Progress?

Unfinished projects – a visual guide of procrastination

Starting a project is always fun. The excitement of change, the endless possibilities… which end up simply turning into endless projects. Yep, we have a few of those.

Some projects stall because of weather. Other because of time and finally a great many because of moroseness.

Rear top floor fireplace:

I’ve been working on this on and off for… a few years. Yeah, lame I know.

Mantel

What I learned: My old favorite, PeelAway6,  was replaced with SmartStrip, which is not as effective – in my humble opinion. I switched to Zip Strip, which is super toxic, but very fast and effective. Reason for stalling: got sidetracked by other projects, switched stripping methods and it’s too cold outside to ventilate properly.

Front parlor fireplace summer cover: I truly hate the brass monstrosity that is currently serving as our fireplace cove. Think suburban house, circa 1985. Yeah. that bad.

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What I learned: in this case, I also switched stripping methods, from PeelAway 1 to Zip Strip. Reason for stalling: There is so much detail. And the tiny ridges of texture. Ugh. Also ,it’s been cold outside, so I can’t zip strip with abandon. Did I mention there is SO. MUCH. TINY. DETAIL!

The many plastering projects:

We live in the house of crack. Our plaster is cracked EVERYWHERE! It had been poorly patched by the previous owner before he put the house on the market, and now all the cracks are coming back. I’m currently working (ish) on the front parlor, rear parlor, garden vestibule and dining room. Have I finished any of the rooms? Nope. Have I learned better technique? Absolutely.

Reason for stalling: It’s a slow process and I think I got bored with it. In the instances where  Plaster Weld is needed, I prefer to be able to ventilate – not because I have to, but because I don’t like the way the stuff smells.

Stoop resurfacing. If you look around, you will see very few stoops that are still original. Most of them (ours included), have been resurfaced over the years.

Stoop in progress

This still needs one more coat of the cement/brownstone mixture.

Reason for stalling: winter. We had a torrential downpour the night when most of the steps got done, so I don’t think they dried properly. We had some breakage and hat to patch with off color mixture. It will get fixed as soon as the weather warms. Consolation: the yahoos who did the stoop next-door, presumably professionals, had the same problem and had to patch up missing bits.

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An ode to our pine floors

(this is long).

(I promise I will make a point eventually).

(or not).

As part of the epic never-ending bedroom restoration, it’s time to tackle the floors.

The third floor of our house was covered with vinyl tiles. Way before we knew better, we had high hopes of peeling back the stick-on tiles and finding beautiful hardwood, just waiting to be re-finished. The reality was a sticky mess of 4 (sometimes 5) layers of vinyl tile and a couple of layers of paint on a pine floor. Pine! Not hardwood: we have pine. Sticky, icky pine.

After pulling up all the stick-on tile, and stripping the paint, we were left with a floor that was in OK shape, except for where it was not. We did some sanding and slapped on a coat of Tung Oil, figuring these floors would eventually get covered up with proper hardwood – after all, pine is soft and does not a proper hardwood floor make. We figured we’d probably destroy it with our chairs, our cats and their never-ending supply of puke. Yet 3 years and 1 2 5 cats later, the floors are still fine (except for where they are not, but that was a pre-existing condition). What I mean is that the pine held up beautifully – no nicks or dings and cat vomit cleans right up. The bigger problem is that some boards are splintering, which is not only unsightly, but also unpleasant to walk on in bare feet. We have splintering boards, broken boards and enormous gaps in some areas.

Floor Pic copy

Please excuse the filthy floor. This was taken in the bedroom construction zone.

Because wood floors will contract and expand, fixing the gaps can be tricky. Some suggest using sawdust and wood filler. A lot of people say to just leave them as is. The problem is that in some spots, the gaps are so wide that you can actually drop things in it – valuable things like heirloom jewels (not that we have any), and of course, the gaps also collect a spectacular amount of dirt (which we do have copious amounts of).  So the problem needs to be addressed.

A few months ago, when the house behind us was being gutted, I asked the demo crew if I could have some of their “trash.” I salvaged a huge pile of lumber (trim, crowns, fireplace mantels, wainscoting, shutters), and also a big pile of pine subfloor. The pine used for sub-flooring in these houses is not your average Home Depot cheap-o pine. It’s old growth/slow growth stuff. It’s the type of wood you can’t get anymore, since all those trees are gone (probably because the Victorians used ’em all up). In order to repair our floor we needed a stockpile of similarly old floorboards, of the same type of tree. This is what old growth pine looks like (this is a piece of the salvaged floor):

Old Growth Pine

Look at all those pretty tightly packed growth rings. This was a slow-growing old tree. The piece above is about 1″ thick.

Overachievers as they were, the Victorian-era builders ran their floorboards from end to end of the house: they go into the walls in the front and back and under all the walls in between; frequently it’s one board running most of the length (some really old, really tall trees). This also means that the demo crews destroy a lot of the floors when pulling them up (the tongue and groove usually gets broken and the boards just get hacked into smaller pieces). We salvaged a good pile, but in hindsight, I wish I had not been so picky and grabbed more. Regardless, we have enough to get us started on the upstairs projects.

The hubs did some research and came across the English way to fix old floors. Given that the Brits have lots of old buildings, we figured it was probably sound advice. So here is what we did (and by we, I mean he – my only involvement was befriending the demo crew, transporting and hoarding all this lumber).

First he took a stack of the salvaged floor to a wood shop, where things whirl and buzz and bigger things get milled town to smaller things, and tongue and grove thing-a-ma-jigs get made (luckily the boards salvaged were wider than ours, so milling them down and shaping new tongue/groove is no problem):

tonge and groove

The re-making of tongue and groove. These became the replacement boards for the broken ones. 

He also made a pile of very thin strips of the same old-growth pine to be used as gap-fillers:

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If flooring could be a potato chip, it would look like this.

Back home, he shimmied the strips into the gaps:

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Always looks worse before it looks better

He then trimmed off the excess and sanded everything down.

shimming the shims

Gaps gone!

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The broken boards were replaced in sections, so that only the bad parts were removed (given our limited supply of replacement parts).

Once all the shims have been trimmed and the bad sections of floor replaced, the whole thing will get sanded and finished.

(we can’t agree on what type to finish to use – but I suppose we’ll cross that bridge once we get there).

About the point I promised to make: floors are usually not too far gone to be brought back. No living trees were harmed in the fixing of this floor. This didn’t really cost us anything, except for some wood glue and sand paper. So there is that.

(I think that’s 3 points – and a whole lot of rambling)

But the bigger question remains: will this be ready in 42 days before our guests arrive?

T-43

It’s official: we have out-of-town guests arriving in 43 days. That means we have to vacate the rear parlor/guest room and move back into our bedroom.

This is what it looks like right now:

Bedroom progress

You may ask yourself: WTF? Why is this taking so long?

Well, here is the painstaking way in which we are fixing the floors:
floor fix

(yes, I owe you a post about the floors. It’s coming, I promise)

Out of town guests: the sure way of making DYI-ers get it together in a flash.

Austerity (or the fear of unannounced visitors)

Progress has been slow these days and work happens in fits and bursts. In the 3 years since we’ve taken over care of the Pink Lady, there has been a grad school graduation, a new job, and a miscellany of small events that go along with being an adult (ha!). In other words, life continues to chug along and compete for time with the house projects.

We got to the point where we grew accustomed to the detritus that comes with living through construction:  don’t mind that door leaning against the balustrade; pay no attention to that massive tile cutter in the foyer. Oh, those 803 bricks stashed under the stoop? Yeah, we’ll get to them at some point. You accumulate things you have grand plans for, yet never seem to get around to the execution phase. (We are prolific accumulators of architectural salvage. In my mind, that makes it all OK and not crazy. Not at all…)

I’m tired of the piles of stuff everywhere, the stuff we’ll get to eventually, yet never seem to. I’m so tired of being worried one of the neighbors might knock on our door and I may have to invite them in and let them see our utilitarian hovel. I don’t know about you, but I believe that unannounced visitors are the Kryptonite of the DIYer. Anytime we have friends over, there is a at least a half day worth of frenzied cleaning and organizing and just shoving things behind a door we won’t let anyone open (don’t go in there – fumes! the magical word that keeps people away). As we learned, normal people don’t have a 120-year old salvaged sink and marble vanity sitting in their hallway for months. Weird.

All this brings me to the Austerity Measures we have just declared. This year, no big projects will get started. Instead, we’ll focus on finishing what we have already started, then we’ll focus on “quality of life projects,”  like finally banishing all traces the Muppet Flesh paint (even if it means painting over it for now), to pulling up the shitty parquet floor in the parlor (the floor has been helping us along by removing itself from the subfloor) and finally  accepting the fact that our new kitchen is light years away and might as well spruce up the one with have.

We haven’t been total slackers, though. After redoing the bedroom ceiling and stripping the walls, it’s looking like this (walls have been primed, not painted yet).

Progress has been made

Progress has been made

Still working on that picture rail that lost most of its detailing in the stripping process.

If you recall, it used to look like this (shield your eyes, not for the faint of heart):

At the point of no return.

At the point of no return.

Our seam-taping skilsl have improved considerably and I’m happy to report that there are no visible seams, bumps or other unsightly blemished on our new ceiling.

On we go. What are the odds we get to move back into our bedroom before August 3, 2015 (the 2 year anniversary of this project)?

A plan of sorts

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We’ve been in the house just under 27 months, at that point where things just drag on. The initial steam wore off and we got used to camping in our home.  No oven? No problem, use the toaster oven. No direct access to the back yard? No problem, climb down the fire escape and use a rope and pulley system to lower a picnic basket.  Resourceful as it may, the McGyvering is getting old. It would be lovely not to have to step over tools or construction supplies on our way to the bathroom.

To shake out the moroseness, we came up with a 1-year plan of what we’d like to accomplish between now and December 31st (actually this is the bare minimum I’d like to see done so that I can continue to fake it as a quasi-legit grown up). The list is divided into 4 major categories: Spring, 1-Day Projects, Anytime and Oh-God! It breaks down like so:

1-Day Projects. This includes the small annoyances that we put up with so that we can focus on “the big projects.” I decided that if we can tackle some of the smaller things, the overall DIY mood may improve.

* Coat Closet – make parlor floor coat closet a bit more functional/less gross. Give it a good cleaning, paint walls, install shelves for shoes.

* Living room fan – remove ugly ceiling fan in front parlor, which we don’t use anyway.

* Fix old lighting fixtures purchased at salvage shop. Buy globes that fit

* Remove stupid little add-on wall in parlor floor hallway

* Linen closet – turn old roof access ladder closet into linen closet. Clean and patch walls, install shelves.

* Closet of doom – clean out room of all its contents.

Anytime projects. These projects are not weather dependent and can be done at anytime. Got some time? Great, get some of these cross off (at least that’s the idea)…

* Living room fireplace cover – strip paint, put it back in its original place (remove existing cover and take to Build It Green)

* Basement Cement Slab – The removal of the old asbestos tiles in the basement left the floor bumpy. Needs a layer of cement on top

* Closet of doom: demo dry wall and assess plumbing

* Top floor rear mantel – finish stripping

* Fix plaster in garden level vestibule.

Spring Projects. These are important for a variety of reasons: moisture control, rust prevention, general safety,  and saving the brownstone from one more freeze-thaw cycle under all that paint.

* Complete façade stripping project

* Front & Rear hatches (replace)

* Stoop railing – finish stripping, paint

* Raise grape arbor to create enough space for seating area beneath

* Back yard drainage project

* Source of water for backyard hose

* Stoop – repair steps

Oh-God! Projects.  These are the most daunting projects on the list. The stripping of the façade should probably be in this category, but I remain deluded determined that “it’s no big deal.”

* Bedroom woodwork – sand and oil

* Bedroom ceiling – finish spackle, add moulding & trim

* Bedroom walls – strip, fix cracks, prime and paint

* Parlor flooring – replace cheap-o stick on parquet with actual flooring

* Fix plaster under stairs, fix squeaky stairs (the plaster is helping this along by falling off in chunks – yippie!)

* Closet room – fix plaster

* Closet of doom – fix plumbing

* Parlor woodwork – strip (muppet flesh paint be gone!)

And that’s about it for the year. I’m hoping things get it done, because there is a ton more where this came from.

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!

And…. scene!

The paint is off the woodwork in our bedroom. Yey!

Over the course of three days, our amazing paint stripping expert and her helper stripped the fireplace and fireplace cover, the pocket doors and moldings, the window frame and window seat, the base boards, the picture rails, as well as the moldings of the two other doors.

They used 12 gallons of zip strip, 7 gallons of denatured alcohol and a ton of elbow grease. More photos and details on a later post, but suffice to say the woodwork looks wonderful and, to my surprise, looks brand new – which is a bit weird.

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On a less exciting note,  we were left with a lot of goober on the walls. The room looks like an alien crime scene:

gooberNow to the tedious work of fixing the walls so that we can paint.