All posts tagged: Hallway

Brand New Year, Brand New…Paint!

This post is in partnership with Lowe’s! Thank you for supporting my sponsors!

Ahhhhhh, the first days of a new year! The promise! The potential! The overwhelming need to try to start things off on the right foot, as though your actions at the beginning of the year probably-definitely-certainly will inform the rest of the year and, by extension, your entire life. Isn’t it exhilarating?

For me, the new year always brings with it a certain feeling of dread over the things I failed to accomplish in the previous year. I love performing the ritual of listing out goals in January, forgetting all about them, and then later using them to feed my end-of-year self-loathing about all the things that I haven’t actually managed to complete. Then I roll those items over into the next year, so what starts as an actionable plan to finally pull my life together inevitably just creates more evidence that I have not, in fact, pulled my life together. But maybe this is the year! Who’s to say! Because I’m kicking it off with a big grown-up someday project that has, heretofore, rolled over as a goal from year to year but has not actually gotten done.

WELCOME TO MY HALLWAY, A MERE 6+ YEARS AFTER MOVING INTO THIS HOUSE. Allow me to explain.

My house is a big project, as we well know by now. And I’ve done a lot of work on it. But I’ve also neglected this space because it’s not an actual living space—just a large area you pass through to get to the living spaces. Like most typical side-hall layouts, this hallway runs from the front to the back of the house and contains both the stairs and access to all the main rooms. So I’ve told myself that it’s a project for another time since it won’t functionally change how I live in the house, and so I just have to wait.

The problem is, it makes me feel very bad, what with its abandoned paint samples and general rattiness. It’s like a monument to that final 10% (OK, maybe more than 10%) of work that’s so hard to get yourself to actually do, and it’s the FIRST thing you see when you walk in and the last thing before you depart. Added to this is the palpable sense of indecision, which is somehow scarier than the actual work? I generally think I’m a decisive person who knows what they want, and this hallway makes me question that idea every single day. I’ve been stumped for years, which makes me feel worse and more insecure and less capable of just making a decision!

So let’s end the madness. Right here right now. It’s 2020 and I have HAD IT.

To be clear, a lot of work has already gone into this space! It’s easy to forget, so let’s take a little trip back in time.

This is almost exactly 7 years ago, from the first time I saw the house! About 5 feet beyond the grand front doors was this big 1970s wall, covered in fake wood paneling with weird windows and a hollow-core door. I had been OBSESSED with this property listing but there were only a few photos and they were, unsurprisingly, horrendous, so I don’t think I was expecting this. Note also that both doorways to the current living room (left) and the enormous someday-living-room (right) are covered over in plywood, and that little tiny sconce on the wall was the ONLY source of light in the entire space.

BUT THEN! Once through that crazy “vestibule” I was hit with this gorgeous unpainted newel post and banister and I fell in love.

At the back of the staircase was this other 1970s wall, which provided the entrance to the first floor apartment.

At the top of the stairs was yet more 1970s fun and excitement! The door served as the entrance to the second floor apartment, and the entire upstairs banister was obscured by wood paneling to create more of a wall. They stopped the wall about 1′ short of the ceiling, for light I imagine?

It did not work especially well, because this hallway was DARK DARK DARK. So very dark. The upstairs space was also extremely narrow, in addition to being so so dark.

I’m unclear on whether the previous owners were just being kind of lazy when they built these additions or if they were concerned about preserving the house, but either way…the plywood-covered doorways still maintained the doors on the other side, none of the trim work had been removed or even really cut into, and I felt confident that the original banister would be hiding underneath the paneled walls. And it was! All of this was really very lucky and I’m so thankful they didn’t destroy the house in the process of dividing it up.

First order of business was opening up those doors again! It was so exciting.

And then the “vestibule” had to go too! Returning this space back to its original layout and scale was the stuff of old-house-renovation dreams! Immediately the house felt so open and airy, like it could breathe again.

Upstairs, I did in fact find the original banister relatively unscathed. The upstairs hall has no windows and is just generally pretty dark, but opening everything back up really helped.

I can’t forget about stripping ALL THAT WALLPAPER. It appeared to be a couple layers of wallpaper, and that green and gold pattern was actually painted with some kind of patterned roller. It was separating from the original plaster all over the place, and it all had to come down to restore the walls. Fun fun! So messy and sticky and slow.

Later on, I had the radiator moved away from the stairs and closer to the front door (if you really want to know, I actually put the hallway radiator in the dining room and the dining room radiator out in this location in the hall), other plumbing re-routed into the walls, and electric roughed in for new lighting! Then I tore out the ceiling, which had already been replaced with drywall that was poorly installed and even more poorly finished—it just made more sense to take it down and start over, especially since the living room and dining room both got new ceilings at the same time!

New ceiling! This was also the first time I hired Edwin—who knew what THAT would turn into?!

Finally, I did have some good sense to hire out skim-coating the walls, which was a huge job that I still would not want to attempt today. This left smooth and hole-free walls, ready for a little finish work and PRESTO! Restored hallway!

Except that’s not really what happened. All this major work occurred years ago at this point, and then progress in here just hit a total stand-still as other things were attended to. Eventually I did get my act together and throw a coat of primer on the walls, because I was sick of getting covered in white dust every time I swiped against the raw joint compound.

And that’s how it’s been for the last few years. Generally ignored and neglected. Being treated as a landing zone for materials and supplies as they round-robin their way in and out of the house. Waiting.

Well, I’m done waiting! I’m so tired of it looking so lousy in here, and so tired of apologizing to guests and sheepishly telling them the house is a “work in progress” as they walk in the front door and take it in. That feeling? It does affect the way that I live in the house. Negatively. And it occurs to me that if this space was “finished,” it wouldn’t matter so much what’s going on behind a few of the doors where rooms are in various stages of renovation, because the overall impression would not be one of a total construction site. This all sounds so luxurious, so I just have to make it happen!

I don’t think I’m easily overwhelmed, but yet this all feels extremely overwhelming for two main reasons. Maybe they sound familiar:

  1. The scale of the project. It is not really a room and yet there are—count ’em—13 doors in this hallway needing various levels of restoration work (think missing hardware, alignment issues that don’t allow them to close, sloppy old paint jobs, etc.). There are also 17 stair treads—all painted—and 57 spindles—all with some paint on them but not enough to justify painting them—and three transom windows and miles of painted trim and a lot of wall and ceiling surface area to contend with. Oh and the floor needs some patches where radiator pipes have moved around, and eventually a full refinishing.
  2. COMMITMENT PROBLEMS. How many years should it take for me to decide what I want to do? APPARENTLY ALL OF THEM. While my typical attitude toward painting is usually “hey, it’s just paint!” (i.e.—the easiest part of renovating and the least problematic to change down the line), this is SO MUCH WORK (see item 1) and SO MUCH PAINTING that I really don’t want to face redoing it any time soon. Which has created all this internal pressure to get it right the first time, which has led me into an insecurity spiral of uncommon proportions.

So I’ve been thinking long and hard about how to overcome these obstacles and get my butt in gear. I thought if I told you about them, it might help you work through whatever version of this hallway you have in your life! Unless you don’t have one. Think you’re better than me?! Ok fine. You are.

First, I finally cleared everything out. That stack of drywall had been there for years, and now it’s waiting in the other room. Hooray.

Next, I evaluated what actually needed to be done. I’ve had hallway blinders on for so long that I didn’t really have a list, and like most painting projects, it isn’t so much about the painting itself but all the prep that has to happen first to get a nice result. This list quickly became very daunting, so I turned to my default strategy: break up the project into parts so I don’t completely lose my mind! Sometimes you have to take it in smaller chunks to keep things feeling manageable, which I often forget is an option. Not everything is a strictly all-or-nothing endeavor, Daniel!

So. First I will tackle the upstairs hallway. It probably needs the least work? And getting it squared away should help motivate me to keep going. That, or I’ll just get completely burned out…but at least I will have accomplished something.

Then I will tackle the stairs–a massive project unto themselves. I painted the bottom three treads black years ago to see how I liked it, and the verdict is: I HATE IT. Black treads often/usually look GREAT, but not only did the dogs and I quickly wear through the paint, I’ve finally made peace that I just CANNOT have painted floors in this house. They are destined to always look dirty—no matter the color—and I just simply cannot deal. Does that dog look like someone concerned with keeping dirt and fur off the floor? Because he is not remotely concerned. I am outnumbered in this regard and it’s a battle I plainly cannot and will not win.

Obviously, these stairs once had a runner. I’m actually pretty sure they’ve always had a runner, meaning that the paint build-up on other edge of each tread is…immense. So many layers. And I have considered a runner, but I actually don’t think I would like that option much better than painted stairs from a functional standpoint, and it would cost a fortune.

Which leaves me with…I’m going. To Strip. The treads. And I WILL SURVIVE IT. I used to get really hung up on whether to stain the treads to try to match the banister or the floor, but honestly? I think leaving them natural pine and then letting the sealer enrich them to whatever wood tone they want to be is going to be just fine. I’m testing out various chemical strippers to try to avoid lead exposure and endless hours of scraping and sanding, although I know scraping and sanding will inevitably be part of the process. I think I will be extremely happy with this result, and I’ll just divide and subdivide the process to keep it feeling achievable. A little bit at a time is the name of the game!

And then, finally, I will tackle the first floor hallway. And then it will be so so nice. I can’t wait to strip that transom window over the bathroom door at the back of the hallway! And put a doorknob on the bathroom door. And finally make what’s behind that door into a bathroom. Ha!

So now that I have a decent idea of the how, I just needed to commit to some daunting choices like color and fixtures and stuff. Easy, right? Fun, right? WRONG.

FOR INSTANCE. These samples have been on the wall for so long that I no longer remember what they even are. I did not label them because I figured I would tackle this in a timely manner and therefore would still have the benefit of my memory.

I think where I’ve gotten hung up on these decisions is the fact that there are a lot of options that would all look good! Hallways can be a great place to have some fun with some amazing wallpaper, and they can also be a perfect opportunity for dark and moody colors and interesting arrangements of art and some bold, whimsical choices. I’ve felt like there’s a simple solution that I know will look nice—white-ish trim, grey-ish walls, and black doors all around—but that I’d somehow be betraying myself or the house or everyone on the planet by just going with the simple solution. But sometimes classic and simple and—sure, maybe a little boring—is all you really want, and all it takes is the confidence to hush whatever’s telling you it’s not good enough and commit.

So I guess my basic rule is this: if you feel PASSIONATE about a bold decision, MAKE THAT BOLD DECISION. But if you feel on the fence, or like you should but your heart’s not really in it…there is nothing wrong with the most obvious choice. I’ve always felt like paint should complement whatever else you have going on in a given space, but it shouldn’t be the dominant choice. In other words, if you’re relying on the color of your walls to make or break a space, you’re probably doing it wrong—try to think more about lighting, rugs, art, objects, furniture, and architectural detail.

ANYWAY. Upon revisiting these samples that I’ve walked by everyday for years, I finally realized that none of them were really right, but that doesn’t mean the general direction was wrong. I can get a few more samples! Or 17 more!!!

Picking paint based solely on a paint chip rarely works out the way you want it to, so getting actual samples and painting big swatches is KEY. I like to narrow down by a process of elimination, and then paint more samples of the finalists in different areas to see how they work in different lighting.

So. I wasn’t kidding—I literally got 17 samples mixed. The women at the paint counter at Lowe’s are some of the nicest people ever for humoring me in this endeavor. And the craziest thing happened—I ACTUALLY THINK I MADE A DECISION. ACTUALLY SEVERAL DECISIONS. BEHOLD.

A mood board? FOR A HALLWAY? LIKE I SAID, 2020 IS WILD. Here’s what I’ve got!

  1. PAINT, DUH. I’m going with my gut, and my gut says that this space is so pretty on its own that it doesn’t need to get all gussied up—a quiet, classic approach won’t feel dated in a few years, but will really allow the existing architecture to shine. So it is decided: black doors (Sherwin Williams “Caviar”), white trim (Sherwin Williams “Extra White”), and grey walls (Sherwin Williams “Oyster White” I THINK). Grey paint is really tricky because of the temptation to go too dark (like my first round of samples), and the undertones will drive you nuts EVERY TIME. The swatch on this mood board looks like a putty color, but on my walls it has a lot of green and a little blue but somehow is still warm? I think I love it, but I won’t really know until I go for it. Obviously I will report back. After years of mostly using Valspar, I want to give HGTV Home by Sherwin Williams a shot—the paint itself is a little more expensive but coverage and durability I think are both supposed to be better, and since it’s a relatively narrow high-traffic space, the walls and moldings do get accidentally scuffed up on the regular.
  2. I’ll refinish the stair treads, which are old pine and hopefully will look amazing.
  3. A nice vintage rug in the entryway will really help define that space, and add some color and texture!
  4. The banister and spindles need some restoration work and stabilization, but will look more or less the same. I think the wood is mahogany!
  5. LIGHTING! I’ve already added the oh-so-fake-but-who-cares foam ceiling medallion, but I’ve had a little temporary bulb dangling there ever since there’s been an electrical box to power it! I AM SO READY FOR A REAL LIGHT FIXTURE. I like the contrast of a decidedly modern fixture in an old house to keep things from feeling too much like a time capsule, which led me to this fancy fancy Kichler chandelier from Lowe’s (currently 35% off!)! I’m so excited for it to be delivered so I can see it in person. It’s about 3 feet across with 8 bulbs, and I think it’s gonna look great. Eek!
  6. MORE LIGHTING! There are three light fixtures in the hall—one at the front, one at the back, and one over the stairs. The one over the stairs feels like the trickiest, because I want it to throw off a lot of light and feel kind of sculptural/impactful without being too in-your-face. I’m really hoping this Globe Electric number from Lowe’s (currently 40% off!) fits well, because the price is great and it’s also in the mail! It sort of feels like a modern mobile that also lights up.
  7. I got really excited the other night when I realized this is my moment to add traditional gold leaf house numbers to the transom window!!! I’m about to be too classy for words.
  8. Little details! Even though all the light switches in the hall are only a few years old, I want them to look like they’ve been there—so antique-style push-button switches it is! I haven’t used these in the past because $, but I love them and so I’m just going for it. 2020, baby!!!
  9. I ALSO ordered nice radiator flanges for where the pipes come up out of the floor. Currently I don’t think ANY of my radiators have them and I can’t wait for that to change!
  10. I *think* a little console table will fit nicely at the top of the stairs (I have a little modern one that belonged to my grandparents—the one on the mood board is kinda-sorta similar), which will probbbabbbbbly end up being where I stack dirty dishes that need to make their way back down to the kitchen after I eat my meals in bed while watching trash tv. Not that I do that!!! (except all the time).
  11. Finally, art! I’m stumped on art, to be honest. I have a lot of it laying around, including a couple of vintage sketch pads that I bought which are full of figure drawings. Lotsa nudes! Maybe get a bunch of them framed and do a big gallery wall?! I’m not sure. This feels so far in the future. It’s hard because there are big expanses of wall, but I think the space is too narrow for a huge piece to fill them.

SO! IT IS ON! I am shedding my old habit of beating myself up over this space and getting to WORK. I started a few days ago, and I have to say…I’m truly no longer mad at myself for not doing this earlier. The prep is always 10x what you think it will be, and this is no exception! It is SLOW SLOW SLOW so I just hope I can get it all done without losing steam. I’ll keep you updated along the way!

Are you circling back to a long-neglected project this January? Let’s hear it. I can’t be the only one!

Weekend Thrifty Finds!

It’s been a while since we did a good old “look, here’s some crap I bought!” post, hasn’t it? It’s a crying shame.

Well. In case you started reading this blog less than 10 minutes ago and don’t know what I’m all about, first of all—welcome. Second of all, you should know I like to shop. I like to shop but I don’t like to spend a lot of money, so at some point in my life I really embraced that the way to fulfill both of these goals was to shop for secondhand stuff. eBay, Craigslist, consignment shops, weird barns full of antiques, thrift stores, the curb on trash night, auctions, salvage shops…I love them all equally and for different reasons. I’m an equal-opportunity crap collector. Admittedly a part of the appeal of doing freelance design work is that I get to spend more time satisfying these urges, except I get to buy things with other people’s money and for other people’s houses. Even though I end up wanting to keep everything. Life is one big struggle.

I’ve been trying to slow my roll on the thrifty front lately for two reasons:

1. We are running out of space, and it makes me feel like a crazy person. Our basement has extra furniture. The room above our kitchen? Packed. There’s furniture in the garage and furniture in the big, un-renovated living room, and there’s just no way we’re going to use it all—this much is clear. Of course, I maintain that we will use some of it, and therefore we should keep it around until the house is done, at which point I’ll need to find a new excuse to hoard. A client might need it! The cottage might need it for staging! And so on. I’m great at justifying my crap.

2. Buying cheap stuff is only cheap until you buy a lot of it, at which point it becomes…not so cheap. And I’m a little cash-strapped right now between this stupid house and this stupid cottage and being in between freelance gigs the heat bills on our house ain’t cheap and…ya know. Should probably stop buying things that aren’t human food and/or dog food.

BUT SOMETIMES YOU CAN’T HELP IT. SOMETIMES A FRIEND (who you invited) DRIVES YOU TO A PLACE (because you specifically asked him to) AND SHOWS YOU NICE THINGS (which you reasonably guessed would be there in the first place) AND YOU’RE FORCED TO BUY THEM (because otherwise you might feel sad later on that you didn’t).

Ugh. So here’s some shit I bought because the choice was basically between these vintage items and everlasting regret and remorse.

mirror1

So, this MIRROR. Or maybe I should call it a “mirror”? Lord knows I do not need more mirrors. My main weaknesses in life are old mirrors, old rugs, old lighting, and old chairs. Also, old houses and old dogs. I have a lot of mirrors and I love them all but I’m especially into this one, and at $60 I felt like I owed it to myself (I did not) to take it home and make me so happy (it did). This beige colored parts you’re seeing, by the way, are just the wall behind the glass, where the reflective foil has just completely worn away and disappeared over the years.

mirror2

My major rules with mirrors are these:

1. There has to be something interesting about the frame. If you only like the shape of the frame, you can always paint it, but I like my frames to have some weird Victorian detailing like the one in the office or an interesting shape like the one over our apartment’s mantel, or just have a great patina of wear like the one hanging out in the kitchen. I love the shape and the tone of the wood on this guy, so it’s a winner.

2. There has to be something good about the glass. New mirror glass, even if it’s in an old frame? Kind of boring, usually not worth it. Extra points for a bevelled edge, but not necessary. My real weakness is when the foil backing that makes the mirror reflective starts to disintegrate over time, leaving what some would consider “damage.” That’s just patina, folks! As long as the glass isn’t shattered, I pretty much feel like the “worse” shape it’s in, the better! This guy ranks pretty highly, to the point that it barely even functions as a mirror anymore. You can get the basic idea of looking at a human figure, but that’s about it. It’s oddly flattering. LOVE.

mirrorselfie

Also, it tells me what to do at night. Shhhhh.

What else did I buy, you ask? I’ll tell you.

coasters

For a while now, I’ve been on the hunt for some old-school glass furniture coasters. You can still buy these new and there’s a nice selection of vintage on eBay, but for some reason I was stubborn and wanted to just stumble upon a bunch of them in a junk shop or something. For what, I’m not even really sure, but I figure they have to come in handy and they just look a billion times more awesome than a shim or a block of wood or whatever the other alternatives are.

Anyway, I bought 8 in total! The shopkeeper wanted $2 a piece for them (I had to hunt them out of a huge bin of old Atlas jar lids), which was fine I guess. 4 of them are smaller and four are bigger—these are the bigger ones pictured above. I probably should have taken another photo after I washed them because they no longer look like a gunky mess, but sometimes I forget stuff.

Man, I really wish I knew about these back when I bought my first credenza that sat on a very sloped floor, or then when I bought my second credenza that also sat on a very sloped floor. These would have been a much easier and more attractive solution to leveling those things out. Oops! Live and learn.

oldshims

Anyway, we had two radiators that needed to be shimmed under the front two legs. Radiators are really designed to be most effective when sitting level, which isn’t always easy on floors that have some slant to them. Luckily the floors in our house are very level for the most part, but there are areas where they do slant downward away from exterior walls for about 1 foot into the room and then more or less level out. Prior to this discovery, the radiators had been sitting on some unattractive old pieces of scrap wood…but now….

radiatorcoaster1 coaster2

I put the four smaller ones to work under those two radiators, and they look a billion times better! I know that sounds like a bad idea (incredibly heavy objects on top of pieces of glass…), but it seems totally fine and stable and unlikely to cause any problems. So the front of the radiators have been shimmed up a bit, and…I love these things. They’re so pretty! Getting them under the feet was a little challenging, just because the radiator did need to be lifted/rocked a fraction of an inch to get the coasters under the feet. You do have a little play with these pipes, in my experience, though not a ton, so you want to be careful and watch your unions once everything is settled. One of the radiators did develop a small, slow leak at the union after we persuaded the coaster in, but a couple turns on my pipe wrench was all it needed to seal itself up again. No leaks + level radiators + attractive shims = success!

lightfixture

Oh, let’s see, what else…OH RIGHT THIS LIGHT. I love this thing. It definitely bears a strong resemblance to the large Alabax light from Schoolhouse Electric, except this one is vintage and came out of a prison! At least that’s what the sellers told me. Clearly I have a thing for stuff in my house having dark, creepy pasts. And at $85 vs. $139 + shipping for the new Schoolhouse version, the price was decent.

I think this guy is going to hang in the back of the first floor hallway. We had an overheat light added there since it was SO dark back in that area of the house, but I don’t want to make it too conspicuous. The big nice chandelier with the big fancy ceiling medallion will go at the front of the hallway, where the front door is, but I don’t want to make a big production of a light fixture in this spot. Something small and inconspicuous (but pretty, duh) has been what I’ve been on the hunt for, and I think this fits the bill perfectly. I can’t wait to finally paint out that space and get this thing hung up! It’s already been freshly rewired, too, which saves me a little work.

escuscheons2

Lastly, I picked up this little assortment of pretty porcelain plumbing escutcheons! You see these a lot in old houses with old plumbing, but they should be easy to incorporate in new plumbing, too. The ones with the little holes are for supply lines, like on a sink, and the bigger one should work for a waste line on a sink.

eschusceons

They need a little work in terms of stripping the paint off and cleaning them up a bit, but I love them! I think I’m going to be greedy and save these two more elaborate ones for the bathroom in my own house, but I’m planning to put the smaller/simpler ones in the bathrooms in Bluestone Cottage. I know I could just as easily go buy some cheap stock chrome ones at Lowe’s or something, but this will just take it up a notch—and at $5 a pop, that seems entirely worth it. It’s the little details that will make these brand-new-but-aspiring-to-look-kind-of-original spaces look appropriately old, so I’m really psyched to see them in place…even if my plumber is going to think I’m crazier than he already does. He loves me for it, and I love him for putting up with me. Bless his beautiful plumber heart.

First There Were Ceilings, and Then There Were Walls!

header

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.

abovestairs1

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.

abovestairs2

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.

demopic

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

frontdoor

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

process

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.

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!

missingplaster2

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.

postdemo

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.

 

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