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.


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.