Category Archives: Living Room

Holiday paintathon

What did I do on my holiday break?

A week before Christmas I was determined to sand the repaired fireplace wall. So I did, except for the part blocked by the TV cabinet, which I couldn’t move because of the Christmas tree. My mouse sander is supposed to collect dust, but this stuff was so fine that no filter could contain it. Clouds of the stuff enveloped the living and dining rooms and piled up on the mantel.

Sanding dust on the mantel.

This. All over.

Woman in dust mask.

So much fun.

I realized with dismay that I posted about creating sanding dust in the living room exactly one year ago, and I’m still working on this crazy project. Maybe it’s time to pick up the pace a little?

My holiday break consisted of 17 blissful days of pretend retirement, during which I was sure I could knock out the dining room paint job. The dining room consists of mostly trim: wood paneling up to 5 feet, topped by dentil molding and a plate rail. Box beams crisscross the ceiling, the east wall is dominated by a built-in buffet, and the north wall features a window seat below 13 feet of windows with those dreaded-but-charming 4-inch panes. That’s a lot of trim to paint white. What could go wrong?

Stepladder and work lights for painting project

In real life it was only slightly less dim.

Nothing went wrong … if you don’t count the fact that I’m growing old and my clothes are going out of style and I’m still nowhere near done. (The truth is, my clothes have never been in style.) The plaster-and-paintathon seems to have no discernable end.

To refresh your memory because it’s been so long since I written about the living room color scheme, I’m painting the wood trim Valspar Chef White, and the plaster walls (whenever I finish repairing them) Valspar Jogging Path, a Sherwin-Williams color. In the dining room, the beams are wood, so they’re white, and the ceiling itself is plaster, so it’s gray.

Gray wall with white trim

The new color scheme in the living room.

As usual, I started at the top, with one corner of the coffered ceiling.  Eric and I wondered, which part is the coffer? Is it the beam, or the cavity? I looked it up so you don’t have to. The coffer is the recessed portion between the beams. Like a coffin.

Progress was painstakingly slow because of the careful cutting in where the colors meet. Painting above my head in imperfect light made that really difficult, and my bifocals are a curse when I paint. I have to scrunch up my face like Popeye to pull a focus. It’s not perfect—don’t look too close!—but it looks pretty darn good.

Coffers before and after new paint

Coffers before and after

I find painting with white a little boring. I’m not really a white walls person … but as I got going, I realized just how much the white was brightening up this room. It looked shockingly, glaringly white at first, but it’s growing on me. I may be entering my white period. For instance, when we went to Office Depot to buy Eric a new desk chair, I fell in love with a sleek and sumptuous white leather number that seemed custom made for my backside. I resisted … although I still imagine it at my desk.

After completing the south row of coffers, I attacked the wall paneling. This went faster, but I still had to deal with fussy dentil molding and a plate railing. What makes painting seem so never-ending is that when I’ve covered one wall, I have to go back to the beginning and apply the second coat. Yeah, yeah, I know … I’m whining.

I had good company, though. If Duke could not lie directly under the ladder, he figured out how to lie exactly where I would move the ladder next. He’s very intuitive that way. Shiny black Crosby helped me paint the library door.

A black cat and a boxer lie on a tarp beneath a stepladder

My safety spotters, Crosby and Duke

Black cat with white paint on his side

What??

Old houses are made of edges and ledges, and they can collect a disgusting amount of dirt, especially with a houseful of pets (I’m not above blaming them). I ask you, how can something splatter as high as a nine-foot ceiling? Have you ever seen a jowly dog shake its head in slow motion? That’s how. Scrubbing and painting definitely freshen up the place.

Paneling and plate rail painted white

The corner’s done, but not the post or door trim. Can you see the difference?

As soon as the southwest corner was complete, I polished up the treadmill and moved it back in place, sans coats and purses this time. I don’t relish having a treadmill feature in my dining room, but it’s a small house and I don’t have anywhere else to put it.

Treadmill in dining room corner

Treadmill corner

Tada! One wall complete! The oil paintings are by San Francisco artist Donny Hahn.

Craftsman dining room with white trim

Bad lighting, but imagine all the trim you see is white.

It’s now sadly obvious to me that the wallpaper has to go, even though it looks not-too-bad in the photo. Its bronze background is just too dark and heavy for the light gray and white scheme. I haven’t decided whether to simply paint those walls gray or to find some more appropriate wallpaper and face that daunting task again. The area above the plate rail is a perfect place for wallpaper, but if I choose to simply paint, there’s plenty of architectural detail to keep the room from being boring.

After a quick online search, I picked these wallpapers as contenders if I want that experience again. They’re subtly colored, classic, and they’d look great in the space. I like the acanthus because it’s so subtle and textural, and I like the ogee because it has a more modern vibe while still being retro. What do you think? How do you think potential buyers would react to them? (We eventually will sell this house and build our retirement dream home.)

How much can I say about painting? I’ll just tell you that by tomorrow I’ll have completed two walls (one being the opening to the living room, which is mostly air) and five coffers. (I wrote that yesterday and I haven’t painted a stroke.) Next, I’m on to the buffet wall, and finally, the windows. Wish me luck … and perseverance.

To wrap up our break, Eric and I went out on New Year’s Eve to enjoy dinner and some Latin jazz. After two weeks of not wearing makeup,  I was reminded again of how much a fresh coat of paint can improve old things.

Now for the important stuff!

Cat stories! Our feral tabby friends, Dash, Dot, and Ditto Morse are three and a half years old, and they still hang out around our house. They are frequent, almost nightly, visitors at our back door, where they expect a good meal of kibble and Fancy Feast. Dash and Dot often nap in the heated kitty shelters on our front porch. Ditto is the most nocturnal; I usually visit with her around 10:30 p.m. Ditto loves for me to pet her and invites it eagerly, lifting her head to meet my hand and getting all excited and wiggly. Dash allows me to stroke his back only when he’s eating. Dot is the shy one; I can’t touch her. They’re adorable.

Three tabby cats in the mudroom

The Morses: Dash, Ditto (eating), and Dot

We treated our house cats to their very first cat tree. Sweet Tara (below) was the first to try it out, and she had the best time! So far, Tara, Crosby, Peggy Sue, and Chex think it’s great. Ginger, Lacy, Rose, and Fred think it’s beneath their dignity.

Green ginkgo leaf with 1913 - 2013 below it

 

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Let’s kick up a little dust

All summer we were focused on getting the house painted before the weather turned against us, and for the most part, we made it. All summer I told myself that when the rain came, I would return to my plaster repair project in the living room. October and November broke records for rainfall, and we looked out on this drippy landscape from our living room window. It was time.

View out window to rainy street scene

Typical autumn day in the Pacific Northwest

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Last spring I left off with a sizeable hole in the plaster above the mantel, lath stretching across its mocking grin, and the promise of problems just to the right of the fireplace. I’d resurfaced two-thirds of the west wall when summer weather lured me outside.

Hole in plaster above mantel

We looked at this all summer until we ceased to see it.

When I finally did psych myself into restarting, I was so eager to get going that I forgot to take a picture of the whole wall. I continued just as I had before, chipping and peeling away the finish layer of plaster and its paper surface anywhere it was no longer attached to the plaster base coat, which turned out to be the entire wall above the mantel and casement windows.

My intention was to repair and paint the west (fireplace) wall and a portion of the north wall (up to the French doors) before a Christmas tree sprang up to stall my progress—a pretty sporty goal. I will have two weeks off over the holidays, which I’ll use to paint miles of white trim throughout the living room, dining room, and foyer.

Coffered ceiling detail

How long will it take to paint the nine panels in the dining room ceiling?

As before, I applied two coats of joint compound, smoothed the wet compound with a foam knock-down knife, and, when the mud had set up a bit, gently smoothed it further with a damp wallpaper sponge. The wall still needs sanding, but I won’t have to grind away as much as I did on the south wall. I’m learning as I go, but I’m always disappointed that I haven’t developed a fluid technique … the way professional plasterers swoop the mixture onto the wall with such precision and economy of motion. No, I just plop it on and smooth it the best I can. No magic technique here.

Let’s get back to the west wall and that trouble spot next to the fireplace. When I bought the house 34 years ago, that section had been damp, and the finish paper on top of the plaster sagged in defeat. When I reroofed in 2004 (what I still think of as the “new” roof because it seems like yesterday), the wall surface dried out, thank goodness. However, I knew damage had been done.

Pulverized plaster pours out of damaged spot

Uh-oh …

As I whacked at the wall surface with a pry bar and a rubber mallet, pulverized plaster poured from the hole. Plaster turns to powder after having been soaked for very long. I knew that I’d wind up with a sizable area in need of patching. I kept going until the plaster seemed firm again. Yes, it was messy.

damaged plaster being removed from wall

I have collected bags full of plaster debris

pry bar and rubber mallet

Plaster whacking tools

I was under intense scrutiny throughout the process.

Long haired black cat sits on mentel.

Inspector Lacy

When I used my little shop vac to clean up, it ate the chunks, but I didn’t realize that behind me, it was belching out a cloud of fine plaster dust that now coats everything in the living room and beyond. Thinking that the tank might be full, I emptied it outdoors and discovered inside the tank a filter sheet that I’d never installed. Well, who’d have thought to look inside? I just plugged in the new unit and started vacuuming. Not that it matters … sanding is next, and what didn’t get covered in plaster dust will soon be covered in joint compound dust.

After excavating, some good news: The area beneath the slumping paper was bone dry, and the lath wasn’t rotten. Some bad news: The skinny strip between the window casing and the fireplace felt damp. If the new roof had eliminated the leak that pulverized the plaster, where was the moisture coming from? We looked at the chimney outside. Hey—who forgot to paint this little strip of shingles? It’s so skinny, the asbestos siding people didn’t even bother to cover it back in the 1950s. Eric applied caulk to the gap at the fireplace side. I mentally added the strip to the list of things to paint in the spring.

Narrow strip of shingles between window and fireplace

Who forgot this?

Back inside, Eric pressed a paper towel into the damp space for several minutes. When he removed it, it was perfectly dry. Was what I interpreted as “damp” simply “cold”? And, it was hard as rock. My pry bar didn’t dent it. I think it’s actually wood. Maybe the plasterers were as puzzled as I was about how to spread plaster in that tiny space. I’m leaving it just as it is.

I scored the top layer of plaster and chipped it away to create a straight edge at a stud. The powdery plaster continued to pour out of the bottom corner of the excavation. Then I gouged the plaster out of the keyways and vacuumed everything up. I was glad to find that no cold air was coming in. It might have been a giant hole in our wall, but it was a tidy giant hole, and even that was an improvement.

Plaster removed down to lath

Ready for patching.

Back at the fireplace, I made an interesting discovery: Once I had all the plaster out of the lath, I could peer in behind the lath and see the bricks of the chimney. The painted bricks that face the chimney on the living room side stick out beyond the red brick, as if they’re a thin veneer applied on the portion inside the house. I know they’ve been painted a zillion times, but the increased thickness can’t all be paint! Kind of fun to think that this lath and brick last saw the light of day in 1913, and now they’re back in the dark again. How many years will they last?

Fireplace structure within the wall

Behind the fireplace

This hole was getting too big for me to dare to use plaster patch. I chickened out and we decided to fill the gap with ¼-inch dry wall. Eric cut the dry wall to fit and screwed it in, and I finished up with three coats of mud. It looks pretty good. I’ll know how good when I paint it.

Large plaster patch completed

The big hole is patched!

I picked off a good bit of plaster off the north wall to the left of the French doors, too. There was an ancient outlet in the baseboard on north wall, into which we plug our TV and cable box. As I bashed at the plaster, every time so much as a flake fell onto the TV plug, it lost its connection and the TV went off. So annoying.

Plaster removed from wall, cable TV rebooting.

Every time I touched the plug, the TV and cable went off.

It’s been like this forever, which makes cleaning that spot a real pain. I couldn’t finish picking away the plaster until Eric replaced the outlet. Why do we sometimes live for years with a problem rather than make a simple repair? Finally, we have an outlet that grips the plugs. Eric saved the Hubbell parallel-and-tandem ungrounded black ceramic receptacle—rated 10 A, 250 V. Notice that it takes plugs with horizontal or vertical prongs. It’s probably original to the house.

Antique Hubbell parallel and tandem receptacle.

Another vintage artifact for our collection.

Also on the north wall, I finally found out what the bilious green stuff was under the paint. For the first time, I saw a hint of pattern. It was wallpaper, not finish paper or paint! I took the time to pick a section clean so I could imagine the entire living room and foyer, and probably the dining room, too, covered in green paper with cream and pale pink furled leaves. Judging from what I’ve seen of vintage wallpapers, I’d say this pattern was from the late 1930s or early 40s … pre-war.

Green wallpaper with cream and pink fronds and cream stripes

I love vintage wallpaper, but …

I was on a roll. I decided to try out the hot mud we bought months ago to patch that gaping grin over the fireplace. I mixed the powder 3:1 with cold water to make a stiff dough. I had six to ten minutes to apply the stuff, so I worked like the devil to fill the hole. It spread like elastic pizza dough, pulling a little as it went. Of course, I ran just a little short and had to scurry to mix more. In short order the hole was filled. Hey—that was pretty easy! Although it’s supposed to set up in about 30 minutes, I let it cure for 24 hours. It was sticky, and I couldn’t work the surface smooth, but that was okay because I covered it with joint compound to match the rest of the wall. Now you can’t see that old hole at all. Wait until it gets painted!

Hot mud plaster patch

Hot mud plaster patch

Bucket of Fastpatch 30

DAP Fastpatch 30

Hole in wall fixed with hot mud and joint compound

Like it never happened!

I wanted to end this post with a nice photo of the painted wall … but this is as far as I’ve gotten. Maybe next time! Now it’s time to bring in the tree.

Plaaster repaired and ready for paint.

The wall is white, and the TV weather warns of coming snow.

Green ginkgo leaf with 1913 - 2013 below it

Glacial progress

With the speed of a Pacific banana slug riding a glacier, new white joint compound is creeping across the face of the west wall. The glacial pace is due, I admit, to the fact that I am not having the time of my life doing this task. That’s a lame excuse, but it’s all I’ve got. Sometimes I just sit in my living room chair and look at the wall and wish it were done. So far, wishin’ ain’t workin’.

Greenish slug with black spots on forest floor hummus.

Banana slugs don’t really ride on glaciers. They prefer the forest floor. And my hostas. [Photo: Wildlife Fidalgo]

Work gets in the way. By the time I get home, I have other things to attend to and little energy for projects. Golf started this week. Facebook is a total time-suck. Now that Daylight Saving Time is in effect—hallelujah!!—I might have a chance to get something done in the evenings while I have decent light pouring in. (That sounds promising, doesn’t it? However, I know it’s BS, so don’t expect anything). Oh, and my back hates being on a ladder. There … those are all the excuses I can think of. For now.

Click to enlarge.

I took up the resurfacing again in the left corner of the fireplace wall, where I knew the narrow slice of wall between the window trim and the foyer opening would be difficult … and it was. I had a hard time maneuvering the putty knife to apply a smooth coat around the trim. Lots of sanding in my future. Can’t wait.

Joint compound on wall between trim and window

In a tight place

Then I plastered (or, joint-compounded?) across the top of the window. I found myself removing more and more of the old plaster finish coat, coaxing it gently off the wall. I grudgingly came to accept that nearly all of the top layer on this wall would have to go, so I helped it along. Only those places that were firmly stuck remained, and these islands of original finish plaster became tinier and tinier, as if the sea were rising.

Layers of paint and paper coming loose from the brown plaster

A topo map on our wall

I knew I’d have to apply a second coat because the first coat didn’t quite bring the surface out to the correct depth against the trim. And, one spot looked like this:

cracked joint comppound on part of wall

Crackle glaze?

I took the easy way out: I applied a second coat and hoped for improvement. This time, no crackle finish. Hey, maybe wishin’ does work!

The second coat seemed to slide on easier. You’d think by now my technique would have improved, but I suppose you have to have a technique before you can improve it.

After a while, it occurred to me that I might look up plastering technique online. The You-Tube videos made it look easy—it’s all in the wrist! I did learn a couple of tricks. One: They all use bigger trowels than I have (I’m using the biggest putty knife I can fit into the tub of mud (not a trowel). And two: Smoothing over the top coat with a damp sponge will virtually eliminate the need to sand. Well, heck … wish I’d known that 50 lumpy square feet ago.

First coat of joint compound next to window

Coat one. Each coat is only about 1/8 inch thick.

Inevitably and with considerable trepidation, I had to remove the damaged plaster over the middle of the mantel. I whacked the length of it with the handle of a putty knife and it all came away with alarming ease. After vacuuming up the debris, I was left with a neat hole down to the lath, right in the middle of the mantel. Barely noticeable when I pushed the mantel clock back into position! Cold air poured in from the uninsulated wall cavity. Didn’t humans of a century ago think of insulating their walls?

Plaster removed from wall

Dig here!

 

Plaster removed from wall. Pieces of horsehair visible.

Look closely–you can see the horse hair sticking out of the plaster.

When I had finished coaxing most of the wrinkles out of the area above the fireplace I cast my gaze upon the space between the right side of the fireplace and the casement window, which I knew to be a problem area because of the suspicious way the finish coat paper has slumped. True confession: When I bought the house back in 1984, I noticed some dampness there. It’s hasn’t been damp for ages (I don’t think), but the damage has been done.

I stabbed the offending area repeatedly with my trusty frog-green utility knife … and this is what I found.

Pulverized plaster pours out of damaged spot

Uh-oh …

Not good. Not good at all. What makes plaster pulverize like that? Water. What lurks behind? I’ll leave that mystery for my next post. OK, the truth is … I was busy this past weekend, and I didn’t get around to digging out this hole. We had company over for Duke’s tenth birthday dinner, and I didn’t want to deal with the mess and pulling the TV cabinet into the middle of the room, where it would surely stay for weeks. That’s right, folks—I’m blaming it on the dog.

Boxer with graying head

How can anyone resist this adorable face? Happy birthday, dear Duke!

Eric and I made a trip to the box store to get real plaster patch material—the kind you mix with water and then work like hell before it sets up. As soon as I get up my nerve to see just how badly that section of wall is damaged, I’ll try my hand at true, from-the-lath-up plaster repair. But first … maybe I’ll take a tropical vacation! 🙂

What will it take to patch these holes? I can’t let it go. I can’t! There must be some way to bring them back. Oh, I can’t think about this now! I’ll go crazy if I do! I’ll think about it tomorrow. After all, tomorrow is another day!*

Green ginkgo leaf with 1913 - 2013 below it

*Extra credit if you can identify this.

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

Really?

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

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

 

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

Happy holidays from OB2C!

My living room/dining room painting project is progressing at the usual glacial pace due to all the things we’re finding to do during our holiday break (a dinner celebration, a movie, The Nutcracker, shopping, and just some much-needed relaxing). Christmas Eve and Christmas Day are not impediments to progress, but quiet time to enjoy with Eric and our furry and nonfurry friends. And, admittedly, it’s a reason to clean up the place a bit, because if it weren’t for Christmas dinner, I’d be tempted to use painting and plastering as an excuse just to let it all go. Here’s a favorite photo of our living room from 2012. We have a tree and decorations this year, but it’s not as tidy.

Craftsman living room with Christmas tree and decorations

Christmas 2012

The painting prep has begun, and I’ll share the early paint results next week. But right now, I want to pause for a moment to wish you a very merry holiday season. I hope that whatever your holiday plans, you’re having a wonderful time.

Eric and I photograph and print our own Christmas cards every year. Last winter we ventured out one drizzly night to capture the perfect Western Washington scene. This one became our card for 2015.

Christmas lights reflected in nighttime rain puddle

Green ginkgo leaf with 1913 - 2013 below it

Der Kleiderschrank

What’s big and tall and fills the south wall? Der Kleiderschrank, of course! Kleiderschrank is German for clothes closet, wardrobe, armoire. This one has been in my family for many years. It’s another piece salvaged from my grandparents’ dark and mysterious basement. It probably originated at my great-grandparents’ lake house outside of Milwaukee, Wisconsin. I’ve always admired its simple lines. It’s so different from the other Eastlake pieces that came from “the lake.”

Vintage walnut armoire

Der Kleiderschrank

In Wisconsin, where I was born, my family always called it the kleiderschrank, but, as no one out West seems to know what that is, my tongue fumbles around for a more commonly understood word, until I haltingly spit out “armoire.”

My dad refinished the piece and replaced the wooden door panels with glass in the 1960s, before anyone suspected that antiques were more valuable with their original finishes. Otherwise, I’d have a green kleiderschrank in my living room now … and I’d probably love it. Antique greens are some of my favorite shades. But, if Pop hadn’t refinished it, I wouldn’t be able to enjoy the mellow glow of the wood when the lights are on, or the aroma of the old walnut and wood stain when I open the doors, which brings back childhood memories. It’s smelled like this for a half century.

In my parents’ house it held china, much of it hand painted by my great-aunt Alvina. (Painting china was a popular ladies’ craft at the turn of the 20th century.) In my house, I use it to display my small collection of vintage tabletop radios, along with selected china pieces that survived the Nisqually earthquake of 2001, when I came home to find half of its contents shattered on the floor. Eric has added a few vintage cameras.

Front of armoire with reflection of windows in glass doors

Lots of reflection, but you get the idea

It’s also Rose’s safe spot. It’s a long leap from the back of the couch, but 13-year-old Rose can still do it. She’ll have to find another high point while the living room walls get patched and painted.

Tabby kitty sitting on top of armoire

You can’t touch me!

This piece is too big to move, so we have to disassemble it. Remarkably, the kleiderschrank has no nails. It’s all put together with joinery. Watch as we “knock it down into a pile of lumber,” as my mom used to say. Look out, Rose!

I began by taking everything off the shelves, packing it in plastic tubs, and storing it in the library. I’m not keen on cluttering up the library, but the stuff’s got to go somewhere. It’s just temporary, I reassured myself.

Armoire with doors open, showing vintage radios and china

Duke helped me wrap items in newspaper

Knocking it down is an easy job for two people. Eric carefully removed the doors, which are attached with standard inset hinges.

Armoire with doors removed

Doors and drawers removed

Next, we slid the wooden locking pieces toward the narrow end of the rails (toward the back of the kleiderschrank) and removed them. This freed the top of the unit, which we carted off to the dining room.

The top is held on by this wooden locking device

The top is held on by this wooden locking device

 

Armoire with top removed

Topless

The shelves simply lift out.

Armoire with shelves and top removed

Shelfless

A different kind of wooden locking pin holds the side walls to the base. The side walls lift up out of slots in the base.

Locking pin device holds side walls to base

Yes, I see the dust, too.

My dad replaced the back wall with two pieces of walnut plywood that fit into slots in the central spine.

Armoire's plywood back comes apart in three pieces

The back comes apart in three pieces

That left us with the base … and a black cat. Can you make out Lacy peering beneath the center support?

Black cat checks out base of armoire

Biggest hairball ever!

So that’s it. In a few minutes we went from having der Kleiderschrank standing in our living room to lying on our dining room floor like a new piece of IKEA furniture. Who wouldn’t want a dusty antique pile of lumber lying in their dining room during the holiday season?

Disassemb;ed armoire stacked on the floor

“Knocked down into a pile of lumber”

Wall color update

And who wouldn’t want a mantel decorated in festive paint sample containers? Kind of looks like the mascot for the painting Olympics.

Sample paint cans stacked on the mantel

No one else has a mantel display quite like this

Subtle changes are afoot in our color selection! Thanks to my blog friends, Jo from Let’s Face the Music and Jacqui from Home-in-the-Making for suggesting a greener gray to help coordinate the new paint to the existing wallpaper. Their advice sent me back to the stores for more samples. I’ve sampled eight shades of gray for this project—something I’ve never done before (not that I’ve never made a mistake with paint, but usually I’m quite sure of what I want).

Displaying paint colors on computers is almost useless because monitors are hardly ever calibrated for color accuracy, but just for kicks, here are my first color choices (top) and the new wall color (bottom).

I know … they look virtually identical, don’t they? I have no idea how they look on your monitor. On the wall, Jogging Path is noticeably greener than Anew Gray. Suffice it to say, this paint pickin’ exercise drove me a little crazy, and I hope the results are similar to the fabulous, light, and crisp paint job that exists in my imagination. I’m usually good at visualization, so I’m cautiously optimistic. Grays have been tricky.

We’ve lived with these samples on the walls for long enough now that I think we’ve bonded. The winner is the top color in the photo of the mantel, above. Enough sampling, already! Let the fun begin!

Green ginkgo leaf with 1913 - 2013 below it

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.)

Valspar-Chef-White-7002-15

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.

crack

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

The never-ending list, 2015 version

With a new year comes the opportunity to get organized and be productive. (Is anything preventing us from doing this at any time of year? No … but it’s traditional to think about it now.) So what does her 102nd year hold for our bungalow? And how far will we get in the next 12 months? It didn’t take me long to come up with this list.

1.  Finish the kitchen! We don’t have far to go, but it will have to wait until summer and dry weather. I want to strip the three kitchen doors (back, attic, and basement), and that’s an outdoor job. Eric has also talked about taking the windows apart and cleaning the balance mechanisms, which means the kitchen would be wide open. Again, a task for warm weather. Painting the doors and window trim is on me, but messing with the balances is Eric’s domain. I don’t want to be to blame for ruining our windows! How confident am I that this project will be completed? 100%!

single-hung window rope

2.  Finish the side porch. All we need is a pile more lumber and a good stretch of that elusive dry weather. It’ll come.  The actual construction is Eric’s task, but I’ll be pitching in with sanding and painting. I can’t wait to see this porch completed because it’s going to be AWESOME!! Right now the porch is looking rather forlorn, wet, and forgotten. The cats are the only ones who use it. Confidence rating: 100%.

unfinished side porch

3.  Redesign the triangle garden. I’ve been dissatisfied with this garden for a couple of years, but I didn’t have the energy last spring to redo it. It’s way overgrown and looks its worst at this dismal time of year. I’m eager to get out there and at least clean it out, but every weekend day seems to cold or too wet, or we’re busy watching Seahawks football. I waste the best weather stuck in an office with no windows. Next month, winter turns the corner (as far as I’m concerned) with the Northwest Flower and Garden Show, which is sure to get my sap flowing again. Confidence rating: 100%. IF my back holds out.

overgrown triangle-shaped garden

4.  Rebuild the backyard fence. Eric reminded me to add this project. The six-foot fence along the alley and south lot line is only standing up from habit. Doesn’t it have great patina? I want to salvage the fence boards. The ones that aren’t rotten. When I pressed Eric about his confidence factor, he said, “I don’t have a choice.” Twice. Of course, Duke will help him. Confidence rating: 100%.

fence with backlit Nishiki willow

5.  Finish the attic. You didn’t even know we were working on the attic, did you? Little by little, Eric’s been working on this project, but he hasn’t done anything up there since last spring, when outdoor chores took over. Our goal is to turn the attic into an art studio/lounge/storage area. There’s a ton of work to be done up there, and I doubt we’ll finish it this year. But, I hope we make some good progress. I’ll take you up there in a future post. Not now … you’re not wearing the proper shoes. (You’re dying to see what’s up there, aren’t you?) Confidence rating: 25%.

attic stairs

6.  Repaint the living room, dining room, foyer, and interior hall. Honestly, I don’t know if I’ll get around to this, but it’s been on my mind and should be done soon. I painted the present color, Valspar Oak Grove with cream trim, in 2003. I’ve always liked it, but now I’d like to go with something lighter. I’ve been seeing a lot of pretty light grays with ivory trim, but that won’t go with my dining room wallpaper, which I love and sweated bullets to hang 15 years ago. I’ll be damned if I take it down! I dunno … I suppose I could find another Craftsman-y pattern and do it again. Or I could paint another lighter tan color that would complement the paper. We’ll see where this goes. Confidence rating: 10%.

oak brown living room wall color

7.  Paint the exterior. OMG, this will be the big one! Eric and I are debating just how much of this mammoth task we want to take on versus hire out. I don’t want to say we’re getting too old to do it ourselves, but it’s so time consuming. An old house like this, with all its trim and windows, will take a ton of prep work, and the gables are a long ways up. If we could take the summer off, maybe we could get it done … nah, probably not! Maybe we are too old for this stuff. Our house’s dirty little secret (one of them … well, not so little nor secret) is that when my ex and I painted it in 1994, we, um … never got around to painting the trim on the south side, or the high barge board on the rear gable. I spend, like, zero time on the south side of the house, so it wasn’t until our recent plumbing misadventure that I reacquainted myself with just how wretchedly BAD things look from our neighbor’s point of view.  It’s long past time to make that right. We have a new paint scheme in mind, but we have yet to test it on the house. Waiting for drier weather … again. Confidence rating: 50%. If we don’t finish (e.g., leave the south side unpainted?), I’m pretty sure we’ll at least make a start on prep work. We have to.

gable with peeling paint

8.  Finally, there’s the project that lurks behind this door. Can you guess what I’m about to tackle next? Confidence rating: 100%.

wood door to ?

Yes, there’s a lot on our plate for 2015. I know better than to think we’ll get all of this done (although, wouldn’t that be nice!). A lot of it depends on decent weather, for which we Northwesterners wait impatiently all winter and spring. We like to say that summer begins on the fifth of July, and sometimes that’s not an exaggeration. I hope we have some sun breaks long before then!

Meanwhile, the project behind the door is waiting for me right now.

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