Sunday, October 18, 2009

Yes with an “If’ and No with a “But”

Yes, I could say the dining room is completely finished IF I had the drapes. No, the dining room is not finished, BUT it would be if I had the drapes.

I drove the last nail and dipped the last paint brush this weekend. The only thing lacking is the drapes. The woman I hired through Craig’s List said I would get them tomorrow, but I’m a little nervous. Originally she said they would take her about a week to do and I gave her the material more than 3 weeks ago.

On Tuesday she said she would have them finished by Thursday. Then on Friday she said Monday. She was supposed to email me today to tell me when and where I could pick them up. It is 3:30 and still nothing.

On Tuesday she explained that her husband has cancer and she has been dealing with that the past few weeks. While I do empathize, I want my drapes. I’ve been working on this room for more than a year. If she postpones again I think I’ll just get what she has and find someone else to finish them. It is nothing personal. I just feel that if she needs to deal with her family then that is what she should be doing. If I were in her situation I’m sure someone else’s drapes would not even be on the radar screen.

So as soon as the drapes are done I’ll post pictures of the finished room. And please, for the love of God, don’t anyone post a comment telling me how easy drapes are to make and if they were here they could whip them up in a week. To me this is “Contractor Speak”. Every job to a contractor seems simple and quick. They tell you it will be finished in a week and it never is.

Sunday, September 27, 2009

A Dado is Reborn

I was able to get the woodwork in the dining room mostly shellacked over the weekend. It is a very time consuming process, mainly due to the volume of woodwork in the room. I spent at least 12 hours over the past few days putting on 2 coats. Shellac is pretty much idiot proof and I’m very happy with the results, for the most part. The dark wood on the upper cabinets is a little too shiny. I’m going to try and knock it down with some steel wool and see if that helps. Maybe it will look better once the blinds and drapes are on.

I started working on this room 5 and a half years ago, if you can believe that. This would have been when I owned the house for about 3 years. I had stripped the room of wallpaper and was trying to figure out what to do with the woodwork. It was painted green, which was bad enough, but that wasn’t even the worst part. The worst part was that it looked like it had been painted by a 4 year old after his 2 year old sister had attempted to paint it. There were runs and drips on top of runs and drips.

Simply painting again was not going to suffice. Even if I ended up painting in the end, I had to do something about the copious amounts of paint that were on the woodwork. Sanding was the first thing to come to mind, but there were two problems here. First, it was way too much sanding. Sanding is really only for taking off a small fraction of an inch of surface. Second, the previous owners had painted just a few years before with a high gloss, latex paint. That type of paint doesn’t so much sand as it does roll up at the edges.

I decided to try a heat gun. I didn’t own one, so I went down to the hardware store and bought the least expensive one I could find. I had no idea how well it would work, so I didn’t want to spend a lot of money if it wasn’t going to work. As it turned out, it worked great and that first heat gun burned up in about 6 months. I then went and bought a much better heat gun and I still have that one after hundreds of hours of use.

The stripping went through 5 steps. Here it is in March of 2004. The windows are to the right. I started in that corner, just to the right of the fireplace. The door to the room is on the other side of the fireplace, so this is the most inconspicuous place in the room. If I screwed it up, it would be the last place in the room any one sees. Fortunately there was shellac under the paint, so for the most part the paint just peeled off in sheets. It was really pretty amazing.

The next step was chemical stripper. This removed small bits of paint in the corners and most of the shellac. The shellac had caramelized from the heat gun and had become sort of baked on.

After that I used denatured alcohol and steel wool to get the rest of the shellac off.

And then lots of sanding. I was getting really nervous at this point. The wood looked bleached and dried out. You can see two pictures up where I used a little boiled linseed oil and turpentine on a small place to see if it would come back to life. It did. The last step was micro faux graining. There are always tiny little specks of paint that can’t come out. Usually this is in the corners or at joints, but also in places where the wood has been damaged from a chair or coal bucket hitting the wall too hard.

This is the wall opposite the windows. I'm actually ripping up the floor in this photo. The carpet as been removed, and then from the front of the picture moving back you can see the plastic, fake wood tiles on top of particle board. Under that is tar paper, which was stapled down to the original redwood floor. The fake wood tiles were put down in the 70s.

The wood work was first painted in the 1950s. The original color was white and then there was just about every color in the rainbow until we get to the hideous shade of green you see in the photos. I call it Puke Green. Ask for it by name and Sherwin Williams. Go a head, I dare you.

Also, in this photo, you can see where I discovered the long lost dumb waiter style door that leads to the kitchen. It had been boarded shut and wallpapered over back in the twenties. Also, to the left you can see the remnants of the Murphy bed that had been installed back in the 20s. All of that has been restored.

And now the dado has been resurrected. Here it is today, five and a half years later. That is the same section of wall from the first photos in the post. It didn’t really take 5 and a half years. The initial paint stripping took about 3 months, and then nothing happened for a very long time. Well, a lot happened in the house, but just nothing in this room.

And now it is finally done!

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

The Finished Product

It is grouted and ready to go. I ended up going with the antique white, un-sanded grout. The main reason for choosing that grout color and type was because I had a half of box of it in the garage. I think it was a good choice, regardless. There could be some issues with soot down the road, but that’s down the road. Besides, the only real grout lines are around the large green tiles.

Next I’ll shellac the woodwork and then finish the floor. Really though, my brain has moved past both of those projects. I’ve been giving serious thought to furniture. I decided long ago that I would not be doing a Victorian restoration. If I had the money I would just go to the Ethan Allen web site and shop ‘till my clicking finger broke off.

Since that won’t be happening, I’m in a bit of a quandary. To be honest, I’m not sure how long I will be living here. Do I buy a bunch of nice furniture now, only to end up selling it used and at a big loss in the not too distant future? I’m really not sure.

Of course, there is no real hurry. It is not like I need to pack the room with furniture tomorrow. I do have a few pieces, as it is. The only issue with time is that I was planning on having a little coming out party for the dining room to show it off to friends and co-workers. Can I consider the room “finished” if it is not properly furnished.

Inquiring minds want to know.

Sunday, September 20, 2009

Hearth & Home

The hearth tile installation went well, I guess. I had to go rent a tile saw because there were some mitered corners. There were a few minor issues to deal with, most having to do with the fact that it was salvage tile being installed on an old mortar bed. The mortar bed had sagged a quarter inch in the middle. The real problem, though, was the old indentations from the original tile. The backs of tile are not flat, so there were a lot of hills and valleys in the old mortar.

So yesterday I skim-coated the old mortar bed to even things out. You can now really see the ghosts of the original 1895 installation. The skim-coat gave me a smooth bed on which to set the “new” tile. Another issue with the tile that caused problems was the fact that I had 3 different thickness of tile. To try and even things out, the thick tiles are set on a thin bed of mortar, while the thinner ones are heavily “back buttered” to try and make them level with the thicker tiles. It was challenging, and a few pieces had to be pried up and done over.

The new installation fit the old space well. The original design was about an inch wider and a half inch deeper. To get everything to fit I had to go with almost non-existent grout lines. This is the way it was done back in the day, so it looks more original this way. The problem with this was that the large green tiles are the same width as the 1.5X6, but when everything was installed there were gaps at the top and bottoms. Four rows of 1.5 inch high tile came out to more that 6-inches. Go figure. I knew about this beforehand, because I had laid them all out, but there was not much I could do about it. I tried to make gaps at the sides to balance it out, but that was not easy.

I’ll do a white un-sanded grout in a few days and that should make the gaps less noticeable around the big tiles. The other issues was some of the 1.5X6 tiles still had minor remnants of grout. It was very little, because there was little to start with, but it made the design a little uneven in places. This is probably only noticeable to me.

Once the grout is done I’ll add a fluted wood molding around the perimeter to hide the half inch gap around the edges where the old mortar bed is still showing. After that I can finish the rest of the floor. Then all I need to do is install the base molding where the floor meets the walls, and then give all of the woodwork a good shellacking. I should have the drapes in a week and a half, and with those hung, this baby will be done!

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Ye Olde Tile

I wrote yesterday about how eclectic the original hearth tiles were. Although they were beat to hell when I bought the house, I saved as much as I could. I probably won’t be able to reuse them, but I couldn’t bring myself to throw them away.

About 30% of the tiles were just gone and the cavities had been filled in cement. What was left was scratched and cracked. The hearth tiles were an odd contrast to the surround tiles, because the surround tiles on both fireplaces were in fantastic shape and the hearth tiles were almost a complete loss. I can’t really say why.

Above is one of everything from the dining room. As you can see there were 13 different sizes and colors of tile. The bright green tile with the ribbon and floral pattern, along with the 2 narrow maroon bars, made up the outside boarder.

There were 2 portrait tiles per hearth. That is the only one left intact and it is in really rough shape. They sat in the middle of the design at an angle. Each hearth had a man and a woman that faced each other. The larger triangle tiles were situated around the portrait tiles to create a rectangle that was parallel with the firebox.

The pale tile with the rosette, just above the portrait tile, was in-line with the portrait tiles and placed in a similar fashion: at and angle with triangles around. That made up most of the middle of the design.

There were 4 of the green pattern tiles with the floral swirl that were situated at the top and bottom and off-set from the portrait tiles. The other square and triangle tiles filled in the rest of the space. Like I said, it was a very unique and creative pattern.

Many of the tiles are marked Cambridge on the back. I found the same marking on the back of one of the surround tiles. It was loose, so I removed it and reaffixed it when I put in the cast iron fireplace cover a few years back. Below is a blurb about the Cambridge Art Tile Works Company from a web site called Recycling The Past.

Cambridge Art Tile Works 1886-1985
J.J.Busse, and his sons, John, Herman, Louis, and J. Henry, and another man named Herman Binz began making tiles in J.J. Busse’s Brickyard in Kentucky. This was named the Mount Casino Art Tile and Enameled Brick Company. They established a second company, Cambridge Art Tile Works in 1887. Two years later, these two companies combined to create Cambridge Tile Manufacturing Company. Two men named Ferdinand Mersman and Clement J. Barnhorn joined Cambridge. Cambridge Tile took over the Wheatley Pottery in 1927, and they renamed it the Wheatley Tile and Pottery Company. Still in 1927, a company called Cambridge Wheatley Company was created, which sold both types of tile. Cambridge Wheatley stopped production in 1936, and Cambridge Tile Manufacturing Company kept its name. Cambridge continued to make tiles until 1985, when they closed.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

The Puzzle

Imagine that you are trying to put together an old, incomplete puzzle. Also imagine that in the box there is really a few different puzzles mixed together and all of them are incomplete. Even though there are not enough pieces to finish one puzzle, there are enough to fill the space that one of the puzzles was supposed to occupy. Your job is to fit all of the pieces together so that they actually look like they were meant to go together.

This is sort of what I’ve been doing for the past few nights with the collection of salvage and new tiles that I bought to redo the fireplace hearths. It may sound like it is going to be an odd, jumbled mix of tiles, and I guess it will. In reality though, that pretty much describes what the original hearth tiles looked like in 1896. Most were damaged beyond repair, but what was left was made up of more than a half dozen different shapes and colors of tile.

There were 2-inch square, 4-inch square, triangle, 1X6 and 2X6 tiles. Some were incised with designs, others had portraits, and some were smooth. The colors covered the spectrum. The two fireplace hearths were easily made up of the most eclectic mix of tiles I’ve ever seen. It was almost like the tile installer used what ever was left over for the last 6 or 7 jobs, but it really worked. Even though they were beat to crap and with large sections missing, I just loved them. I would give my eye teeth if the hearths were still intact.

Sadly, they are not. So, I must do the next best thing, or at least the next best thing that I am capable of, given my budget and skill-set. Six or seven years ago, shortly after my ceiling fixture buying frenzy came to a close, I started scouring Ebay for deals on vintage tile. Here’s what I ended up with.

This is a 1.5X6 fireplace tile. This is salvage and originally from a surround. I have many whole tiles, but also a lot of half pieces from where they did a running bond up both sides of the firebox. I have another set in blue for the other hearth.

This is what I mean by a “running bond”. You’ll notice there is a whole tile, then 2 half, and then a whole. Like you would lay bricks.

A 6X6 tile. Also salvage. I bought 6 of them. I have different 6X6 for the other hearth.

A 1X8 tile. These are new, but I think this design would have been very popular with the Aesthetics movement. There are enough of these so I can use them on both hearths.

A 3X3 tile. These are salvage and I bought 2 of them. These may end up going on the other hearth.

A 3X8 tile. These are salvage and I think they are English. I have enough of these for both hearths.

So, now the trick is to fill the space with what I have. Below are the 3 different designs I’ve come up with. In all of these pictures, the tiles are set on the old, uneven mortar bed. I’ll smooth that out. Also, I will need to trim many of the tiles to fit. Just use your imagination a bit.

This was the first design. The two big problems here are that the tiles with the frogs and dragon fly’s does not go up the sides, and the green 1.5X6 tiles only have one row at the top. The design is not really balanced.

This design has a similar problem. I added in another 6X6 tile in hopes of gaining more of the 1.5X6 to use other places, but it still wasn’t enough for another row. I am very limited in the number of whole 1.5X6 tiles.

This is where I ended up. I have complete boarders of both the English and the dragon fly tile on the outside, and I have two rows of the 1.5X6 green tile above and below the 6X6 tile. The only problem here is that on the outside of the 6X6 row there are only half pieces of the 1.5X6 tiles. I don’t get a nice running bond, but I think it might be good enough.

I’ll continue to stare at it for the next few days and see how little this design bothers me.