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Taking it from the top

January 3, 2016

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

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From → Living Room

12 Comments
  1. D’Arcy,
    The ceiling looks great. I hate painting ceilings…in fact, even though I’m always inspired by handy DIY blog friends, like you, I dread painting, especially the wood trim. Don’t get me started on how much time taping off everything takes me. I almost always end up with paint on me, and on other things that I didn’t intend to get paint on. You have my okay to post about the continued progress on your enormous painting project, and complaining will only ensure that I don’t toy with the idea of painting anything anytime soon. The room looks pretty and I love the white trim and new paint color.
    xo,
    Karen

    • Thanks, Karen! If you ever get the urge to paint, e-mail me and I’ll talk you out of it! The older I get, the more I can appreciate hiring the job out … but then I wouldn’t have a DIY blog, right?? 🙂

  2. Tom & Judy permalink

    I don’t envy your task. I usually end up with more paint on me than on the item I am trying to paint. I admire your courage in taking on such a daunting task. Don’t know that I could do that. I like the colors and think you will like the new wall color.

    • Hi Judy–This job gets bigger and badder every time I do it … which is why I don’t do it often. This will be the last time, guaranteed!!

  3. I’m just glad that Duke wasn’t disturbed by the painting! I did notice an absence of cats… Good for you for embarking on this project. I’m hoping reading about it will light a fire under me. I’ve been talking about painting our multi-colored trim for over five years now.

    • Did you miss the cat in the window in the Seahawks game photo? I think that was Rose. I’ll have a surprise announcement about cats soon. 🙂
      You are younger than me, so you won’t be as sore and cranky when you paint your trim!!

  4. The ceiling looks incredible! And I can’t wait to see the new wall color and trim all completed (I’m sure you can’t either)

  5. Ceilings are difficult because of the unnatural angle and they are the biggest wall. Now that’s you’ve finished the ceiling and upper trim it’ll be smooth sailing I hope. It’s looking great. Please post a photo when you have one whole wall finished in the new color. Jo @ Let’s Face the Music

    • Jo, this is only the beginning! I have a beamed ceiling in the dining room that will be just as hard and more of it … but I know I will be more comfortable in the living room once I’m away from the ceiling. The next step is plaster repair. Wish me luck! I can’t wait to take of a pic of a finished wall!

  6. I see painted woodwork like that and my paint stripping itch kicks in. LOL
    It looks beautiful.

    • Haha! I know what you mean, Sharon. If I’d known I was going to live here this long, I’d have started stripping when I moved in 32 years ago. By now, I’d be almost done! 🙂 Thanks for stopping by!

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