I believe that owning an old house takes a special kind of person. A person that doesn’t expect perfection such as smooth walls, perfectly level floors and windows that open properly. Many owners respect the character of their old house and don’t feel the need to replace lathe and plaster walls with drywall just so that it looks better. There are times, however, that decisions must be made on whether to restore or replace something. I found myself in that quandary last week.
We have been in our 1912 four-square house for about eight years. In spite of all the other projects – both large and small – that we have worked on, there was one that we set aside because we just didn’t want to do it. Those of you who have two-story homes will understand our reluctance in painting ceilings in a stairwell that is approximately 19 feet high.
The painting would not have been so difficult if the walls had been smoother, but they weren’t. Over the last 100 years, the walls had been covered with many kinds of wallpaper interspersed with paint. The built-up layer is more than 1/8th of an inch thick and this layer separated itself in places from the original rough-coat stucco wall , causing a “bubble” to form behind. (The rough coat forms the base for the final skim coats that gives walls that smooth look.)
In some places, where the “bubble’ wasn’t too large we were able to cut it away and fill in the gaps with drywall compound. Where the bubble was too large (say 8×10 inches) we cut the bubble off and used spray contact cement to re-attach it to the wall. Then we filled in the gaps with compound, sanded, sealed and painted the walls. It certainly added a lot of time to what could have been an easy enough job to do.
We touched up the stairs, without stripping them. The previous owners had used finishing nails and filled the holes with wood putty – the kind that does not accept stain. This left a lot of while dots on our stairs. I cleaned the stairs with non-toxic TSP, and sanded them lightly (so as to not affect the patina or colouring of the wood). I mixed a small batch of acrylic paint in a colour slightly darker than the colour of the wood and painted all the white dots. Two coats of low-sheen varathane sealed in my work and protects the wood.
We cleaned and touched up the millwork and I have to say the gray-blue we used on the walls makes the the dark fir woodwork glow. We used Benjamin Moore’s “Wedgwood Grey” and “Cloud Nine” for the adjacent walls and ceilings. We even resurrected an old pull-chain ceiling light with a new glass shade and crystal pull-knob. The project took about ten days to complete, and, although the pictures don’t show a panoramic view of the room, we are quite pleased with the work we did. Now I can get back to my garden…