I just wanna paint!

Eric and I are fortunate to work for a company that takes a holiday break at the end of the year. We’ll have a glorious 16 consecutive days off, beginning Dec. 19. What will we do with that precious time? We’ll spend it at home, DIYing, of course!

Lately I’ve been thinking about painting the living room, dining room, foyer, and interior hall. It was summer of 2004 when I last tackled that job, and if I remember correctly, it took me four months to finish it. There’s seemingly miles of trim (and 108 four-in. square panes of glass), so I can hardly expect to finish it in two weeks … but if I’m diligent, I can get a great start. Maybe good enough so that when I sit in the living room, I’ll see only newly painted surfaces and all the work still-to-be-done will be blissfully out of sight, behind me.

For the past 12 years, the living area has been Valspar Oak Grove (not a current color), a golden-brown, very Craftsman-y shade. The trim is a rich, creamy ivory. The colors look something like this … on my computer, anyway.

Oak Grove is a cozy wall color that goes well with the dark reds and greens of our furniture. But when I saw how Nicole Curtis of HGTV’s Rehab Addict painted the Minnehaha House in the first season of her show, I got it in my mind to go with something lighter the next time around, and I feel that time has come. I don’t usually fall for trends, but this room has had me admiring pale warm grays with white trim ever since. If I’m going to go there, I hope the gray trend sticks around for a while.

Formal old-house living room painted gray with white trim

Rehab Addict Minnehaha House [Ariel Photography]

While others were trashing the malls on Black Friday, I was collecting paint samples for the audition process. By the time I pick one, I’ll be able to dump all the other samples in a can and get a free gallon of Mutt Greige.

For the trim I want to use the same Chef White that I have in the kitchen and bathroom. (In person, it reads a lot whiter than this online paint chip.) Finally, all the painted woodwork in the house will be the same color. (Only the bedrooms still have natural wood trim.)


By Saturday of Thanksgiving weekend, I had paint swatches on three living room walls. Well, now I was committed. I had to paint. See how that works? (The colors don’t look true in the photo. )

FOur gray paint samples above fireplace

Four shades of gray

But here’s the rub: I don’t think any of these warm gray shades are going to go well with my dining room wallpaper. Shortly after I painted last time, I put up this William Morris-like wallpaper above the plate rail … not to everyone’s taste, but I’ve always loved its acanthus ebullience. The colors tie together all the colors in my house. Fitting the paper around the door and window trim was a tough job, and I don’t want to take it down.

Acanthus wallpaper

Too bad if you don’t love this wallpaper!

I’ll see how it looks, but I’m pretty sure any color I pick will be too light and too gray to complement the wallpaper’s bronze background. That will leave me with four choices:

  1. Leave the paper even though it doesn’t go with the paint. This will eventually drive me nuts.
  2. Replace the paper with a real Bradbury and Bradbury William Morris Willow design. $$$$$
  3. Replace the paper with something historically appropriate, but less expensive.
  4. Remove the paper and paint the wall gray. Best to appeal to potential house buyers someday … blah.

I’ll figure it out later. In the meantime, I have a more pressing problem. Do you see it? Do you see that bulge in the wall’s surface, on the left?

Bumps and bulges in the wall surface

Bumps and gouges

That bubble is not stuck to the wall … and there are spots like that all over the living room. I can account for three layers of paint, but it’s far thicker than that. I believe my plaster walls are covered with a finish paper that was pasted over the finish coat of plaster. Decorative wallpaper or paint was applied on top of the finish paper. There’s only one way to tell. Here’s another big crack and bulge. The thick paper/paint layer is peeling away from the wall at the wood trim. Look closely and you can see the crack extending up to the picture molding to the left and another crack above the door trim.


We gingerly pulled off a piece. The finish coat of plaster came away with the paper and paint! That’s why it looked so thick. And that’s what I was afraid would happen. Now we know why the surface was cracked.

Finish coat of plaster pulled off to reveal brown coat

Right down to the brown coat

What you see above is the rough undercoat of the plaster, called the brown coat. Because it’s … brown. Sometimes animal hair was added to this brown coat for strength, but ours does not have animal hair.

I dissected the brittle plaster chunks as best I could: finish plaster, finish paper, and several coats of paint. The earliest paint seems to be a sick shade of pale green. The same color I turned when I realized the extent of the problem.

Chips of plaster, finish paper, and paint

What’s in this stuff?

Whatever shall I do? More choices:

  1. Pretend there is no problem and paint over it like I have twice before. Ha ha.
  2. Try to carefully peel the buckled areas off without disturbing the base coat of plaster or areas that have not separated. Then apply a new finish coat to match the level of nearby finished surfaces. Someday when it’s done, paint the wall gray. (Will gray still be in style by 2020?)
  3. When the going gets tough, hire a plasterer. $$$$

Of course, I know the answer. I have to keep my eyes on the prize. On a positive note, this condition exists only in the living room (I think), and the living room has only three walls, much of which are windows and fireplace. So I’m hoping the damage is fairly contained [weak laughter]. Stay tuned.

Here are the colors we’ve chosen—ceiling, walls, and trim. What do you think?

Why does every old-house project have to turn into a huge @#$#$% production?? [Sob] … I just wanna paint!!

Green ginkgo leaf with 1913 - 2013 below it

21 thoughts on “I just wanna paint!

  1. Jessica@CapeofDreams

    The wallpaper is great. Of course it has to stay. I love the colors you chose, but I am also not a fan of the grey trend, although your inspiration room was pretty. As for the bubbles and cracks. I sympathize with you. What a dilemma! I wish I could off suggestions, but plaster is not my balliwick. I’m sure you will find a good one.

  2. Africadayz

    Oh dear. Those bubbles are somewhat daunting. I like the colours you’ve chosen and I think you’ll be amazed by how much lighter your house seems once you’ve done it. Good luck!

  3. curt

    Hi D’Arcy! I kept 2 rooms on the misadventures house with plaster lath and had to repair the ceilings and around windows. I chipped out the loose plaster and used “Hot Mud” chemical set drywall compound for the base coat and then finished with regular drywall compound. 5 years later it still looks perfect. Whatever you do, I’m sure it will look fantastic!

    1. D'Arcy H Post author

      Thanks for the tip, Curt! I’m concerned that the base coat might be in bad shape, too, so the hot mud may come in handy. Wish me luck … I’m goin’ in!!

  4. Karen B.

    That is such a pain when one little innocent project opens that proverbial can of worms. I painted our family room a taupe that looks like gray and I painted the guest bath BM London Fog. I confess, while I’m drawn to nearly every gray room I encounter online, I’m not really sure the gray is complimenting my English Country styling. Good luck with the project. I know whatever you choose will look great.

    1. D'Arcy H Post author

      Hi Karen! I’m going to test-paint the whole area over the fireplace, along with the trim alongside it just to be sure this is what I want. Then I’ll start operating on the walls. Fun times! 🙂

    1. D'Arcy H Post author

      Option 2! This is supposed to be a DIY blog! 🙂 Actually you’re the second person to say “Hire a pro!” Nope … not until I prove that it’s beyond my ability. Plus, I’m cheap.

  5. Jo

    As you may remember I work in an old house whose walls, especially on the staircases, are buckling like yours except much, much worse. They are held up, as you say, by a piece of lining wallpaper. If the paper were removed the walls would come a tumblin’ down. As to your color and wallpaper, love the paper and I would try to find a gray that has just a bend toward the green (google “greenish gray”). I’ve been using Benjamin Moore colors that my Ace hardware mixes in their highly-rated formula which is much cheaper. All that being said, I feel for your desire to just get painting because the prep work is so wearing and not very rewarding in terms of visual satisfaction. I’m sure you and Eric will make a ton of progress over your 2 week hiatus. Jo @ Let’s Face the Music

    1. Africadayz

      Hi Jo. I am one of D’Arcy’s keen followers and although I show up as Africadayz, she and I connected through our house blogs, mine being Home in the Making. D’Arcy, this comment is for you. I had exactly the same feeling regarding the wallpaper and the sense that finding a shade of grey leaning towards green would do the trick. There must be a greenish-grey option out there somewhere. I love the Benjamin Moore colours but sadly, I’ve been unable to track the brand down in South Africa. I take pictures along to the paint store and try to match the colours as closely as I can.

      1. D'Arcy H Post author

        Jo and Jacqui, thanks for your input. I believe you are right about the greenish-gray. I’ve been sitting here looking at the warm gray sample we picked, and it’s not quite right. Now I’m searching green-grays and I feel I’m on the right track! Thanks!!

  6. James Gielow

    I’m actually a lot jealous of your project. I’ve always wanted an old craftsman to “love”.

    I’ve been at SDMA for twelve years now. We move ALL the walls in ALL the galleries for ALL the exhibits. If you do the math, you’ll clearly see that’s a shit ton of walls moving.

    Every single time, all of the seams have to be scraped and then re-mudded once in their new position.

    Needless to say, it’s a daunting and unending task.

    My point is this; you know what you must do. Take it down to its most stable core and patch it up properly. Then sand it smooth and primer, then paint.

    It’s not too hard to do at all, just dusty.

    The crack that’s extending from the window sash, is that in the actual foundation? It seems so in the photo. If it is, and you have a basement/crawl space, you may need to add supports. Also fairly simple to do.

    I just realized that I may be overloading you. Never mind. Just paint over it 😉

    1. D'Arcy H Post author

      Yes, I know what I have to do … run for the trees!! Yup, I will patch and sand … what’s a little more dust? Because I haven’t started yet, I’m still in the stage of thinking I can handle it, no sweat. I don’t think it’s necessarily a foundation problem; just age and settling. I admit that not everything on me is in the same place it used to be … same with a 103-year-old house! (I am not 103.)

  7. Dan

    I was pretty anxious too before jumping into my first plaster repair project, but you’ll be fine — especially if the brown coat is still stable and attached to the lath. Make sure you use some fiberglass mesh tape over those cracks before patching, or they’ll reappear before you know it. And consider getting a squeegee trowel (Magic Trowel) if you want to minimize the amount of sanding you’ll have to do after the patches dry.

    1. D'Arcy H Post author

      Thanks for the Magic Trowel tip, Dan! Anything to minimize dust in the living room. And yes, I will use mesh tape. I’m hoping the base coat is still hangin’ in there, or I will gain experience with plaster buttons, too!

  8. Nine Dark Moons

    i would also recommend a color that would pick up the colors in your wallpaper – i love the paper – definitely keep that and work your paint color around it! sorry about the plaster… that’s a mess! i remember when sarah at ugly duckling house redid her drywall she mentioned an awesome tool with a hose attached which means you can sand/scrape the walls and the dust goes into your shop vac instead of all over your house. not sure if that helps your situation or not! here’s the post where she discusses it: http://www.uglyducklinghouse.com/dueling-diy-kitchen-tile-backsplash-prep/

    1. D'Arcy H Post author

      Thanks for the sanding tool tip, Alison!! I’m going to look for one of those, cuz who needs more dust?? Also, I’ll have a wall color update soon!


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