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.”


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!


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.

Yes, we’re still here…


It has been a while since the last post. As with any reno project, sometimes life gets in the way. We’ve been tackling smaller projects that we can start and stop as needed. For example, we’ve been stripping our shutters, which is easy – yet incredibly time consuming. Most of our front windows have shutters, all of which are painted in and caked with many layers of paint and goop. At 8 panels per window x 5 windows, there are a lot of shutters in need of some love…

First we removed the shutters and labeled them so that they can go back in the correct location. They are probably interchangeable, but didn’t want to risk it.


Cue the tools: PeelAway6, Mineral Spirits, Denatured Alcohol and a variety of scrapers, brushes and small metal tools that will help get paint off the small crevasses. And gloves. You’ll need many pairs of gloves, as they quickly get sticky and unusable.



The next step is to apply a generous layer of PeelAway6. I have tried all the other non-toxic products and PeelAway6 seems to work the best. It’s a bit hard to find these days, as Home Depot doesn’t seem to carry it anymore.  As the chemicals react with the paint, you’ll see some bubbling. The shutter on the left is almost ready to peel, while the one on the right still has some time to go.



Once the surface is nice and blistered, use a scraping tool to peel off the paint. In this case, there is an almost intact layer of paint below, which will require a second application.



Using the scraping tool and a hard bristle brush with mineral spirits, you’ll eventually get to something like this: the first few layers of paint cleared up, ready for a second application of paint stripper.



Cue the PeelAway6 again:



After three applications of paint stripper, the shutters look like this – it’s one of those “it will get worse before it gets better.” At this stage I find it’s actually more effective to use denatured alcohol to remove the last stubborn bits of paint. For bigger clumps, however, another application of paint stripper may be needed.



The back sides of the shutters (the side that is visible only when the shutters are open, was covered in old varnish. The finish has deteriorated over the years, becoming sticky and splotchy. Luckily, varnish is super easy to remove. Apply a bit of denatured alcohol with an old brush and wipe clean with a rag.


Here is my disclaimer: If you tackle any projects that involve old paint,you have to be aware of lead paint. When in doubt, assume it’s lead paint and don’t anger it –  meaning if the paint is in good condition, it’s safe as is and you can just paint over it. You can have paint chips professionally tested to determine whether it’s lead or not. I find that the do-it-yourself kits available at the hardware store are hard to use and the results seem to be inconclusive (at least the ones I tried). You should never ever (ever!) sand anything that contains lead paint, as it’s super bad if it gets airborne. Little bits and flakes of lead paint are also dangerous, particularly to kids.

Better than a Virgin Mary on toast

There has been an awful lot of paint stripping here at the Pink Lady. It’s a slow process, more or less like picking at a giant never ending scab. Good thing that I am a closeted scab picker.

Anyway, sometimes after staring at paint in its various stages of un-painting, shapes begin to appear. This is by far my favorite one:

Charlie Chaplin with rabbit ears

It’s on the window of the bathroom air shaft. We’re working on peeling back the years of paint to let in some light in. I almost feel bad for making Charlie go away.

Honorable mention goes to this one, which appeared on the mantel of the top floor fireplace:

Dog sniffing another dog’s butt

(the paint is basically just flaking off. The dark brown spots are  the remains of the old varnish. Seems like it reacted with the paint and became very wrinkly. A bit of elbow grease with some steel wool makes it all go away. For the more intricate parts I’ve been using Peel Away 7, mineral spirits and extra doses of patience. A more detailed post on the stripping of the fire place mantel coming soon).


A glimmer of hope

There are some interesting color choices in our house. We named this one Crayola-Flesh-Color-Crayon, and it covers the walls, doors, window shutters (more on these in a later post), and all the trim work in one of the upstairs bedrooms. Luckily, whomever painted this some years ago didn’t use any primer. The paint just comes right off.

It took me about 20 minutes to pick the pain that is missing from the door trim. It was like picking at a scab: totally addictive – which is a good thing given the amount of woodwork in the house.