Month: September 2013

Salvage

I love old junk salvage. Love it, love it love it. I don’t know what it is, but the thrill of finding an amazing cast off is the ultimate dopamine boost. It’s way way better than eating your feelings in chocolate ice cream – and not much can match that…  Sadly, pickings are slim in New York City in terms of reasonably priced salvage – but that doesn’t stop me from being constantly on the lookout for something amazing.

Not too long ago, we took a trip to Build It Green in Astoria to look for a powder room sink. The thing with Build It Green is that you never leave with the item you came looking for – but you will certainly find some random wonderful item that you can’t live without any longer. Case in point, this dresser.  I love everything about it, and I’m still haunted by the fact that I didn’t buy it.

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We left without buying anything because sinks they had were not what we needed. The inventory changes frequently, and rest assured that if that dresser is still there next time, it will be coming home with me.

Stubborn paint

photo

Progress is slow but steady, with a good portion of the paint on the garden level gone. For most part, it’s a pretty straight forward process: apply the goop, cover with paper, wait, scrape, wash. Repeat if necessary. But since this is a learn-by-doing type of project, I found out that removing paint from where the stone has been patched is  nearly impossible. It takes a combination of Peel Away 1 and Peel Away 7, and still the results are ‘meh’ at best. You can see splotches of stubborn pink on the far right of the wall on the top of the stoop, and also under one of the parlor windows. It simply does not want to go away. I’ve experimented with dwell times and it seems that a minimum of 24 hours is necessary. In some cases, 48 is actually better. Rain doesn’t seem to be a problem, so long as the area is covered with the paper stuff.  Just to be safe, I tape up the edges with painter’s tape.

The exposed stone in the photo has not been washed with the citric acid neutralizer yet, so you can still see the white-ish film of alkalinity in some spots. I figured once the garden level wall is finished, I’ll neutralize all at once, since until then it gets constantly splashed and gunked up.

It’s been fairly tedious do get this far, yet it’s also quite satisfying to pull huge chunks of paint off.  The fact that the neighbors constantly remark on my stubbornness to take on this project also means I need to see it through – at least up to where I can safely reach. I am hoping that by Sunday the lower portion of the wall (from the parlor windows on down) will be finished. Fingers crossed!

Living in a construction zone

You bought the perfect house, and so what if it needs a ton of work? You are a hardy person. You have experience buying a less than livable space and making it awesome. You are not afraid of getting dirty completely filthy. You are not a girly girl, and the only reason you keep nail polish remover in the house is to help dissolve adhesive and other construction related substances from your skin, as not to look like a complete hobo when you (finally) leave the house. You totally got this.  You understand the pitfalls and the drawbacks of DIY-ing your way to a fantastic home.  Yet, every now and then reality sets in, and what gets old is not just the never-ending list of projects, but  living amidst the chaos and aforementioned filth that go with fixing up an old house. While regular construction is dirty, an old house is exponentially dirtier – all those decades of dust, pollution, smoke, all just waiting to waft free.

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Exhibit A: dirt

Take our bedroom for example.  It has been un-inhabitable  for about 5 weeks. The professional paint stripping begat the ceiling restoration, which begat the fixing of some minor electrical things, which begat – oh god, where will this end? Over dinner recently,  these words actually came out of my mouth: “Our bedroom is in shambles, and we’ve been forced to take up residence in the rear parlor. And the cats, there are so many cats…”  at which point I realized I’m one six toed cat away from sounding like Little Edie of Grey Gardens.

But onward we push. If the weather holds I think I should be able to finish the stripping of the garden level of the façade. The bedroom now has a functioning light, and the circuitry has been sorted out.  And yes, the beams have been leveled. Photos and details ahead.

Weekend projects by crazy people

A  comment from a neighbor pretty much sums it up: “I always see you here, working. Never partying.  Just working.”

Before

I’m pretty sure the neighbors think I’m absolutely certifiable. Stripping a stone façade is really not a typical DIY project. People usually hire professionals to do that, and methodology aside, I do understand why.  Passers-by provide random words of encouragement, usually punctuated with “that’s a lot of work,” or “this would go a lot faster if you hired someone.” No shit!

This past Sunday over the course of 8 hours, I managed to strip about 18 sq feet of stone. At first glance, seems like a worthy amount, until you realize that it’s really a drop in the bucket. Not accounting for windows and doors, the area of the façade is 558 square feet – give or take.

Some of the paint came off super easy, yet there are patches of stubborn pink that will need a second application of PeelAway. Damn you pink paint!

SlowProgress

The angle of the sun makes it difficult to see any progress. Behold my amazing Photoshop skills! Yellow denotes done-ish. Click to enlarge. 

But wait! There is more!

Because we have two major projects going at the same time (hence the crazy people part) while I scrapped and scrubbed, the hubs worked on leveling the bedroom ceiling beams. The question of the day was “level it to what?” Under normal circumstances, you’d level to gravity: something is either level or it’s not – simple as that. But  nothing is ever as simple as it should be, at least not at our house. As is the case with many old buildings, ours settled over time and the floors are no longer level. The Pink Lady has a noticeable dip towards the center, common to brownstones. It used to drive me crazy and I wanted it gone, but I’m so used to it now I don’t really notice it anymore. Call it charm. Call it being realistic.

The previous fake ceiling was leveled to gravity, making the moldings look super crooked.

Old Ceiling

 

If we leveled the new ceiling to gravity, then leveled the floors, we would have to open the walls and adjust the all the door openings (2 regular doors and the massive double pocket door), or else the doors wouldn’t close). That just seemed too big of a job in the grand scheme of things.

So reality rears its ugly little head again, and since the dip is normal and is not affecting the structural integrity of the house, we decided to level the ceiling to the floor. By having everything crooked together, it will appear straight. Basically we’ll be mimicking the original ceiling (minus the sag in the middle).  Cooky plan, I know – but it seems like the best option.

After the required number of trips to the hardware store, the uttering of a lot of profanity, and a few beers, we are perhaps a teeny tiny bit closer to being done.

Another day, another project (and a post with terrible photos).

A normal person may look at what projects need to be done and prioritize accordingly. A normal person may look carefully at the options available and make sure not to overburden themselves by taking on more than they can handle. A normal person will finish a project before starting a new one.

Well, normal people we are not.

Over labor day weekend, we tore out the bedroom ceiling. A cheap patch job of installing a false dry wall ceiling (and covering it with popcorn) robbed the room of its original height – plus it left us wondering what lurked above it.

Old Ceiling

This is how it used to be (pardon the cell phone photos, but in possibly what was the only case of good judgment here, we did not bring the big camera in with us).

Half gone

Dry wall pulled down, you can see the old ceiling through the 2x4s

Turns out the damaged original ceiling was still up there, minus a big chunk of plaster right in the middle. It was severely bowed towards the center of the room, which is probably why the plaster fell off. There were signs of water damage. Fun!

Just a little bit of plaster missing...

Just a little bit of plaster missing… And seriously – what’s up with all the popcorn?

After we removed both ceilings and the original lath, we discovered that the support structure  was compromised: the strips of wood attaching the ceiling to the roof had come lose over the years.

lath

Presented without comment

Open ceiling

Open ceiling, cockloft above.

With the ceiling gone, we had a good look at the space above – more like a crawl space than an attic, it’s called a cock loft (and yes, because I’m totally immature I can’t say it without giggling). It’s kinda interesting to see the structure from above: the sky lights, some strange built-in alcoves. The filth up there is indescribable, the dirt is nearly impossible to wash off the skin. I suppose that’s what 120 years of dust, coal, cigarette smoke, and old fart residue looks like. Absolutely gross.

Dirt

This photo doesn’t fully capture how dirty we were. And by the way, the Facetime camera on the iPhone is absolutely awful!

The space is now ready to be re-built. We saved a piece of the ceiling molding so that we can restore it in the new ceiling. Sadly, most of it was gone so we’ll have to rebuild from scratch.

Moulding chunk

It was a total bummer to have to remove the moulding, but most of it was already gone. What was left did put up a good fight. We will use this chunk as a template for the restoration.

Since all the prep work has been done, you’d think we’d finish it off quickly. That is where you’d be wrong. This past weekend was dedicated to working on the stoop railing and doing a test stripping of the brownstone. Why? Well, winter is coming and it needs to be done. The stoop has been the Hubs pet project during the summer. Amidst finishing grad school, the crazy rains of June and the sweltering temps of July, progress has been slow. Happy to report one whole side has been stripped and coated with primer.

As for the masonry, we’re having a hard time finding someone who will strip/repair the brownstone the in the way we feel it should be done.   So I decided to do some tests and see if I could do it myself.

Cue stripping test #1: Some PeelAway 1, a bit of time, some water and some citric acid later – voila! Brownstone without paint.

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Step 1: apply layer of PeelAway that is at least 1/8 of an inch think. Kinda like frosting a warm cake. Got a bit melt-y…

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Step 2: Cover with the nifty paper provided. And wait.

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Step 3: remove the goop and wash. And wash. And wash. Then spritz some citric acid and wash again.

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And there you have it: stone (mostly) free of paint.

My biggest problem is that I’m super afraid of heights and I have no idea how I’ll get to the second and third floors….

Laboring weekend

What a difference a long weekend makes.

Since we still have all our stuff out of our bedroom following the stripping of the woodwork, we decided to tackle the ceiling. Truth be told, I’ve been wanting to rip this down since we first saw the house, since this awful ceiling is guilty of robbing the room of almost a foot in height (and popcorn? Ew!)

Over the course of the weekend, we took down the drop ceiling, as well as what was left of the original plaster and all of the lath. Here is day 1 in 24 seconds.

All of the gory details and photos in a later post.