All posts tagged: Office

Daniel: 1, Crown Molding: 0

crown1

After I wrote the post last week about the extensive wall repair and skim-coating in the little upstairs office, I couldn’t stop thinking about removing the crappy little crown molding bordering the top of the room. I hesitate to really even call it crown molding because it was actually a mix of a very slightly ornamental molding and even smaller pieces of plain curved molding, depending on the wall. It’s definitely not original—it was installed whenever a previous owner put up a drywall ceiling in this room. The ceiling was installed right on top of acoustic tiles, which are nailed into furring strips over the original plaster ceiling, and instead of nicely finishing off the edges where the new ceiling met the original walls, they just covered the gap with some scrap molding they had around. It’s definitely not the way I would have done things, but the drywall is in good enough condition and there’s definitely no rational reason to rip it all down.

crownbefore

Despite that the molding was very ugly and mis-matched and dumb, for some reason I really thought I’d be OK with it once the walls were repaired and everything was caulked and painted. It was so small, after all, and this room is hardly a public space (we’re using it as an office, but it’s probably been used mostly as a closet for the past century, if I had to guess!), and I could totally just be zen about it and let it go and not care at all.

Once again, I have misjudged and underestimated the power of my own anal retentiveness. It made me crazy.

The options as I saw them were these:

1. Take down this molding, and then put up new, bigger molding that coordinates better with the original moldings around the door and window in the room.

2. Don’t even worry about taking down this molding; just slap some bigger molding on top of it and call it a day! That seems like it would work, right?

3. Take down the crown, survey the damage lurking beneath, weep, then begin the long and arduous process of repairing and taping and mudding all over again to reconstruct the upper edges of the room, like some kind of a goddamn masochist. It would take the skill of an artist and the precision of a surgeon and the patience of a nun and the heart of a lion.

Naturally, I chose option 3.

While purchasing and installing new crown molding was an attractive option for the lazier side of me (not that installing crown is any kind of cakewalk, but I bet I could have banged it out in a few hours), it didn’t satisfy my innate desire to self-inflict emotional and physical pain in the service of renovating this house. Additionally, it just felt wrong for this room. We don’t have crown molding elsewhere in the house (or any evidence that there ever was any), and this room has always been a modest one by nature. It’s the only room where the original tongue and groove subfloor wasn’t covered over by nicer oak hardwood, and the door and window moldings are among the least substantial in the house. I just felt like installing a better-proportioned (and consistent) crown molding would ultimately just look totally wrong because of this, and really…faux? Which is kind of worse, in my mind.

crown5

yayyyyyyyyyyyyy. I just love a project that’s one step forward, two steps back. It definitely makes me feel like I’m great at planning and thinking about stuff and doing stuff right.

crown2

Naturally, the crown had been covering up a delicious amount of plaster damage and all-around excitement. That chunk of bare plaster you can see on the chimney is where a previous skim-coat effort (NOT MINE) chipped off in the process of removing the crown—I did end up leaving some old paint on the walls where it was particularly stubborn, and I felt like I was causing more harm than good in trying to remove it. Anyway, now I get to build that area back up with joint compound/mesh. It’s just non-stop fun!

Particularly big gaps and voids I filled first with small pieces of drywall. I noticed while removing the trim that the drywall ceiling was a little springy (it was NAILED up, not screwed, which seems very wrong to me?), so I also took the opportunity to go around the edge of the ceiling and screw in 3″ drywall screws about every 8 inches to secure it back in position. That helped.

crown4

Then I taped and mudded, mudded and taped! My basic strategy was to spread a fairly thick layer of joint compound onto both sides of the edge with a 6″ knife, then lay the fiberglass mesh tape (half on the wall, half on the ceiling), then embed it and get a clean corner with a corner trowel. This first pass seems to leave a fair amount of the mesh tape still exposed, and some areas looking pretty rough, but subsequent layers and sanding in between clear that up.

crown3

Even though I’ve only done 2 of 3 layers of joint compound so far and in it’s still drying in these pictures and it took a couple days and pushed this project back even further and I had to buy more joint compound and it wasn’t fun at all, I’m really glad I went ahead and did it. I’ve been working on these walls on and off (mostly off, to be fair) for literally months at this point, and now I don’t feel like I compromised on a dumb finishing detail. It’s going to look just as it should (provided I didn’t totally screw something up and it all falls apart in 6 months), and there won’t be anything to detract from the nice elements in the room.

SO. GOALS BY THE END OF THIS COMING WEEKEND. I’M PUTTING THEM OUT THERE:

1. Sand the second coat of joint compound and apply the third. Let dry. Sand again. Be done with joint compound, finally, forever (in this room). 
2. Prep the floor for paint (sand, fill, caulk, vacuum, etc).
3. Prep the moldings for paint (sand, fill, caulk, etc). 
4. Install base shoe molding, fill and sand nail holes and caulk all gaps.
5. Prime walls, ceiling, moldings, and floor.
6. Paint walls, ceiling, and moldings. Paint wallpaper primer on wall that will be wallpapered. 
7. WALLPAPER?!?!?!(!!!!)

OK, this seems maybe unrealistic. But that’s kind of my thing.

Also, my friend Emily is planning to come up over the weekend, and despite that her foot was impaled by a nail last time she was here, she sustained no lasting injuries and as such I plan to make her help me. So maybe it’s possible.

Prepping the Walls in the Upstairs Office!

I’ve been so excited to get it together and finish the little office room upstairs. I talked about some of the early progress back in the middle of November, and then shared my big exciting plan for the space, and I really wanted to have it done by Christmas (HAHAHAHA). And then things happened, like the holidays and the new year and tearing out a ceiling and then another ceiling and closets and…I don’t know. Life. The little office room more or less sat there, leading me to feel like a sad failure.

before

As you might recall, the walls of this room were riddled with pretty much every problem plaster can have. What looked like a fairly regular white room was actually layers and layers of paint on top of the original wallpaper on top of the original plaster walls. Unfortunately, over the years, the adhesives in the original wallpaper (and probably the wallpaper itself) began to break down, leading to lots and lots of cracks and flaking. In order to really restore the walls and prevent this problem from recurring over and over again forever, I decided that the best course of action was to strip ALL of the old wallpaper/paint off the plaster.

There were other major problems, too: all of the corners of the room had been repaired with a crazy (and very bumpy) layering of masking tape, joint compound, caulk, and paint. Same with the cracks, areas of missing plaster, and places where the plaster had come away from the lath but was still present. All of this was problematic because:

1) I want an office with solid walls that are not falling apart and looking a mess and made mostly of masking tape.

2) I plan to wallpaper the main wall of the room, and wallpaper really needs to adhere to smooth walls. None of this bumpy flaking crazy business.

plasterduring

It’s long been common knowledge that once plaster comes away from the lath (you can tell by pushing on it…a solid plaster wall will be, well, pretty solid, while a damaged one will give under pressure), the only thing to really do is tear it all down and replace it with drywall. Not so! Even plaster that looks pretty damaged and messed up can be revived with lots of plaster buttons and TLC. Plaster buttons are those little metal disks. They have a hole in the center, so all you do is insert a drywall screw into the hole and screw it in to either a framing member or lath underneath to pull the plaster back into position. I’m still getting my buttoning technique down, but that’s the basic principle. They’re great for ceiling repair but effective for walls as well.

This main wall of the office (the one that I’m planning to wallpaper!) was a disaster! Huge cracks, crumbly parts, missing parts…yikes. The first step was to scrape out any areas of plaster that were truly beyond saving, then implement the plaster buttons, and then patch missing areas with drywall. I used 1/2″ drywall—it’s best to just find the thickness that’s closest to your plaster. This might vary pretty significantly by the room, or even the area of the wall that you’re patching.

After this stuff is done, it’s time to start filling the voids and taping and patching the cracks and seams. Then the skim coating! Skim coating is the process of coating the wall in a thin layer of joint compound (or actual plaster, if you’re fancy/skilled/are applying it to bare plaster). It’s typically done over the course of 3-5 thin coats, depending on how much texture your wall has.

plasterbefore

The reason that the skim coat is pretty necessary is not only to smooth out areas of major damage, but also to create a smooth surface on areas that aren’t really damaged. I tried to take a close-up to show the actual texture of the walls before the skim coat. This is what all the walls in the hallway/entryway look like post-wallpaper-stripping, too. Just lots and lots of small areas of pitting and damage to the outer plaster coating, which will NOT look good if just painted over. You really need to smooth that stuff out for your walls to look like…walls.

Now, I was pretty pumped to be great at skim coating. I read over the Plaster Repair Series over at Old Town Home (Alex is such a wealth of knowledge and detail if you’re renovating an old house) probably 25 times to make sure I really understood the process. It didn’t seem that hard, and besides, people on the Internet tell me sometimes that I’m really handy (not really true at all, but I’ll take it). I bought all my tools and supplies and I was feeling pretty confident and amazing about the likelihood that I was a plaster repair prodigy and the whole thing would be a cakewalk and I’d have smooth, beautiful walls in a couple of days.

NOPE. NOPE NOPE NOPE. I have no idea which part of skim coating was so incredibly hard for me to grasp, but I could not do it. Seriously. I made one attempt, felt like I destroyed one wall, and had to walk away for a few days just to recover. Then I made a second attempt on a different wall and felt like I had destroyed that one, too, and I couldn’t even walk back into the room the next day to survey the damage. I think there was a third attempt in there, too. I just could not. 

I think this is why I started demoing so many things. Destroying stuff made me feel like I was still in control and capable of making forward progress. Skim coating made me feel like I was completely inept and my chances of fixing this house were hopeless (seeing as I have to do this in…pretty much every room?). Things were not going well. At all. Like really badly.

I think it had to do with the consistency of the joint compound, or something. You want it to be fairly watery and loose, but actually getting it from the bucket to a trowel and onto the wall and making it smooth is a whole different story. In high school I took Physics and received a B- in the class, so this kind of thing has never really gone well for me. Gravity. Friction. Mass. Slipperiness. Science.

The point is this: I was pretty stoked to rehash my skim-coating experience and break down my technique and be awesome. That will not happen because my skim-coating experience was basically just a lot of chaos and confusion and incompetence and emotional distress. BUT! I think I figured out a general technique by the end that worked for me, so I’ll be really detailed next time, when I’m not so frantic that I don’t really take any pictures because I’m too busy panicking.

mesh

Here is that same wall that was a disaster before. I borrowed Alex’s technique of using fiberglass mesh window screening material to do large-scale patching over areas that were really damaged and cracked, which worked out great! Since plaster will continue to move and crack over time, the idea is that the fiberglass screen isolates the top layer from the movement of the wall underneath, helping to maintain a crack-free surface. This is just after the screen was embedded in the joint compound (I used another screen on this wall, too, but didn’t take a picture apparently), but after a couple more layers of skim coat it’s completely embedded in the wall. You’d never know it was there!

deskwall

CHECK IT OUT. Does that look like a smooth wall to you? It looks like a smooth wall to me! With crisp beautiful corners and no crazy cracks or visible patches or anything. Totally ready for priming and wallpaper!

skimcoat1

The rest of the walls, like this one, will just be primed and painted, but that part seems comparatively easy and silly. Like being allowed to play with crayons for a while after having to read War and Peace in one sitting without blinking.

Also, take note of the new electrical! I said that I planned to have a ceiling fixture installed in this room, and now there is one! And a new plug! And a switch! It’s so modern you guys. Right now the ceiling light is just a temporary light, but I plan to buy a ceiling medallion and a real light soon (MEDALLION INDECISION ALL OVER AGAIN). I think I want to see more of the room come together before making a final decision on hanging vs. flush-mount for the light. It’s a very small space and the wallpaper is pretty bold and I’m worried that a hanging fixture will just be too much going on.

beforeandprogress

Ahhhhh. It looks so…real? Like being beautiful is realistic and within reach?

The one thing I’m already feeling a lot of regret about is leaving the tiny little crown molding in place. The ceiling of this room is actually drywall over acoustic tiles over furring strips over the original plaster ceiling (I know, I know, but it looks fine and there’s no real reason to take it all down), so the “crown” was put in place to create an easy transition between the plaster walls and the drywall ceiling. I was so overwhelmed with everything else during this skim-coating adventure that I opted to just keep it, and now I feel like the walls look so good that I want it gone. It’s just so dinky and damaged and it’s not even the same molding all the way around the room. But I also REALLY don’t want to spend several more days patching and taping and sanding and patching some more, and I feel like for this tiny room, I should just let it go, but…argh. I should have taken it down to begin with.

Maybe I’ll gather the strength. Maybe I won’t. Maybe I’ll just put up new, better crown, but that sounds hard too. And maybe expensive. And maybe like something that might not look great. But could it look worse? Maybe it could. It probably could. But it also could look better.

This is the type of thing that keeps me up at night.

chimneydetail

I feel really proud of my corners. All the interior corners were restored with joint compound and fiberglass mesh tape, and the exterior corners were repaired with new corner beads. These corners are a little wonky (it’s plaster over a brick chimney, and there was a lot of damage and weirdness), so I chose to use vinyl corner beads instead of the more conventional metal ones, since they seemed more flexible. I have no clue if this was a good idea, but it happened and it looks OK right now?

So this is what I learned, I think:

1. For corners and small cracks, you want to use fiberglass mesh tape. Do NOT use paper tape to patch plaster. For large scale patches, fiberglass mesh screens are effective and WAY cheaper than large fiberglass screens made for this kind of thing. It’s very hard to work with sections of screen larger than about 4’x4′, so cut and plan accordingly.

2. Give yourself options with the joint compound. I used a mix of pre-mixed joint compound and lightweight setting-type joint compound (90 minute setting time) that you mix yourself from a powder. The powder kind is more cost-effective, but I found it helpful to have the pre-mixed on hand for various things. Somehow I used up almost an entire 65-pound tub, along with a few bags of the powder kind.

3. Experiment with tools. I honestly just could not get my hands and arms to do the things necessary to handle a hawk and a trowel. I think I’m incapable. I pretty much used a mix of a 6″ spackle knife, a 10″ drywall knife, a paint roller, a Magic Trowel, a spray bottle, and lots of rags. Also, corner trowels are VERY necessary. I really can’t recommend the Magic Trowel enough. It saved this project and my sanity.

I know that’s not specific at all, but it’s kind of all I have! I’ll get much more detailed with how I go about plaster repair when I’ve done more of it and really have a technique down, but I don’t want to pretend to teach anyone something I barely know myself just because I pretend to be good at this stuff.

Getting the walls to this point feels like a huge step. Next up is primer, paint, wallpaper, and the floor! The fun stuff.

New Wallpapers = Plan for the Tiny Office!

hyggeandwestandlaundry

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

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

moodboardoffice1

BLAM, office plan. I’m into it.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

This post is in partnership with Hygge & West.

Starting in on the Tiny Office!

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

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

corner

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

before1

before2

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

before3

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

floorbefore

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

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

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

peeling1

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

progress1

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

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

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

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

progress2

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

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

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