Monthly Archives: February 2016

Subterranean odyssey, part 1

While I’m toiling away with endless plaster repair (or, alternatively, lolling in the Barcalounger ), I need to come up with something to entertain the five people who read my blog. Fortunately, the living room walls aren’t the only project around here. I’m making a mess upstairs, but Eric is in the dungeon—a.k.a. the basement—turning it into a functional shop. He’s doing such a great job, I asked him to write a few posts about it. Put on your hazmat suits, folks–Eric is taking this blog where it’s never been before!

Below decks

I feel a little bit like Billy in the Family Circus. D’Arcy is taking a short break from her blog as she works on our living room walls and I get to fill in for her. Patching and filling and sanding and painting a 103 year old room has its ups and downs (mostly on a ladder) so it takes a bit of time to get it all done.

So, what project in our house do I have to write about? Well, we have a small basement in our house. It used to contain the boiler and heating system for the home. Old pipes for the radiator system that used to be in the house are still present and capped off to provide a real plumber’s nightmare (especially when not all the pipes were capped off properly many decades ago).

Rusty old unused water pipes in basement

Not creepy at all

Piping for new-fangled items like washing machines made for interesting challenges for someone in the past. The drain for the basement sink (no longer functional) and sump pump go out through the foundation wall at about two feet up from the floor and come back in again at five-and-a-half feet. Oh yes, our washing machine drains into the sump. At first I thought that was a bad thing. Then I realized that during the long dry spells we have in the summer, using the washer actually runs the sump pump regularly to keep it working properly.

[Ed. note: I heard this was a common setup in older Midwest houses, but not many houses on the West Coast have basements, so it’s an oddity out here.]

Basement sump pump

Our faithful sump pump.

Old plumbing and grounds on basement wall

The white pipe (second from right) goes out, the black pipe (hard to see at the top) comes in.


Drain pipe on outside of foundation wall.

The strange out-and-in pipe on the outside of the house. We don’t know what the other pipe is for.

We live in the Green River valley. That means that the water table at our house is about two feet below the surface of the yard in wet weather. The basement floor is five feet below ground. When it really rains the sump pump is very active. With a 103-year-old cement floor, there are bound to be small cracks. There are patches upon patches on the floor. Water is always trying to seep in, but that is what the sump is for. I will have more on the sump and plumbing another time.

patched and cracked concrete basement floor

Kind of arty looking.

We have only a partial basement—under the kitchen and our bedroom, on the east end of our house. The bottoms of the floor joists sit about 65″ above the floor. Wiring, ducting, and piping go through and along the floor joists. There are few windows to the outside world from the basement. The furnace, the sump, and the water heater are on the north side of the basement. The stairs come down the middle. The north side is storage and is full of bicycles, cat carriers, and stuff from many decades. Well, the whole basement had a lot of stuff in it. That would include spiders. That would be why my wonderful wife doesn’t go down there.

Not to scale, but close enuf

Not to scale, but close enuf

So why bring all of this up? This is where I decided to create my workshop. There used to be a workshop there. Oh, by the way…I am 73″ tall.

Man standing with hhis head between floor joists in basement

A perfect fit.

The workspace that was in the basement when I moved into the house served a purpose for a former tenant. It did for me too, for a while. But then I decided to make a change so that it worked for me. Isn’t that what ALL guys do with projects, anyway?

Workbenched piled high with junk

Custom painted by a graffiti artist.

The original arrangement of the workshop was just an open space next to the stairs. The foundation walls had been spray painted in a colorful, but dark, jungle-like theme. The shelves were made from old floral bulb pallets (a clever reuse of materials). But they didn’t provide the best storage space for me. The countertops were sheets of heavy chip board. They sagged in a few places (as do many things that are older). There were a lot of extension cords hanging in the rafters to provide electricity and light. They all came off of the same outlet. As long as only one thing was plugged in at any time what could possibly go wrong?

Bags and boxes of old project pieces, leftover hardware, and hundreds of parts to something or other had been here on a shelf since the last century. And of course I only added stuff to the mess.

Messy workbench and ancient canning shelves

Everything in its place.

I somehow managed to build, from scratch, an entire set of kitchen cabinets, a king-sized headboard and footboard, and many other things in this environment. So why make any changes? I set down my trusty old Reed and Price screwdriver somewhere on one of the counters and I couldn’t find it anymore!!!! I need better storage! I need better lighting! I need better ventilation! I need more outlets! I need a real workbench! Phew, I need a nap.

My next post will show what I did at the start the project.

Green ginkgo leaf with 1913 - 2013 below it


While you were watching the Super Bowl …

Is it un-American to ignore the Super Bowl? To be sure, I was a mere 12 feet away from the TV. I could hear it, but I ignored it for the most part. I ate my requisite portion of buffalo wings, but—OMG—I forgot to make the guacamole. What excuse do I have for such atrocious behavior on our national holy-day? I was painting.

Painting supplies covering fireplace hearth

I have not seen the hearth in weeks

After a two-week gap in progress, I finally had a day to splash some gray on the first wall! Along with that, of course, came plenty of white trim.

But first, a little cleaning was necessary. We’ve all had the experience of moving a large piece of furniture and recoiling in disgust at the detritus that was living beneath. I won’t gross you out with what I found when we moved the kleiderschrank. (You’re welcome.) Except for this piece:

dirty and corroded penny


It’s a penny. I didn’t keep it. This project is costing me $0.01 more than I thought.

I cut in the wall edges on Super Bowl Eve, working without a net, as usual. (As I’ve mentioned, I don’t normally tape, and I’m too lazy to fuss with a drop cloth). I forgot to take pictures. Because I painted the crown molding trim before I began ripping away the loose finish plaster, the edge of the molding showed rough old paint in places, and the white paint didn’t quite reach the edge. Poor planning on my part, but fixable with a bit of extra work. I love extra work.

I schmeared joint compound into the resulting gap and touched up both white and gray paint after it dried. Much better!

Joint compound fills crevice

Joint compound to the rescue again

The wall color (Sherwin Williams Jogging Path, which I had color-matched in Valspar Signature formula) covered the former brown paint beautifully. A second coat was necessary only to fill the holidays. This is the first time I’ve used an eggshell finish, and I’m happy with the results. Previously, I’d always used flat to downplay the irregularities in the old plaster walls. I like the eggshell effect. During the day it gives off a subtle shimmer, but at night it’s soft and velvety.

Second coat of gray paint going on lighter than first coat

Beginning the second coat. It dried a lot darker.

I wasn’t so cavalier about painting the base molding, however, because I need to be able to slop on the paint when it’s at floor level. Applying tape is annoying, but I don’t have a steady hand when working down that low. When Lacy bumped my arm, I wish I’d taped the top of the baseboard, too.

White paint smudge on gray paint

Thanks, Lacy.

TA DA–I have ONE wall painted! How do I describe this color? It’s a warm gray, yet it has greenish undertones. It shade-shifts dramatically in the light, from top to bottom and from corner to corner, which I love. In the light of day it looks much cooler, but at night it’s very warm and soft. I don’t know how this looks on your monitor, but think of lichen.

Gray wall with white trim

One down!

Now we can reassemble the kleiderschrank and reclaim some floor space in the library. Rose-kitty will be happy to have her private balcony back.

I have a ton of work to do to get the next wall ready for paint. I can’t wait until the entire living room/dining room/foyer are lit up with this new scheme. For now, I find myself wandering into the living room just to admire “the wall.” I’m lichen it. (Sorry, couldn’t stop myself.)

Bonus feature

Introducing Crosby!

Tuxedo kitten sitting on Oriental rug

Yes, we’ve adopted another kid! One evening just before Christmas, we came home to find a 6-month-old tuxedo kitten running around near our back door. He was terrified and wailing piteously, looking for shelter from the driving rain and 34° weather. I called to him, and he came right over—obviously he had been someone’s pet. I picked him up and carried him inside. He was soaking wet and shivering. After being toweled off and sitting with Checkers for a few minutes, he began confidently exploring the house.

For about five seconds we thought about taking him to the Humane Society, because he’d be adopted in a heartbeat. Instead, we bought him a collar and ID tag and had him neutered. We had to name him after someone with a big moustache, so we picked David Crosby (even though David’s moustache droops down, and our Crosby uses moustache wax to turn his up.)

Tuxedo kitten with big white moustache

I don’t know whose cat Crosby started out to be, but he has in-and-out privileges now, and he has chosen us. He’s living the dream—he loves his new mom and dad and kitty friends, and he adores Duke. He definitely keeps us entertained with his zany kitten antics and his two speeds: trouble and cuddle.

How do they find us? They just keep coming! The answer to your question is  … eight.

Green ginkgo leaf with 1913 - 2013 below it