Sunday, May 14, 2006

Hi-Low Drop Cloth

The previous owners owned my house for less than 2 years before I bought it and they pretty much did nothing to it. In a very big way this was a good thing because what they did do was not that great. They evicted all the tenants and moved in. They didn’t do a thing about converting the house from apartrments, but they did fill most of the rooms in the house with antiques, except for the dining room. In the dining room they put in two La-Z-Boys, 2 ashtrays, and a big screen TV. Judging from the amount of nicotine on the walls in the dining room, this is the place they spent every waking moment.

Some of the other things they did were to paint everything in high-gloss green or peach paint, and cover the entire house with green, hi-low shag carpet. I saw it is as green, hi-low drop cloth. I had to strip a lot of wallpaper, remove some plywood “wall covering”, and a few rooms had sheetrock over the plaster, and it all had to go. After I would remove the offending materials from a room I would roll up the carpet and take it to the dump. In hind sight, I probably should have tried to sell the almost new carpet, but I wasn’t thinking at the time.

Anyway, the one area that still had carpet was the front stair well. I left it there for two reasons. First, it would help protect the stairs while I was hauling junk out of the attic and dismantling the now famous 2 story addition. I pulled a lot of the top floor of the addition into an upstairs bedroom and then carried it out the front door. Second, the ceiling is so high in the stairwell it was hard to get up there to strip the wallpaper. It is a little over 17-feet from the lower landing up to the ceiling. Well, today I stripped and ripped.

For reasons I won’t go into now, I’m kind of in a holding pattern with the exterior paint. I probably won’t start another section for a week and a half. I’m also pretty much done hauling large things up or down the front stairs. The last of those items were the 6 or 7 doors I hung in the kitchen and butler’s pantry over the last few months. So I have the time to take care of the wallpaper and the last of this carpet, so what the hell. Besides, the carpet on the stairs was seriously dirty. My vacuum cleaner died on my about 2 years ago and since this was the last of the carpet I never got it fixed or bought a new one. And another “besides”, I hate the carpet so much the thought of wasting even a minute of my time carry for it seemed ludicrous. Trust me, it was well past time for it to go.

The several layers of painted wallpaper came off pretty easy but getting up there was no easy task. I have a 16-foot articulated ladder (4, 4-foot sections that can be reconfigured) so that really helped. Still, there were a few awkward places that were almost impossible to reach. Once I get to the point of painting or wallpapering I’m probably going to have to build some temporary scaffolding in the stairs.

The original wallpaper that was presumably put up in 1895 is very nice. Like all the other wallpaper from 1895 that I’ve found in my house it looks nothing like the wallpaper you see in the Bradbury & Bradbury collection. The stuff in my house had much simpler designs and much less color that the B&B stuff. Here are some shots. The first picture is the pattern and the second shot is of the back side. You can see that the pattern is simply repeated in rows across the paper. Nothing too fancy but very elegant. At least I think so. The label on the paper says, “Howell & Brothers 1033 J”.

Someone, either another houseblogger or maybe someone over at The Old House Web, said that all the original papers done by Bradbury & Bradbury came out of their parents house, or something like that. That got me to thinking that while the B&B papers may be historically accurate Victorian wallpapers, they may or may not be the most common papers available at the time. I mean, if they all came out of one house it’s not really a good random sample of what was available. It is more a good sample of one persons taste in wallpaper. Of course, it’s also possible that the flashy, colorful patterns of the B&B papers were the norm and the Petch family just had less common tastes. All I know is, of the 4 or 5 1895 wallpapers I’ve found in my house none of them look anything like what I’ve seen come out of B&B.

The stairs themselves were, as you would imagine, not in the greatest of shape under the carpet. The two landings have linoleum on them in a stone pattern. It looks like someone at some point put down that inexpensive carpet that has the pad incorporated into the carpet back. They glued it down with a yellow adhesive and it covers most of the linoleum. I’m not sure how old the linoleum is but I would guess it’s from the 1920s. Later some non-slip tread covers were glued down before the carpet. I pulled those off and you can get a good look at the linoleum where they were. There is a sort of cartouche of a mid-evil looking horse incorporated in to the "stonework" linoleum. Here’s a shot of it. If anyone has any ideas of age, I’d be interested to hear.

I’m not sure what’s under the linoleum yet. For the most part the stairs treads are not in horrible shape. There is a lot of the yellow adhesive, but that seems to come off easily with a heat gun. They are also painted brown, but it is one thin coat and that too seems to come off with a heat gun pretty easily. The worst part is on two of the treads on the upper flight. Some idiot – and I do mean "idiot" in the strongest sense of the word – tried to use a chisel to get off the yellow adhesive. I’m willing to bet this was done when the green hi-low was put down just 5 or 6 years ago. There was probably a build-up of the adhesive and they didn’t want lumps so they chiseled away at the wood. They only did this to one side of two treads. Did I mention this person was an idiot. If I didn’t want to say it again – HE WAS AN IDIOT!!!

It’s not the end of the world. Worst case scenario I can replace the treads. The plan is to eventually have a runner down the stairs so only the outside 6-inches or so will show. A lot of it can be sanded away. Still, you just have to wonder what is going through someone’s mind when that take a chisel to big, beautiful, bull-nosed redwood stair treads. It boggles the mind. Fortunately it seems he was about as lazy as he was stupid because he stopped after what looks like 10 minutes of very destructive work.

So this will be the project for the next week or so. I’m first going to spend some quality time with my good, close personal friend The Heat Gun. I’ll try and get all the yellow adhesive and brown paint off. After that I’ll peek under the linoleum. There is quarter-round trim and a few tacks keeping it in place. Maybe there’s even more adhesive under there. It should be fun


merideth said...

I love your "simple" wallpaper! You make an excellent point about the elaborate B&B (and William Morris et. al) papers. Look at the stuff we have even now, the quintessential designers arent represented in most of our homes even if we'd love for them to be. I see no reason why the same wouldnt have been true for those in the vic. era.

John said...

Very good point about the wallpaper. I've never seen anything like our 1890-1920 wallpaper anywhere.

Jenne said...

Hey Greg,
I cannot give you any specifics on the age of your stone work loking lineoleum...but our hosues are the same age..and I had stuff kinda like that in the "library" was lineoleum that looked like patio pavers kindasimulated brick shapes in all differentshades of orange with gray "grout" lines...and it stunk! Someone had nailed green shag over it was pretty much trashed. Looking back, I should've tried to find a way to restore it...but jeez did it stink!

I have some awesome green on green checkboard lineoleum in my secret hallway I unearthed.
Wasn't lineoleum coming into fashion around the time our houses were built? I thought I read that was supposed to be a new sanitary flooring breakthrough!
Hope everything is well!

Anonymous said...

My house was built 20 years later than yours, built in 1915 and contrary to what's desirable today, I am looking for victorian linoleum to lay down to bring it back to what it was before the previous owner "modernized" it.
Have just about worn out searches trying to find what I'm looking for. Any recommendations? Lucia

Greg said...

I gave up searching myself. I wanted lino in the kitchen but I couldn't find anything with a nice pattern on it. It's all the "marbelize" stuff. You can try "Second Hand Rose" (google it). I was told they have the real thing. If they do have anything it will be a limited supply and very expensive.