Saturday, December 21, 2013

The Master of Plaster

It is now almost a year from the time we accidentally started our foyer re-do.  And today, we are FINALLY on our way to getting it finished! As you may recall, our biggest roadblocks were the giant holes we discovered when we took down the old molding.  As you can see in the picture, Lance already fixed the cracks radiating from the hole using the same method I used in the upstairs hallway last winter.

After several dead ends in our search for a professional to address this problem, Lance turned to YouTube.  Unfortunately, there seem to be countless differences of opinion out there on the interwebs regarding the proper materials and methods to fix this problem.  So I asked the question that any homeowner should: What would they do on This Old House? And as it turns out, Contractor Extraordinaire Tom Silva recommends Big Wally's Plaster Magic.  Yeah, remember Big Wally? Last year I totally rejected his overpriced system for plaster crack repair in favor of a tube of liquid nails and some MH Ready Patch.  But this was a much bigger project, and who am I to question Tom Silva!?

So Lance went online and ordered a tub of patching plaster and plaster conditioner, and within a few days he was ready to go.  He was somewhat apprehensive, but it turns out the whole process was surprisingly easy.

1. Vacuum out all of the loose plaster bits

2. Spray 3 coats of plaster conditioner on the lathe and the exposed edges of the old plaster- allow it to dry between each coat

3. Mix a batch of plaster and water to the consistency of peanut butter and trowel it on the wall, making sure to get it in between all of the slats of the lathe. Allow to dry for 2 hours.

4. Mix a second batch of plaster, this time a little thinner consistency, slather it on over the first coat, and smooth it out. Let it dry and it is ready to prime and paint.  Seriously, that's it.

So... the good news is, the plaster problem is finally fixed! The bad news is..... had we known it was that easy, we probably would have had this whole project done months ago......

Sunday, November 10, 2013

Going Blind

It has been a busy weekend here in Douma Nation.  Lots of running around and not as much lounging as we would like.

Ok, fine.  There was some lounging. But not as much as usual, I swear!

It all started when we were looking through a Menard's ad and saw that they had window coverings on sale.  We have three windows in our living room- the large front one with the stained glass and two regular ones.  We dealt with the front window soon after moving in a year and a half ago, as the previous owners had left us with a makeshift "window shade" of fraying, stained muslin on a cardboard roll.

 Clearly, this look had to go.  Unfortunately, this window is an odd size, so we were unable to purchase curtains that would work with the space we had.  I thought about buying ready-made curtains and just altering them, but after a lot of looking around, I wasn't able to find any colors or patterns that worked with the colors in the room.

 I am not much for sewing, so I was a little apprehensive about making my own curtains, but really the hardest part about the project was choosing the fabric.  All I did was measure and cut the fabric 2 inches larger than I needed, and then used iron-on seam tape to hem it all the way around.  This also worked well because the seam tape makes a crisp, stiff edge, so the curtains hold their shape better.  I made two sets for the window, so essentially they are double thick, with a neutral tone towards the back (this is what shows from outside the window) and the rust colored pattern in the front.  For the curtain rod I just bought a really nice rubbed bronze tension rod that was made for shower curtains, and a bunch of bronze rings with little clips on them.  The curtains stay up really well and I didn't have to attach any hardware to the molding!


So this brings us to today. Our other two living room windows are covered with cheap vinyl blinds that are broken in a few places and are constantly getting bent and tangled up. 

We considered putting up curtains instead, but I didn't know if I could find more of the same fabric pattern, and I didn't really want to try to add yet another pattern to the room.  Plus, I'm lazy and I didn't want to make two more sets of curtains. So we figured we would just replace the blinds with nicer ones!  After some deliberation, we opted to go with 2" faux wood ones, mainly because they looked halfway decent and because custom fitted real wood blinds are not in the budget.  Somehow we also came home with a 7.5 foot fake Christmas tree, but I'll save that for another post. 

We also purchased blinds for the parlor and the window in our foyer, which has been shade-less throughout the still-unfinished renovation.  This allows our skeezy, short bus-driving neighbors to see right into our living room.  While we had planned on leaving the window covering until we finish the renovation, we decided peace of mind was more important.

This morning we set about installing the new blinds, starting with the foyer window.  As always, this turned out to be a MUCH larger project than we'd anticipated.  Lance discovered that beautiful old moldings around the inside of the windows do not leave enough space to fasten the screws needed to hold in the brackets.  So, after an exhaustive search for small scraps of wood we could use to even out the gap, we ended up having to go ALL the way back to Menard's to buy one strip of molding to cut into pieces that would fit inside the window.  The upside was that this allowed us to stop for deeeeelicious milk shakes on the way home.

Once we got back, we ran into several problems:

1. The directions were full of errors
2. The packages do not contain the actual number of screws needed to attach the brackets
3. We lost a drill bit in a crack in the window jamb.....never did find it, either. 
4. And the worst part, is that we figured out we didn't actually need the extra wood pieces we'd made a special trip to buy.  However, there's no way we could have known this until AFTER we'd tried to use the new wood pieces. 

FINALLY, we got the foyer window done.....and then we managed to do 4 more windows (living room and parlor) in half the time (and with a LOT less swearing) than it took to do the first ONE.  

But it looks SO much better! These blinds actually close all the way and match the rest of the room! And now, we can get on with our Christmas decorating (yes, in early November.....)!

Monday, August 12, 2013

Farmhouse Table Re-Do

Now that we're once again on hold with the foyer project, I'm sure you are thinking "Oh dear! How ever will they spend their time now!!?" Ah, not to worry, because we have an entire garage full of furniture that needs work.

And believe me, these pictures are somewhat outdated- they were taken back when there was still room to actually walk into the garage.  Picture this with another large table (the subject of this post), a dresser, a couple more shelves, a rocking chair, a pile of old wooden crates, and various other random treasures.

Due to the lack of space we've been forced to move our main work area out to the driveway, which is a disadvantage because now we can only work when it isn't rainy.  The good news is that we have several things that are close to being finished so that we can move them to the antique mall and reclaim our nice indoor workspace.

Ok, on to today's project.  A while back, we went to an estate auction at an old farm in Jefferson. While they had several really nice pieces of furniture, those were quickly snatched up by dealers with deep pockets and sentimental family members who were willing to pay handsomely for their heirlooms.  This actually worked out well for us, because this left a whole section of old dirty, broken furniture that had been dragged out of the barn.  Amidst the wreckage, Lance spotted an old table lying in the grass, legs piled beside it.  It was solid wood (and HEAVY!), but at some point someone had tried to pretty it up by cementing a big piece of old linoleum to the top.  We managed to get it for $2 and at that price, we figured it was worth at least trying to fix up.

This was actually taken after Lance had already put in several hours of work trying to remove the linoleum on the top (that's what's in the bucket).

It was stuck on with that hard black tar-like adhesive that I'm guessing is about 1950's (?) era.  Back then everyone was all paranoid about nuclear attacks, so I'm guessing it was very important to make sure that even after the apocalypse, your floors would remain pristine.

Getting this stuff off seriously took an entire day of Lance scraping with a putty knife and trying all kinds of different solvents (soap and water, large amounts of Goo Gone, vinegar, Simple Green) but it turns out the best solution was just good old fashioned back-breaking labor.

When he was finished, the table looked like this:

We spent a LONG time (like weeks) trying to decide what to do next.  We liked the rough shabby look of the top as-is, but there was that one stupid leaf that didn't have the same look as the rest of the table, and we didn't think we'd be able to reproduce that look exactly.  We then thought of various painting techniques like doing a crackle paint effect.  According to numerous You Tube Videos and the Elmer's Glue website, this can easily be done with some Elmer's Wood Glue and paint.  I tried several test patches on a spare piece of wood using different amounts of glue and varied drying times, and every single one was an epic fail.  Even by following the directions explicitly, the only way I was able to achieve even a slight crackle was by using a hair dryer to speed up the drying time.

We then thought of whitewashing the table or just painting the whole thing, but ultimately decided we wanted to keep a weathered shabby look.  I didn't really know what I was doing, but I figured if it didn't turn out, I could always just cover the whole thing with paint and call it good.

First I taped off the edges because they already had a nice worn look I wanted to preserve.  Then I painted the whole top of the table with a coat of gray paint (leftover from the night stand projects).  I didn't use primer because I wanted the paint to chip away easily.  Once that dried, I painted a coat of white over the top and let it dry for a full 24 hours. If you are painting furniture and do NOT want a distressed look, I would recommend letting the paint cure for 48-72 hours.  

Once it was dry, I took a piece of 100 grit sandpaper and sanded the entire top of the table by hand. I started off doing a small test patch with 220 grit, but it was just too fine and it ended up just leaving tiny little scratches in the paint rather than distressing it, so I switched to 100 and it worked perfectly.  I didn't use an electric sander because I didn't want it to look uniform- I needed it to look like it was naturally worn, so I concentrated on spots that would receive the most wear (around the edges, for example).  Once that was done, I left it for a full week before I sealed it.

Now at this point I should clarify which product is best for sealing painted wood.  You DO NOT want to use actual polyurethane! This will yellow over time (or even right away) and completely ruin the look of the furniture (if you read the label on the can it cautions that the product will cause "slight ambering").  This works fine for both bare and stained wood, but NOT for painted wood.  Instead, you need to use a water based Polycrylic.  This is the only one I've been able to find:

The advantages to using a water-based product are that it dries clear, and cleanup is really easy- just dish soap and water. The downside is that it is waaayyy more expensive (I think we paid a little under $20 per quart at the local hardware store) and it is less forgiving in terms of visible brush strokes. And you need to use a high quality synthetic fiber brush (no foam brushes!)

Anyway, so after one full coat of polycrylic (we used the satin finish) and a touch up, our rustic farmhouse table is finally done!

It drives me nuts how asymmetrical it looks with the leaf in it, but it is meant to fit tight against a wall on one end (hence the rounded off edges on the left vs. the squared off edges on the right) so in that setting, it will look fine.

 Not bad for a $2.00 investment! 

Foyer Foibles

So in my last post, you saw the end result of my brutal yet short-lived attack on our stairs in the foyer, so undoubtedly you are expecting to see an update of that project.  For the record, I would love to have an update to give on that project, but sadly that is not the case today.  We did actually finish taking down all of the remnants of wallpaper (which involved some very nerve-wracking work on a ladder perched on the stairway), patch many more holes and cracks, consider (and reject) the idea of skim coating the walls, purchase primer, and officially choose a paint color.  However, as usual, we ran into a bit if a snag.

When we removed the cheap molding around the ceiling downstairs, we discovered a 1-inch gap between the top of the wall and the ceiling where the plaster had completely disintegrated to nothing. Rather than fix it properly, the previous homeowners just slapped some molding over the top and left it. But before covering it up, the culprit responsible for this shoddy display of crap-manship signed his name to the wall.  So Art Hruska, we are looking for you.
Good ol' Art actually signed his name in TWO places- the other spot is much more legible, I just don't have a picture of that part.  I also realized I don't have good photos of the widest parts of the plaster gap, so you'll just have to take my word for it on that.

 At first we thought we might be able to repair the plaster ourselves, but as Lance got up on a ladder to scrape the last remnants of wallpaper, a large (like 6-7" diameter) chunk of plaster came loose from the wall.  At this point, we had to admit that we were in over our heads and resolve to call in a professional. And so, until we can find a qualified plaster repair person, we are once again on hold.  *sigh*

Saturday, July 20, 2013

The Next Step

Today we returned from a relaxing week up north in a cabin that unlike or home, had cable TV.  Most of the time we really don't miss having cable- between non-cable channels and Hulu, we've been pretty content.  However, I admit we do really miss HGTV.  And so whenever we have access to cable, we end up watching way too much HGTV and DIY for our own good.  We returned home around noon today and after greeting two freakishly excited cats, we set about unloading the car, sorting through the mail, etc.  Mid-afternoon Lance decided to make a run to the grocery store and since I absolutely LOATHE going to the Pick n' Save in town, I opted to stay home. My plan was to just relax and hang out with the attention-starved felines, maybe take a nap, and to have a snack- a delicious cranberry muffin leftover from breakfast.

 Like pretty much everything to do with our foyer-in-progress (and "progress" is really a strong word), I don't even know how it happened! Those of you who have been to our home have undoubtedly noticed the dirty once-white carpet on our stairs- and by "noticed" I mean "gingerly navigated your way around the loose carpet death trap."

It's not only unsightly, it is a serious safety hazard.  Our intent was to leave it down until we paint in there, to protect the stairs underneath from drips, however in the past few months it has gotten looser and looser and the staples holding the carpet down have started to work their way to the surface so that we are constantly finding (ie stepping on) rogue staples lying on the steps. 

And so today, it was like the perfect storm: all hopped up from my sugary muffin and fresh off a week of home improvement shows, and I stepped on a staple.  And suddenly, I'd had enough. Next thing I know, I'm changed into my grubby work clothes and utility knife in hand, I'm attacking the carpet with reckless abandon.

Turns out not ALL of the staples were loose... and some were actually large nails.  And underneath I found literally PILES of dirt, several layers (and colors) of paint, and some rubber stair treads glued firmly to each step.  In the picture you can see that at some point someone just painted around whatever was there before (a runner, maybe?).  And...clearly these stairs are going to be a huge job.

When Lance came home, there I was, all red-faced and sweaty, dressed in work clothes, and lugging a vacuum up from the basement with a guilty look on my face.  He looked at me suspiciously and when he saw the stairway, exclaimed "I leave you alone for less than an hour and you're tearing the house apart!!?" His scolding was short-lived however, when I discovered that by letting him go to the grocery store unattended, he'd come home with (among other things) FOUR containers of ice cream (we already had 2 in the freezer) and a package of cookies.  All of this excitement was too much for me, so I curled up on the couch for a nap.  When I woke up, Lance exclaimed "you're like a big toddler! You got all hopped up on sugar, tore the house apart, and then crashed!"
Maybe so, but given the enormity of the stair project I uncovered, I need all the rest I can get.

Monday, June 24, 2013

All Decked Out

After several sweltering days and more than a few discouraging words, the deck is finally done!  Okay, well technically, there are a few more things to finish up, but let's not dwell on technicalities, shall we?

So just to refresh your memory, here are the "before" pictures:

Old, badly weathered wood

and broken lattice galore:

After some (ie very little ) research, we decided to try a new product from Pittsburgh Paints called Revitalize. It is supposed to resurface wood and concrete by filling in and sealing cracks and sealing the surface to prevent further weather damage.  Basically when used on wood, it ends up looking a lot like composite decking.  It is available in all kinds of colors, but ultimately we decided to go with gray with white trim. 

In typical Kristin-Lance fashion, we started the project on an extra hot, sunny day.  The first coat of gray went on really well using a 1/2" nap paint roller.  The paint is really thick and grainy- it reminded me of really watery wet cement and it is supposed to go on really thick to fill in all of the cracks.  Once we finished 2 coats of the gray, we started with the white trim.  This was a nightmare for a few of reasons:

1. The consistency of the white-tinted sealer was MUCH thinner than the gray.  Despite all kinds of shaking and stirring, it was still pretty watery, which meant that it didn't cover as well and, dripped all over the place. I don't know why it was different- the only difference besides the color was that the gray came in a 5-gallon bucket and the white was in 2 regular 1-gallon cans, but that's it...

2. The trim pieces had to be painted with a brush.  Every. Single. Slat.  And it took FOREVER.  It was tedious.  Excruciating.  And not just because the only radio station coming in clearly was 105.1 and we were forced to listen to hours of Slacker and Steve while we worked.

3. Prior to starting on the white trim, we checked the weather report, because of course we wanted to make sure there was plenty of time for the paint to dry before it rained.  I checked the forecast on several stations and looked at all kinds of Doppler radar images before we decided it was safe to paint.  But alas, we had fallen victim to what I suspect is a giant conspiracy perpetuated by a band of disgruntled meteorologists.  Within a couple of hours of being done, it began to rain.  And rain.  And rain some more.  And when we watched the news that night, Bob Lindmeier happily announced "Wow! That rain surprised even me!! I didn't see that coming at all!" Yeah? Well screw you, Bob, because thanks to that "surprise" rain, THIS is what our deck looked like the next morning:

White paint ALL along the edges.  And to add insult to injury, we waited several days to re-paint because the forecast kept predicting rain.  Except, guess what?  IT DIDN'T RAIN.

So while waiting for the rain that never came, we busied ourselves with replacing the broken lattice underneath the deck.  Instead of wood, we went with a white vinyl lattice because it is both sturdier and more flexible, and it is maintenance-free!  It comes in 4'x8' sheets and we were able to easily cut it to size with tin snips (which we didn't figure out until after trying several different tools and having no luck). But the final product (kind of) looks pretty good:

Here's a close up of where the paint filled in and sealed the weathered cracks in the railing.

So for now, we are celebrating being done with some of the finest wine Woodman's had to offer and conveniently "forgetting" that the deck isn't completely finished yet. The finishing touch will be to add a hinged door to one of the lattice pieces, so that we will be able to easily get underneath the deck to clean out debris.  But...that is another project for another time......

Tuesday, June 18, 2013

Buried Treasure

Today marks day 3 of married life and while some might celebrate with a relaxing honeymoon vacation, we decided to spend it tackling a long overdue overhaul of our back deck. 

As is the case with most things around the house, the previous owners were not sticklers for proper home maintenance, and the deck is no exception.  I'm guessing it hasn't been sealed in at least a decade.

 And the lattice underneath is all broken and in need of replacing.

We came across a product made by Behr in This Old House magazine that is supposed to fill in cracks, seal, and give new life to old decks.  Because Menard's doesn't Behr, we went with a similar product made by Pittsburgh Paints.  But more about that later.

We came home from the store and set about readying the deck for restoration.  With our usual optimism (some may call it being naive), we estimated we could have the deck cleaned and ready to paint by lunchtime.  I set about sweeping the deck while Lance crawled underneath to rip out all of the lattice.  He soon discovered this was no easy task, as it was held in with about 100 nails per square inch, and the ground under there was covered with leaves, dirt, garbage, and some very well-developed small trees.  Finally, after no shortage of sweat and cursing, the large pile of debris had migrated from under the deck to the driveway. 

It was at this point that Lance exclaimed "hey, there's a door under here!"  Sure enough, there is a door leading to the space under the covered back porch.  "Be careful opening it!" I yelled.  "there could be raccoons....or hobos living under there!"  Not to be deterred by the threat of hobos, and ignoring my suggestion that he keep a weapon ready just in case, Lance bravely crawled in.

The good news is that not only were there no raccoons OR hobos, there was also a cache of riches!  Okay maybe not "riches" per se, but plenty of cool old stuff.

An old beer crate from JPM Binzel Co. Brewers in Beaver Dam,

An old metal Dad's Root Beer bucket

A green and white enamelware coffee pot (minus the lid, unfortunately)

And old feed sack from Watertown, WI

An old ash sifter from the Hustler Co. in Massachusetts, circa 1904 (typically this would go on top of a barrel to sift out the coal from the ashes),

........and a random bear statue.

 Clearly, by this point we had spent quite a bit of time excavating under the porch, so this is when we opted to take a break, revel in our riches, and wait for the newly hosed down deck to dry so we can get to the next stage of our plan.

Next up: sealing the deck!

Sunday, April 28, 2013

Spring Projects!!

This is the first warm sunny weekend we've had since....well, I can't really remember when.  September, maybe?  This means not only is Spring FINALLY here, but so is the beginning of garage sale season.  So yesterday morning we headed out bright and early (like 6:30 am) in search of glorious riches.  Overall the search was pretty disappointing, however we did come home with 2 smaller furniture pieces to add to our ever-growing project stash.  This meant that I really needed to get off the couch and finish the last of my winter projects- an old antique stool we found for $4.00 at a secondhand store in Madison a few months ago.
 The stool itself is in great shape and sturdy (whew! no structural repairs!), but it was desperately in need of a new seat.  When we bought it, it was covered with a disgustingly filthy, yellowed piece of foam and a torn, stained piece of fabric.  It was so gross I just ripped it off right away without waiting to take a "before" picture.  Underneath that was a fiberboard seat made to look like faux leather (same stuff we used on our dining room chairs, but old and dried out), and under THAT was a filthy piece of old canvas that pretty much disintegrated when I touched it.
 And under THAT was the original cane seat which, despite the fact that it was falling apart, was a NIGHTMARE to remove.  The ends of the legs were covered with rubber caps which appear to be cane tips.  Somewhere there is a nursing home full of people who have been robbed of the tips to their canes.  These things were painted on, which made them a pain to remove- I finally had to just hack them apart with a utility knife and peel them off.  For those of you who know me too well, I will address your inevitable comment by saying that I too am amazed I didn't get sidetracked by a trip to the ER for stitches.

I could have stripped, primed and painted this thing, BUT it was already covered with SEVERAL layers of globbed on paint and I really did not want to deal with taking all of that gunk off.  

So I just sanded the whole thing to smooth off the old paint drips, washed it down with soap and water, and painted over all of it.  Rustoleum makes these great pre-mixed paints, so for this project I used their heavy duty indoor/outdoor paint in glossy black.  Because it can be used on wood, metal, masonry, plaster, or unglazed ceramics, the consistency of the paint is a little different.  It's super THICK, which means far fewer drips, but it's also harder to get a smooth finish.  

I decided to upholster the seat using a fabric remnant we found at the store for under $5.  I chose it because I liked the color and pattern, but also because it is an outdoor fabric so it should hold up really well and be somewhat stain resistant (important since you can't exactly toss a stool in the washing machine).  For the seat I used a piece of 1/4 in particle board that Lance brought home from work for me and some 1" high-density foam from the fabric store.  There's a good tutorial on DIY upholstering here, if you would like more info.

The brackets on the bottom are for attaching it to the inside of the base later on. I've done square upholstery before and had no problems, but as I found out from this project, doing something round is WAY different.  So while I'm not thrilled with how it turned out, it's going to be on the bottom and not even noticeable, so I'll just chalk it up to a learning experience and move on. 

And so, here is the final product- all ready to go to the antique mall: