Master Bedroom Part 3

Getting Plastered!

The Master Bedroom is taking a fair amount of time and work to repair.  The walls and ceiling (not to

Cleaning up debris after sheetrock removal

mention the floor) all need resurfacing, molding is missing and windows are in need of repair and paint. We knew this room would take considerable effort since it’s the largest of the four bedrooms and upon first glance there’s more noticeable plaster damage in this room than any (not counting the stairway and upper hall areas). The master bedroom also has the primary brick chimney (nicely finished in plaster) running through it on the eastern wall. And chimneys, despite their massiveness actually like to move … and movement is what causes plaster to crack. The chimney was reworked about 6-8 years ago and is stable and in excellent condition. It’s very likely that at the time of building scaffolds and working on the chimney, the chimney’s surrounding areas were stressed and cracked.


It’s a very attractive chimney, only double flue but large and decorative. Many neighbors comment the chimney being the nicest in town but I digress. Future plaster damage caused by the chimney’s movement should not be an issue so on with the renovations!

We’ve chosen to renovate vs. remodel. While the difference seems subtle (since both terms have been bastardized by many websites and TV shows) the difference in approaches and activities can be significant. A neighboring house very close to us is being truly renovated and conserved. We are told the owner has been at it for over 15 years and will likely never finish. Honestly, we’re really doing something between renovations and remodeling however we try to lean towards renovation, the more conservative and less invasive approach while maintaining as much original materials and craftsmanship as possible (and as much as we can afford). Renovations tend to value the original materials and methods used while taking a conservative, less invasive approach. Remodels tend to allow major intervention and demolition with less concern and respect to materials and craftsmanship and tend to have more desire to modernize.

It is our opinion that the homeowner has a responsibility to the integrity of the home. That’s not to say they have to follow any specific guidelines or rules but they should steward the home as best they can, consider the homes original craftsmanship, materials and intent and make thoughtful choices.

One example to share pertaining to the Master Bedroom is the decision to stabilize the existing plaster on the ceiling as compared to taking it down and starting “new” or covering it up with sheetrock or another material choice. The decision to stabilize the existing plaster allows us to retain the original plaster and to a large extent is less work than the demolition and rebuild a new ceiling would require.

Most commonly, a remodeling approach would be to “hide” the current ceiling behind a new sheetrock ceiling, maybe tearing out the original damaged plaster (including the plaster that is stable) and installing a new sheetrock ceiling or worse (in my opinion), hide the damaged plaster behind a “drop ceiling” and hope it never comes down!

I researched several approaches to stabilize ceiling plaster that has already partially separated from the lathe. This becomes a key concern (pun intended … keys are the plaster that gets “smooshed” between the pieces of lathe which create the physical mechanism for the plaster to adhere to the ceiling or wall) … ok, I digress again … The keys being damaged is an important factor in the renovation process and must be dealt with first. Any subsequent materials applied to the surface of the ceiling will only weigh the ceiling down and further damage the plaster. The existing ceiling has to be stabilized before anything is added.

I chose a fairly new method using some “modern materials” I appreciated because it was less invasive and focused on the damaged areas while allowing a complete resurface at the same time

Scraped ceiling crack

First, the cracked area is carefully scraped as clean as possible of any loose chipping or peeling paint. Sometimes, as it is with this damaged area, there may be some water damage from previous roof leaks. Water damage often causes paint to delaminate from its substrate so thorough removal of the poorly adhered paint is best.

I had to work carefully as to not upset the plaster much more. It’s already damaged and more damage due to my scraping is not wanted!

Many methods suggest that gouging out the crack to fill it with plaster is best. I’ve tried this method on walls and while it can work, I wanted to try something less invasive on this ceiling. So to some extent, this is a test for me personally!

Instead of removing plaster along the entire crack, the new method suggests drilling 3/16th holes every 3 or so inches (about 1 inch from the crack) along both sides of the crack being stabilized. Most of the holes drilled will hit lathe, some might be located between the lathe in the plaster’s keys. Either is acceptable but the lathe holes are preferred.

After the holes are carefully drilled, each hole will be liberally filled with Liquid Nails construction adhesive. Now this is where we could easily argue that Liquid Nails is not a historically accurate material to use on an 1895 home. We could argue but I’m not going to … like I said … somewhere between renovation and remodel. Seriously, I have no problem using modern materials to attain safety, security and an aesthetic that replicates the original or helps me preserve the original materials and appearance.

Crack repaired with Liquid Nails and Screws

After the holes are filled I use sheetrock screws outfitted with large plastic washers to “clamp” the plaster in place while the glue sets. Depending upon how concave the surface is will influence if the screws stay or not. In one area near the chimney the screws are far beneath the overall surface so they will stay! If it seems that the screws will protrude proud of the surface I may remove them after the glue dries.

I then work stone and tile adhesive into the crack as well as I can. This helps “glue” the actual crack line more strongly than plaster or joint compound. At this time, this is exactly where the ceiling repairs have been left. The next steps are to apply the reinforcement mesh and skim coat with joint compound mixture. We are working on the walls at the same time and have don some mesh and plaster work we can show and explain. It;s the same procedure that will follow for the ceilings.

We treated the walls as we did the ceiling. Instead of tearing out the wall plaster (which was more stable than the
ceiling plaster) we used a self adhesive stabilization mesh that acts like thousands of tiny “bridges” creating
a strong matrix of old and new plaster. The wall cracks were very slight with no damage to the keys so there was no need to do the drilling and gluing and screwing to these walls.

Karyn applying reinforcing mesh onto cracked wall

The wall pictured here with Karyn applying mesh had several “large” cracks and many “smaller” cracks with no separation from the lathe. Very stable really, just cracked significantly.

The mesh is self adhesive but the real strength of the repair comes from skim coating several coats of plaster or joint compound into the cracks and filling the texture of the mesh. these coats of plaster sandwich the mesh between the old wall surface and the new … a very strong matrix that will resist future cracking and provide a smooth wall surface to paint or wallpaper.

Skimcoating the mesh on a wall

We’re still skim coating joint compound on every surface in the master bedroom. There are a few repairs left to make on the ceiling and all the walls need at least two more coats of plaster to make them smooth. Karyn was practicing her plaster technique in the closet (yeah, the plaster in the closets need some help too) and she’s just about ready to plaster more public walls!

There’s a lot of surface to cover still so stay tuned for at least another one or two posts for this room! We still just dreaming about painting in here but Karyn has the color picked out and I’m not spoiling the surprise of her finish choices in this post but let’s just say I’m lobbying for a very fancy decorative finish!


Rooms you’ve not seen. . .

Entering from the front door

Since the master bedroom saga will be ongoing for a while, I thought I would show you a tour of some of the rooms we haven’t yet shared.  Rooms that are way down on the list of getting in order.

The house has four main rooms downstairs and a half bath, and four bedrooms upstairs and a full bath.  Out of those ten rooms, we’ve completed three (the library which we haven’t yet revealed) and we’re onto our fourth, the master bedroom.

Cherry staircase

The hallway, however, is quite large in itself, and very intricately designed with cherry paneling and woodwork all the way through to the second floor.  Once the floors are done and the ceiling replastered, it will likely be the most spectacular part of the house.  I intend to stencil it quite delicately as well.

The living room is nothing special right now, though completely usable.  It’s got an old coal fireplace, which we removed and replaced with a stove for optimum heating.  Currently, its painted an odd red color, but in fine enough shape that we live in it comfortably.

Upstairs hallway, showing doors to the master bedroom on the left and a guest room on the right

We’ve shared the dining room already and the library, or parlor, is yet to come.  Lastly, downstairs is the kitchen and butler’s pantry.  Though it might be a while before I’ll have new cabinets, its still a comfy working space and brightly lit.

Upstairs, besides the master bedroom, we are using a back bedroom for our own, and there is a second guest room.  The smallest bedroom is my studio for now, and I hope to keep it that way.

Our bedroom. . . for now

Bill thinks I should take something larger, but I really like the crowded space for studio work.  I’m not one of those people that likes to spread out.

Looking at my studio from the doorway

Lastly, the house has a full basement, which is currently Bill’s wood shop and paint storage.  It runs a bit damp, and a little too dark for my taste.  But, we’ll eventually make it more usuable and even add a wine cellar if we can get that far.

At some point, we’ll have to discuss the garage, too.  It has held treasures of its own, considering it has its own attic and is larger than a normal one car.  Way off in the distance will we be able to work on it.

The more I write, the more I realize how much there really is to do. 🙂

Front guest room, waiting for company

Master Bedroom Part 2

We’ve put in about 10 full days of work so far on the Master bedroom.  That might not sound like much, but ultimately those are weekend days with both of us working on the room.  And, we’re likely not even halfway done.

Cleaning up debris after sheetrock removal

To give you an idea of how we have spent that time so far. . .

Day 1 & 2:  Dad and Bill pulled out sheet rock covering windows and removed faux closet and shelves.

Day 3:  Bill and I worked on the front window sash cords.  All of the windows in this house are double hung, meaning they open from the top and bottom.  Most of the sash weights are in place for each window, except those two windows in the front in the master bedroom.  So, I had to dig around the attic and basement looking for stray weights.  Then we had to pull out all the insulation alongside the sashes in order to put in the cords so the windows would work.  It’s a beautiful system and easy to do IF there isn’t insulation stuffed in the pockets.

Sash weight and pocket

As you can see to the right, there is a pocket in the woodwork seemed in beautifully.  It removes with a single screw and then each weight for that side of the sashes can be accessed.  So, the old cord needs to be cut, and a new cord fed through the pulley at the top and tied to the weight at the bottom.  The windows open easier than the new vinyl ones once the cords are working.

Day 4:  Bill puts on the front window moulding.  (All of this was completed before our inspection at the end of May.)

Day 5:  Bill took down the lovely bright red shelves in the bedroom nook.  Eventually we’d like to make this part of the room into a master bath, if we could get the plumbing to work.  It’s about 8 x 7 feet, so it could work as a nice HUGE walk-in closet, too.

Red shelves, don't they go nice with pale pink walls?

Day 6:  I cleaned, vacuumed really while Bill began to stabilize the plaster in the ceiling.  There are mostly cracks, but some lose plaster that needs to be adhered before we can really start plastering over everything. Bill is the king of plastering, so I’m sure he’ll explain the process more thoroughly in another post.

Day 7:  I put in sash cords on the other two windows while Bill finished putting up the base moulding and repaired the moulding in the interior window.

Day 8:  Bill painted sashes. . . and I was likely doing laundry, but I can’t remember

Day 9:  Bill finished up all the moulding he could and I started learning how to plaster.  In the afternoon, Bill plastered and I began priming all the woodwork.

Plastering and moulding

This room originally appeared to be a light turquoise.  When it was re-done with all the sheetrock and fake closets, it was painted pink, from ceiling to floor and all woodwork in between.  Below you can see a closeup of the lathe under the original plaster (which was horsehair) and the reason why we need to do so much more plaster on top and repairing the moulding. . or at least filling in the moulding.  When the closet was put in, the owner removed a lot of the moulding and we’ve had to scrounge around the corners of the house to find stuff to fill in.  Thankfully, there are years and years of stored goodies in the recesses of this house.  And, I’m married to a wood working wonder.

Day 10:  Bill plastered like a mad man and almost the whole first coat is completed.

We won’t even start discussing the floor.  That will be a whole new adventure, as this room will have the first floor that we’ll redo from scratch.

Master Bedroom (Part 1)

The master bedroom is going to take a fair amount of work thus the “Part 1” portion of the title. I expect to turn this room into several posts just to keep it moving along nicely. In all fairness the work has begun but has stalled just the same. The master bedroom is one of two bedrooms on the front side of the house. All four bedrooms in the house are on the second floor, two on the front and two on the back.

The wall which hides two windows

The Master bedroom is the room which had two of it’s three windows covered by a sheetrock wall on the inside. Yes, completely covered over by a wall which was built by the previous owner to the owner we bought the house from. We needed to at least have the windows restated as part of the rehabilitation mortgage agreement’s final audit and inspection. After all, these are two of the most prominent windows on the front of the house!

From the outside, the windows simply appeared to have their shades drawn and closed all the time. From the inside … they were non-existent. The photo titled “The wall which hides two windows” is the wall being torn down (by my father-in-law and I) in the photo titled “Exposing the windows”

Exposing the windows

To begin we carefully measured outside to find the windows inside. I took very shallow stabs with a sheetrock saw to be sure I was not cutting near the window glass until we were confident we could locate the windows.

The sheetorck was backed by foil covered styrofoam insulation panels nailed through the plaster wall. And unfortunately to fit the sheetrock and insulation neatly into place, the installers of the wall stripped the inside windows of all its original trim, moulding and the portion of the sills that protrude into the room. A very sad discovery of what I’d say was a poor choice in the first place. I am happy they didn’t glue the insulation in place!  That would have been very damaging to the plaster wall.

Windows complete!

As luck would have it, our neighbor Dave Lieb who works on old houses and furniture for his profession had some old moulding salvaged from a demolition home that came extremely close to matching the other windows in the room. Dave graciously gave me three bundles of the matching moulding for me to use. All that was left now was rebuilding the sills (which I was able to do from some 5/4 white pine), scrape, prime and paint the sashes and re-hang them with new sash cord!

In upcoming posts, Karyn and I will walk you through each day of work on this pink room, from plastering to putting in sash cords, priming and finishing the floors.

Upstairs Bath

Someone pointed out recently that we haven’t been showing what we’re doing right at this moment.  (Sorry about that, there is so much past work to show, it’s hard to squeeze it all in.)  Well, Bill’s next post will unveil the biggest recent project and we’ll walk through each day of renovation in fairly real time so that you can see how long it takes us to finish a project.

Original wall paper

In the meantime, I wanted to show you what we’ve just completed — the upstairs bath.  There are only two bathrooms in the entire house, and the one upstairs is the only full bath.  When we moved in, the tub was actually brown with grime.  Thankfully, my sweet husband scoured it for me.

The dark green wallpaper was peeling from everywhere and the ceiling had also been wallpapered to hide cracks (also peeling).  The woodwork was dry, and the closet unmentionable.  So, we got to work.

Bill doing the wall paper peel

We started the bathroom renovation almost immediately when we moved in last July.  However, we couldn’t do much at that time as we were waiting for the full purchase to go through.  So, we removed the urine stained carpet in the closet and put 3 coats of paint on the closet walls to cover the dark green.  It was enough for the time.

Once this spring rolled around, we got to work on the main part, removing wallpaper.  It took us weeks to remove the paper, considering it had been put on bare plaster and bare sheet-rock in some places.  Nothing takes it off when it is glued directly to sheet-rock.  The only thing one can do is cover it, so we did.  Bill, the everlasting plaster machine, loaded on 6 layers of plaster to cover wallpaper, cracks and divets in the walls.  Then, I was able to prime and paint and stencil.  We both restored the woodwork with our new favorite treatment, Danish oil.  To round out our work, I repainted the light fixtures and sink brackets in hammered copper.  If you notice in the top photo, the marble sink has two brackets underneath holding it up, or pretending to hold it up.

Completed Bath

Our greatest treasure was finding an old marble topped vanity (matching the sink marble) to use as a counter and storage.  The bathroom is oddly shaped, but big enough to hold a small dresser.  To top off the new look, we got new sink hardware in oil rubbed bronze.  Course, there was no way I wanted to change the sink.  We think it is original, a small corner marble sink–couldn’t be more quaint.

Bill topped off the room by giving the floor a coat of polyurethane, and we called it done.  Really, this is the first room in the house that is fully complete~ floors, hardware, linens, everything.

the Attic

When Bill and I were first looking for a house together, there were a few things that I really wanted.  I didn’t care how many bedrooms or baths, and I didn’t care about the year it was built or the style.  Granted, house-hunting is quite different here in New York than anywhere I’ve been.  There aren’t “suburbs” and new construction means “double-wide” or anything after 1960.  So, I adapted with a few requirements that stuck.

First, I wanted a place to garden.  Pulling weeds is relaxing to me, so I need a place to plant things, that I may or may not kill in my own way and time.  (I have started a garden of sorts here and the cherry tomatoes are growing!)

Secondly, I really wanted a fireplace. It is so cold here, and the snow makes that bearable.  But, the fireplace is my winter therapy.  The light even makes a room seem warmer than it is.  We’ve adapted the coal fireplace here to a usable status; so we’ll show you that in a later post.

Lastly, I wanted a walk in attic.

the attic stairs

Now, I didn’t realize that could be something that one could want, until we visited a glorious Federal home a few towns away.  This amazing brick house was a consideration of ours, but the trailer park neighborhood across the street drove away our interest.  However, it had a full walk up attic, where “I” could stand!  And it had windows, and old trunks!  Quickly, needing an attic became a requirement.

East side, and windows to house front

For most of the houses we visited, Bill looked at the attic and the basements first, to give me a full report.  At 60 West Main, it looked promising when I saw the STAIRS that led up to the attic for this house.  Bill shook his head and said, “Well, its a deal breaker, you’re not going to like this.”  I couldn’t have imagined what it would look like.

Windows facing the back yard

The trap door opened to reveal a full walk up attic, with windows on all four sides and the original beams showing their hardy structure.  I was in love, and ready to move my studio in right away.  Apparently, though, I’m not allowed to put a wood stove up there, and its not safe to heat without changing the whole thing.  We would have to put up sheet rock to cover the beams, and insulation and ultimately hide its glory in order to “use” it for living space.

So, instead, I visit it when I can, and I’ve put a light up there so that it shines through the three stained glass windows up there on winter nights.  This year, I might even put a small Christmas tree in one of the front windows.

At the top of the attic stairs

Dining Room, phase 1

We started with the dining room first, because it seemed to have the least work to do and we wanted to feel as though we really accomplished something.  When we originally looked at the house, there was a huge drum-

Dining room, pre paint

set in the room.  The walls were patched, and the undercoat was a dirty yellow.  But, its a HUGE room, with three large windows at one end and a curved cove at the other.  Yes, the light appears to be original, too.

And so, the real work began.  We have to re-paint and repair all of the rooms downstairs before we can refinish the floors, and that is another post of course.

Bill priming the ceiling

I chose a soft lime sage green for the base coat.  We had to patch and prime the entire room and ceiling beforehand, though. What we didn’t know at the time, however, was that the ceiling had been wallpapered at one time.  That old glue showed up much later, after the whole room had been completed and the ceiling started to peel.  Thankfully, it was our first ceiling, so re-doing it was more of a lesson learned well than anything.  Bill is still working on that part, but should be done in the next few weeks.

Dining room, post stenciling

Painting the room was a quick process, but the stenciling took about 6 weeks or so.  It was well worth it.  Though you can’t tell from these photos, we fixed all the windows, cleaned the hardware and the woodwork.  Most of the original hardware appears to be either copper or a rose colored bronze.  Most, if not all the windows in the house are dual hung, so that the sashes open from the top and the bottom.  We have replaced all the cords here in the dining room, so they are all completely functional.  The second phase of the dining room will involved refinishing the floors and getting real furniture.  Might be a ways off.

Other side of the dining room, (swinging door goes to pantry.)

Our last piece of the dining room came as a bit of a surprise to both of us.  Bill actually finished the ceiling while I was away this past week and we both decided that the light needed a little something.  So, we planned to put a plaster medallion in place around the base, and I thought I could clean the fixture while it was down.  Originally, I had thought it was plated with brass or gold and needed to be re-done.  However, with a closer look and some cleaning, I discovered that it was silver!  And, might not be just silver plate, either.  Check out the before and after!  Woo hoo, another sweet surprise that the house holds.

Dining room light before cleaning. . .
. . . and after polishing