Dining Room Ceiling

Bill had the deep desire to create a coffered ceiling in our home since we moved in.  The dining room ceiling has already been patched and replastered twice, and repainted twice. . . which is a lot in less than ten years.  We think that the plaster or paint has had trouble sticking for a few reasons. . .primarily old adhesive from either a wallpapered ceiling or odd sorts of old paint.  Either way, these ceilings crack and flake like nobody’s business.  It’s the one thing in the house that we’ve had to compromise on and go with sheetrock because we just can’t keep doing them every two years.  What I mean by compromise is that we had ideally wanted to keep the house pure of modern insulation and sheetrock as much as possible.

So, Bill’s coffering plan has come to fruition and he began planning out and making the coffered look happen this past winter.  A project this extensive takes forever, partly because I have no carpentry skills and partly because taking up the whole room with scaffolding and tools omits use of the space, in this case, the largest room in our home.  That is hard in the winter when we need a big table for kid projects and play.   So, I am dying to have this project finished.  Especially because the new lights will be stellar, and the newish curtains will be cozy for the winter.

I’ve just finished priming the coffers and I have a plan for how this will all be painted, but Bill still needs wood around the edges and to finish the nail heads.  It willl be a few more weeks/months before completed photos are ready.

All primed

I am not to be left alone…

Ten or so days before Thanksgiving, I safely delivered Karyn and Will to the airport so they could get a head start on Thanksgiving at Karyn’s mom and dad’s home in South Carolina. Being left alone with 10 days to use before I would fly down to meet them all, I had two choices: build or refinish something or sit around depressed and dejected. So, immediately from the airport, I went to the lumber yard to purchase materials for a new project!

I have been really tired of not having a dining room table ever since we bought our house… which has a pretty big dining room! I have been lusting after several tables at Restoration Hardware for a while now but as a wood worker I could never justify the price when I know I could make the same thing for a fraction of the cost…which kept leading me to think about either finding plans to build a table or designing one of my own.

While innocently trying to get inspired on Pintrest, looking at motorcycles, furniture and the occasional packaging design innovation (product packaging has always been a fascination of mine mostly because it can sell me a product I care nothing about!) I found a table I really liked. It happened to be linked to really cool website and blog associated with ana-white.com. Ana White demystified Pottery Barn and Restoration Hardware furniture into DIY style plans. There I found what would become the basis for the plans I would alter to make my dining room table!

I did not change much. Overall I changed the dimensions to be a longer and slightly wider table and then dressed it up a bit. As it was presented, the able was a little too rustic. At its heart, it is a trestle style farmhouse table however I wanted it slightly more refined so I opted for mitered corners instead of the butt-joined corners in the plan for the table top. I also added some stain-grade moldings to both the table top edges and to the bases… again, to dress it up a little. True to a farmhouse table, I added bread-board style ends to the two main panels of the table top effectively turning a 108” table into a full ten feet or 120” long. By the time I added the molding edges to the top the finished dimensions turned out to be 122” long by 42” wide. Perfect for our dining room!

The neatest thing about this project is the materials. It cost less than $200 of construction grade pine (yup… 2×4’s 2×6’s and some 1×4 and 6’s from Lowes), a little glue, a ton of sanding and joiner work and then about $30 in stain and polyurethane. So for about $230, I ended up with a table that would likely cost 8-10 times that at Pottery Barn or Restoration Hardware!

Here are some pictures I took along the way:

Tops and Bottoms for the 3 Pedestals
Tops and Bottoms for the 3 Pedestals

I first started by building the 3 pedestals. Above are the pieces for the tops and bottoms of the pedestals and below are the upright columns for each pedestal being glued and clamped. Each Column has the mortise in the center which will accommodate the stretcher bar creating the integrity of joining all three pedestals.

Pedestal Columns
Pedestal Columns

And here are the 3 pedestals assembled before any sanding and fussing!

Pedestals in the Rough
Pedestals in the Rough

I added the molding touches to dress up the pedestals a bit:

A Little Molding
A Little Molding

Then on to the table top! I started by laying out the primary boards that will show the most. I selected the best boards I could find at the lumber yard, cut them to rough dimensions and then played with the grain and pattern until I felt I had them aligned and oriented to one another nicely.

Choosing Boards
Choosing Boards

Assembly of the table top was done in many steps. Here I am showing the top mostly done and highlighting the mitered corners I chose to do over the butt-joined corners the plan called for. You can also see the addition of the molding surrounding the entire table top… another addition I included to dress up the table top.

Table Top Corners
Table Top Corners

Bottom Side Up!

Above picture shows the underside of the table top and here below is the top correct side up, clamped and getting ready for more work!

Top Clamped
Top Clamped

Here is the top sanded and ready for finishing:

Sanded Smooooth!
Sanded Smooooth!

While so many woodworkers report feeling the most anxiety when gluing and assembling their project, I feel the most nervous while staining. While staining, each and every blemish, sand mark and glue mistake shows itself! I always approach staining  praying and swearing…

I used a water bourne polyurethane to limit the odor in the house. I dislike most water polys but the one I like the best is the Varathane floor finishes. I’ve done a great deal of testing these finishes and they perform better than most. They absolutely look like plastic which is why I do not like them compared to oils or aromatic polyurethane… but they have nearly no odor while drying and they are easy to apply and use.


In the end, we had a table ready for Christmas Eve dinner (Picture is dessert, the best part of every meal!)

Worth the Work
Worth the Work

As you can see by the picture above, we’re using a mix of chairs we have which include a few folding chairs (classy!). But don’t worry Restoration Hardware! We are likely going to need to buy 12 chairs. I have no real interest in building chairs for some reason…

This will be my last blog post of the year! Whew, just made it!

Happy New Year!


Cordia’s legacy in our home

1930s couch and chair
1930s couch and chair

I haven’t shared much of our family history here, yet, as this blog is primarily about our actual house.  But, what is creating our house and making it a home is our roots, our ancestral history, the history of the time our home was built, and the history of each of our families. . .so I thought I’d start sharing a bit of those pieces, too.

When one purchases a large home, there is a daunting task of furnishing it.  We didn’t have much when we bought this place, as I have moved every 2 years for the past 18 years and Bill sold a lot of his pieces when he sold his last house.  So, we scraped together what we had, bought a couch and a table and that has been about it, oh, and started scouring antique malls.  Upstate NY has fabulous antique places.

c.1930s chair, upholstered on the back, too in the original fabric
c.1930s chair, upholstered on the back, too in the original fabric

However, I have been fortunate to have garnered some furniture that has been in my family for a century.  My mother’s godmother and my grandmother’s cousin, Cordia Grunewald had some wonderful pieces.  I remember seeing them in her apartment when we would visit for Thanksgiving years ago.  I remembering thinking how grand her bed was and how quaint the couch.  I was attracted to antiques as a young teen and chose them for my own bedroom when I had it redone in high school.  So, I had a natural inclination towards Cordia’s furniture when she moved into assisted living.  None of my mom’s 3 siblings or their children wanted the furniture, so I really scored!  I have attained the couch and chair as well as a large mirror for our living area.  For our bedroom, I was given a headboard, footboard and 2 dressers.  I’m not sure what type of wood this is, though.  Mahoghany maybe?

These pieces are circa 1903, from Cordia’s parents’ first bedroom.  Cordia always had a trunk at the base of her bed, so my father gave one to me that he found and lined with cedar.

Our bed set up on a queen size frame even though the original was full.
Our bed set up on a queen size frame even though the original was full.

The couch and living room chair are circa 1930’s from their living room and I cannot guess the date on the large mirror above our mantel, but it is plaster with gold guilding.  I feel so lucky to be enjoying these pieces as they fit beautifully into our home and still look grand.

Cordia, as most of my mother’s side, was of German heritage.  An only child, she went into the army and also became a teacher.  She traveled the world and knew the important tidbits to save, like special old coins and stamps.  She never married or had children of her own, so our family grew close to her, spending Christmas’s and many Thanksgivings together.  I think of her often as Will climbs on her couch and removes the heavy horsehair cushions.

Corida around the time of high school graduation, circa 1920.
Corida around the time of high school graduation, circa 1920.

I think she’d smile and giggle to see her family’s things enjoyed so much.  And I think she would be happy to know how much we are appreciating them.

A fresh start for 2013

Before hallway
Before hallway

As the new year opens, we’re looking forward to moving fully back into our house.  December brought a chaotic holiday for us as we moved everything from downstairs outside or upstairs in preparation to have our floors refinished.  We had been planning all year to take a week away on a family trip with my parents and sister’s family over Christmas.  This was the perfect time to have someone come in and do our floors.  The hassle was moving all the furniture and stuff out and yet being able to still live with toddler Will and Heidi in a normal-ish fashion the week before we left.

We left on a Friday, and Deb Haye started work right away, working over Christmas, through a sinus infection and putting on the last coat of polyurethane the day we returned.  Thankfully, before we got home, a dear neighbor started airing out the house with fans and cracked windows.  However, the cold and snowy weather is still hard on getting a home aired out.  It took over 4 days to air out the house in 25 degree and below weather with fans and windows open.  But, it is worth it.  Oh, and yes, we are still living completely upstairs and will be for another full week.  But, it is worth it.  Oh, and we can’t put our carpets down for another 6 weeks.  But, it is worth it.  You have to see this floor in person to get the full understanding of the difference this has made in the house.

Looking down the front hall to the front door
From Living looking into Dining
From Living looking into Dining
After shot
After shot

For Bill, this was the most irritating part of our work not yet done.  He wanted these floors done the first month we moved in, and while I appreciated his aesthetic desires, I just wanted to cover them for a while to make them livable while we dealt with other matters.  However, the dust and dirt and cat urine ground into the floors was getting to me.  I couldn’t mop them, because they were too rough, and I couldn’t easily dust them because the cracks were too big, and the nail heads caught and splinters would come off.  So, I got some area rugs and dealt.

But the week away gave us the open window.  It didn’t feel worth it when I was moving my couch into my kitchen at 9:45 pm 2 weeks ago, but wow, see the difference for yourself.

Shortly before we left, Bill pulled up the plywood in the hallway before the basement stairs and replaced that area with boards from the basement, all types of hardwood.  He made it work and Deb Haye’s finishing job blended it all together beautifully.  It is amazing how much good wood is in this house.  Now to spruce up all the cherry moulding!  Oh, and to get that horrendous acrylic ball light in the hallway replaced.

From front door looking through living and dining
From front door looking through living and dining
After shot
After shot

Before and After. . . Renovations so far

Dining room, before we began
Dining room, complete with lemon trees

Here are a few images to give you an idea of how far we’ve come in 2 and a half years.  We still have a ways to go, but our house has become “ours”.  I’ll move through the images based on the order in which we completed the work.

We moved in during July of 2009, but since we were only renting (waiting on our loan to go through), we didn’t want to start any major work.  We spent the summer cleaning out the house, pruning back vines and readying for our paint crew.

When the outdoor work was underway, we began by cleaning up the kitchen and sealing the pantry.  We pulled carpet out of the laundry room, which I still haven’t show you.

And then we started the big work.  Since the dining room looked as though it would be one of the easier rooms, we started there.

Library with window still boarded
Library finished

Next we worked on the library, though we still have yet to put in shelves.

Bathroom before demolition
Completed bath

Then we started upstairs with the full bath and alongside we painted the kitchen.  It took us a LOOONG time to do the bath because we had to remove crappy wallpaper, which was adhered with caulk and a soldering gun.  Just kidding, but it was put on eerily strong.

Kitchen, fall 2009
Kitchen, freshly painted

We stayed upstairs to work on the master bedroom and redid the ceiling in the dining room, not even a year later.  Then we began the nursery and finished up with the living room, where we are still putting final details in place.

Pantry in progress
Pantry, painted

We’ve yet to redo anymore floors except for the master bedroom, though we did consider having someone else come in and do them for us.  We are still debating what to do there.  Such a big job for us.

We still have yet to put up the chandelier in the living room and attach the mantle, though Bill has completed it.

Master Bedroom, with windows covered
Master Bedroom completed, except for ceiling fan and stencil
Nursery first used as our bedroom
Nursery with mural begun

Once those pieces are in place, he will begin our bookshelves!  I cannot wait to get all my books in place.  I feel as though we still haven’t moved in because my books are waiting patiently in boxes all over the house.  I’m not a hoarder by any stretch, nor a collector of anything in particular, but I do love books.  And, thankfully, Bill loves building and working with wood, so this will be a great project for us both.

While Bill is working on the shelves, I have yet to finish painting and stenciling several areas in the house.  I am also going to draft up plans for our garden.  I’d like to get some flowerbeds in place this spring, for once.

Living room, first week moved in
Living Room complete!

Living Room Green

Dark Red, view into the front hall and front door

So, I mentioned in the last post that I was having trouble painting the correct color green on my walls.  Today, I’m mixing up the green to match the swatch I’ve chosen and I’ll sit with it in all kinds of light to decide.  I’ll paint a test swatch about 2 feet square to see what I think.  I’ve already chosen the stencil to go over the entire room, and I’m starting to make that today.  Instead of purchasing that stencil, I’m going to cut it myself from a pattern that I found in Victorian wall paper designs.  I’ve cut plenty of stencils before, but I’ve never made one that will need to last me a while.  This will need to be quite sturdy and accurate.  I’ll take pics of the process for you.

Current green

In the meantime, here are the before and after pics to show where we’ve been and where we are now.  The red in the room before made it a cozy winter color, but it really didn’t match the woodwork or my decor.  The green makes the room quite light, so I’ll need to find a way to “warm” it without darkening it too much.

The light has been cleaned and is ready to hang.  We think that it is pewter, as the metal is soft.  Bill is going to rewire it for safety.  It matches the dining room light except for the center pendant.  You can see a close up of that light from the previous post on the dining room.

The next steps for this room will include replacing the mantle, which has been refinished and building an extension to it to fit around the pellet stove.  Eventually we will refinish the floors and possibly the side door.  Maybe, way down the line we will put in cherry crown moulding.  Honestly, I’m surprised the house doesn’t have crown moulding in the formal rooms downstairs.  Hopefully, we can move in before Christmas.

It’s all in the details

Working set of pocket doors going to the library

While I’m waiting for our newly refinished floor to cure so that I can finish the stenciling and move in to my new room, I thought I’d share some of the more intricate treasures in the house with you more closely.  Although our house is not the typical over the top Victorian that one may think of when they hear the word Victorian, the Queen Anne style certainly suits our tastes and the detailing that we do have is superb.

We have both mentioned the woodwork in the downstairs and front hallway before, solid cherry paneling.  I think we have also mentioned that there are sliding pocket doors downstairs, seven to be exact.  The difficult piece for us in this is the work we’ll need to do to get them all rolling again.  Only three of them work smoothly, but we have figured out how to repair them without damaging or even taking apart the woodwork.  The tracks that the doors live on can be raised and lowered within each housing case, and once we start working on a set, Bill will likely take you through the process on how we can maneuver them.

Swinging door push plate

Each door has beautiful hardware inset handles and locks.  When we first came to the house, I had assumed that this hardware was bronze.  To my surprise, when polished, it is a rose colored brass or copper plated.  I can’t polish all of the hardware fully, so as not to wear down the plating, but fresh lime juice and sea salt work wonders.  My favorite piece of hardware so far is the push plate on the swinging door between the pantry and the dining room.  I think we’ve been very lucky that so much of the hardware is intact and in good shape.  Many houses are stripped of the hardware simply because of its worth.

Along with the door and window hardware, the floor hardware is stunning.  Yes, the floor hardware.  We have heavy iron floor registers in each room leading to our basement oil furnace.  Actually, my studio register is not connected to anything, thus leaving that room with no heat.  But, in all other rooms, there is a large register.

A single unique register in the kitchen floor

In only room is the register in the wall, and I believe we have three types of registers.  Most of them are quite large and replaceable if we ever needed to get a new one.  However, to replace a single register alone would cost $300. For each room that we have worked in, we’ve cleaned and repainted the registers.  Mostly they are dull and rusty, but shine up quite nicely with high gloss black paint.

Once again, Vandyke’s Restorers is our go to place for finding any hardware replacements.  I’ve had to buy window sash locks and strike plates through them, and we have appreciated the quality they serve up.

Not all of the glorious details we’ve found have originated in the house itself.  As we go, (slowly), we are adding tidbits to each room to make them unique and sassy.  The Victorian era was full of flourish and mismatched floral patterns.  I can’t say that we’ll end up with a house reeking of 1890, but I can say that we are intending to create an updated Victorian feel.

Unreal, right?

This past holiday, in a small art co-op in South Carolina, we came upon a perfect detail to add to our dining room.  A porcelain switch plate, painted ideally for our already stenciled walls.  I was in shock when I found it and bought it without hesitation.  I’ve even thought of writing the company to let them know how perfect it is for us.  Take a peek, the company that makes these plates is called “Now that’s a switch“.

More details to come, as we continue to unfold!