Domestic archeology

The vertical dig

You know when you have a sunburn that’s beginning to peel, and you just have to grab that piece of snakeskin and see how big a sheet you can pull off? It’s irresistible. That’s what happened when I looked at some loose wallpaper in the breakfast room. I knew a couple different patterns of wallpaper were under all the layers of paint. I’d indulged in peeling before, over behind the fridge. So I picked … and I pulled … and picked and pulled some more. Until I created this. Oops.

The yellow-and-white plaid with cheery cherries is from the 70’s (Eric remembers the pattern from his youth). Under it is a much older paper with red trellises and gray ivy vines, handpainted little red starbursts and stripes of tiny silver leaves. (Click the photo to see the detail.) I believe this is the original kitchen wallpaper because it’s the same color scheme as the gray and red geometric linoleum that’s in the back hall, under today’s laminate. When I picture either of these busy prints covering the entire kitchen, my eyes cross!

Of course, I had to keep peeling–I couldn’t stop until I got to a point where the paper was once again adhered to the wall. But inevitably, when you’re peeling that sunburn, you go too far and—ouch! Uh-oh … what’s this? Some loose plaster. Hmm … I thought this wall was in good shape. Let me say here, I know real renovators would gut the whole room and start from scratch. But we’re not fixin’ what ain’t broke. We have enough on our hands just replacing cabinets, flooring, counters, lighting, and paint. I don’t want to get into plaster repair. But oh dear … now look what I’ve done! The wall is practically bleeding.

Whoever papered these walls didn’t properly tuck the paper into the corner. They just kind of swooped it around the corner like a banked track. Close enough! I sliced into the corner and kept peeling (thinking, what have I gotten myself into?) and finally, finally … peeled it back to a point where the paper stuck to the plaster and the plaster stuck to the lath. The broken plaster was a bit powdery, making me wonder if it’s been water damaged. I’ve never noticed moisture in this wall in the 29 years I’ve lived here, so maybe it’s just, well … old. Or maybe the damage was caused when we removed the plastic tiles.

A large tub of spackle later, and it’s much better. Apply bondo, sand, repeat. I’m pleased—feels quite smooth and ready for paint. See the new bead board paneling that replaced the white plastic tiles? So far it’s only primered … waiting for its coat of glossy white.

The horizontal dig

While I was away on a business trip, Eric lit into the floor with a variety of Medieval-looking tools. We could see the layers where the built-up floor formed a small cliff that we had to jump off to enter the dining room. I installed the black and white checkerboard commercial tile in 1995. I liked the look, but the tile was hard to keep clean and never had the shine I’d hoped for.

The checkerboard covered some ugly Mediterranean-inspired 70’s vinyl, which lay on a bed of particle board, and, last but not least, was swirling ochre, dark red, and black linoleum.

This was not what I expected. I thought we’d find gray and red inlaid linoleum like on the back porch. Had the gray and red layer been removed? Is the ochre stuff original? I sure can’t picture it with the red and gray wallaper. We may never know. The ironic twist is that this old pattern is almost the reverse, colorwise, of what we intend to install: Forbo Marmoleum, Granada pattern.

This ochre layer will also be removed before we have the new floor installed. For now, we’re enjoying the old lino even though it’s scuffed and scarred.  It’s proving its boxer-and-kitty resistance and feels good under foot. And if I drop some crumbs, I dare ya to find ’em!

With these layers gone, our kitchen floor has lost nearly 3/4 inch of elevation, and is now level with the fir floor in the dining room. No more cliff to scale!

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