Monthly Archives: March 2014

The slow grind

I love going go to bed on a Friday night, knowing we have something exciting and transformative to do on the weekend. Last Friday was one of those nights. (That doesn’t mean we didn’t loll around the house drinking lattes and munching biscotti for a good hour on Saturday before we busted a move … but we were motivated!!) This was the day that Eric was going to sand the spare room floor!! Off to Home Depot to rent a sander …

The guy in the tool rental department recommended a buff sander (a flat pad) rather than the monster drum sander I’d used on the living and dining room ten years ago. “A drum sander’s too aggressive for fir floors,” he proclaimed. Never mind that I’d used one quite successfully all on my own … what do I know? So we came home with the buff sander. The first thing we noticed was that it was a lot lighter than a drum sander. Eric went to work, and the first pass results were promising. Much of the dark varnish came right off. Hey—piece of cake!

the floor after first saning pass

Or, that’s what we thought … until Eric vacuumed the floor and we saw that the “bare wood” was mostly just sanding dust! The perimeter of the room lightened up fairly fast, but the middle has a distinct shadow of a long-ago rug. Whatever type of finish is soaked into this old floor, it doesn’t want to give up anytime soon.

boxer lying on dark shadow

mark of rug on floor boards

Checkers and Duke volunteered as smoothness testers.

Cat and boxer lying on the floor

Along the edges of the room are lots of dark blemishes. If they don’t sand out, that’s okay. The floor is 101 years old, and it’s entitled to its character marks! I can relate. (No, I am not 101.)

dark spots along edge of floor

In addition to the stubborn shadow rug, sanding revealed just how uneven the floor is. I had thought it was in good shape−it didn’t feel bad, but sanding hit the high spots and showed that many of the boards are badly cupped. What had happened in here?

boxer lying on cupped floorboards

It took me an entire day to remember that before I had the ceiling Sheetrocked … before the rainstorm that caused a water feature to pour onto the bed … before I had the new roof put on in 2005 … before any of this, there was a cottage cheese ceiling with an old water stain. The attic dormer above this room had evidently caused problems before I bought the house. (As long as I’ve owned the house, it never leaked before my own roofing disaster—a topic for another day). There must have been a flood in here at some point.

Eric sanded and sanded and sanded … but nothing would take the floor down smooth enough to get the dark stain out of the low spots. Next weekend we’ll go back for that drum sander. Sigh …

Want to see something other than pix of floorboards? While Eric was kickin’ up dust, I was doing some filling and sanding in the kitchen, prepping for tiling the backsplashes (more on that soon). My mind was turning over possible finishes for the spare room. Toward my lighter and brighter goal, I envisioned pale, honey-colored walls and a neutral, traditionally patterned area rug.

In fact, a rug we’d seen at Lowe’s had caught our eye … well, my eye, anyway, and Eric seemed agreeable. I wanted a second look, so that evening Eric took me on a date to Lowe’s. Is he a lucky guy or what? His wife wants to go to the home improvement store for a date!

Here is rug candidate No. 1. (Sounds like the announcer at the Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show.) This phone photo washes out the color … the rug isn’t gray, but cream, tan, gold and greenish. An 8 x 10 = $300.

light neutral oriental rug

Then I spied a completely different and more colorful rug. “This isn’t what I’m looking for, but it sure is pretty,” I said. Eric took a look. “That’s the kind of rug I’ve always wanted in my office!” And so it shall be! For $500. Again, the phone picture is washed out, but the web photo is too dark. The real thing is somewhere in between. Here is rug candidate No. 2:

orange and blue oriental rug

orange and blue oriental rug

We walked over to the paint department, where my eyes kept landing on one shade: Woodrow Wilson Maize. But when I brought the swatches home, I favored Belle Grove Light Amber. Eric vetoed amber as too dark (which he says about every paint shade I pick). These screen captures aren’t super accurate …but, what do you think?

Light amber vs Maize


The corny shade will brighten the room in the daylight and create a nice warm glow at night. I think it will be perfect with our future rug and the room’s fir trim. It is, after all, Eric’s room.

I have a surprise detail planned for the walls, but I won’t reveal it quite yet.



Walking on history

While I was still lying around sick and useless (I have fully recovered), Eric got busy in the spare room. Occasionally I would shuffle past the door, and each time I did, the room had a different appearance and quality of light depending on what kind of flooring surface had been exposed.

It’s easy to rip carpeting out. I did the entire living room, dining room, and foyer by myself in 2004. Just slice and roll, and tape it up. Schlep it out to the garage until it goes to the dump. I have to admit, though, it’s even easier when someone else does it.

strip of carpet removed and rolled up

Eric quickly took it down to the blue-backed carpet pad.

blue carpet pad exposed

Anyone who has ripped out old carpet knows that it’s a gross job. Carpet holds a tremendous amount of dirt and nastiness, and much of that dirt is actually sloughed-off human skin (and in our house, pet dander). YUCK. So if you’re ripping out carpet, for heaven’s sake, wear a mask!!

After pulling a million staples and the tack strips from the perimeter of the room, Eric escorted the pad to the garage. And there it was, just like I remembered it—the green and gray linoleum “rug”!

green and gray linoleum rug

Isn’t it fabulous?? I am such a sucker for acanthus leaves.

close up of linoleum rug

It takes a certain type of person to appreciate this funky relic … and I am that type of person. Wanna see more?

more linoleum rug

Are you dizzy yet? As much as I loved it, it’s not the look I envision for our new office/library/whatever room. It had to come out … but we were worried that it was stuck to the floor with mastic. If that were the case, scraping it off could ruin the fir floor. Eric peeled back a corner … and just kept peeling. It had never been glued down. How often does that happen? Soon the carpet, pad, and lino rug had been disposed of at the local waste transfer station. I honestly mourned the lino rug, but Eric assured me it was cracked and torn in places, and extremely brittle. But, he saved me a big swatch for my vintage linoleum collection.

linoleum rug peeled back to expose floor

The original fir flooring was finally exposed to the light of day for the first time in maybe 70 years. I wish I could create a scratch-and-sniff spot so you could experience the smell of this 100-year-old floor. NOT GOOD. Eric scrubbed it with vinegar and water and we opened the window and closed the doors, but the rank mustiness pervaded the house for a few days. (It’s much better now.) The wood is in great condition, although the finish is worn and scratched in places and quite dark, which makes the room look gloomy. This late-afternoon photo captures old-house gloom perfectly.

dark floor makes the room look gloomy original fir floor

We’ll refinish the wood in a lighter shade that will match the living room and dining room floor.

bedromm floor is darker than dining room

As glad as I was to see our wood floor at last, I couldn’t get that linoleum rug off my mind. I gazed at photos like I was mourning an old friend’s demise. I pined for it. In the photo of the peeled-back rug, above, you can see “Armstrong” stamped on the back. But wait–linoleum always has a burlap backing. This backing is reddish, yet it’s obviously a linoleum-like product (definitely way too old to be vinyl). When we got home from the transfer station, I did some internet sleuthing. Here’s what I learned (from an OldHouse Online article by Jane Powell):

Linoleum has been around since the mid-1800s, but back in the 1910s, Congoleum invented a cheaper competitor. Instead of linseed oil, this product was made from asphalt-impregnated felt, and was known generically as felt-base. Patterns were printed on the surface and it looked just like linoleum. The back was coated with iron oxide, which accounts for the red color. Armstrong began making their version of felt-base in 1916. Felt-base rugs were available from Armstrong and other companies into the 1950s. Judging by the pattern, I think this one may have been from the 40s.

Powell says, “These are pieces of history and shouldn’t just be tossed into the trash.” … Uh-oh. Did we screw up?

“An old linoleum or felt-base rug is worth appreciating because it is unlikely this product will ever be made again. The few companies now producing real linoleum don’t offer patterns, let alone rugs, and no one makes felt-base flooring anymore. So if you have a linoleum rug, treasure it, even if your friends don’t understand.”

Well … damn. I feel sad that my rug is biodegrading in a landfill, even though I know the room will look better without it. I both regret that we didn’t keep our rare piece of history and look forward to creating a cleaner, brighter space. What can I say … except that the felt-base rug in our bedroom is definitely here to stay!!

bedroom lino carpet with rose pattern


My husband has moved into the spare bedroom

… And I’m happy about it! No, I’m not talking about our sleeping arrangements. I’m talking about a new project!! With most of his role in the kitchen remodel coming to an end, Eric is itchin’ to clean up our much-neglected and maligned second bedroom, known to us as the “spare room.” Or maybe he started itchin’ just from walking in there.

Throughout the kitchen project, our dining room has been the dumping ground and boneyard of kitchen detritus. Then, when we threw the centennial party last summer, it all had to magically disappear and leave the dining room company-ready again. Where did all the crap go? Guess! I now sheepishly reveal the state of our spare room (and this is after most of the boxes had been removed):

spare room with junk everywhere

In a house of under 1500 square feet, how can any room be considered “spare”? Don’t you think we could make better use of this space? No kidding.

The plan. You gotta have a plan. How do we want to use this room? Eric wants to move his home office in there from the foyer. Eric has worked from home for years, and the foyer was an ideal space for his setup. (We never use the front door except to feed the porch cats. We live on a corner, and we’re strictly back-door people.) But, times change, and now he must report to the office every day, and he no longer needs to occupy the foyer with computer paraphernalia.

We also want to keep our full size guest bed in there, even though we have not had overnight guests since 2011. We’re thinking of building a Murphy bed. Is this wise? Or should we just stash the frame, mattress, and box spring in the attic until someone decides to pop by?

One thing we agree on: bookshelves. Being writers, we’re also rabid readers, and we are loath to toss a book when we’re done. We desperately need more bookshelves. The room could become an office/library.

One more thing. Two more things. A big treadmill (used occasionally) and a hurky exercise bike (used … never). I guess you could say our intended use of the room is a little unfocused. I don’t know why this should bother me, except that I’ve heard that criticism from too many HGTV Realtors.

Here’s what we’ll be doing to refurbish the room:

  • Remove the carpet. Refinish the floor. Buy a rug.
  • Strip the wallpaper. Paint the walls. (The ceiling was repainted not long ago and looks good).
  • Configure better clothes storage in the closet. This is Eric’s space.
  • Buy new window coverings and light fixture.
  • Install new outlets (there’s only one!).

The first order of business was to remove everything from the room, which fell entirely to Eric when I inconveniently got sick. I truly felt bad about that. I mean, I was really, really sick. I begged Eric to shoot me, but we don’t own a gun. I considered crawling two blocks to the commuter rail station to lie on the tracks at rush hour … but I could scarcely crawl my way out of the Barcalounger. You get the picture. I helplessly hacked and moaned while the furniture in bedroom became furniture in the dining room. Ah, that’s better. I know that look.

dining room filled with bedroom furniture

Now that the room is empty, you can see its features: It’s 11′-9″ x 13′-0″. The entrance is off our dining room (on its north wall). On the east wall is a door to the bathroom.

guest room floor plan

This room is meant to be the master bedroom, but I’ve always used the one at the back of the house because it’s quieter … and the two windows on the south wall look directly into the back door of the house next door, hence the frosted film. On the west wall is the closet door. This closet is approximately 500 ft deep, and I’ve never been to the end of it. There may be a portal to 1913 back there. It’s completely inefficient for storing clothes, and it’s Eric’s option to make it work any way he pleases.

view from closet toward entry door

From closet looking toward entry (with clothes) and bathroom door (with mirror)

door to bathroom and windows

Door to bathroom and south-facing windows

looking toward northwest corner

From windows, looking toward northwest corner; closet door out of frame on left. Notice our token outlet in the baseboard.

What will we do with the floor? I had the carpet installed in 1987. It’s been through three boxers and 10 cats. Anyone who has pets knows what I’m alluding to, here. Those of you who don’t have animals—use your imagination. The main living area floors were refinished 10 years ago, and the same fir flooring is in both bedrooms. But, do we want to refinish it ourselves, or have a pro do it (which involves moving out for three days while the finish off-gases … which I do not relish)? Beneath the carpet is an ancient sheet of linoleum in a gray and green “hooked rug” pattern (a different pattern graces our bedroom). I can’t wait to show it to you! I am probably the only person on Earth who sees the vintage charm in this … therefore, it’s gotta go. We don’t know if the lino is glued to the floor or will peel right up. Ha! … nothing ever “peels right up,” … unless you want it to stick.

What will we do with the walls? My mom and dad helped me paper this room in 1984. (Under the paper is emerald green paint.) My style and taste have changed radically since then (thank goodness). I want to really lighten up the room and simplify it. Part of me says there are lots of cool wallpapers out there that might make a nice accent wall. The other part says “never again.”

Victorian patterned wallpaper

What bothers me about this project is my lack of a clear vision for the result. It was my crystal-clear vision of how I wanted the kitchen to look that guided my decisions and pulled all the details together so well. I’m not there yet with the bedroom. When I mentioned this to Eric, he  said, “This is MY room!” WHAAAAT??? Someone else making design decisions?? But—but—but—I’m an only child! I must have things my own way!! I AM THE DECIDER!!

Can this room be saved? Will Eric’s ideas stand a snowball’s chance in hell? To be continued …


New Mother Hubbard

As usual, the process of bringing Old Mother Hubbard into the 21st Century took longer than I’d anticipated. When we left her in the middle of her extreme makeover, her doors were on the operating table being stripped of decades of old paint. I used three applications of stripper on each side, which took time. The insides of the doors had a different color-layering scheme than the exteriors, including this bright Chinese red, which was en vogue in the late 40s when the kitchen was remodeled.

stripping paint from cabinet doors

I made three of these Jasco “casseroles,” weighing over six pounds apiece.

aluminum tin of stripped paint

Sanding, priming, and painting also took more days than I hoped … you just can’t rush drying time. Because the interiors of our other cabinets are natural, I decided to polyurethane these, too, even though I was unable to pry all the old dead paint out of the joints. Call it character.

It had been quite a few weeks since I’d used the Benjamin Moore Glacier White paint. (I am impressed that one gallon has easily double-coated all the cabinets in our kitchen.) Imagine my horror when I opened the can and found THIS staring up at me:

mold on white paint

OMG, it’s alive!! It’s … mold. I have never had this happen to paint before. What the heck got in there?? Eric pulled on rubber gloves and scooped it out. De-molded, the paint seemed fine. It stroked on smoothly and I haven’t notice Mother H growing a fuzzy green coat. Yes, I used it! Stuff’s expensive, and I didn’t feel like driving to north Seattle for another gallon when I was so close to finishing.

While the doors were curing, I turned to Mother Hubbard’s innards. A purge was in order, and I could put it off no longer. Out came everything. Each piece had to show me its pull date before I would let it back in. I was a merciless gatekeeper—cute packaging could not melt my heart. I was searching for antique food … and I found plenty. Quite a few items came from Eric’s pantry before he moved in in 2007. Not including the Pleasoning (which, by the way, is still made in La Crosse, Wisconsin), the vintage food award went to … a box of Sunmaid raisins from 1998. Guess it pays to clean out you cupboards occasionally.

Some of my finds puzzled me. Besides white vinegar, I have red wine vinegar, blackberry vinegar, and rice vinegar, all unopened except for the white. And for someone who seldom bakes, here’s my collection of colored sugar and cake decorations. A lifetime supply! How did all this stuff get in my house? Eric … ?

colored sugar collection

At last I could get to Mother H’s insides. I thought that because she was already painted white inside, maybe I could get away with just washing her out and applying new linoleum liners to her shelves. HA! What an optimist I can be! I peeled the old linoleum off the shelves. This could be the house’s original lino because it goes (sort of) with the red and gray wallpaper I discovered when patching the walls.

gray and red original linoleum

Of course, you knew it would be nasty in there, didn’t you? Yup.

pantry shelf befpre cleaning and painting

middle shelf with contact paper

I washed the whole thing down with soap and water, but some of the stains wouldn’t budge, including a dreadful dark cascade of goo from long ago that ran from the top shelf clear to the middle one. I would have to paint, too. Dammit. My big time-saving trick was to use gloss white spray paint instead of a tedious brush. But within two squirts, the house was filled with obnoxious lacquer that us had us all gagging. So much for that idea. Oh, hand me the damned brush …

I spent a day with my head inside Mother Hubbard, painting all the nooks and crannies as best I could. Huge improvement, even though the dreadful stain, so impervious to soap and water, had no trouble softening and bleeding through three coats of paint. More character. I know many people would be grossed out by that stain, but living in a century-old home sometimes requires forgiveness—and the willingness to seal unmentionables under a new coat of paint. I’m dealing with the stain here by taking photos at an angle that doesn’t show it. And, now that the pantry’s full again, I can’t see it! Hey, problem solved!

painted and lined pantry shelves

Things really started to come together when Eric cut linoleum liners from spare material left over from our flooring job. I tossed my vintage turntables (bought back when avocado green was popular) and invested in some new ones, plus a set of riser steps for a choir of spices.

Finally, I reopened the Glacier White paint, donned the rubber gloves, scooped out yet another growth of pond scum, and painted her exterior. After a few more days of curing, Eric hung the doors. Are you ready? First, Old Mother Hubbard’s before photo.

floor-to-ceiling pantry cabinet

And now … ta-da!! See, Mother H, I told you that you’d look fabulous! Beautiful inside and out! Tall, glossy white, and lovely once again.

white painted pantry cabinet

finished pantry interior

close-up of pantry interior

I’m very proud that Mother Hubbard is the matriarch of our kitchen. Here’s to your second century, Mother H!

PS – Yes, the vintage shaker of Pleasoning made the cut … grandfathered in. It comes from a good family.

Pleasoning seasoning on a turntable