Monday, March 7, 2016

Progress in the Upstairs Hallway

Since we moved into The Papered House, our upstairs hallway has been in rough shape. I didn't take a "before" photo, but I'll try to describe what we were working with: The baseboards, crown molding, and door casings were covered in multiple layers of chipping paint. The floors were covered in a beige-colored carpet. The carpet must have been beautiful and plush when it was installed over twenty years ago. However, our house's only bathroom is on the second floor, at the end of the hall. As a result, this area has gotten a lot of foot traffic over the years, and the carpet had definitely seen better days. A previous owner had removed wallpaper and applied a coat of primer before putting this house on the market. However, there is no window in this hallway, and the space always felt dark and dingy despite there being light primer on the walls.

To add insult to injury, we definitely made the hallway worse. We knew we wanted to rip out the carpet, so we didn't make an effort to protect it while working on any other home improvement projects. We dripped all types of paint, paint stripper, and spackle on the carpet and it soon started to look much worse. Like a Jackson Pollack painting gone terribly, terribly wrong.

We've now made some progress is the hallway and it is starting to look so much better.

Papered House_Upstairs Hall 

My husband stripped all the paint off the baseboards and door casings. There are five doors in this space, so that process took at least a month. The wood trim has been painted with a fresh coat of "Relative White" from California Paints. As I described in my last post, my husband agreed to let me use caulk around the edges of the trim, and it made all the difference.  

We ripped up the carpet and discovered beautiful hardwood floors underneath. Given that this hall leads to our one and only bathroom, we had to be a bit creative about refinishing the hardwood if we were going to stay in the house. We decided to do a "quick refinish": we sanded off the top layer of finish, but didn't remove any stain. Then, we applied a new coat of finish immediately before going to bed, being sure to work our way towards the master bedroom. We were able to walk gingerly on the floors the next morning, provided we were barefoot. We repeated the process the next night to apply a second coat of finish.

 Papered House_Upstairs Hall Runner

As I mentioned, there is limited natural light in this space. Rather than fighting the space and trying in vain to make it light and bright, we decided it would be better to work with what we have. Our goal became to make this space feel warm and cozy, rather than bright. Once we decided on this approach, choosing the paint color was much easier. The shade we used is called "Asian Jute" and it's from California Paint's Historic Colors of America collection. It's a deep beige with rich gold undertones.

According to the folks at California Paints, this particular shade has been used in almost every architectural period in American history: Colonial, Federal, Greek Revival, and Victorian. We like feeling this connection to the past and knowing that we've selected a color that has been used in American homes for hundreds of years.

Papered House_Antique Washstand

Our bathroom does not have a linen closet, so we store linens in this antique washstand. We believe this dates to the 1920s or 1930s. The marble top is one of my favorite features, as well as the intricate hardware.

Papered House_Antique Washstand Pulls

A small antique lamp sits on top of the washstand. Its twin lives one flight down, on a table in our entry hall.

If my husband and I ever need to get ready at the same time, this mirror comes in handy. I can work on my hair and makeup out in the hallway, so that he's free to use the bathroom. It's just an added bonus that this mirror casts a shadow resembling the Bat Signal.

Last but not least, this cherished piece of artwork was a wedding gift from a former boss. His wife is an artist and she made this lovely mixed-media piece. The gold and olive green tie in perfectly with the wall color and the runner we chose for this space.

As with all of our projects, this one isn't quite done. We still need to repair some cracks in the ceiling and give it a fresh coat of paint. One of the baseboards was in very bad shape, so we pulled it off and will be installing a new one soon. Not seen in this picture is our attic door, which still needs some work. We're waiting for the weather to warm up so that we can remove the door from its frame and take it to the basement to finish removing the paint.

 Thanks for reading, folks. Have a wonderful week!
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Friday, March 4, 2016

The Caulk Fight

My husband and I recently had a fight. A major difference of opinion, if you will. About caulk.

Yes, caulk.

Are you picturing two adults wielding caulk guns, battling it out like a glorified Silly String fight? I wish it were that fun. It was not. This was a verbal tiff. Fortunately, we were able resolve our differences without resorting to projectile home improvement materials.

This is what happens when you've been in a relationship with the same person since you were both 19 years old, and you have nothing else to argue about: at this point, we agree on all the big things, like family priorities, finances, career goals, politics, and religion. Sure, there are small things we disagree about. He doesn't like that I squeeze the toothpaste right in the middle of the tube, every.single.time. I don't like that he hangs his towel on the shower curtain rod, rather than using the empty towel rack.

After a while, we get tired of arguing about toothpaste and towels. We just decide to let it go, because we do not care that much about toothpaste or towels. Instead, we fight about caulk. And the stakes start to feel very high, because we argue so infrequently. We are both strong-willed and accustomed to being in control. It's not a great recipe for compromise. 

When I posted detail shots of our master bedroom, you may have noticed the gaps between the plaster and the crown molding:

Or those little crumbly holes hiding in this corner behind the lamp:

Perhaps you were so enchanted by our lovely antique lamps that you didn't notice the holes (Ha!). Or perhaps you noticed the holes and gaps, but were too polite to point them out. I suspect it's the latter. After all, this is a blog written for people, not magpies. I'm sure you were not fooled by the shiny, pretty things in front of the very imperfect things (I wish that strategy worked, but it doesn't). Thank you for graciously ignoring our house's imperfections.

When my husband S sees those holes, he thinks of words like "character" and "authenticity."

When I see those holes, I think of words like "sloppy" and "unfinished." And also, "vexing." Very vexing. I've painted these walls with two finish coats, so presumably the walls should be done. I should be moving on to other projects. But now that I've seen those gaps and holes, I cannot unsee them. I fixate on them every time I come into the bedroom. And similar gaps can be found in other places in our home, as well.

I figured the solution was to fill in those gaps with latex caulk, then touch up the bedroom wall (or repaint the whole wall if needed.) In hindsight, I regret not spending a bit more time prepping the walls, because repainting an entire wall will take much longer. When I suggested filling in the holes with caulk, S looked horrified and very emphatically told me, "I am not okay with using caulk on our plaster walls. Definitely NOT." His objection is not that it would be a waste of time to redo the nearly-finished work in this room. This would be a fair point, but it's not the point he's making. His issue is with the caulk itself.

Keep in mind: I am not suggesting we use caulk to fix structural issues. To repair plaster cracks, we used Big Wally's Plaster Magic. It's a pricey product, but the results seem worth the investment. To repair larger issues in our walls, my husband has been teaching himself how to apply plaster (brown coat, scratch coat, skim coat...the whole nine yards). I am only suggesting using caulk to fill these tiny, hard to reach holes that are purely aesthetic. The caulk would serve no structural or functional purpose whatsoever.

Whenever I'm told I can't do something, I demand to know the reason. And then, once the reason has been supplied, I tend to be enormously skeptical about the validity of the reason. It's not a trait I'm proud of. 

My husband says that historic preservationists often discourage caulk because it does not bond with the plaster. Apparently, the caulk just sits on top of the plaster. I agree with my husband that we should do everything in our power to preserve the plaster. If there is any risk that the caulk will damage the plaster or the woodwork, I don't want to use it. But if caulk doesn't damage the plaster, then I can't see the harm in using it.

I admire his dedication to history and to honoring historic methods, materials, and tools. I think many old homes fall victim to repairs that do not respect the original materials or architecture. I doubt that either of us will ever be guilty of intentionally compromising our home's character. But at the end of the day, I'm also interested in a satisfactory result. I don't want it to look like we cut corners. I want to see the proof of our hard work. 

So, I challenged my husband to produce the evidence: I wanted to read the articles/blog posts/forum conversations/technical papers for myself. Tell me precisely which preservationists have determined that we can't use caulk. Because if I have to keep looking at these holes and gaps on a daily basis, I want to know who is to blame for my discontent (I'm kidding...sort of). But I genuinely wanted to understand why it would, apparently, be so detrimental to use caulk on our historic walls. What's the danger of using caulk on plaster?

I gave my husband a ten day ultimatum: produce satisfactory anti-caulk evidence, or else I am buying a tube of caulk.

I was victorious:

Before the end of the ten day period, my husband surrendered. He told me to go ahead and buy the caulk. I'm not sure what happened. It's possible he relented when he saw how much those holes were bothering me. It's possible that he wasn't able to locate the anti-caulk articles. It's also possible that he invented the "evidence" all along. I'll never know. But it doesn't matter because caulk is a go!

Don't tell S, but in truth, I was about to surrender. I had nearly resigned myself to looking at these holes every day. After all, the man agreed to light pink in our master bedroom. That counts for a lot in my book. It should have been my turn to compromise, right? But S is a better, less stubborn person than I am.

To celebrate my success, I experimented with the caulk gun last weekend, filling in the gaps around the door casings in our upstairs hallway. Here are a few before and after photos.



The upstairs hallway has now been freshly painted and the caulk made all the difference. I can hardly believe how good the hallway looks, thanks to a little caulk. I'll share the hallway makeover in a few days. And in the coming weeks, I'll be filling in all those gaps in our bedroom. Hooray!

~The Papered House has a strange definition of success

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Friday, February 12, 2016

Master Bedroom Progress, Part 3

With the windows mostly repaired and the walls painted, we're at the fun stage in our master bedroom. Now, most of the remaining work is about finding the right furniture, adding decorative accents, and optimizing storage.

Once again, I need to apologize for the poor lighting in these pictures. As I've mentioned before, this room actually has a wonderful amount of natural light; I'm just doing a terrible job of capturing it. 

We're really pleased with the new (to us) light fixtures in this room. The porcelain table lamps were Ebay finds, and according to the seller they are converted oil lamps. My husband isn't convinced these lamps are as old as advertised, but even if they aren't, I still like the style. I have never ordered anything this fragile from Ebay before, and I was not sure if the lamps would arrive in good condition. They did. Each piece was carefully wrapped in bubble wrap. The shades were included in the purchase, and arrived in an entirely separate box to protect them from the heavy lamp bases.

The lamp bases are green with gold accents. The artwork and area rugs in this room have sage green elements, so these lamps work well in the space. We have an antique botanical print on one wall of the alcove, and an Asian silk painting on another of the alcove walls. The lamps work very well with these pieces. I like seeing these two photos next to each other, because it's a great example of how the paint color changes in this room based on the lighting conditions.

Antique botanical print. Natural daylight only.

Silk painting. Natural daylight, plus lamps
The brass chandelier is the real showstopper in this room. It was a Craigslist find and the posting said it was a converted oil lamp. We're positive that this chandelier was actually used as an oil lamp, because in many places we can see traces of oil residue. The chandelier needed to be rewired, so it was listed for a reasonable price. My father-in-law is very experienced with electrical work and has shared a lot of that knowledge with my husband, S. At this point, S has rewired a half dozen antique light fixtures. Rewiring lamps and hanging light fixtures is starting to feel like second nature to him.

Even so, rewiring this chandelier was a bit of a challenge. Parts of it were rusted and corroded, making it difficult to disassemble in order to replace the old wire. We special ordered the thinnest wire we could find, but even so, it was a very tight fit to get the wire through the narrowest section of this lamp. The first time he rewired the chandelier, the wire was short by about 1" so we had to start from scratch. Oops. It was a learning process, to say the least. The rewiring process took a couple of weekends and we're not quite done: One of the lightbulbs keeps burning out, so we need to troubleshoot that issue on some weekend when we feel like shutting off the second floor power.

The shades are my favorite part. They have hobnail details, and the glass is mostly clear, with milky white near the ruffled edges.

And when the chandelier is on, it casts a lovely glow around the room.

The one downside to this room is that it has limited storage. There's a single 36" wide closet, which you can see on the right side of the picture above. 36" may have been a sufficient amount of storage for a Victorian couple, but we have a very modern amount of stuff. We decided that my husband would store his clothes in the closet in our bedroom and I would store my things elsewhere.

But it wasn't really working out:

There were no shelves built into this closet, so he tried using a wire storage unit left over from his college days. But those wire storage units are never very sturdy, even when they are brand new. His was at least a decade old. It was so rickety that the shelves were constantly collapsing, so he ended up stacking his clothes in higher and higher piles in the closet. And on the floor. Outside of the closet. He was doing the best he could, but his closet was so dysfunctional that his clothes were always a mess. And then I would get cranky because of the lack of organization.

Two weekends ago, he built some custom shelving in his closet and it has made a vast improvement. There is still room to hang his suits and dress shirts. But now he has five cedar shelves for all his folded items.

We decided to use cedar because 1) it will deter moths and 2) the closet already had cedar paneling. Cedar is a pricey wood so the raw materials were about $60 for this project. The advantage of this custom unit is that my husband was able to build himself precisely what he wanted.

Fun fact: no sandpaper was used in the creation of these shelves. S decided to plane the cedar boards using antique wood planes. He has been building a collection of antique tools and has been experimenting with them for several weeks. He finds enjoyment in trying to use historic tools and methods when possible. 

Antique wood planes

Cedar shelves, after the boards were cut and glued together. There are three shelves pictured here.


For the time being, my belongings are spread among the closets in our guest bedrooms (yes, plural closets. I have a lot of clothes. And shoes. And handbags). Eventually, we're looking to find a better storage solution for me. In my head, I'm picturing some sort of massive wardrobe with options for both hanging and folding clothes. If the wardrobe can transport me to Narnia, I'll be thrilled. But if the wardrobe holds my clothes, I'll be satisfied. I'm also considering some under-the-bed storage options from The Container Store to really maximize our usable space in this room.

We're also on the hunt for a pair of nightstands. We've checked several antique sores, but haven't found anything suitable yet. I'm not precisely sure what style we're looking for, but I think we'll know it when we see it. The clearance on either side of our bed is somewhat limited, so we'll need to find narrow nightstands. The wood tones don't need to match our bed exactly, but we want them to be in the same general family. In the meantime, we're using my husbands childhood nightstand and a red nightstand from a thrift store. Other than the nightstands and a wardrobe, there isn't much other furniture we'd like to add to this room. From a decorative standpoint, we'd like some sheer curtains (samples are on the way) and I think we could use a focal point above the headboard. But this room is coming along and it's a very comfortable space.

Thanks for reading, folks. Have a great weekend!

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