Monthly Archives: January 2016

Dig here

What happened to me in the 12 years since I last painted the living room?? It seems I aged twice that much, because every time I come down from that ladder, my body expresses its extreme displeasure. All that twisting and balancing and trying to outwit my bifocals made painting the ceiling and crown molding less like fun and more like torture. But it’s done, and it looks good!

Corner of ceiliing with half box beam and crown molding

Ceiling and crown molding are painted

Now I could get on to the next stage: plaster repair. I was anxious to see just how much of the plaster I’d need to fix. Using my fingertips, I began to tap-tap-tap my way around the room. It was easy to tell where the plaster had loosened. As I tapped, the intact places went thunk-thunk-thunk, but the places where the finish plaster had separated from the base coat went pock-pock-pock. I was dismayed at how pocky the fireplace wall sounded. On each wall I drew a dashed line in felt pen where the pockiness started. The pocky line. Eric annotated it for me.

I decided to start on the south, interior wall, which had the least amount of damage—just a crack the size of Hell’s Canyon.

Crack in plaster outlined in felt pen

Start here

Eric presented me my very own utility knife in a bright froggy green that will be hard to lose. (I never lose things. I still have the ballpoint pen I bought when I went off to college … which may explain some of my clutter problem.)

Bright green utility knife

The “upstairs” knife

I used the knife to score the wall just outside the pocky line and slid a putty knife under the cracked surface—and what do you know!—the unattached surface plaster, finish paper, and layers of paint neatly separated at the scored line and peeled effortlessly away.

Section of detached plaaster cut away from wall

Plaster-ectomy

My excitement abated when I found more and more of the surface had severed its relationship with the plaster base coat, and I continued to peel away nearly all of the surface layer over the foyer opening. It just … kept … coming. Oh, dear.

Loose plaster peeled from over doorway

A new kind of map?

I couldn’t stop picking this scab. I picked away at a pocky bit above the fireplace. Same result: I peeled and peeled and peeled until only a few small islands of finish plaster clung to the wall. I didn’t want to risk gouging the wall by trying to remove plaster that was still attached. It was fine by me if it wanted to stay! Please, stay

Some of the surface layer had separated from the base coat by as much as a half inch. And, to my dismay, I found some deeper plaster damage above the mantel. You can see that the brown coat is gone in a small spot in the photo below. An even more ominous problem lurks behind the mantel clock, but that’s a topic for another day.

Finish coat of plaster separated one-half inch from base coat

These layers of plaster haven’t met for years

Putty knife standing in front of plaster damage with spider's nest

That fuzzy blob on the left is a spider’s nest

I stopped when I couldn’t reach any higher. Sigh … the Tuscan antiquity look would be interesting if this place were an Italian restaurant, but it isn’t what I’m going for.

Loosened plaster cleared off wall above fireplace

A wall in Tuscany?

I kept telling myself that this wasn’t a fail. I wasn’t in over my head—it was just prep work. Resurfacing a large area wouldn’t be any different than resurfacing a lot of small areas, right? And I knew I could fix a small area because I’d done it before, in the kitchen.

Now, most people would move the mantel clock to a safe spot during this messy project, but I simply scooted it over a few inches. And it began ticking! It’s been silent for years and I haven’t wound it. It kept time for four days. I think it was trying to encourage me to keep going.

Antique mantel clock

Alive and ticking

I began with the Hell’s Canyon crack. After lightly sanding the whole exposed area, I filled the crack with joint compound and applied plastic mesh tape over the chasm. Then I applied a thin coat of compound over the exposed brown coat and carefully smoothed it out with a rubber knock-down knife (more of a squeegee). The replacement top coat is only about 1/16 in. thick. I treated several other finer cracks the same way. The whole section, minus breaks for my achin’ back, took less than two hours to cover.

Yellow mesh tape repairs cracked plaster

Bridging the canyon

I always wonder how a wall feels when it’s opened up and exposed to light and air after over one hundred years in the dark. What does that 1913 plaster think about this 2016 yellow plastic mesh tape and joint compound? Will I awaken one morning to find that the wall has rejected the transplant and—ptooey—spat it out onto the floor? So far, my patching job is still on the wall.

A little elbow grease was needed to sand the joint compound to a reasonable finish. I didn’t want a perfect, flat surface that looked like Sheetrock. A few irregularities will help it blend with the original wall (I told myself). It was at this point that Eric bought me an adorable mini shop vac, who will be my buddy for the rest of this project. I pointed out how lucky he is to have a wife who gets excited by the gift of a shop vac. (It also has an 8-ft. hose extension to allow me to get up to the ceiling. Spiders beware!)

Mini shop vac

Adorbs!

Final prep step: a coat of Zinsser Bull’s Eye 2 Multi-Purpose Primer & Sealer. I was surprised at this primer’s gluey, gloppy viscosity. It pours from the can like angel food cake batter. At last, I’m ready to paint wall color! Stay tuned—in my next post, you’ll finally see the new wall and trim colors together. I can’t wait!

Repaired plaster wall primed and ready for paint

Ready for paint!

Hey, that wasn’t so hard! If I can repair this section of wall, I can do the rest of the room. But why the sudden craving for angel food cake?

Green ginkgo leaf with 1913 - 2013 below it

 

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Taking it from the top

Eric and I have been on our holiday break, and after a few days of lying around watching football, we started making progress on our respective projects (he’s cleaning his basement shop, and I’m painting the living room). Last week we went to Lowe’s and bought plaster-patching supplies and paint for ceiling, walls, and trim. No excuses now!

Three gallons of paint, drop cloth, and plaster patching supplies

Merry Christmas to me

I thought it best to start with something easy so as not to shock my system. Something that I knew wouldn’t be a problem—the ceiling. All I wanted to do there was apply a little joint compound to smooth out some cracks. The plaster isn’t coming away from ceiling, thank goodness. I’ve done this in our bedroom with good results. I don’t expect it to look perfect—it’s 103-year-old plaster, after all, not drywall.

First, I practiced by carefully spreading Nutella on my breakfast waffle. Then I got to work. This is what I was trying to disguise:

Cracks run across a plastered ceiling

The view from my chair. See the cracks?

Nothing beats scooping into a pail of fresh, fluffy joint compound. It didn’t take long to coat all the cracks. And, from the ladder I had a great view of the Seahawks game on TV.

Richard Sherman on the TV, with Christmas tree

Go Hawks!!

I let the joint compound dry overnight. The next day I sanded, and despite laying out a drop cloth, I created plenty of mess. Even our tree looked flocked. Perhaps it’s unrealistic to think I won’t have to clean absolutely everything by the time this project is done … I momentarily deluded myself.

Spackle dust on Christmas tree branch and floor

Let it snow!

Ceiling cracks patched and sanded

Patched and sanded cracks

With the cracks smoothed over, I was ready to paint the perimeter of the ceiling. Normally, I have a steady hand for cutting in, and I don’t tape. This time, knowing I’d be reaching at uncomfortable angles, I decided to tape the woodwork. All we had on hand was a roll of yellow Frog Tape for delicate surfaces, which drove me nuts by drooping almost as soon as I put it up. Peeved, I gave up until I had a regular roll of painter’s tape (scant improvement).

Yellow painter's tape at ceiling

Initial attempt at taping

But then, somehow, progress stalled. Day after day, I got up thinking “Today I will paint the ceiling,” but I didn’t. We kept finding other things to do. I’ll blame Christmas. Or perhaps we really just needed a break to relax, goof around, and not worry about schedules. Days ticked by. Did I really think that I was going to paint the whole freakin’ living room, dining room, and foyer during holiday break? I guess I really am delusional.

We declared our second week of break a “work week.” We’d get up by the crack of eight, and right after biscotti and espresso followed by breakfast, spend all day toiling away at our projects … with appropriately scheduled Starbucks runs, of course.

Roadblock: From the step ladder, I couldn’t reach the ceiling above the fireplace because the hearth was in the way. For the life of me, I couldn’t remember how I’d gotten up there when I last painted 12 years ago. Maybe I was taller?

Step ladder next to raised hearth

Can’t reach the ceiling because of the hearth

Eric brought the big hinged aluminum ladder in from the garage, but the behemoth still wouldn’t allow me to get close enough. What’s a project without a tool-buying opportunity? Hello, Lowe’s … one can never have too many aluminum ladders! Our new one weighs a mere 23 pounds, so why did it feel like 100 pounds as I dragged it around the room?

Aluminum ladder set up next to Chritmas tree

Does this look fun? No.

By the way, whose #$@#* idea was it to put up a Christmas tree during my painting project? (The window trim looks like it’s already been painted here. I wish! It’s just the light.)

Boxer dog sleeping on couch with aluminum ladders set up for painting in living room

Visions of sugarplums dance in Duke’s head despite the chaos

Two days later (one week after I started), I had finally double-coated the ceiling. It soaked up paint like an old, dry sponge—nearly a gallon just for the living room. The ceiling looks smoother and, best of all, clean … but painting a ceiling is a little like buying tires: necessary, but not sexy. I keep looking up to see if it is visibly smoother (it is), and that it no longer looks nicotine yellow (it doesn’t), although no one has smoked in here on my watch. Paint ceiling—check!

Ceiling painted pale gray

Smoother and cleaner!

For my next trick, I used the shop vac to suck the dust, cobwebs, and dried spiders (oh yeah!) out of the crevice between the box beam and the crown molding. When people say that old houses are hard to keep clean, this is what they’re talking about.

Spiders and webs in a crevice between ceiling trim

One word: Ick.

The next morning I began painting the box beam and crown molding Chef White. I’ve never had white trim, and I hope we’ll like it. I don’t know why we wouldn’t … it’s classic, and I like the photos I see of white trim. It just looks so … different! It will brighten the interior tremendously.

By evening I had painted only halfway around the room. Up and down the ladder, reposition. Up, down, reposition.  Crane my neck trying to see through my damned bifocals. This is when the enormity of the project hit me, and I remembered why it took me four months to finish painting 12 years ago—and that was without plaster repair. All the trim takes for-ev-er. If that wasn’t daunting enough, the next realization was that I have to paint it all not once, but twice. One coat of white looked like primer—yuck. Why, oh why did I ever start? The place could’ve stayed the same color and I could be doing something else for the first half of 2016! (Don’t worry, I’ll find other projects to blog about. I won’t bore you with six months of whiny painting posts.)

When I got the second coat of white on the trim, it started to look really nice. Then, of course, I couldn’t resist painting a big test patch of Jogging Path on an undamaged section of wall. This photo, taken with my phone, closely captures the true color of the wall, and it shows the subtle difference between white trim and Summer Gray ceiling (in person, it’s even more subtle). To get an idea of the true wall color, think “lichen.”

Test patch of gray on wall; white trim and pale gray ceiling

Preview

We’re still debating if this is the right color. I think it is … but I have a lot of up-down-reposition ahead of me before we need to commit.

Green ginkgo leaf with 1913 - 2013 below it