Remodeling a house is a metaphor for life. It starts, it ends and in between are all sorts of lessons to be learned; “think outside the box”, “let of go of that plan to try another” and “let your spouse have their own way!” It was 74 days working every day off to complete this rehab; exhaustion, doubts and mental stress ensued but we survived.
David and I have done other remodel projects together and here is what we have learned about tackling huge projects and doing it together.
- Understand that everyone has their own Learning & Doing style. David and I approach projects each in a very different way. To avoid conflict, we have learned to work separately. In this project he worked one half of the day and I worked the other half or on completely separate days.
- If one person feels very strongly about an idea then just go with it. Trust that they have some creative vision that is important to them. (Even if it not what you would do)
- If you are living with the person you are doing a project with, save room to “have each other’s back”. On the days that David worked a long one, I made sure his laundry was caught up and that there was a meal at the end. He did the same for me. This kept home stressless.
- If you push yourself hard to the end of your “mental and physical rope”, have a nest to collapse into. In advance, prepare for your end-of-the-day to be restful both physically and mentally so that you may recoup. I took a hot lavender or pettigrain bath each night and read The Goldfinch during this project. I did not allow myself to think about any else than resting.
- Save time for friends to keep your eyes focussed on what is important in life. Honestly, it was the 1/2 days spent quilting with my buddies and the dinners after work with friends that kept me going. I think David feels the same way.
- While working hard physically, think of your body as a machine that needs to be primed and lubed. Drink LOTS of water and make an effort to eat healthy foods. I tried to cook large dishes once or twice a week that we could pack left-over meals from. Even still, we did rely on plenty of coffee and the occasional burst that sugar provides! No one is perfect.
- As a woman, I needed to step back into a polished profession after each work session so I applied these tricks.
- Paint your nails with clear nail polish. At the end of the day remove it and off with it comes any paint, dirt or grease. I have even painted my cuticles too. (I hate wearing gloves while painting.)
- Coat your hands before and after a days work with a heavy salve to avoid stains. I used Artist’s Hand Creme.
- The skin on the face is sensitive and paint fumes can cause rashes so I coated mine each day with a protective creme. I used Stop it!
The Old House rehab project is finished. C. W. moved in last week and is busy feathering her nest. What we did matched her sense of esthetic, she is improving upon it and the bones of this building are creating a refuge for her as we had intended.
Here are some final shots of the living room to close with. Thanks for following!
The once inside, then outside, then inside again room in this old house contained the most history and was the room that needed the most help. It’s laundry facilities were battered and out of code draining into main pipes that were leaking and the 40″ apart floor joists let the tile floor sag and crack. So it was a gut job allowing us to then incorporate a 1/2 bath.
The first step was to rip out the floor to expose the pipes to replace them, run new plumbing for the 1/2 bath and update the laundry pipes. (see post #3 Uncovering the Layers) New floor joists were installed and new subfloor was laid.
I had speculated that this room was returned to an inside room around 1964. However, once the painting began I noticed some details I had missed before.Underneath that paneling was remnants of some Art Deco wall trim circa 1930-1940.This then made sense of the layers of paint colors that were clearly seen underneath the door trim. The Deco trim was a chair-railing wall border to either the earliest sliver of yellow or the bright green paint. The color history shows us an earlier pink—circa 1920—then takes us forward through 1950-1960 teal blue which is how we found the place with its coordinating wall paper painted over. So my first guess at this becoming an inside room again around 1960 was incorrect; more likely it did shortly after the house’s arrival to its current foundation in 1900.I painted the walls the same lively cream color as throughout the house. David installed new bead board in a white-white to continue the bright white theme of the adjoining kitchen along with the same plank vinyl flooring in the kitchen. Lighting and vanity from Lowes, mirror from Target. Since the room was to become a 1/2 bath as well, we had to scout out a door for privacy. It was an odd size so David found a vintage one that fit perfectly at the Habitat for Humanity ReStore Salvage shop in Portsmouth; just $20! Sanding, washing and several coats of paint.
At first look the cheery yellow kitchen in our old house had it’s merrits—bright and sunny with solid wood cabinets—but upon closer inspection it needed some work. The cabinets needed rearranging for better use of the space, the paint everywhere was patchy and the floor was sagging. So we tore into it.
The initial plan was to move the stove (to where it is shown above) allowing for use of the previously inaccessible lower drawer & cabinet, then move that left-hand base cabinet (above) to adjoin the cabinet to its right making a new “L”. However, when pulling out that cabinet we discovered that it was not solid wood but instead particle board that had been crumbled away with moisture and critters. We dumped it.
The floor underneath was damaged and odoriferous from the moisture so we had to cut it out down to the original floor boards and start over. This gave us the opportunity to then level the floor which allowed for the installation of plank-style wood-grained vinyl to extend into the laundry room. Since this a rental property we followed suit, layering over layers. A true restoration would have gone down to the floor boards, gutted all and started over.
With lots of “elbow grease” I first sanded all surfaces with a heavy grid sand paper to smooth it all then washed them with straight ammonia to remove kitchen grease & dirt rinsing really, really well. This is important for the next paint color to adhere. While the existing white paint matched the appliances perfectly, it was a gray-white and was a bit gloomy so I chose a clear based white that had touches of red and yellow in it, a much easier white to live with. Every paint company has this style of white usually labeled “designer” or “decorator” white. The clear base allows for this tone where a more opaque base contains lots of titanium as a thickener which is by nature very gray.
There was a decorative element circa 1930 above the sink that also got painted. An opening in the woodwork joining the two upper cabinets where once must have had glass, held a 1960’s yellow embossed plexiglass panel that was painted over. I removed the panel and installed a $2.00 rain gutter protector letting the light shine through from the new LED strip we installed. Since a kid, hardware stores have been one of my favorite places for inspiration. Wander the isles and look for things that you can repurpose.
I painted the walls of the room the cheery cream color as described in the # 4 post and painted all window trim, doors and baseboards in the cabinet white. To add a little style and give a nod to the Victorian era when the house was built, I installed faux pressed-tin as a back splash to the stove wall then accessorized to that color by changing the cabinet handles and drawer pulls to brushed nickel. A new range hood in brushed nickel installed over the new stove location plus a little kitchen cart I found at Abode in the same tones parked in the “L” area completed the counter space. I love the finished room! What about you?
Color changes everything. And when I have helped people choose colors for a room, the first question I ask is “how do you want to feel?” there. In a bathroom where we start and end our day we want to feel restful and serene. It’s a place where we gather ourselves together, thusly, quiet colors without too much stimulating yellow tones in them tend to feel the best. So rather than retouching the existing green on the walls of this old house bathroom, we chose a new set of colors to reflect this principle.
The existing faux-marble counter top still had lots of wear but it was—after all—faux attempting to something it wasn’t. We decided to replace it with a more contemporary patterned formica top ordered to our specifications at Lowe’s choosing to install new double sinks to expand the use of its length. We chose the color to blend with the existing floors and the vintage black towel rod that were perfect, then use them as our jumping off point for the rest of the colors.
The large boarded-up hole in the wall [must have been a cabinet there] gave us the easy opportunity to install a light fixture. We hard-wired it in adding a switch to the left of the counter snaking the wires through the closet next door. I did lots of layers of joint compound sanded out in between before my drywall primer and final coats of paint.
Installing the extra sink meant that the plumbing then interfered with the drawers on the left hand side. We took out the drawers and David build a new cabinet door with edges routed to match the older door. This way there was still access to the plumbing if needed and allowed for more storage.
I recycled knobs from the kitchen cabinets and painted them with an oil based paint to match the black hardware elsewhere. Gaps in the baseboards were caulked, dents in the walls were mudded smooth. Walls were painted with California Paint French White in an eggshell finish and trim in that same lively cream color throughout the house in a satin finish. The base cabinets were painted a darker taupe I custom tinted myself to bring out the gray-brown tones in the floor. Since the floors, tub/shower and toilet were in excellent condition all that was left to do was add mirrors purchased at Target to just exactly fit in the narrow space above the sink. A simple make-over, really, showing what just color and accessories can do!
Carpeting is never a good idea in a rental property. Think; potty training, pets and exuberant beer drinking on game day. It all gets wicked away to settle down in the pad—yuk—and when it’s not our own home… So in removing the carpet from our old house we had yet another opportunity to uncover some of its layers of history then reinvent its floors.
The floor in the larger upper bedroom had two levels; a sagging part that came with the original 1880 house and a newer solidly straight floor via the modern 1990 addition. With carpet unifying the two spaces it made for a gentle slope but without it, the difference was too dramatic. So we made a decision to remove the old floor [salvaging the wood for another project], to level the space with shims and new joists then lay a new pine floor over all mimicking the original pine flooring elsewhere in the house.
I decided to stain the floors darker to match the depth of color in the adjoining spaces. I used a water-based paint/stain (see my formulas below) that I mopped on with a painting pad on an extender 2 boards at a time. I let this dry over night then topped with 3 coats water-based polyurethane applied in the same method.
In the smaller upstairs bedroom those original floors were gorgeous and not saggy; wide yellow pine aged by sunlight with remains of a coppery stain/paint. All we wanted to do was spruce them up and show off that color. First, I spot sanded away the obvious paint splatters then retouched the scrapes with my paint/stain (see formulas below) then topped with a several protective coats of water-based polyurethane. The small hallway landing at the top of the stairs outside the two bedrooms and bath had seen many renditions over the years. It looked like the stairwell shown at the top of this post with layers of paint, paint splatters and adhesive plus remains of that Victorian brown floor paint that was so popular in-the-day probably edging a carpet runner. There were boards that had been replaced so the wood was not the same every inch either.
I wanted to keep some of that history so decided to use an orbital sander to smooth it all out then patch in paint/stain on the bare spots, retouch-painting over the white paint drips & toning down the darker brown with solid paint then glazing over the entire surface with a harmonizing color (see formulas below). This also got 3 coats of protective poly on top.
In the lower level living/dining room luan had been laid over the original floor boards to prep for carpeting. So sad, the “fish-hook” style ring nails every few inches ruined those time-worn floor boards so again we made the decision to just go over the space with new pine to mimic those small areas of remaining original boards. Adjustments had to be made at the front door since the new floor was higher.
Because the wood-grained vinyl strip flooring David laid in the kitchen was a lighter color, I decided that this adjoining floor should be lighter as well rather than dark like upstairs. I mixed a lighter paint/stain (see formula below) then again we applied 3 coats of polyurethane over that.
STAINING NOTE: For a purist or traditional restoration painter, only oil-based stains would be used on wood, especially old wood. It sets in, does not lift the grain and adheres really well. However, like many people, I am highly allergic to the off-gassing of these alkyl paints. Therefore, through the years I have worked out water-based formulas that are not as sensitizing and wear fairly well. In this old house, we expect that tenants will mar the floors adding to the character and creating more history.
STAIN FORMULA: 1 part completely flat wall paint (preferably not “scrubbable” and definitely not “flat enamel”) to 1-3 parts water. Mix thoroughly and keep mixing through out application as the granular pigment will want to settle. Pigment is pigment and products only differ by their bases that suspend it.
Small bedroom, original floor boards: Pratt and Lambert Roxy Brown mixed 1 to 1 with water for retouching.
Large bedroom, new flooring: 1/2 Pratt and Lambert Roxy Brown and 1/2 Pratt and Lambert Brunette mixed with 2 parts water.
Upper hallway: Pratt and Lambert Brunette used full strength to tone down original dark brown paint then mixed 1 to 1 with water for bare areas then rubbed out. Pratt and Lambert Roxy Brown used full strength over white paint splotches then mixed 1 to 1 with water to rub over the whole area.
Staircase: Pratt and Lambert Cedar Chest used full strength over white paint splatters and mixed 1 to 2 parts water brushed over everything strategically rubbing out the areas where original paint/stain remained.
Downstairs living/dining room: Pratt and Lambert Pinecone Tan mixed 1 part to 3 parts water then rubbed out.
It’s hard to choose interior paint color for a multi-windowed open-concept house when each area has a different light exposure. The color changes in each direction. We were fortunate that the previous owners of our old house had freshly painted most of the walls a lively cream color with touches of red, yellow and blue undertones making it work everywhere.But other paint colors did not work. Here is how we backed out those tones to get what we wanted in each windowed area.
RULE OF THUMB: when choosing paint color for a room, start with a focal point object (a rug, an artwork, etc) and coordinate your wall colors to that. For the downstairs adjoining rooms—since this a rental house where people will have their own objects and we needed to stay neutral—we pulled color tones from the appliances and fixtures that would coordinate with that existing lively cream. Neutral gray, cool white and warm gray stainless & brushed nickel.
The kitchen at one end of this open space gets north light which has a blue cast to it making all this even more cool toned while the adjoining living/family/dining room also gets northwest light (icy yellow) also with one window that gets filtered southern light (warm yellow).
The wainscot accent to the Half and Half in the living room was painted Navajo White, a normally neutral warm beige. But the blue-yellow light in that room emphasized its olive green undertones [the presence of raw umber in the tint] making it really clash with the gray color scheme.
We envisioned a warm putty gray…we loved the color swatch at the bottom but it looked dark and charcoal in the room. So we tried the other lighter swatches to the left but they looked stark and colorless. Believe it or not, the swatch on the furthest right ended up looking like the swatch on the bottom once on the wall in that room. Adding the blue-yellow light to it grayed the color.We had pictured this putty color on the walls in the kitchen but with the blue north light Cream Wave looked too dark and too gray; Half and Half “reads” similarly to the wainscot at the opposite end of this open space. The blue northern light toned out the yellow in the paint leaving it gray like we wanted.
Half and Half in the upstairs of the house continued to look wonderful. In the shadowy spaces it looked darker but still lively due to the red, yellow and blue components. But in the upstairs bath with a south-facing skylight, the warm yellow light made Half and Half look peach. We settled on French White, a cooled down slightly taupey color to go with the new counter tops (see before and after in a later post.)
- When your swatch looks to gray or dull, step by step until it looks right choose other colors that are more yellow progressing to peach to counteract what the light does in that space.
- When a color looks too bright, step by step until it looks right choose other colors that are more muted and grayed to counteract the strong light in that space.
- View your swatches at 3 times during the day, morning, noon and evening. Light is most yellow at noon and cooler at opposite ends of the day.
They say “if walls could talk”…ours sure did!!! We have spent most of our creative energies this past month tearing out the damaged layers of floors and opening up walls for repairs on our old-house rehab project. The surprises we found unveiled the story of the house and the people who lived there by the details they left behind.
The old cast iron pipes were leaking in the cellar and we suspected a leak in the plumbing stack that was located in and around the laundry/living room wall. As a result it became necessary to cut into the walls. What we found was an original interior lath wall with Horsehair Plaster and wall paper circa 1875, followed by a layer of newspaper insulation and some exterior boards circa 1922 followed by the current interior layer of sheet rock with paint then wall paper then paint again. That’s a lot of personal touches!
“Horsehair plaster” is a wall finishing plaster that contains some animal hair to reinforce its composition. Not always horse hair, sometimes it was bovine or other animal hair incorporated, and was used from early colonial construction up until around 1950. The patterning on the wall paper over this plaster is consistent with colonial era period block prints, however since the house was not built then, it is likely that this is a Colonial Revival paper dating somewhere between 1876 and 1900 which is the correct time period for when this house was built.
When we removed a coat rack off this interior/exterior/interior wall, a bit of wall paper was hiding beneath. (The papered wall was painted over without removing the rack.) Judging from its patterning and color-way I would guess that this was applied in the late 1950s or 1960’s. Is that when the wall became interior again?
Wall paper found in the adjoining room under kitchen cabinets show a modern era “country” print that coordinates well with the stripe. 1960?A scrap of plaid paper found beneath the country print in the kitchen could be circa 1890-1910 when brown plaids were very popular. It seems to coordinate a bit with the horsehair plaster paper so perhaps they were hung at the same time. OR maybe it is a 1950’s retro print hung before the country print??
We removed the dated, paneled wainscot to reveal wood wall boards; early plywood. Our cottage rental built-in 1964 used this same wall board so seems to confirm the thought I concluded based on the wallpaper; this new interior room was probably built-in 1950/1960. Check out the pink-beige paint under the yellow paint with cream over all. Cotton fiber foundation insulation. The floors torn up in the laundry room gave use plenty of space to access the pipes in the very shallow cellar.
This is some of what we found buried in this little cellar crawl space. A cast iron fireplace clean-out door and a clothes pin circa 1920. When this was a back yard prior to the addition the items were probably just thrown out there.
When ever someone puts up a drop ceiling we suspect it was the cheaters way out of dealing with the falling plaster of the original ceiling. It was. Since this is a “rehabilitation” project and not a “renovation” we are keeping the drop-ceiling. To remove it would mean removing the paneled areas on the walls because it doesn’t go all the way up. The domino effect would mean then repairing lath and re-plastering (VERY expensive) or tearing out all original lath/plaster and replacing with modern sheet rock (VERY time-consuming and a complete gut job). Personally? I like the layers of history, funky as it may be. Lots of souls lived here.
ABOVE: New 2×4 false ceiling with panels dropped down below the original falling plaster ceiling (the crumbling gray area) as we suspected. Interestingly, the walls of the upper floor are suspended by chain tied into the roof rafters; we saw the chains in several locations. The lower floor walls do not support the upstairs.
Straightening out the sagging floors meant lifting out the floor boards in various areas of the house to add more joists. When lifting out the floor in one of the upstairs bedrooms we uncovered a Victorian era heater “vent”. The cast iron painted vent was installed in the ceiling, (that was covered over with the modern dropped one), its brass tunnel directed the rising heat from the lower living areas up through the floor/ceiling construction to release through the decorative solid brass plate in the floor of the upstairs bedroom. The plate has fan blades to adjust the heat flow.
This has been lots of fun dirty work but the best is yet to come. As I am posting this we are far into the final transformation so stay tuned!