13 months later…

Progress in the dining room – I kid you not! Ironically enough, it was not the guilt, mess, or embarrassment that kicked this room reno into motion (okay, maybe a little bit). It was installing our beautiful Nest thermostat on the ugly wall and knowing we could do better.

With motivation in hand, I started at the top by cleaning and painting the box beams. As much as I would love to strip them and stain them – that is a project that I will hire out at a later date. Painting them (and painting them well) was enough of a project in and of itself. With the ceiling taken care of, it was time to finish up the walls.

As you may recall, I removed wallpaper, repaired some cracks, and then fiberglassed and skim coated the whole room. Well, let’s just say that sanding that down to perfection (and the prep and the clean up) is a messy job.

I’m obviously stoked about sealing off the room and the impending mess I’m about to make.

This photo does not do me justice. I was COVERED in dust! Maybe I’ll just wallpaper every room from here on out.

Walls sanded and primed.

All of the original remaining trim has been stripped, sanded, and stained while I added back header caps and stops to all the windows and doors.

Door and window trim ready to be installed.

Staining in progress.

The walls have been primed but the final wall color is still undecided…any ideas? We’re leaning towards either a green or chocolatey beige or cream or I don’t know. Remember, the bottom half (or 60%) of the walls will be covered in stained wood paneling topped by a plate rail.

Half of our color options. Creamy earth tones not shown here. Ugh.

We’re getting close! Complete room photo gallery is here.

Wall Prep, Inspiration, and More Paint Stripping

What did I get myself into?!? With wallpaper and trim removed, I decided it would be best to do this right…unfortunately. Instead of renovating the dining room back to its’ original glory in multiple phases, I’ve decided to do it in one long, drawn out phase. Skim coat the walls, wood paneling/wainscoting, plate rail: here we come.

With that in mind, I fiberglassed the part of the wall that will be visible above the paneling and have begun skimming it. Being that my day job is not skim coating walls, this is not the quickest of steps (nor the cleanest) but I will prevail.

Just fiberglassed the walls and first skim coat. And unsure if I want to be in a picture depicting my skim skills.

In between coats, I have begun to strip the existing trim. I’m hoping that I’ll be able to reuse most of the wood, although a fair number of pieces are not original and may not jive with the next iteration of the room. Plus, I’ll be buying a ton of new fir, but we’ll salvage what we can.

Stripping the old dining room trim.

In an effort to figure out what the original trim detail looked like, I’ve been visiting a few of my neighbors. A kind couple two doors down from me allowed me to scour their living room with notepad and camera in hand and I can guarantee you that my house was built by the exact same builder.  Some pictures of what we used to have…

Side profile of neighbor's paneling.

Neighbor's panel molding detail.

Neighbor's corner transition.

The neighbor's built-in and probably very similar to what we used to have.

After much deliberation, I believe I am beginning to settle on a layout and method to my version of the paneling. It will be a bit of a blend between what used to be in the room and what I have found in doing some research. The bloggers over at ‘Is It A House‘ have done some great woodworking and I’ll be borrowing heavily from their techniques. The combination of pocket screws and routing out the back for the panels is clutch. They also did a great job of finishing it as well…one day…one day.

Christopher’s Room Done*

Done! Or at least until this summer when I finish off the other window but I’m not thinking about that right now. What began in September and was originally going to just be a bit of paint and lipstick on my oldest son Christopher’s room turned into the classic rehaber project. But I must say, as with every room rehab we’ve done so far (Aiden’s bedroom, living room), this is my favorite room so far. It involved layers and layers of paint over layers and layers of wallpaper all on top of calcimine paint on top of plaster. There was paint on doors, on windows, on trim. Lots of stripping, sanding, staining. Cursing. New lighting (over old gas pipes). Some new hardware, some old hardware cleaned up. And for the most part, I actually enjoyed working on it. Christopher made for a good supervisor and the occasional assistant and is a great tenant (although his rent check is a bit late).

Take a look:

Isn’t this the point? My son Christopher playing and enjoying his recently completed room.

The two beautiful doors, picture molding, and new fixture courtesy of Rejuvenation.

Picture moulding finally reinstalled.

Christopher lounging on his bed. We’ll decorate soon but he does love his map.

The original 1910 wall color (green) and the first layer of wallpaper that I uncovered during the removal of layers of paint and wallpaper. The wallpaper has a bunch of names written on it and I thought I would preserved the whole find just for fun.

And a reminder of what it was when we bought the house:

The day we bought the house.

I’d like to say that I plan on taking a bit of a break but I’m pretty sure I’ll start another project. Potential projects include the dining room, entryway, upstairs hallway, or the sunporch/office. If you would like to see all the pictures documenting the rehab process of Christopher’s room, the gallery can be found here.

The Marathon

Room is painted. Shoe molding is installed. Lighting courtesy of Rejuvenation is installed (over old gas piping as usual). Doors are stripped, sanded, stained, finished and hung. Picture molding needs to be stripped along with the windows but the room is once again livable. And while the room renovation feels like a marathon to me, I know that it pales in comparison to the actual marathon my wonderful bride will be running in tomorrow morning! Good luck to all the runners and go get ’em babe!

Room is painted

A little bit of decorating

Sanding down the doors and prepping for stain

Christopher is pretty proud of his door

The doors. Installed.

Complete room pics are here.


Kerri running the Portland Marathon. She did a great job and I'm so proud of her!

The Accidental Epic Project

Our oldest son Christopher will be turning 4 here in a couple of days and I thought it best that he finally get a room with a little character. Just like nearly every other room in our house, his room was covered with painted wallpaper. I am of the opinion that painted wallpaper is just about the most egregious sin one can impart on a house (besides painting original woodwork and installing a drop ceiling in the kitchen). Painted wallpaper is bad house karma.

But I am also a realistic man. And having removed painted-over-wallpaper before in my son Aiden’s room, I knew what I would be up against and (forgive me Lord) decided I would paint over the wallpaper. After all, Christopher wouldn’t know and I would eventually get around to doing it right in a few years.

So with the plan in hand, I set about removing the picture molding as I decided I would at least strip it and stain it…and my plan veered off course. As I removed the molding, I accidentally began to pull layers of paint and layers of wallpaper off with it. And hence began the epic room project under a short deadline that I had not planned on.

The beginning

Wallpaper removal has begun

Two walls down to plaster and calcimine paint

Walls primed with shellac

First coat of paint on the walls

Found these names written on the original wallpaper underneath layers of paint. Would love to know the story that goes with this.

I still have quite a way to go but we are making progress. It is my intention to strip the two doors, picture molding, as well as window trim and then stain them all.  But before we get around to that, we first need to get the base molding painted and walls buttoned up. After all, his birthday is Friday. This might be a belated present…

Complete pics here.

Stairway, Windows, Distraction

Work on the house has slowed a bit around these parts but every now and then enough motivation creeps in to open up a can of paint and work some magic. And while painting stairs isn’t as sexy as stripping trim or repairing plaster (wow – what a life we lead), it is quite necessary.

So with that in mind, we dove in. When we bought the house, the stairs were actually carpeted.  We refinished the floors and treads but the risers are another story. A combination of dirty white and faded pink coated everything while there were enough carpet tack holes to…well…hold down a lot of carpet.

Some good cleaning, filling, priming and painting and we have a much improved staircase. Unfortunately, the spruced up stairs only emphasize the sad state of the walls.  A look at the process:

Stairs and carpet removal


Holes and pink. Awesome.


Painting stairs.

Finished stairs.

This past Saturday brought a nice field trip over to Han-Mei and Joe’s house (of Swanky & Chiang blog fame) to inspect some sweet Marvin Tilt-Pac windows. I also got a great tour of their house which has motivated me to consider being more ambitious. They are midway through a great restoration and it made me want to go home and install a master bathroom among other things. A man can dream I guess.

A common question around our house is “what’s next?” This mistakingly conveys that we are actually done with the previous project (or two) which we are not, but it is fun to get ahead of ourselves. So once the living room is buttoned up, where shall we focus our attention?

  1. The entryway? It does after all have a sweet new light fixture and painted stair risers.
  2. Dining room? The windows have already been replaced and it is easily seen from the almost finished living room. It does however have boxed-beam ceilings (painted no less) that will conspire to take a year off my life.
  3. Our oldest son’s bedroom? This would pretty much be a repeat of the work we did in Aiden’s bedroom. He would love some painted walls but I have trouble painting walls that have wallpaper on them. Oh the moral dilema.

In an effort to buy ourselves some time, we did make some furniture adjustments to his room over the weekend. Gone is the dresser that was so large it had it’s own gravitational pull. We replaced it with a more appropriately sized dresser that fits in his closet. A shuffling of existing furniture and it feels brand new to him. Pictures of the transition are posted below, while the final will be coming soon:

Assembling some Swedish furniture.

You can see the monstrosity on the right. That is now gone and the closet is now useful.


Lead Paint and Safety Precautions

A good neighbor of mine brought up some valid concerns about working with lead paint especially when children are around and I thought it would be helpful to share some notes about my process and resources to consult with. In looking at past blog posts, I’ve realized that in an effort to share my progress and tangible results, I sometimes exclude the prep work and safety details.

With that in mind, here are some great resources, tips, and suggestions:

First of all, securing the work area is very important. Page 12 of this pamphlet explains a great way to do this. Obvious points include wrapping the room, taping off all vents and air returns, and turning off your HVAC system so that you don’t circulate the dust throughout the house. With that said, protect yourself. Most importantly, use a respirator. I personally use this half face respirator with 3M 2091 P100 filters.

A couple of good links:

Some other good tips:
  • Use a utility knife to score a line through the paint so that when you pry up moldings the paint won’t crack/chip irregularly.
  • Sometimes it is best to toss the piece and make a copy of new/clean wood.
  • If you need to sand, wet sand. When rolling up your plastic drop clothes – wet it down with a garden pump spray bottle to prevent dust from escaping.
  • Leave all of those dusty clothes, shoes, hair coverings etc. in the protected area. Wash any contaminated clothes separately and rinse the washer when you are done. Don’t do things with children until you have showered.
  • When doing demo use a damp towel or buy a foot wipe tack pad to keep dust from tracking. Close windows, cover up your ducts and vents and turn off your central heat to prevent the dust from being circulated.
  • For stripping paint off of trim look into an infrared heat plate such as the Silent Paint Remover or take the trim off site to somebody like Houck’s Process Stripping.
  • Instead of heating a pot of water and possibly inhaling the steam,  clean painted hardware by just soaking in Simple Green. It takes a couple of days but it works great. You can strain out the paint (discard safely) and reuse the solution for more hardware.
  • Don’t scrape your walls: try scrubbing Calcimine paint from the walls/ceilings using a stiff bristle brush dipped in hot water with a little ammonia or TSP in it. They often used glue as a binder and the hot water melts the glue and the ammonia then cleans it. Change your water often.
  • Typical shop vacuums are horribly inefficient for capturing dust. My neighbor suggested that the best place to buy good sealed FEIN vacs with a HEPA filter is Coastaltool.com out of Massachusetts. The Turbo II is a great vac and a perfect size.
  • Lead Check swab kits are great to know what you are up against. If you use a Lead Check, by squeezing the fluid onto Q-Tips and swabbing with them you can greatly extend the amount of surfaces 1 Lead Check will test.
  • Be aware that asbestos is in most linoleums and floor tiles from before like 1975 and the adhesive too (referred to as ‘cutback’). Also in many ceiling tiles and “popcorn” ceilings. You can send away a sample to testing labs to be sure. Be very careful with what looks like insulation and paper tape on plumbing pipes and on heating ducts and registers. It’s usually asbestos tape and needs to be wet and removed carefully.

This by no means should serve as your only research but as a good place to start. Any other suggestions or references out there as I’m sure I missed some obvious items?

Deadlines? Pffftt

Finish the living room by Thanksgiving?  Of what year?

Living Room Window Trim Partially Installed

We are making progress though and it’s beginning to come together. We didn’t realize how tired and dirty the room looked prior to our efforts.

To the punch list:

  • Ceiling painted.
  • Trim detail in the ceiling that was too ambitious to strip has been painted.
  • Walls stripped, cleaned, repaired, taped, skimmed, sanded, primed and painted.
  • Original window and door trim has been stripped, repaired, sanded, and stained, and for the most part installed.

Corner window with partially installed trim.

The missing cap moulding and stop moulding are purchased care of McCoy Millwork and are currently in the basement being cut, assembled and stained. I couldn’t wait on staining and finishing these pieces so I temporarily installed the top case moulding to get a much needed pay off. You know, some reward for all the work? I can already tell that there will be a bit of artistry in blending new wood with old wood via the staining process. Any tips? So far I’m just thinking a couple extra coats of stain. The baseboards are still in need of being sanded and stained but they should go relatively fast compared to the 400 pieces for the windows and doors openings.

As with every project, we deviated slightly from our intended route. An ongoing conversation in our household has been stain color. With Aiden’s room, we went with a mahagony stain that looks great but bordered on slightly too dark. This time around we went with Minwax Red Mahogony Gel Stain and I think we found what we were looking for. With the danish oil for the finish it should gently age and darken over the years and be perfect.

Close up of window trim prior to oil finish

Windows are loosely scheduled to be here around December 16th – hopefully everything else will be wrapped up by then.  In the meantime, here are the pictures.

I hope the holidays have been treating you well!

Trim Removal and Wall Repair

We have removed all the trim in the living room which, as usual, turned into a little bit bigger of a project than anticipated.  There were times when I seriously thought the baseboard and window trim was a structural part of the house.  The original builders used what felt like a billion railroad spikes to affix the trim which made removal a little bit tedious.  And the 100 year-old, dry, straight grain fir is prone to splitting so I had to go slowly.  I then decided that since the trim was removed, I should just have it all dipped at Houck’s.  They’ll do a better job and the fact that the process includes bleaching will save me a ton of time and be a lot better.

About 1/3 of the living room trim removed

But with the trim off I of course slightly altered the scope of the project.  Originally I was going to strip the sashes and re-hang them.  But I got to thinking…always a dangerous thing to do.  And decided to replace the windows.  The question is where to stop (just the living room? first floor? entire house?).  Any suggestions on which manufacturer?  At the moment I have narrowed it down to either Marvin fir windows with aluminum cladding on the outside or Milgard Fiberglass windows with a fir laminate on the inside.  All are double hung, fold in for cleaning types.  I’ll be staining the inside so the wood is a must.  Thoughts?

With the trim off though, we have tackled the walls.  I was fortunate that early in the houses history somebody wallpapered the room and I was able to remove all the paint and wallpaper in one fell swoop that took all of 20 minutes.  It honestly peeled off so easily in huge sheets.  I guess that slightly made up for the previous wallpaper removal fiasco.

Wallpaper pulling off in huge sheets

Our friend Chris stopped by and we set about removing loose plaster and fixing cracks.  Tomorrow we’ll be taping the entire wall and doing several skim coats to make them strong and new.

Plaster repaired and ready for skim coat

As always, photo gallery here.

The Living Room

Project #2 is underway.  And more ambitious than the first (baby’s room). Welcome…to our living room.

Before the Destruction

We have lots of painted woodwork. I mean lots. Besides the obvious base molding and trim package around door openings, there are five windows! All painted shut. Painted shut 9 times as a matter of fact. We’ll be slowing stripping all the wood and prepping it for stain. While we’re at it, we’ll also be adding back some original trim that was removed at some point. Along the way, we’ll remove wallpaper and get back down to bare plaster. We’ll fix some cracks and skim coat the walls before painting the room for the first time in 30 years.

Tentative deadline is Thanksgiving. That should be doable but one never knows.

On Day 1, Christopher and I began by removing most of the trim around the front windows and freeing the windows so that we can begin the stripping. While we were at it, we discovered that somebody had crammed old newspapers around all the window openings to prevent drafts. The windows were then painted shut. Best as I can tell, they were painted shut back in the 1920’s as I found multiple references to July 15th and one piece that mentioned 192X…where the last digit is missing. Unbelievable that somebody would paint them that long ago and that nobody has started the restoration until now. (As a side note, these old papers remind me of the huge stack of super old papers we found in our previous house.  I’ll post on those in the near future.)

Freeing the Windows

Old Papers for Draft Protection

Time to Strip

See the full Living Room photo collection here.