Monday, July 06, 2009

One of Three

The first plaster medallion is up!

I wrote about it the other day. While the medallion is real plaster, it is a reproduction. I bought it several years ago at Ohmega Salvage in Berkeley. I recall that the guy who sold it to me said it was cast from a mold of an original, period medallion, but that could just be wishful remembering on my part. I’m not really sure if this is a new design or a period design. Either way I like it.

It has a fruit and vegetable motif, so it is a good fit for the dining room.

It came in 5 pieces and the idea is that once it is on the ceiling I will fill in the gaps with plaster and no one will be the wiser. So the first challenge was to get the center section up. There are 2 important issues here:

1) It can’t fall down once it is up.
2) Because it is square it must be aligned properly on the ceiling. The closest wall is less than 4-feet away and it would be noticeable if it was crooked in the room.

So after a few careful measurements I was able to put it on the ceiling. I whipped up a batch of runny plaster, which I would use as an adhesive. This is the way they did it back in the day. Back in the day, though, they had a fresh plaster ceiling and a fresh plaster medallion and some fresh plaster to stick the two together. My plaster ceiling is anything but fresh. I was going to need more.

The plaster would hold it in place, but was not a long term solution. The first thing was just to get it up there and make sure it is straight. I cut some half-inch wide strips of wood that were a little taller than the space between the scaffolding and the ceiling. This worked well to hold it up there while the plaster set. So I smeared fresh plaster on the back and stuck it on the ceiling. I held it with one hand while I maneuvered the sticks in to place.

Ultimately what is holding it in place is the original gas pipe that is still in the ceiling. In the diagram above, you can see the gas pipe running along the top of the ceiling joists. I screwed in a piece of pipe that would hang down a few inches from the ceiling. To that I attached a modern electrical box. I used the center knock-out of the box with a nut on both sides to hold it firm.

To this box a screwed on a modern 4-inch cross-bar. This is what a modern ceiling fixture would normally connect to. This is where the beauty of all of this comes in. Back in the 1890s when fixtures went from gas to electric, the original electric fixtures were little more than modified gas fixtures. This meant that all of the threads on the fittings used in electric fixtures were – and are – identical to gas pipe fittings. Even today you can mix and match like you want.

So I took another piece of gas pipe and screwed it in to the center hole of the 4-inch cross-bar on the box in the ceiling and fixed it with another nut. Now I could stick the medallion to the ceiling and the piece of pipe hung down a half-inch or so past the medallion. To this I mounted another, shallow electrical box with another 4-inch cross-bar. This is what the chandelier will be hung from.

So the chandelier is hanging from the original gas pipe and the ceiling and medallion are sandwiched in-between. Basically, the entire plaster ceiling could fail and fall to the floor during an earthquake, but the medallion and chandelier can withstand pretty much anything.


Jayne said...

I really like that medallion. The fruit and vegetable design is perfect for the dining room. But what really amazes me is how you attached it to the ceiling. Wow. Yet another post of yours that I'm reading slack-jawed with admiration for your abilities.

HPH said...


Nathan said...

I really enjoyed the medallion-stilts photo. Fantastic piece of ingenuity!

Marilyn said...

So where are the electrical wires hiding?

Greg said...

Hiding in the walls where they should be. I rewired the house 3 or 4 years ago. To do the ceiling fixtures on the first floor, I removed some floor boards in the upstairs hallway above so I wouldn't need to destroy the plaster. You can see a picture here...

Anonymous said...

Do o o o h h I was looking right at that light bulb and didn't see it. When I was putting up a chandelier in my music room/2nd parlor I found wires sticking out of a hole--no box, no pipe, nothing to hang it from.

pve design said...

oh how stunning.