

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Sorry this picture is so laughably lousy, but basically I had to cut three very large holes in the plaster wall to the left of the door so that they could snake the new pipes up. The new plumbing is 1″ PEX piping, which is a fairly inexpensive and easy to install plastic piping with some flex, which makes it really good for these types of jobs. The hole in the middle was to expose the fire-stop so that they could drill through that.

When I made the holes, I drew them using a pencil and a level so that they’d be perfect(ish) rectangles, and then cut them out using my handy oscillating tool, which is the only thing I really know of that can make such clean cuts in plaster. These holes will get patched over with drywall and then skim-coated, and you should never know they’re there when all is said and done.

exposedpipesfoyer

Once we decided to remove the pipes running up through the library, I sort of became fixated with getting rid of the ones in the entryway, too. One of them covered part of the door casing (that’s the door that leads to the porch) and the other sort of cut that wall in half—there’s another door to the right just out of frame. Again, totally not something I would even be thinking about….but if the ceiling is open and the wall has huge holes in it…it’s kind of now or never, right?

SO. OUT THEY CAME. NO MORE EXPOSED PIPES.

Actually, that’s not totally true. In the back corner of the hallway, there are still two pipes that feed the radiator in the upstairs bathroom. These will eventually get re-routed, too, but that sort of requires me coming up with a renovation plan for the upstairs bathroom, which just feels sooooo far down the line. At the very least, the pipes will get moved inside the downstairs bathroom walls, but it’s also possible we’ll end up doing something entirely different for heat up there. Anyway, they can stay until I figure it out.

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LOOK, TECHNOLOGY! So those four plastic pipes are replacing the four exposed ones I just talked about above. In case you are lost and confused. In case you even care. Is this post even worth writing? Whatever. It’s happening.

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Look at that madness! I know this sort of seems like it’s wrong and shouldn’t work the same way, but it does! So whatever!

Before we put the ceilings up, we insulated these first two bays where the pipes run. As I mentioned in the ceiling post, we didn’t want to insulate the whole ceiling, but insulating the exterior wall and around the pipes seemed prudent.

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OK, FOLKS. Let this be a lesson to you. Even if you aren’t doing your own electrical/plumbing/whatever, it ALWAYS pays to pay attention and have some basic understanding of how things work. My contractors probably all hate me because I shadow them pretty closely while they’re working, but it’s IMPORTANT. The photo above, for instance, is how they were planning to connect the newly-plumbed radiators. It’s hard to tell what’s going on in the picture maybe, but basically the original elbow-shaped piece is connected to a new reducer (the black piece) to bring the size of the pipe down from the original larger size (I can’t remember the dimension) to the new 1″ size. That reducer is attached to the PEX adaptor (the brass piece). The end of the length of PEX is basically temporarily expanded with a special tool, slipped over the end of this adaptor, and then quickly tightens and forms a water-tight seal.

So basically the plan was that all of this would be exposed above the floor! You’d see all of this, and about an inch or so of PEX wrapping the bottom of the brass part. Above the floor! NO. NO. NO. NO. NO.

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Before they could get as far as drilling out the floor and enacting this plan, I asked why we couldn’t just use a 6 or 8 inch pipe of the original size, bring that down through the floor, and then reduce it and transition to PEX below the floor level. The plumbers, adorably, didn’t seem to understand the utility of this plan, but agreed that there was nothing wrong with it aside from them having to go back to the store to pick up some extra parts. So in the end it cost slightly more time and money, but the result is WAY better looking. You’d never know these radiators were messed with! Crisis averted!

pipethroughfloor

Much better, yes? Yes.

I need to pick up escutcheons for all the radiators, but that can wait. Maybe I’ll agonize over that decision, too.

As you might have gathered by this point, another little communication snafu between the plumbers and I is that they HIGHLY recommended reconnecting all of the radiators AND filling the system before the ceilings went up to test for leaks in all of the new plumbing, which I wasn’t really anticipating. I’m glad we did it, since it turned out there were some minor leaks that needed to be fixed. Had I known this was part of the plan, I would have been focused on at least skim coating and painting the spaces behind where the radiators would go in preparation for their install, but I didn’t get a chance to do that. Boo.

The original plan was to try to have the disconnected radiators sandblasted and powder coated and the floors refinished while they were away, which admittedly was a little ambitious, but it looks like that’s not happening! At least this year. I’ve now had two quotes for refinishing the floors and both refinishers have said that sanding around the radiators isn’t an issue at all, so it’s not a huge deal. And as much as I’d like to have the radiators refinished, it can also wait a year or two or three. Maybe at that point we can just spring to have all of the radiators in the house done at once, which would be pretty fancy, so maybe it’s all for the best.

Whatever! I’m just happy that we went for it and buried the exposed heating pipes, some of the radiators are in better locations, and they all still work! All the other stuff isn’t that important. Right now I’m kind of just riding the high of finally having CEILINGS and being *this close* to being able to start painting the dining room and library and putting furniture in and living in, like, a real house! EEP!

All this is a little hard to do, though, when you have…MONO! Yes, ladies and gentlemen, last week I came down with what I thought was some wretched late-summer cold/flu thing, and I did a very uncharacteristic thing and actually visited a doctor, and it turns out I have mono! Like a fucking teenager who kissed too many boys at junior prom. How did this happen? I DON’T KNOW. But it is pissing me off, because I have a lot to do, and it took me four days to write this blog post because I kept falling asleep, and I basically feel like a pile of diseased garbage with internet access. So, forgive me if the pace is a little slow…I’m trying…but I’m also so tired and nauseous and congested and did I mention tired? Like laughably tired. I’m totally worthless.

I have to go nap now.

Ladies and Gentlemen, May I Present: CEILINGS!

It’s been a long time coming, so I won’t drag it out: WE HAVE CEILINGS AGAIN! SEE?!?!?!?

diningceilingafter

Backing up *just a touch*, since you know how I like to get into the nitty-gritty of it all…wayyyyy back in December, I got it in my brain that it was high time to see what was going on under the acoustic ceiling tiles in the dining room and front parlor (which we’re calling the library now, I guess!). I don’t even totally recollect my logic with this one…we’d been in the house 6 months, we’d basically JUST gotten heat, I was working on the upstairs office, the laundry room was pretty much next on the list…and for some reason I decided to destroy two relatively functional rooms? And not only that, but remove ceilings in the dead of winter in an uninsulated house? I can’t be accountable for my actions. Going back and reading the posts, apparently I didn’t really know why I did it then, so I especially don’t know now. It just happened.

ceilingbefore

To review: the ceilings both looked basically like this. I was not a fan. The tiles were probably installed in the 1960s or 70s, and then bad crown molding was installed around the edges.

I was HOPING at the time that they’d just been put up over the plaster to add a little heat/sound insulation. I had grand delusions of removing the tiles and finding a pretty plaster ceiling above it, in need of only mild repairs. Hell, there could even be the original ceiling medallions, hiding right up there! Who could know!

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It quickly became clear that the tiles were installed as a quick and easy solution to conceal the original plaster ceilings, which were COMPLETELY trashed. I really wanted to save them, but they were just way too far gone.

The demo of these ceilings was HORRENDOUS. It took days and was so incredibly dusty, and heavy, and generally completely hellish. Even considering the condition of the ceilings, it still felt crappy having to remove so much original material from the house, but we had to do what we had to do.

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After the demo, things pretty much looked like this. At the time, I was completely delusional about how long it would take to get new ceilings in the rooms. I literally remember telling people that I thought we’d be drywalling in a couple of weeks. All we really had to do was run a little electrical and slap some drywall up. How long could that take? I’d have ceilings in no time!

Man. So untrue. So terribly false. I’m basically the village idiot of Blogland.

First of all, having the ceilings open just seemed to afford more and more opportunities for “invisible” improvements, so what started as just re-running the existing electrical (which was, like, 3 circuits) ended as re-running all the existing electrical as well as adding a bunch of new circuits to feed receptacles and light fixtures and coaxial ports and crap upstairs. We also took the opportunity to do some alterations to the plumbing, which I’m really excited about. Next post! It’s too much to get into all of it right now.

ANYWAY, the whole ordeal seemed to drag on forever. Even though the ceilings were wide open, the walls were not, and there was a lot of fishing wires from the panel in the basement, up through the walls, and across the ceilings, up through the second floor, up those walls, up into the attic, through the attic floor joists, and down into the ceilings upstairs…it was hard work. And since my electrician is both busy and flakey (and cheap, and licensed in Kingston, which is why I keep working with him…), what was really something like a 4-5 day job got spread out over MONTHS. Then we had to get it inspected, which took an additional couple of weeks to schedule…and maybe I added some more things to the plumbing list…it just went on and on.

The plus side of the slowness is that I feel like it really gave me the time to think everything through. So in the end, we’re basically DONE with electrical and plumbing for a while (until the downstairs bathroom rough-in, I guess), which is very exciting. I feel like I really took advantage of the opportunities presented by having no ceilings and I can look back without regrets. I think. I hope.

SO. After months of hemming and hawing over whether I’d attempt to do the ceilings myself (and hearing lots of input on both sides—thank you!), I hired it out. The general consensus seemed to be that this was a job better left to the pros, and since we’re talking about big, important spaces in the house, I REALLY didn’t want to spend weeks trying to DIY this and then end up with bad-looking ceilings, especially after all the work and expense of everything behind the ceilings. Max wisely flat-out refused to be involved, so between all the materials, renting equipment, and at least hiring a second set of hands, it’s not like the DIY option was all that cheap, either.

Part of the serious complication with this job is the joists.  The house is post-and-beam construction, so the wood is hand-milled and irregular. With plaster and lath, a lot of that irregularity can be compensated for by a smooth plaster job. Drywall isn’t really like that, though—it’s rigid but has some flex, meaning that unless we wanted a really wavy ceiling where you’d probably see every joist (and worse, every seam!), it was imperative to level everything out. In the dining room, the archway molding in front of the bay window is only about 2″ below the joists, meaning that dropping the whole ceiling wasn’t really an option. Even if it had been an option, who wants to do that? So the goal was to keep the ceilings as HIGH as possible while still making them as level as possible. Big task. Scary to entrust to a stranger. Scary to DIY. Everything is scary. Hold me.

So I got four quotes, and they were ALL OVER THE PLACE.

1. The guy who swooped in and repaired our box gutters the first time around, Shane, gave me a quote for the dining room and the library. He understood the issue with the joists, and I really liked working with him before, BUT he didn’t seem to have too much drywalling experience, so that kind of scared me. Then he came back with a quote: $3,200. Yikes. Everyone says drywall installation is cheap and fast, so I wasn’t expecting that!

2. Guy #2 I found on Craigslist. He was more of a handyman, but seemed to have experience with drywall. He was also super hot, which is a huge bonus in my book. Unfortunately, he didn’t really understand the issue with the joists, and kept telling me that it should be fine to just shim out a couple small spots and slap the drywall up, which didn’t sit well. His quote for the two rooms: $1,600, including materials. Definitely an improvement, but I didn’t feel like he understood the complexity of the job so I sort of knew I wasn’t going to hire him.

3. Guy #3 was recommended by one of the electricians. Electrician guy told me he was SUPER cheap, had done work in his own house that turned out flawlessly, and he was really friendly and responsive over the phone and showed up when he said he would and all that. I really liked him—he seemed to understand everything I was saying, had good solutions, and was experienced. He assured me before leaving that he’d give me a good price and that he wasn’t the type of guy trying to gut clients. I actually asked him to quote for the two rooms AND the pantry (since it’s small) and skim-coating the old drywall ceiling in the hallway (more on that in a minute). His quote: $7,800. ALMOST EIGHT THOUSAND DOLLARS. Jesus Christ. NO.

4. Then this guy moved in next door. I introduced myself, and he was really nice, and we’d talk every now and then through the fence. It took me a few weeks to notice that on the side of his truck, there was a decal for his construction business! And it specifically listed drywall as one of his services! So I asked him what he was up to, and if he wanted to come over and give me a quote, and he said yeah, and came over, and took measurements, and talked to me about my concerns, and was generally lovely and confident that he could do a good job. I asked him for the same quote as guy #3 (both rooms, pantry, and downstairs hallway skim-coating), but he said the hallway wasn’t really even worth skim-coating and we should just rip it down and start over. His quote: $1,800 + materials.

I honestly have no real idea how much this should all cost, just to be completely frank. $1,800 still seemed kind of high to me, to be honest, but that was more colored by everyone telling me how cheap drywall installation should be. The whole joist-leveling thing makes the job WAY more complicated, so I’m assuming that was a big factor. It’s not a small job and required several days of work and 2-3 people, so the number actually seemed pretty fair, even if it was higher than I was hoping. Thinking I could maybe save a little bit of money, I asked for another quote for JUST the two rooms, excluding the pantry and hallway, and the price dropped to $1,600 + materials. So for an extra $200, I can have both of those spaces done quickly and by professionals? I mean. OK. And this guy lives next door, which might make things awkward if he does a bad job, but also makes him easy to find and less likely to flake out on me since we see each other almost everyday.

SO. HE WAS HIRED.

ceilinglessfoyer

In preparation for his arrival, I tore down the ceiling in the hallway. This ceiling was already replaced with sheetrock in the early 70s, but it looked TERRIBLE. I don’t really have any pictures detailing that, but I guess this was when drywall was still nailed up instead of screwed into place. There were seams EVERYWHERE because whoever installed it used fairly small pieces of drywall. You could literally see every single nailhead, some of which had been slathered in caulk. There was about a 1-2″ gap between the ceilings and the walls, which had been stuffed with newspapers and paper-taped over. Paper tape doesn’t really adhere to bare plaster, so the tape had all separated over time…the whole thing was just a damn mess. So even though I wasn’t super excited about MORE demo, it was the best option.

ceilinglessfoyer2

The first time drywall was installed on the hallway ceiling, they installed it over the lath (but had removed the plaster). Since the lath isn’t structurally necessary and just added thickness (which was a bummer, because the sheetrock covered the top of the molding around the front door), I opted to remove the lath, too.

What this ceiling taught me is that I never want to hear ANYONE complain about demo’ing drywall. It was literally child’s play compared to plaster demo. The whole thing came down in about an hour and was bagged up and in a Bagster in another hour, and I barely even broke a sweat. The hardest part was taking down the lath and cleaning up all the plaster keys that were hanging out above it, but it wasn’t so bad. Max helped me and we had it knocked out and cleaned up in a couple of hours.

ANYWAY. Then the plumbers did some more stuff with that ceiling opened up, and then it was time for the drywallers to come in! EEEEP!

The drywallers brought in all the drywall first (they overbought by a couple of sheets, but that’s OK…I’ll end up using it elsewhere, I’m sure!), and some 2″x3″x8′ pieces of lumber. Their original plan to level out the joists was to nail 2x3s to a few of the really wacky joists and get on with things.

Once they really got up in the ceiling, though, they realized just how wonky everything was. Some of the joists were off by a good couple of inches, the whole ceiling was sloped, all the joists were bowed in the middle…yikes! So my contractor quickly re-evaluated and went to buy enough 16-foot 2x4s to sister in every joist. When they got back, they ran a laser level to figure out the low point, and then ran the 2x4s *slightly* above that level so that we’d still be able to see the top of the moldings when the drywall went up. They then planed down a couple of really low spots on a couple of joists—it was a negligible amount, so it definitely shouldn’t affect anything structurally or anything like that.

edwin

This is about the point at which I became really glad I hired this out. Yes, it’s a good chunk of change, but I don’t think this is a solution I would have come to by myself, and it literally probably would have taken me weeks and ended up mediocre and I would have been so sad forever. They had the tools and the know-how and enough hands and bodies to get it done.

sisteringjoists

The guys spent almost the entirety of Day 1 working on leveling out the joists, which I was so grateful for! Once the new, straight 2x4s were in place, you could really see how wonky the original beams are—all of the sistering really made all the difference, here. Since I opted to go with a flat fee instead of an hourly rate, I’m so glad they really took the time to do things right.

insulation

I decided to add some R-38 fiberglass insulation just to the exterior walls, basically butting up against the brick nogging. A lot of readers suggested insulating the whole ceiling both for heat and sound, but you actually don’t really want to do that in a single-family home. If the house was still divided into apartments and on two separate heating systems, then yes, but here you actually want the heat to rise in the winter to help heat the upstairs and in the summer so that both floors don’t turn into oversized saunas. There is blown-in cellulose insulation between the upstairs ceiling and the attic floor, which is pretty much exactly how it should be given the house’s current arrangement. If we ever get around to finishing the attic, we’ll likely remove that insulation (that should only be, like, the worst job ever) and insulate the attic walls and ceiling (probably with closed-cell spray foam insulation, because technology).

libraryceilingup

Watching the drywall go up was, like, the most exciting thing EVER. Even before the taping and mudding, the difference in the rooms already felt HUGE. After living in these cavernous, dark spaces for almost nine months, the drywall immediately made everything feel infinitely brighter and taller and more complete. After all that time, I think I sort of forgot how amazing the natural light is in this house. Of course it’s one of the reasons I fell in love with it in the first place, but getting more of an inkling of how it will look all finished and painted and beautiful is super duper thrilling.

foyerceilingmudded

I’m SO glad we decided to spend the extra time and money doing the hallway ceiling. The guys only used 5 separate pieces of sheetrock (instead of, like, 15, as before!), and it’s all level and smooth and very *slightly* higher than it was before, and it just looks great. The guys taped the seams with fiberglass mesh tape and did 3 coats of joint compound before sanding. I think this photo is after coat #2 of joint compound.

topofarch

I spent a lot of time fretting with the contractor over how important it was to be able to see the top of the archway in the dining room after leveling out the joists and installing the drywall. It was a tight squeeze, but it’s ALL THERE, which is all I can really ask for. Considering it’s been covered up with acoustic tiles, crown molding, and a mess of caulk for the past 40-ish years, it feels really good to be able to restore this funny feature. I need to finish stripping the paint and caulk off of it (I’m definitely not stripping all of the molding, but this is too messed up to just paint), but I think it’s going to look amazing once it’s all done! I tried Peel Away 1 on a section of the arch just to see how it worked, and it works well! Cleaning/neutralizing the stripped wood indoors is sort of a huge messy hassle, but it’s one of those things that’s just going to require a little extra time and care. What else is new!

backofhallwaybefore

One area that I’m particularly impressed by is in the back of the hallway. Only this patch of the original plaster remained in the entire space, and because of the way it curves and slopes and seemed very solid overall, I didn’t want to demo it and try to replicate it with drywall if I didn’t have to. On the last day of work, the contractor brought in a different guy to do the final skimming and sanding on the ceilings and sort out this mess. The new drywall sat about 1/2″ above the placer, and you can see how a lot of a previous skim-coating job had failed and fallen off over the years, and I was just crossing my fingers that they could get it to look acceptable.

backofhallwayafter

WELL. HOT. DAMN. This skim-coating guy was a MAGICIAN. He did this in, I don’t know, a couple hours, and it’s FLAWLESS. It’s so, so beautiful. I keep just walking to the back of the hallway to admire it.

This is when I made the most big-boy decision ever.

You guys, this hallway is really big. Over the stairs, the wall extends, like, 20 feet high. I’ve already done the work of demo’ing non-original walls, opening up original doorways, and stripping all of the wallpaper from the plaster. In the intervening months, several new large holes had to be made in the plaster to run the new plumbing and electric stuff, and now the walls need significant patching and repair and then all need to be skim-coated. Since I spent so much time and effort up in the tiny office teaching myself this skill, and I know I’m technically capable of it, it’s always been the plan to do the hallway walls myself.

Well, after seeing the dope-ass job this guy did on my ceiling in a few hours (which definitely would have taken me days, and probably never looked as good), I asked how much it would cost for him to just skim-coat the entire hallway, upstairs and downstairs. The answer was $500. I debated for a couple of days…and then I decided to go for it.

Here’s the thing. Skim-coating is not fun. I’m OK but not great at it. I’m sure it would turn out fine, but it would also take me weeks and be super boring and messy and exhausting, and that’s a LOT of time to dedicate to something so relatively inexpensive to just get someone else to do faster and better than I can. I can think of about a thousand things I’d rather be doing with that time. I don’t overwhelm all that easily, but the list of projects on this house is a bazillion items long and if throwing 500 clams at this hallway gets it paintable and way more complete within, like, the next WEEK (omg, I know), I’m soooo down.

So that’s that. I’m so excited for the skim-coating wizard to come back and work his magic. I’m excited to not have to do it. I’m excited to clean up all of the drywall dust all over the house without feeling like it’s a waste of time because I’ll just be making more dust for weeks on end.

Oh, and WHAT’S THAT NOW? I ordered a ceiling medallion as a test to see if I liked it.

Choosing ceiling medallions, for whatever reason, has been one of the most agonizing parts of this entire renovation/restoration thing I’m doing. I’ve literally been thinking about medallions since before we even closed on the house, and bookmarking various products for over a year. I think it’s so hard because the house does have so many of its original features intact, but the ceiling medallions are long gone and we don’t know what they looked like. I’ve always felt strongly that the medallions need to look appropriate to the house, which means they should be appropriately Greek, elegant, and grand, but also sort of blend in so that what’s essentially a big piece of foam glued to the ceiling doesn’t end up being the stand-out architectural feature, you know?

I did a fair amount of research on what would fit in style-wise with the Greek Revival of it all, which led me in a more ornate direction than I was originally inclined to go. I didn’t want to go crazy with something super intricate and Corinthian, for the aforementioned reason of wanting it to blend in, but I also feared going too simple would end up looking kind of 1920s and all wrong. Finally I just closed my eyes and hit the order button on this guy at Home Depot (which really has an amazing selection of medallions online, but not in the stores) and hoped I wouldn’t hate it when it came. I chose it because I felt like the size would be pretty grand, and it’s kind of middle-ground on the intricacy spectrum, and it has that acanthus leaf motif which is typically Greek Revival.

Even when I opened the box, I kind of wasn’t sold. It seemed like maybe it was too big and maybe just completely wrong. But then I had Max stand on a ladder and hold it up to the ceiling, and I pictured it all caulked and painted and with a light fixture hanging from it, and now I’m ON BOARD with this thing. I need to order two more, which kind of sucks because of COURSE I picked, like, the most expensive piece of foam on the planet, but I think it’s just right.

I think I’m going to paint it with some watered-down joint compound or something before hanging it, to kind of fake some age into it. It looks a little too new and the pattern looks a little too defined to me.

ANYWAY. WOW THIS POST GOT LONG.

Now that the ceilings are done, next up on the agenda is finishing repairing the walls in the dining room and prepping everything for paint!! AND THEN PAINTING. AND THEN MOVING FURNITURE BACK IN. AND THEN CRYING TEARS OF JOY.

It’s all happening!

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.

 

Celebratory Post-Kitchen Vestibule Demo!

This is how I do it with our poor, unsuspecting friends. They come to visit for a couple of days, maybe to get away from the crushing heat of a New York City summer, or the hustle and bustle, to a place where we can all drive from place to place and feel less like dying all the time. They think they’re going to have a nice time. Slow down a little. Relax with friends. That’s why I like to plant the seed early on——in Emily’s case, it was on our way back from the bus stop. “You know,” I explained, “remember that vestibule wall? The one right inside the door? I’ve been saving it for you.” It helped that Emily at least feigned excitement, which gave me the opportunity to really hype it up. We’d have so much fun demolishing it! It would be both catharsis and a work-out! Our home would thank all of us!

vestibulebefore2

While I deeply admire the energy it must have taken to erect this wall——a wood-paneled monstrosity the previous owners added in an effort to retrofit the house with a vestibule, thereby bisecting a perfectly good foyer——it was more than a little awkward and fell a tad short on the historical-accuracy front. I’m not really an old house purist, but this belonged on the Brady Bunch. And not, like, at the Brady’s house. I’m sure there was an episode in there when Marcia found herself alone and on the wrong side of the tracks, and that’s where I see this wall. Just hanging out in the 1970s with a very alone, very afraid Marcia Brady. She’s crying in this vision of mine, always.

This was the day after we finished the kitchen, and we’d spent the afternoon going to pick up everything we needed to cook a meal in the new space. Due to her Italian heritage and a highly developed talent for cooking, Emily is good at these things. She has a more refined palate for red wines than I do, but the bottle we chose was selected mainly for its low price and the size of the bottle, which Emily referred to as a “magnum.” The goal here was to enjoy the new kitchen, and the means to that end would be this enormous bottle of wine and a large Italian meal.

With both the meal and the wine consumed a few hours later, the night was still young. And Drunk Daniel got ideas. I put down my glass of wine and cleared my throat. “So. About that wall.”

“I’m so ready.” Emily refilled both of our glasses halfway, finishing off the bottle. “What do we need?”

I gathered the tools and we dove in with the same strategy I’ve been using on demolishing the other add-on walls in the house: remove components from the outside moving inward. Deconstruct it the way it was built. Less mess, less risk of damaging parts of the house that are important.

demo1

I even had the foresight to cover the windows with tape, lest in our drunkenness we were to shatter the glass. That’s one thing you have to know about me——I’m so smart, even when I’m an idiot.

Things started out great: we got both of the bottom windows out by removing several intricate layers of different sizes of finishing molding surrounding them,  and then started to pry off the paneling. The paneling, of course, was glued and nailed to a layer of 1/2″ plywood underneath, which was nailed into a very complicated and non-standard framing system underneath. I was more or less prepared for this wall to be as much of an asshole as the other walls had been, but I wasn’t super prepared for it to be even more of an asshole. Everything was hard. Nothing was coming down quickly or easily.

At some point the system fell apart a little when I grabbed my Sawzall and cut through the vertical sections between the door frame and the window (it seemed like it would help?), which I remember being interesting because the whole thing was just a solid block of many pieces of wood glued and nailed together. So beefy.

Shortly thereafter, while we continued to peel paneling and quarter-round and base-shoe off this wood-trimmed explosion, Emily stepped on a nail. She didn’t think much of it until about 30 seconds later, when she stepped on a second nail, this one penetrating the sole of her flip-flop and a somewhat significant portion of her foot.

Just to be clear, I’d told Emily multiple times that she should be wearing different shoes, even offering to let her borrow some of our shoes. She insisted that she’d been around this type of stuff before (she had) and that she wasn’t worried about it (she wasn’t) and that she’d be fine (false). Had I maybe not had a gallon of wine working its way through my system, I might have pressed the issue, but as it was I figured—hey, she’s an adult! Who am I to tell her what kind of shoes to wear while she demolishes walls in my home? What makes me some kind of authority on lady shoes, anyway, or footwear in general? I do almost everything in socks. Flip-flops are probably better than socks. She says she’s fine. I guess she’s fine! 

Like any good friend, I ran to my car to retrieve the first aid kit that’s been rattling around in my trunk since 2006. My mother bought it for me when I got my driver’s license (which is a very Jewish mother thing to do FYI) and I’ve kept it there ever since (which is a very Jewish child thing to do FYI), and I’ll admit to being a little excited about having the opportunity to finally use it. The alcohol sterile wipes were all dried up on account of being 7 years old, but she washed her feet off in the tub and slapped on a bandaid or two and took a seat on the couch. I sat next to her, emoting concern.

“Emily, I’m so, so sorry. My house is a hazard.”

“Are you kidding? I should have seen this coming. In a way, I’m glad it happened when I had been drinking. I’ve always been fucking terrified of stepping on a nail, but it happened, and I didn’t faint or vomit or anything, and it wasn’t even that bad. In-out. If I had been sober, I would not have been handling this.”

“That ‘s a positive way of looking at it.”

We sat there for a moment, reflecting on the hidden merits of alcohol.

“Do you want to take a turn with the pry bar?” I asked. “I think it’s easier than the crowbar.”

“I think I might have to just be done for the night.”

“Right, no, obviously. I mean, I wasn’t saying right now.” I did mean right now. I’m blaming the booze, but really, I’m naturally selfish this way. I assumed that Emily would feel fine putting a nail through her foot, taking a little breather, and just getting back to it. I mean, sure, you need your feet to stand up and all that, but demolition is really about arms and back. I didn’t see any nails there.  “Just, you know, if you ever want to, like, destroy anything again, I’m saying the pry bar might be more your speed. That’s all I was getting at. Definitely, tonight just chill out. I’m not a monster.”

And then I really took it to the next level of douchebaggery:

“Well, do you need anything? Because I kind of want to get back to work.”

What is wrong with me?? It’s a wonder I have any friends, or any people who are willing to talk to me or be around me or associate with me in any direct or indirect way.

“No, not at all,” Emily assured me. “I’m just going to sit on this couch for a while and try not to faint.”

“Cool, holler if you need anything.”

So there I left one of my best friends, possibly dying on my sofa, slowly bleeding through a hole in her foot caused both by my property and my ambition, while I made my way back to the power tools. I don’t really remember the rest of the night (I wasn’t that drunk, I promise. It just wasn’t that memorable), but I do remember waking up the next morning and going to inspect my handiwork and realizing that I forgot I’d left things like this.

demo2

Oh, Daniel. Really? In my excitement/inebriation, I may have put a little too much focus (all of it) on the bottom half of the wall that I could reach, and not enough focus (no focus at all) on the part of the wall that I would have needed a ladder for. This left things looking super stupid and super not-pro. Demolition fail.

max

Max, who missed every part of all of this, was not impressed by the changes.

I know all of this looks very precarious and like it should fall at any second, but I assure you: not only were the outer support studs still in place, but this whole thing was solid. There was no way that it was going to just fall. The construction on this wall is the craziest thing I’ve ever seen, and I once saw a drunk girl in flip flops step on a nail in my foyer.

demo3

See? Insane construction. All of this took me several very long hours to remove, and not because I’m so careful and cautious. It was just really intense, like in a way that I can’t adequately explain in actual words. Just trust. It was the mother of all weird 1970s sobbing Marcia Brady walls.

viewfromdiningroom

BUT! BUT! BUT! LOOK AT THAT! OMG. OMG. OMG.

OK, so I know I say this every time, but…ceiling height like woah. Space like I didn’t know existed. LIGHT LIGHT LIGHT. House can breathe. It feels SO GOOD to have that awful piece of garbage gone.

I know a lot of people thought I should keep the wall, or paint it, or do something with it to allow it to stay since it’s probably a nice thing to have in the winter, but I hope this view explains why that just wasn’t an option. We’ll do what we can to weatherstrip the doors and keep things from being too drafty to the best of our abilities, but you guys. This house is just supposed to have an amazing entryway. It just is. And after like 40 years of not having an amazing entryway, this feels really, really good. I speak for myself, here, and I speak for the house. The house is happy about all this.

entryway-wall

Check out how long that wall is! You can see on the baseboard and the ceiling where the old wall was, and how it just cut up this amazing amount of space into two small spaces. Of course, now we’re left with a really arbitrarily placed light switch, but that’s OK. That little tiny sconce is the only light source in the entire hallway, so we’re going to have to have some work done in here to have a ceiling box put in for a chandelier and some other stuff. We’ll get to it when we can——right now, it’s OK.

Speaking of the walls——check out that plaster! My friend Nora came back for a couple days, and we started peeling off all the wallpaper that had already separated from the plaster. Some parts are more stuck than others, so we just left those alone for the time being. I borrowed a steamer from our wonderful neighbor last night, though, so fingers crossed that it works super well and I don’t have to mess with chemical strippers and other things that sound like a hassle. There are at least a few layers of wallpaper covered by many layers of paint, so it’s not really the same thing as, like, removing a cutesy little sheet of wallpaper somebody put up in the 80s. It’s really labor-intensive and will probably take a combination of methods to restore the walls, but it has to happen. Luckily we were given a little bit of a head start by the original adhesive being like 150 years old and freezing for two winters when the house was vacant. So…yay?

I know people feel really attached to that wallpaper, but it’s not going to happen. It’s all just in really bad condition, and not in a cool way. Just in a sad way. It’s going to be soooooooo beautiful when everything is fixed up and painted and everything, though. Nobody will actually miss it.

PROMISE.

Entryway-Floor

As for the floor, it’s OK. This floor probably hasn’t been refinished for AT LEAST 50 years or so (if ever?), so while you can definitely see where the vestibule wall used to sit, it isn’t SUPER obvious since the finish is continuous. The flooring in the entryway/hallway is in the best shape in the entire first floor, but the front room and dining room are both a mess. The flooring is all continuous, though, so I kind of think it just all needs to be redone. Anyone have experience refinishing floors? I’m considering DIY-ing it, but it’s also something I REALLY don’t want to mess up. As for finish, I’d love to just sand and seal the wood (no stain), but there might be some deeper water damage in the front room that would make that look really bad. This wood flooring isn’t original to the house (it was probably added around the turn of the century, maybe later) so I don’t feel SUPER precious about it. There are lots of cool things you can do with wood floors that don’t involve staining them medium-dark-brown.

before

entrywaywide

Anyway, I’m so psyched about this entryway space. I think it needs a nice big worn oriental rug (duh) and a nice bench and a nice chandelier and super pale gray walls with white molding and black doors! I know I mentioned stripping the front doors down to the wood and staining/sealing them a while ago, but I don’t think these doors were ever not painted, and I don’t think I’d love them enough for all the work to be worth it. I think I will love them painted black, though, so I’m pretty excited about that.

p.s.– thank you so much for all the amazingly kind comments about my kitchen last week! It was overwhelming! I do read everything, though, and I really appreciate it all so much. You guys are dope. 

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