Thursday, May 31, 2012

Plastering The Parlors

So my intern and I have been working on the plaster in the parlors. Oh, did I forget to mention I have a summer intern? Yes, The Petch House has a summer intern who is a recent graduate of College of The Redwoods' prestigious Preservation Curriculum. This moves the Petch House in to a whole new echelon of restoration projects. I mean, an intern! Come on! That's got to mean something, right? I guess, or maybe it's just free labor. Either way, it is a pleasure to have the help and to be able to pass on some of my considerable knowledge. Well, knowledge anyway. OK, maybe it will be a lesson in how not to do things.

Regardless of the outcome, The Petch House has an intern and the parlor project is back on track. My intern Meagan is from Baltimore, which is strange because I was in Baltimore for vacation last month. I'm continuing my tour of historic east coast cities. Last year was Philadelphia and this year was Baltimore and Washington DC.

My intent was to go to Baltimore & DC, walk hundreds of miles around both cities, take zillions of pictures, and then blog like crazy about it. Everything happened but the last one because I started to get sick on the flight home. By the next day I was in bed with strep throat. A week later and 6 pounds lighter, the moment had passed and I never did the blogging.

There are a few choice pictures below, but that is probably all you are going to get. Baltimorians (Is that what they are called? I'm sure my intern will set me straight.) will probably laugh, but for me one of the highlights of the trip was taking the train from Baltimore's historic Penn Station to the over-the-top Beau Arts Union Station in DC. Union Station is like a beating heart that pumps hundreds of people out in to the arteries of DC every minute. It is quite an experience for a boy from Humboldt County. That and Baltimore's Shot Tower (Google it), but only because I had never heard of a Shot Tower before and found it all very interesting. Really, it was a great trip and I encourage everyone to go.

But now back to the parlors, plaster, and my intern. Megan had planned to intern with a premier restoration carpenter this summer, but for reasons I won't elaborate on, the deal fell through at the last minute. Some how she stumbled on to my blog and shot off an email. I must admit I was leery at first. I mean, what would some ivy league egghead know about old house restoration. Well, CR is hardly ivy league, but still, was the preservation program little more than a diploma factory or did they actually teach real-world skills?

Anybody who has read my blog knows I'm obsessed with detail about this house, to the point of almost being certifiably nuts about it. Regardless of whether Megan had the skills, could I relinquish even the smallest amount of authority over the work being done. I have done every last little thing myself for the past ten years. This would be a stretch for me.

Five years ago I probably would have said no or maybe not even returned the email, but it has been well documented here that I am getting a little fried on the work. I decided to give her a try. I told her a little about my current project and agreed to give her a tour of the house. In her next email she sent pictures of a recent plaster job she was on. It was real plaster, over real lath, in a real historic home of Eureka. I started to get excited.

The next night she came by and I gave her the rare full tour of the home. Few are allowed on the second floor and even fewer ever see the attic. Her enthusiasm was apparent and infectious. She mixed a few batches of plaster for me and I agreed to have her come back. The next night she came back and did some plastering. Below is a shot of the wall she did on the first night.

Megan's Mad Plastering Skilz

I was more than a little relieved that she could actually plaster. Even after one day it was evident she really wanted to help with the project, but if the choice came down to smooth plaster walls in The Petch House or crushing the hopes and dreams of a young woman, I think we all know what would have happened. And for those of you who are still unsure, I'll just say that I would be working alone right now had Megan's wall not come out smooth.

Not only did the wall come out smooth, but in some respects it is better than some of the work I do. I'm more of a slap it up, smooth it out, and move on kind of plasterer. I get a lot done in a short amount of time and it looks good, but Megan's attention to detail means that her corners come out better on the second coat, which means the skim coat will be easier. No doubt she has an attention to detail. At one point last night I thought I was going to have to physically remove her from the scaffolding.

Here is where we are at now. The scratch and brown coats are on all walls and next comes the dreaded skim coat. This is where you separate the real plasterers from the wannabes. This is the money coat. Screw this one up and all of the other work was a pointless waste of time. I'm hopping to keep the childish behavior (profanity and throwing tools) to a minimum if a wall takes a turn for the worse, but I make no guarantees. I had some moments in the dining room I would rather forget, and when think about the kitchen I sometimes end up whimpering in a fetal position on the floor.

I honestly don't think we'll get through both rooms this weekend, but the work starts Saturday. I'll be glad when the plastering is over.

Now a few shots of one of the run-of-the-mill homes in Baltimore. You can't throw a rock without hitting a home like this in Baltimore.

This is the Tiffany stained glass dome...
which is at the top of this spiral staircase...
which is in this foyer...
which also has these Tiffany stained glass windows...
which are under this ceiling...
which is in this modest, 39,000 square foot, 1875 townhouse...
which is just a block from the Washington Monument.

It was all really very nice.

Oh, and this is Baltimore's sewage pumping facility

PS: Alex – Thanks for the glasses. I would not have enjoyed the eclipse otherwise. I thought your original email was spam. Oops!