Delighted with our new driveway and more.

I know it has been going on three months since I last posted, but I can assure you things have been busy around here.  And now that we finally seem to be on the cusp of summer, we got to bring in a wonderful group of men to demolish our old asphalt driveway and cracked concrete walk and replace it with something pretty.

So here’s what we had before: side with clapoards no carport

The front concrete was cracked with weeds deeply embedded into the soil at the edge of the house, torn up asphalt that had many patches of dirt and a parking area with edging that was strangely cut up so it always looked like a haphazard mess.

We knew what we wanted to have done — our days of pulling up asphalt and laying down stone are done — but it was finding folks to do it that was hard.  I put out a feeler on my local Warren FB page and a friend right up the street hooked me up with the perfect team that handled demo, edged the driveway and walk properly and then laid cobblestones to create a sidewalk and front walk, finishing with stone for our parking area.  We could not be more delighted.drive2.jpg

The area in the center of the picture, that was once a tiered space with the cut off bottoms of poles in concrete is now a great planting bed.  (The black wire going up the side of the house will be relocated shortly though the other boxes will stay so some camouflage is in order.)  I bought a butterfly bush today which might go right into the center of that bed though I wonder if something dense and evergreen might not be a better choice…depends on whether that meter actually needs to be read by a person or if it is scanned from afar.

We have had a cold, wet, grey spring so everyone is just beginning their summer gardening.  Since we are starting from scratch we need to do some actually planning and that will take some time.  To fill some of the space I got seeds from orange/yellow Cosmos, blue Bachelor Buttons and multi-color Zinnias.  I may sow them on the narrow right side of the driveway (out of the picture) to at least have something in bloom over there come August.  Until then, we will be working on the windows still to be replaced and more renovations on the second floor.  Will check back in with you soon.


Nothing like a Snow Day.

It started snowing at 5 am and at a little after 7 pm there is more than a foot of snow outside.

Southern California folks take heed.  Your weather may be the envy of many, but you never get a SNOW DAY!  Absolutely nothing is required of you on a SNOW DAY; you can do what strikes your fancy.  For some people, especially this time of year, it may be that last chance to get out the snow blower and shovels and clear to the bare pavement and sidewalks — which meant multiple forays with the snow falling at an inch an hour.  Lucky for us, we have neighbors who add us to their plowing duties, clearing our driveway and walk just to be nice.  Others, put kids high on this list, go to Burr’s Park and sled down the gentle hill while adults take long walks often with dogs that do or do not enjoy snow.

For David and me, SNOW DAYS mean doing whatever we want.  No meetings, no renovation work, no cleaning.  I must admit David usually does the shoveling — though our neighbors did most of it today — and today did some bread baking.  I did a few dishes, reorganized the frig, but mainly I lounged upstairs and read an historical novel.41ACue6pfbL  Katherine is not quite a bodice ripper, but vivid descriptions make it easy to read and it did send me to Google repeatedly to learn more about England of the 14th century.  Wikipedia says The novel’s heroine Katherine Swynford was a significant figure in English history. Apart from being the direct ancestress of all members of the British royal family since Edward IV, who was her fourth great-grandson, she and John of Gaunt gave Henry Tudor his tenuous claim to the English throne. Queen Elizabeth II is only one of Katherine’s and Gaunt’s many direct descendants.  Moe was curled up beside me for most of the day and we agreed it was a wonderful SNOW DAY AFTERNOON.


Now the other great part of a SNOW DAY — or virtually any day in winter at our house — is dinner in front of a cozy fire.  Tonight that was flat iron steak on arugula along with fired potatoes, onion and shallot.  The steak was nicely rare (I drizzled it with balsamic vinegar) and the potatoes were well browned.  Not a bad way to spend a SNOW DAY evening.   Sleep well.




What to do with old plaster walls?

Every time we tackle a new space we have to make the decision whether to keep the old plaster or not.  If we had all the money in the world, we could just call in the pros who would either repair the original plaster or take it down to the lathe and then replaster using the old methods that I wrote about a few weeks ago.  Other people rip out all the old lathe and plaster and put up new drywall and be done with it.  We have taken the third way.

When the plaster is totally destroyed, as it was in our kitchen because of ice dam leaks over the decadePicture of kitchen debriss, we pulled it all out ourselves, had it hauled away by truck and then had new blueboard installed that was then skim coated with plaster.   (This picture of the kitchen shows it after the plaster had been hauled out but before the lathe strips had been gathered up.  They are thin, dry strips of wood that make the best tinder so we try to save them.) It has the look of plaster at a price that is greater than drywall but much less than real lathe and plaster.   We have used that method whenever we put up new walls and ceilings.

But if it is possible, we try to save the old plaster.  The result is never perfect, but there are good reasons to do it.  1. It eliminates major demo.  You cannot rip down plaster without emptying the space; the dust and debris gets everywhere.  You also cannot just tuck it into a few hefty bags and put it out for the trash.  You need to hire someone to take it away, paying for their time as well as the land fill fees.  2. And that means we are keeping things out of the landfill.  3. Old lathe and plaster is thicker, providing better sound and cold insulation.  4.  It saves money.  When we do something ourselves the work is “free” aside from the wear and tear on us.  (Below at left is the library after I had finished all the patching with plaster and smoothing with joint compound, more than a bucket of it.  The room was blue when I started.  At right is the room after painting.)

5.  It looks old and we like that.  Now this is where people have differences of opinion.  Obviously old plaster was new once and was nice and smooth with no bulges or cracks.  But I like the feel of an old wall with its slight waviness and almost soft feel.

Now I have no problem with the unevenness of a repaired wall.  Saving that old plaster is important enough to allow for the vagaries of time to be apparent.  But there is one problem that is difficult to deal with: big bulges.  These tend to happen when a wall has the chimney or some other very solid support behind it.  That solid a mass keeps the wall pretty flat and smooth,  but if the next section of wall doesn’t have that support it often sags inward.  Now without crown molding the fact the wall goes in and out isn’t particularly noticeable.  But put that nice straight line of wood at the top of a wall and there you go.bedroom-wall-bulge-1-e1520009221115.jpg

See how the molding is snug against the wall at the left side of the picture.  Look at the top in the middle though, see the gap between the wall and the molding?  At its worst it is 3/8th of an inch — and no caulk can bridge that divide.  So first I tucked a strip of felt to make the space a little narrower.  From there, it will take layers of caulk to fill the void.  It will never be a perfectly smooth wall that looks like new, but we are content to have it  look like old.


Curtains can make you crazy.

Just a quick post with no pictures.  I have always planned plain linen curtains in the upstairs bedroom.  Bought the linen months ago online and found the perfect cotton lining at IKEA last month — a huge bargain at only $1.98 a yard so I bought a 35 yards bolt.  Like every major task, I have broken this one into stages.  Cut, hemmed and washed the linen first.  Cut, washed and dried the cotton recently, the weave was so tight I didn’t need to sew the ends first since raveling was not a concern.  Got curtain rods purchased and installed last week so this was the time to begin making the curtains.

Final measurements done, I began the first curtain.  Now I should be doing this on the dining room table. but I figured I could do it by hook and by crook upstairs.  Got the first one 90% sewn — that was not a quick process — and the needle broke….and I had no more.  Luckily, I was going to see Black Panther and there was a store nearby so I could get more needles.

Today, I finished two of the six curtains with a lot of muttering and an equal amount of swearing.  They look decent and you will get a picture when they are all up and done.  The hardest part is ironing them since they are too wide and obviously too long for a normal ironing board and that has been discouraging.  But a friend of mine who owns a clothing boutique has offered me her steamer so next weekend I will have them all finished and steamed to perfection.  Picture will follow.

Getting down to the details.

With the ceilings done in the two main bedrooms, it is now all up to the finish work… and that means mostly me.  David has finished installing the interior trim and windowsills downstairs which leaves me with the patching around the windowsills and then the final coat on the front wall.  For a reason we do not know, the front side of the house was rebuilt mid 19th century.  Everything was removed, the vertical sheathing was replaced with horizontal sheathing, the wall was thickened by about two and a half inches and then it was all finished.

When I soaked off the wallpaper, I found brown coat underneath.  What is brown coat plaster?  Old-fashioned plaster generally went on in three coats–on top of the lathe was the basis of it all.  This is what lathe looks like: in this case we are looking at lathe that has light coming from the other side because of a stairwell, but lathe is hand split strips of wWP_20150226_12_45_23_Proood that are nailed to vertical sheathing and then coated with plaster.  The first coat of plaster would be slapped onto this lathe so that it would ooze through to the other side and lock into the lathe, creating what they call keys.  keys


This image to the right shows the other side of that lathe after plaster has been applied.  Can you see how it has dripped down over the strips of wood, locking the plaster into place?  That was often called the rough coat because the purpose was to cover the lathe and get things ready for finishing.

The next coat was the brown coat, which was kind of sandy and was meant to be the undercoat for final plaster.  But when people knew they were going to wallpaper the room, and likely wanted to save a few dollars, the would stop at the brown coat and just have the glue brushed onto that roughish wall and the wallpaper smoothed on top.  Good adhesion and less work…until you remove that wallpaper.a brown coat

So what you see to the left is basically what we found on that front wall and the last week has meant pulling that paper down, scrubbing off the glue, sanding off the extra sand, filling in the areas around the new windowsills where the plaster had crumbled, and then skim coating the walls with multiple coats of joint compound.  maxresdefault

For those who know frosting a cake, the first layer of joint compound is the “crumb” coat, locking in those loose bits that would mar the top, the second and third get you to a smooth finish.  Tomorrow the final sanding begins and then priming and painting the wall.  Of course, the window frames still need to be scraped, primed and sanded but it should all be done in about a week.  Might even skip Wednesday to celebrate Valentine’s Day.  Enjoy all.

What the heck is a corner post?

My last post prompted a question about the corner posts in the upstairs bedroom, so I thought a little discussion was in order.  I write as a layman on the subject so please forgive any errors.

Our house is built with post and beam construction.  That means there are large posts that form the vertical outline of our house. They are topped with horizontal beams that either run from post to post or span a portion of the house and rest upon the center chimney which is about 4 feet square.  The thin sides of the house consist of four layers: the exterior wood clapboards, vertical boards called sheathing, thin strips of lathe and the interior plaster walls. There are no studs, there is no air space between inside and out where pcorner post 3eople generally put insulation.  Winter is very close at hand in our house.  But I digress.

This is a section of a 200 year-old corner post in our kitchen.  It has no covering,  the plaster wall butts right up to it on each side and there is another four inches within the wall.  It has some holes from powder post beetles from a century ago, but it is big and solid and hard as a rock.  This is timber like you don’t find any more.  And it is a small forest of them that hold up our house.

Now not everyone likes the look of bare posts and so the style was to box them in with finely crafted wood.  The picture to the left shows another post in our kitchen (with two corner post 1beams resting on the top) that was likely boxed  in the late 1700s.  When we bought the house, the box was wallpapered.  Underneath we found layers of paint, more wallpaper and then more paint that had been added over the course of many decades. What you see here is close to the original paint.  The paint is not flaking and it has been well washed so we have decided to leave it.  The post is in an out-of-the-way corner and it gives us a reminder of the original posts.  The wood boards are amazingly hard and it is because of that fine grain that they were able to make a bead, which you can see in the close-up picture below.

corner post 2This box is made up of only two pieces, though it looks like there are two flat sides and a quarter round at the corner.  But it is in fact one flat board and a second board that has been hand cut to create what is called a “bead.”  (That’s why certain paneling is called “bead board” since the original was thin boards with a bead placed next to one another.)

Every room in our house has at least one corner post, the upstairs bedroom has three.  In that room I painted them to match the linen white trim because I wanted to make them a highlight of the room.  In another space, which is much smaller and needs to have them blend in, I will be painting them and all the trim in the the grey wall color though I will use a satin finish because some of the trim,  doors and windows, needs to be washable.  And that’s probably more than you ever wanted, or needed, to know about corner posts.

Duckling or swan?

I love our upstairs bedroom.  It has two windows on the south side and one on the west, so it is sunny most of the day.  Sitting in bed, there is a small river view, especially lovely at sundown when the land is dark but the water shines silver.  On warm summer days I can see boats sailing by and can even recognize a couple of the small rowboats.  (Would post a picture but I can’t seem to capture what I see.)

Anyway, I have been working on this room for months, as you know from an earlier post.  But at some point I had to stop because the acoustic ceiling needed to be removed and a blueboard with plaster ceiling installed.  One room is not enough to bring the plasterer in so once the downstairs bedroom was ready for a new ceiling, we made a date — which turned out to be  just two days before the blizzard I posted about earlier this month.   Ray and Jason did a great job and then we left the ceiling dry for a week as the weather outside turned frigid.

bedroom mine before

From that point my job was to finish and paint all the walls so David could put up the two-piece crown molding he designed and routed (down in the dark cellar workroom) to coordinate with the existing molding around the windows.  And just like the photo from last time, I faced walls in shambles though please make note of the newly plastered ceiling!

Working with wall board to fill large gaps, followed by plaster for  deep holes and then layers of joint compound to fill smaller holes, it took me days to get a smooth wall since joint compound needs to dry and the walls were cold.    In the meantime, I painted the ceiling with a brush, putting on two coats of matte linen white.  It looks soft as velvet and has a warm glow.

Once the walls dried I gave them a hand sanding, followed by a priming.  (I don’t know if I’ve mentioned this, but I do not use a paint roller.  They leave a texture that I don’t  think is right in an old house and I actually like painting with a brush — it’s meditative for me.) After that one top coat.  I ended up going with a warm grey that seemed calmer and more elegant than the yellow I had been thinking of.

From there, work on the molding began — all 110 feet of it!  Each piece had to be hand sanded, then primed, then sanded and wiped down, then topped with a first coat of linen white in satin.  I listened to a lot of NPR and just kept sanding and painting, sanding and painting.  When it was done, David put it all up with our wonderful nail gun and then I began the final finishing work.

You can’t just slap a coat of paint on the molding and be done.  All the nail holes need to be filled and sanded.  Then out comes the caulk gun to fill all the gaps between ceiling and molding, wall and molding and molding and molding — since none of our walls or ceiling are level or smooth.  The caulk goes on last because it cannot be sanded.

bedroom molding.jpg

Final steps were  painting the trim with linen white and then putting second coat of grey on the walls.  Of course the corner posts are not true vertical so sometimes you have to cheat the paint line a little to make things look straight.  It all takes time and lots of patience.  And here is what the molding and ceiling look like completed though the color is more like heavy cream.

Last step was to clean the wooden floor.  It was already spotted from earlier work so I hadn’t used a drop cloth but the latex I used was pretty easy to scrub up — it was the old residue that required lots of elbow grease.  It took two days, with lots of breaks, to get the floor looking decent.

And so I present, that same corner with walls, trim and ceiling completed…I promise the area behind the armoire is totally done too.  bedroom mine after.jpgI know it is not much to look at and that is the irony of a lot of the work on this house.  Now it just looks normal or maybe shabby because the three vinyl windows still need to be replaced with old ones and all the trim needs to be scraped, patched, sanded and painted.  In the meantime, I have natural linen for curtains all cut out and ready to be lined and hung.  Once those are up, they will hide the windows until they get replaced in the spring.  For me, this room is heaven.  Sunny, calm and cozy.  And who wouldn’t want to spend time in a room where the cat (Leo) matches the walls?

I end this post with a better set of images — before and after of another corner of the room.  I hope they show that this ugly ducking bedroom is well on the way to becoming a swan.IMG_20170925_162329bedroom corner done