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.

Sunday, September 13, 2009

Slow and Steady

It’s funny how when I finished the walls and got the paint on I seemed so close to being finished with the dining room. I mean, once the paint was on, for the first time in 8 years it looked like a real room. Who knew I would still be months away from being finished.

I finished stripping the paint off the windows and got the “new” hardware on. The curtain rods have been installed and the roller shades have been hung. I’ve finished buying all of the material for the drapes and found someone to sew them. Thank you Craig’s List.



Before I could get the roller shades on I needed to get the floor stripped and sanded. The floor has been a point of contention for years among friends of mine. The argument has been about what was the original floor covering in 1896. I insist that the room did not have wall-to-wall carpeting and everyone else insists I’m wrong.

Good friends of mine, whom I genuinely respect, will stand in the middle of the room with the floor completely exposed. They will look me in the eye, and without ever looking down at the floor, say to me, “Your house would have had wall-to-wall carpeting in 1896”. They say it like wall-to-wall carpeting was a universal constant in 1896 when the Petch Family moved in. Even though we all know there were other things to chose from, for some reason they seem to believe that wall-to-wall carpeting was the only choice for The Petch Family.

Am I saying that most houses did not have wall-to-wall carpeting. No. How would I know what most houses had or didn’t have in Eureka in 1896. To date, I have seen only 1 or 2 interior photos of Eureka homes from that period and neither had a good view of the floor. What I have seen though, are dozens of photos of New York Interiors at the Turn of the Century in a book of the same name. In that book, few of the homes have wall-to-wall carpeting. Most have large carpets that cover most of the floor, leaving the wood perimeter exposed. While others have smaller rugs in the room, which are sometimes strewn about at odd angles to the walls.

Of course, the argument can be made that those homes had hardwood floors and not redwood floors. Only a few wealthy individuals in town had anything but redwood or fir floors, or any other part of the house, for that matter. So that begs the question: If hardwood floors with carpets were a trend at the time, why don’t you see many hardwood floors from that period in Eureka homes. Is it possible that everyone in Eureka was out of fashion and had wall-to-wall carpet in 1896? I don’t think so.

I would think that the lack of hardwood floors in Eureka in 1896 would be because there are no native hardwood forests in the area, and Humboldt County had no rail service in 1896, and we were a bazillion miles away from any place. So now the question is, if we couldn’t get hardwood floors then how did we get acres of the finest wool carpeting to Humboldt County. Hell, none of the homes in the Victorian town of Ferndale even had plaster on the walls in 1896, and lime for plaster was being produced in the Santa Cruz mountains, which was a 1 day boat ride away.

My claims to the flooring in the dining room are evidence based. What I see is a perimeter of tinted shellac with a bare wood center that was most likely covered with a large rug, or stitched together runs of 27-inch wide carpet. While it is true that the tinted shellac could have been put down at a later date, I can’t ignore the tack hole patterns. Wall-to-wall carpets would have been installed with carpet tacks.



Many, many, many carpet tacks would have been used around the perimeter of the room to securely tack the carpet in place. I don’t find carpet tack holes around the perimeter of the room. What I do find are carpet tack holes, and even a few left over carpet tacks {see above}, around the perimeter of where the tinted shellac ends and the bare wood begins. This is where the rug would have been. Further more, there is evidence of a base molding that was installed at the baseboard. If you have wall-to-wall carpeting that goes all the way up to the baseboard, why would have base molding?

The construction of the house is such that I have a wide, rough plank sub-floor made of B-grade lumber. On top of that is a clear-heart, blind-nailed, 1X6 T&G redwood floor. While it is true that redwood is a soft wood and normally not suitable for a finish floor, I think they were making the best use of the material that they had at the time. While this house is no mansion, it is a nice, roomy house with a well thought out floor-plan that was obviously designed by an accomplished architect and built by a master builder. If this house had been built east of the Rockies I have no doubt that the wood selection would have been much different. As it is, every last stick of wood in the house is redwood, including the finish floor.

Sunday, September 06, 2009

Guess Who Didn’t Show

The tree guy never showed up and didn’t call. I know, shock and horror, right? I must be nice that in the midst of a recession you have so much work that you can blow people off - Twice! Even if that is the case, it does not seem like a long term business strategy. I mean, I’ll never call this guy again, nor will I suggest that any of my friends call him.

The worst part is, the more I am treated like this, the less sympathy I have for local business owners and private contractors. If it is someone I know personally, and know that they are a good business person and tried hard, then I definitely have sympathy for them when business drops off. If I can’t be sure though, my first thought now is that it was their own fault. It didn’t used to be that way.

Now you see it…


Now you don’t.


So, I took down one of the trees myself. I have other things I planned to do with my time this weekend, but I need to get this done before winter. My hope is that I can get the other larger tree trimmed and get some new trees planted by the end of October. I will start the process over again next week and call someone else to come out and look at the large tree.

The green building is the garage/apartment structure in my backyard. At one time the concrete steps in the foreground led to the rental kitchen in the two story addition I took down. I’m still not sure if I’m going to get rid of those some day, or incorporate them in to a deck or sun porch. The side door to my house is just out of the picture, to the right.

This tree needed to come down now because it is in this area that the new trees will go. The other tree that was supposed to be dealt with last week will stay, but be greatly reduced in size. The whole job took less than an hour, but I do still need to get rid of the evidence. Don’t be fooled by that picture. That pile stretches for a good 15 feet and almost reaches the garage. It is a lot of waste.