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!
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.
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.)
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!)
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!
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?