Saturday, May 29, 2010

My Bad

I made some really good progress on the foyer. I got all of the grooves ground out. I secured any loose plaster with plaster washers and construction adhesive. All of the nails are pulled and the stage is set for plaster. I even made a dump run to get rid of all of the old plaster. I’m going to do a little more clean up and by the end of the day today I will be ready to trowel on some plaster. There is just one little problem….

I forgot to buy plaster – Doh!

Not only did I forget to buy it but I made a trip to Hansel Materials on Wednesday to pick up a gallon of plaster weld. I was within 100 feet of pallets full of plaster and I didn’t even think to buy any. It is really astounding. Sadly, they are not open on weekends, so I’m screwed.

I think it is partly psychosomatic. Some where in side of me I really didn’t want to do any plastering this weekend. Really though, I think it has more to do with how I feel about this project. As I said in another post, it is the smallest interior project I’ve done. I do have almost a full bag of Structo-Lite in the garage, and the last time I ordered finish plaster I bought 5 bags and I still have 3 of those left. I just wasn’t really thinking that I would need more.

Obviously I need more plaster. Even though this is mostly a skim-coat job, the sections that need to be built up from scratch are big enough that one partial bag will never be enough. I need 3 more bags, easy. So I’ll do what I can tomorrow with the partial bag and then get more next week.

In the mean time I’ll enjoy the sun and The Big Race. For the glory!

Sunday, May 23, 2010

Goovin’ on a Sunday afternoon

I would say I was able to get about 80% of the dovetail grooves cleaned out. It was when I absentmindedly Rotozipped my arm that I decided it was time to quit for the day. Fortunately the shirt sleeve took the brunt of the hit, but it did leave a mark on the skin. What remains requires a ladder and I no longer felt as though I should be up on a ladder with an exposed, spinning bit.

Even though there was no real grunting involved, this definitely falls in to the Grunt Work category. It is just very unpleasant work. I must cover myself head to toe with respirator, hat, gloves, ear protection, log sleeve shirt and goggles. I feel like I’m suiting up for sensory deprivation or something.

The worst part of it is the shop vac hose. At first it is not too bad, but after a few hours you feel like you are wrestling an anaconda. In fact, I was readjusting the hose when I Rotozipped my arm. To get above 5-feet I need to add an extension made of dryer exhaust hose. That is even more unpleasant to work with.

All clear

Clear on the bottom, but not on the top

I was able to get all of the stairwell done and everything in the foyer below 5-feet. There is really just a few small areas around the door and two medium sized sections on two other walls. I should finish that next Saturday, no problem. After that I need to go around and pull a few more nails and clean up the areas right against the trim.

If I can do a little work mid-week in the evenings I can start to put on the scratch coat Saturday afternoon. With any luck I can finish the scratch coat on Sunday. I think this is very doable. The scratch coat is the easiest and quickest of the 3 coats.

Saturday, May 22, 2010

Shaka, when the walls fell

The last of the plywood is out of the house! The Petch House is now a Plywood Free Zone.

This last batch of plywood was actually labeled as “Interior Grade Plywood”. I think it would be called “A” grade or cabinet grade in today’s lexicon. Still, the idea that plywood would be considered an acceptable interior finish product for anything other than cabinets strikes me as odd. Sounds like a 50s kind of thing. I suppose in a Mid Century Modern home I could see plywood used on walls, but not in a 1895 Victorian.

They certainly were not afraid to use a lot of nails. There was a nail every 3 to 4 inches along the perimeter and then ever 6 to 12 inches in the center. This stuff did not come down with out a fight. It turned out that most of the damage to the plaster behind the plywood was due to a leaky window and not from 80 years of renters banging couches and dressers up and down the stairs. Don’t get me wrong, the couches and dressers took their toll, but water was the real culprit.

You can see the mess I found. That is 3 layers of wallpaper dating back to 1895. I suspect the top layer is 30s or 40s and then after that the plywood went up.

The plaster under the window was little more than a sheet of plaster leaning up against the wall. It is amazing that it didn’t just fall off as soon as I removed the plywood. I think the wallpaper had something to do with keeping up. Can wallpaper be considered structural?

This was a new pattern of wallpaper I had never seen in the house. This is on the second landing, as you go up. It looks like there was a phone mounted on the wall – perhaps a small payphone for the tenants. I know that in 1902 there was a phone in the foyer at the base of the stairs. That is when the house was stilled owed by the Petch Family. It looks like 40s or 50s wallpaper and the papering job is really poorly done. They tried to paper around the phone and the pattern does not match on the right side.

This is the end of day one and as big a mess as I made today, it will be nothing compared to what I need to do tomorrow. Tomorrow I will grind the remainder of the plaster out of the grooves so the new plaster will have a place to go. I use a Rotozip with a plaster bit and a closely held shop vac. I don’t care how strong the shop vac is this just makes a huge mess.

After I get done with the grinding part of the job the rest is down hill. If I’m lucky, and I don’t think I will be, I will finish the grinding tomorrow. If I don’t finish tomorrow I will try to tackle it mid-week so I can begin to plaster next weekend. I think I am 2 weeks away from scaffolding in the stairwell.

Oh joy!

Sunday, May 16, 2010

The End Game

I haven’t even started the foyer but that doesn’t mean it isn’t too early to begin to stress about paint colors and finishing touches. My only saving grace at this point is that there are not window treatments to think about. There is a 3-light transom over the front door and a double hung window in the stair hall, but both will remain unadorned.

So it’s the walls I need to worry about. As you would imagine, the room was originally wallpapered. There were two designs in the room. The main field below the picture rail was a fairly simple design. I don’t have a picture of it, but it almost looked hand painted. It was not the perfect, elaborate design that many think of when they think of Victorian wallpaper. It was a red ribbon design that swirled around making very broad, repeating patters. Not the most pleasing design, if the truth be told. I remember that the colors had run badly when a second layer of wallpaper was added later. It seemed to be on a cream colored background, but that could have been from the paste that was used to put on the next layer of wallpaper. There were only two layers of wallpaper in the foyer and then many, many layers of paint.

Above is the design that was on the frieze and ceiling. This I really like. This is one of the more elaborate designs I’ve found in the house. Again, few colors. There is just the red and a silver or gray, and then the background color. It is difficult to say what the color of the background was originally.

And this is the paper that was in the stair hall. A very simple pattern. So simple I could almost make this myself. This is another pattern I like a lot. I’ve written about this in the past, but I think what distinguishes all of the original wallpapers from 1895 that I found in the house is how much they don’t reflect what is found in many of the collections of reproduction Victorian wallpaper found today. Perhaps Mrs. Petch had more eclectic tastes than most of the country at the time.

I’m leaning towards lincrusta for a dado and then a painted field and frieze, with two different colors for the field and frieze. It would be similar to what is in the dining room, only with a lincrusta dado instead of a wood dado. I’m leaning, but I’m not there yet. It may be too formal for my tastes. So far the only lincrusta pattern I found that I like is only sold in the UK, and it is real lincrusta, as opposed to the vinyl stuff I found so far in this country. I’m not sure I can bring myself to putting vinyl on the walls in the foyer.

I’m going to need to be careful about the color choice for paint because the same color for the frieze in the foyer will also be used in the stair hall. I want it to be a light color. This color may also be used in the upstairs hall. As you move from the foyer, up the stairs, and in to the upstairs hall, there is no molding that transitions from one space to the next. All of the outside corners are rounded with inch and a quarter wood. It would be challenging to stop one color and start another with a crisp line.

I was hoping to get more done this weekend but I had to go in to work yesterday for 6 hours because of a software upgrade. The plan is to get the room ready for demolition, which hopefully will start next week.


This fixture comes down and gets replaced with a simple bulb socket for the duration of the project.

The door from the foyer to the dining room gets hung back where it came from. Note the lovely green paint. That is the dining room side and some of you may remember the photos of all of the woodwork painted that color in there.

I’ve never really been sure what to do about this door. It is 34-inches wide and so finding a salvage replacement in the same style is pretty much out of the question. The other side has a nice shellac finish and would face the foyer. If not for the hole drilled for the deadbolt, it would be an easy restoration. Why the deadbolt on an interior door? Because this was the front door to apartment #2. The door originally swung out in to the foyer, but in the 20s they re-hung it to swing in, like a normal front door. If I was going to use it permanently I would need to put it back to swinging out in to the foyer, because as it is now, the light switch in the dining room will end up behind the door.

The green painted side is another issue. It would be tough to strip it off and have it come out nice. Even with the shellac under the paint, I found that anyplace where the wood gets dinged the paint gets driven in to the grain it is hard to strip it all the way. No doubt this door got dinged and banged a lot by all of the furniture that was moved in and out by renters for 80+ years. This door represents weeks and weeks of work and the end results may not be that good. I think it will end up in the attic.

After the light is down and the door is up I will cover all of the floors with plastic sheeting and then cardboard. This will stay down for the whole project. I can then start to remove the last of the plywood and bad plaster. Yea, that’s right, I said plywood. Several rooms in the house had the walls covered in quarter inch plywood. I removed it from the foyer a long time ago. In the picture above, the lower yellow part of the wall is plywood. {sigh!} I’m sure the plaster behind it is a 100% loss. Again, 80+ years of renters carrying furniture up and down the stairs took its toll. The vertical line you see on the wall is from when they ran electrical conduit throughout the house in the 50s to expand the number of outlets. {sigh!} I ripped out all of the conduit when I rewired, but the scars remain. It will be nice to see that finally go away.

Thursday, May 13, 2010

The Next Big Thing

It’s not just the next big thing, it is revolutionary. Its’ beyond big. It’s bigger than big. The next big thing is my next project. It’s really not that big, relatively speaking. It’s only big because I’m actually starting a new big project. There was a time when I would squeeze out big projects like Octo-Mom squeezed out little kids. Not so much anymore.

It’s hard to say what happened. Things got in the way like winter, work and laziness. The thought of a new big project sort of lost its cachet. The old days are old and the new days are less house oriented. I’m pumped about this one though, and soon I will be psyched. No, wait, is it psyched and then pumped, or does pumped come first. I’m not really clear on the whole hierarchy of enthusiasm, but I can feel something stirring. It could be that foot-long green chili beef burrito I had for lunch or it could be the new project. Either way there is definitely something there.

So what is The Next Big Thing? It is the foyer and stairwell. If judged by cost or square footage it is not one of the bigger interior projects I’ve tackled. There are no cabinets to build, nor is there any plumbing, and maybe no electrical. What it lacks in cost and technical challenges though, it more than makes up for in mess, disruption, and verticality.

First the disruption. The foyer is the entry hall. Either I walk around to the backdoor when I enter and leave or I use the foyer. The real issue there is the alarm system. I must go in to the foyer to set or deactivate the alarm. The foyer also sits between the parlor and kitchen, two of the more popular rooms in the house, and it also sits between the front stairs and everything else. I can avoid the front stairs by using the back stairs, but the front stairs are much more convenient and comfortable to climb than the back stairs.

The verticality. The stairwell is tall. It basically ascends the full height of the house, which is roughly 20 feet on the interior. This means scaffolding. I’m going to need to erect scaffolding on the middle landing and that will make it that much more difficult to traverse the stairs. If I need to strip paint off the plaster before I skim-coat, then the scaffolding could be up for weeks, if not months. I also may hang a light fixture, which will only add to the time the scaffolding is up.

The mess. Plaster work and stripping shellac. There is no way around it, these things make a mess, especially the plaster. Putting the plaster on is not too bad, and the mess can be controlled. It is taking the damaged plaster off that makes the real mess. The dust goes every where. I don’t care how careful you are or how much you mask rooms off, there will be, at a minimum, a fine coat of plaster dust on every surface in the house. Fortunately, the 6.5 quake we had a few months back took care of a lot of the damaged foyer plaster for me.

The stairs are another issue. At least they have never been painted, but they need to be taken back to bare wood. They were shellacked back in 1895 and then nothing happened after that. There is also the issue that some of the woodwork has been marred by renters that just had no appreciation for anything, at all, ever! The place was rental units for 80+ years, so it could be worse, but I see a trip to a mill in my future to have a few pieces reproduced. This will no doubt be the largest expense in the project, but even with that, this will be one of the least expensive projects I’ve done on the interior of the house.

I just need to start. That is why I’m trying to get pumped and then psyched, or psyched and then pumped, which ever it is. It needs to be done. After this, the only rooms on the first floor that are left are the front and back parlors. These are essentially one large room, roughly 15X30. These rooms are basic stuff: plaster, paint and floors. Everything else has been done in there (wiring, telecom, stripping, millwork). Once I get this foyer and stairwell done, the rest of the downstairs will be a cake-walk.

I just need to start.

Sunday, May 09, 2010

The Kitchen Desk and Ives Pocket Door Hangers

Those two things wouldn’t seem to go together, but for the purpose of this blog entry they do. First the desk. There is a small alcove in the kitchen that has caused me constant consternation. It is small and essentially dead space in the kitchen. I had a small cabinet there for a while, but that ended up going in to the butler’s pantry.

Next I put the refrigerator in the alcove. It was a nice fit, but in the end didn’t work well. It was just a very awkward place for the fridge. It was out of the way and inconvenient. Then a few months back I was watching The New Yankee Workshop and Norm was building a built-in kitchen desk. It was a forehead slapping moment for me. Suddenly it was obvious what I needed to do with this space.

A few months back I built the frame. The desk fills the entire space and is fixed to the wall with no real legs. I used cast iron brackets at the front that are of a similar style to the ones I used on the island. When I made the built-in cabinets in the dining room I was forced to buy an entire slab of marble, so there was plenty left to do a marble top for it. It is really the perfect solution for this spot.

Now on to the Ives pocket door hangers. When I opened the wall that separates the parlor from the foyer I found that the house at one time had pocket doors there. The pocket was there and the track, along with a half of one of the rollers. Although it would have been nice to find doors and a complete set of rollers, having the one piece with the manufacture's name on it meant that I could – with luck and time – find the other parts that I needed.

It took about 3 years, but I eventually found the parts. Three years sounds like a long time but it really wasn’t that big of a deal because I didn’t have the doors either. I’ve since gotten doors and hung them on the rollers and once again all is right with the opening between the parlor and foyer. Hmm, actually, it is far from right, because the plaster is thrashed and the trim is still not up, but at least the doors are there and they work.

So why am I going back in to all of this now. Well, last week I got an email from someone in a similar situation. He has a partial set of rollers and is trying to figure out how it all goes together. It is tough enough with a complete set, but with only a partial set it is kind of like pissing in the wind.

So I told him I would post something on the blog with photos to show how it all goes together.

Above is the top half of the roller. This is the part that suspends from the tack. This was the one piece I was left with. More on the little do-hickey later.

This is a complete set of 4 rollers. This is what is needed to hang two doors. If you compare this picture to the one above you’ll notice that there is a second piece added to the bottom of each roller. This is the part that is screwed on to the top of the door. And there is that do-hickey again. You’ll need two of those.

Here is the base mounted to the door. There are keyed slots that the roller assembly slides in to. If you go back to the first picture of the rusty roller you can see the two tabs that fit in to those slots. You can all so see how the set-screw goes through both parts. Once they’re are in you tighten the set-screw to keep them from backing out.

The track is two, 1-inch square pieces of wood screwed on to the framing, with a one inch gap between them. In the middle of the track are two removable pieces. When you are hanging the doors you put the roller part up in the track first. The rollers are put through the hole made when you remove the 2 removable pieces from the track. You then mount the base to the door and then attach the base to the roller.

Here they are fully assembled. In the picture you can see two screws. The bottom screw is the set-screw that holds the two parts of the rollers together. The top screw is the adjusting screw to adjust the height and level of the door once it is hung. The threads for the screws are standard machine threads, but I don’t recall the size. I took my roller to hardware store and just tried screws until I found one that fit.

Finally, the do-hickey. These mount on the floor, just inside the pocket opening. They are each 3.5 inches long and 1-inch high. There is a groove in the bottom of the door that slides along this and keeps the doors centered in the pocket so they don’t bang around while you open and close them.

I hope this helps. Good luck.