Month: March 2015

No. More. Muppet. Flesh.

Forgive me, Gods of Carpentry, for I have sinned I am sinning.

I am painting woodwork.


Well, make that painting over already painted woodwork. Perhaps only half a sin? Anyone tight with St. Joseph (Patron Saint of Carpenters), have a word with him and let me know. Anyway, what I’m doing is eradicating the Muppet Flesh paint pallet. It’s like an act of kindness to the visual senses.

Here is evidence of what we’re dealing with:

Brown and Muppet Flesh

While I respect the fact that taste is subjective, and that someone thought this was a fantastic color combination, what I cannot respect is a sloppy paint job:

Paint Drip on Crown

The finish of this paint was almost like sand paper – here I try to replicate the rough feel via this very grainy photo. Paint drips make it look like the crown is melting. I’m going to call this technique “The Dalí.”

Radom paint drip

Sometimes random drips appear in the middle of the wall, like a lonely tear of sadness over a shitty paint job.

Bad Paint Job

There is no excuse for this. Nope. None.

Operation Muppet Flesh Eradication is in full swing. It’s really hard to let go and paint over the shitty paint job. There are some quick fixes that I can do along the way (such as cutting “The Dalí” off the crowns), but there a about a million bits of sloppiness that I can’t do anything about right now. When the time comes, we will strip it and return the wood to its intended look.

Paint in Progress

Painting over bumps, dirt and other painted in crap from years ago.

For now, it’s Pure White in semi-gloss for the trim, a softer white on the walls, and a fresh coat on the ceiling. Going for the tone-on-tone look, as far away as possible from what is there now.

Unrelated side note: there is an old wives’ tale that says if you bury a statue of St. Joseph by the entrance of your house, you’ll be able to sell it quickly. Years ago, when we were desperate to sell our old place, I did bury one. Low and behold, our palace sold (I’m neither Catholic nor religious, just desperate…). Turns out you’re supposed to dig St. Joe back up and keep him in a place of honor in your new home. OOPS. Kinda forgot about that, which leads me to believe St. Joseph might be pissed at me).

(Perhaps this is punishment for the above-mentioned transgression?)


Roses are thorny (or why my hands hurt)

Our house came with a humongous rose bush. That thing is probably 8 feet tall, not counting the unruly weird branches that shoot out mid-summer to about 12 feet or so. It mostly just hangs out in the corner, looking thorny and mean, except for a couple of weeks in early May, when it explodes into blossoms and looks absolutely amazing.

in bloom

Mean rose bush hanging out in the corner, end of last year’s blooming season.

I’m not a fan of roses; I find them fussy and un-original. I would never choose to plant them, but since this was already here, and it does look pretty (although for a very short period of time), I try to do a little upkeep (however half-ass it may be).

I know next to nothing about roses, and it seems to be a contentious subject on the interwebs as well, because no one can agree 100% as to when to prune the damn things. The only consensus is that a) you must prune roses and b) they are very hard to kill.

Well, say no more.

As with other unpleasant things one must do (you know, being an adult and such), I put on my big girl pants and got to it.

I tried to follow instructions as to what branches to trim, but that’s really hard to do when the thorny mess keeps getting stuck in your hair (this leads to angry/revenge pruning). In the end, I lopped off a decent amount (yet probably not enough to give it any type of stable shape).

I hope I didn’t kill it, but if I did, it was self-defense.



Another post about plaster

Big Hole

Big patch, ugly paint color.

I didn’t take a before picture, but believe me when I tell you that the white areas in the photo above used to be a giant plaster bubble. So I popped it (because that’s the tempting thing to do with all blisters) and removed all the bits of plaster that were no longer attached to anything. Because this is a brick wall (there isn’t any lath behind this plaster) I though the normal way to fix bubbling plaster would not work all that well, since it involves special screws and special glue. Besides, who am I kidding? I’m just a beginner when it comes to plaster.

I had never fixed an area this big. Little bits of missing plaster? Sure! A few cracks here and there? No problem. But this? Uncharted plaster fun.

It was surprisingly easy, and to be super cliché: easy does it: many thin layers seems to be the way to go. While the first few layers are quite bumpy, each subsequent coating gets a little smoother. At least from a beginner’s standpoint, the biggest issue applying thicker layers: improper drying and shrinkage, which means the patch will crack. Again.

The dining room will tell whether we’re properly tending to the cracks. The big hole, pictured above, now looks like this:

Patched Wall

One more pass and the skim-coating will be done, then prime and paint. Huzzah!

It seems that for the past 20 years (at least), the plaster at our house wasn’t properly maintained. Areas were haphazardly patched, but the underlying issues weren’t dealt with, like filling a cavity without removing the rotted bits of tooth. No stinking good.

For instance, bubbling plaster looks like this:

Plaster Bubble

Top layer of plaster no longer attached. Bubble forms, and eventually a crack will follow.

And this is what a sloppy repair job looks like. Bubble is still there and the patch wasn’t sanded, just painted over with glossy paint (which, of course, is the least forgiving type of paint when it comes to bumpy surfaces).

Improper repari

Muppet Flesh paint foh-ev-ah!

And just for funnzies, this is what a super huge monster-evil-super-villan crack looks like (this was courtesy of a leaky roof):

Big Evil Crack

Repairing this crack will require removal of the plaster on either side and some mesh tape.

From our experience, simply patching over cracks is futile. It just feeds them and makes them stronger – like giving a donut to a Gremlin after midnight: they become EVIL! Old House Journal has a fabulous article about all things plaster.

It would probably be faster to remove all the plaster and replace with dry-wall. But since faster/easier doesn’t mean better, we’ll stick to the plaster, and its good sound dampening and fire resistant qualities. We’ll just remind ourselves of our love of plaster as we fix the many many many many cracks along the way.

Look up!

Our parlor floor ceiling is a bit of a show-off. It’s not super fancy like some of the stuff you see in Cobble Hill, or Park Slope, but it’s enough to class up the joint.


There are harps and other delicate squiggles, some of which are showing signs of aging – cracks and patches and ample evidence of less than perfect repairs in the past.

Parlor Ceiling Detail

If a plain plaster wall can make me swoon, a fancy plaster has me head over heels. I’m insanely protective of our parlor ceilings, which I suppose it’s an odd thing to say – but it’s true. I catch myself staring at it and taking inventory of every crack and poorly patched bit of plaster. It’s overwhelming sometimes because I have no idea how we are going to fix it. I’m sure a mold needs to be made, then what? While I’m getting pretty good at skim coating, I wouldn’t dare make this a DIY project. So, as with all things that require a budget, it will have to wait. For now, I’m keeping an eye out of any new damage, and hoping there is none.


A bad case of the Mondays

(a random newspaper find)

Searching old documents online is awfully convenient. Digitized books, directories and newspapers are key in piecing together the history of a building and the people who lived there, and while the technology is pretty good (certainly beats sitting in a basement, sifting through microfiche), it’s far from perfect. The keyword search engine gets confused easily, particularly with numbers. If the scans aren’t clear, searches involving 3s, 5s, and 8s can get mixed up very easily.

Of course you can just skip past it and keep going. But you’d miss out on a nugget like this one:

Screen Shot 2015-03-08 at 10.44.54 PM

Brooklyn Daily Eagle – Monday Sept 7, 1885

Happy Monday, I hope yours is better than Mrs. Culimore’s.

Another find from the trash heap

There has been a change in the construction crew at the gut reno project in my neighborhood.

(I say this as if there is only one. Sadly, there are many, but that’s fodder for another soapbox).

The construction foreman, who was saving me the stuff, is no more. It’s back to chucking everything onto the pile in the front yard. Sigh. It seems the same law of physics that makes the toast always land butter side down also dictates that anything worth saving is alway at the bottom of the pile.

(I am trying not to think about the intact garden level trim that was so carefully removed, now tossed)

Once in a while, however, there is good stuff to be found at the top. Case in point: a broken medicine cabinet. I found this when I accidentally/on purpose took the long way to the bodega.

Medicine Cabinet1

The mirror is long gone, but the worst part is that this cute little medicine cabinet was basically ripped out of the wall.

Medicine Cabinet2The back is gone, as is one of the sides.

glass knob

It has a pretty knob (probably not original) and a pretty piece of hardware underneath (not sure original to the cabinet, but it is of the period because we have the same kind in our house).

glass knob2

I think originally it had a locking latch, given the notched out part that has been filled (or is that the lock, hiding under all that paint?)

Peeling Paint

It’s covered in several thick layers of paint – but that’s pretty much every piece of woodwork in my life right now. I’m confident it can be made pretty again. As a point of comparison, this is what the medicine cabinet original to our house looks like mid strip. It too was shellacked in layers and layers of paint.

Victorian Medicine Cabinet2

(lame flash photo. The overheads were casting a huge shadow inside, and I was too lazy to drag the big work light over).

It has all the pieces, including the locking latch (see notched out part on the left?)

Victorian Medicine Cabinet

I’m really interested in the woodwork from that particular gut reno, because the house was built around the same time as ours, and by the same builder. I figured it’s the best chance to find the closest match for what is not longer here. Once I strip my little find, replace the plywood with a mirror, and cajole the hubs to rebuild the side and back, it will be pretty once again.