Sunday, December 14, 2014

Bikini Waxing the Bathroom Walls


When we last saw our heroine, she was stuck inside her bathroom, painting fake ceramic tiles and questioning her life's choices.   She knew there was one huge -- and unpleasant -- part of this project left to tackle.


Last winter we realized that the paint on the walls above the "tiles" was failing. It became uncomfortably clear that this problem was the result of poor adhesion between paint layers that had been applied decades ago.

I have a habit of assigning colorful names to situations like these, to help people understand what the issues are. In this case, we're going to refer to Bikini Waxing.

If you've done much painting, you may have run into this problem.  You apply your masking tape, and when you remove it, it pulls off the paint you were trying to protect.

This can be a catastrophe, or it can be a Brilliant Solution.  In our case, we knew that the paint was cracking, several layers deep. No amount of additional paint was going to stop that from happening.  We were going to have to remove the paint, until we found a layer strong enough to paint over.

So, I got the widest tape I could find, and I stuck it on the walls, and burnished it so that it was really well-adhered.

When I ripped the tape off, the paint came away from the wall.  Bikini Waxing.  Yup.

And what's more, there was no dust involved in this process, no struggling with heat guns, and no noxious solvents. 

I did all this with two rolls of automotive masking tape.  You can see where I ran out of tape, around the medicine cabinet.  And, of course, I still need to do the ceiling.  That is going to have a High Suck Factor.

The other thing with a High Suck Factor is this:  even though I've successfully removed several layers of poorly-attached paint, the layer that is currently exposed is riddled with fissures and cracks.  I'm going to have to remove that layer as well.  And I don't think that is going to be an easy process.

I won't lie. I'm pretty damn sick of working on this bathroom.  It seems that just about every part of the project is messy, awkward, and makes the room look worse than it did before I started.  I need a bit of praise, because I'm feeling somewhat demoralized.

I guess that professional Bikini Waxers find their job a bit grim at times, as well.

Sunday, November 30, 2014

How long has she been in that bathroom?


For those following along at home, this is what our bathroom looked like when we first bought the house.  The tub was not really a functional shower.  There was just a hand-held shower attachment, but no way to hang a shower curtain, and no way of showering while standing up. There was also a really disreputable green plastic "mop shield" along the wooden baseboard.  The sink was cracked, and there weren't many towel racks.  The walls were made of plaster that simulated tile. And all the walls had peeling, damaged paint.

It was a wreck, and we loved it. 

A year ago our bathroom looked like this.  Not horrible, but not great either.  We had been ignoring it for quite a while, knowing that the process of restoring the room would make a huge mess.

Robb and I painstakingly scraped the paint off the 1925 plaster "tile," taking great care not to damage the surface of the plaster.  This was tedious, dirty work.  Few things are less fun than spending hours squashed in the space between a dingy bathroom wall and a toilet, scraping paint.

We spent hours and hours and hours transforming our not-so-bad bathroom into something that looked like the toilet of a dive bar.  This work could get pretty demoralizing.  We weren't making things look better.  Oh no. We were making things look horrible.

Once the layers of paint had been removed, the plaster "tiles" had to be repaired.  Another painstaking job.

It took a lot of work, building up "tiles" and then sanding away the excess texture.  In addition to doing all that work, we spent a huge amount of time cleaning up all the dust that we created.  I can't even imagine how many times we vacuumed that tiny room.

Eventually, we were happy with the surface that we'd created.  No more gouges or cracks or screw-holes.  We had a nice, smooth surface, with clearly delineated edges between "tiles."

Robb removed all the towel bars, and shelves and whatnot, and then I primed the walls and trim.

I spent the better part of Thanksgiving week working on the bathroom.  That's what normal people do on their vacations, right?

And finally, I got to the fun part:  painting the individual "tiles" to look like ceramic.  This was harder than I anticipated, because the paint I used changed color and got appreciably darker when it dried. So, I had to just paint fearlessly, and assume that most of the tiles would look fine.  I'll be adjusting a few of the weirder-looking tiles, but not this weekend.

I can't even guess how many hours I worked on this project over the last two weeks.  I've listened to more history podcasts than you could possibly imagine. I need a break.  A break from my vacation.

I can finally envision the end of this project.  There's still one huge (and really hateful) thing that needs addressing, but we'll deal with that anon.

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

What's Cookin'?


Regular blog readers may have noticed that Robb and I both appreciate the way maps can convey information.  The current trend for "infographics" hits a real sweet spot with us.

This week, the New York Times published a fascinating map, examining the Thanksgiving foods.  They teamed with Google to see what regionally distinct recipes were being researched around the country.  (Click here for the full article -- it's fascinating.)

So what do you think, blog readers? Does this map make sense?  There was a another recent New York Times article,  looking at regional Thanksgiving recipes that stirred up a bit of controversy.  I'm not clear what the hub-bub was about, but you can click here to compare.  Interestingly, both articles produced sauerkraut as the regionally unique food for my home state of Maryland. But I wasn't apparently from the right part of Maryland (and didn't have Marylanders as parents) to have ever had sauerkraut with turkey.

Where are you from, and are you going to be eating any of the foods shown on these maps?

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Not Ready for Prime Time


After spending more time than I care to think about restoring the plaster wall "tiles" we're almost ready to prime our bathroom.  I've begged Robb to help me with the sanding, because I'm so sick of it all.

Oddly, both the projects we're painting at work involve some kind of fake tiles.  I'm on vacation today.  And what am I doing? Working on fake tiles.

Every time I think I've fixed all of the "tile" I find something else that needs work.  I guess that's just business as usual with an old house.

I'm taking the time to do this properly, but it is driving me a bit insane.  A painter who was less of a perfectionist freak would have had this project finished ages ago.  Sigh...

Monday, November 24, 2014

Monday Garden Update


While other parts of the country were shivering, Northern California finally got a bit of meaningful rain.  I took the opportunity to transplant three baby pomegranate trees to better locations.  (There's no point moving plants around in dry, dry soil.)

I also picked up two car-loads of compost from my semi-secret municipal source.  Typically, they have mountains of wood chips, but at the moment they have beautiful well-seasoned compost, free for the taking.  Since we got this house, I've been digging organic material into the soil, again and again.  Un-ammended soil around here has the texture of concrete -- it's a dense silt with no drainage at all.  One of the holes that I dug for the pomegranate tree was in soil I hadn't worked much.  Even after two days of rain, the dirt was bone-dry once I dug down four inches.

This is probably the point at which I have to admit to myself that I've run out of room in the back garden, as far as fruit trees are concerned.  Sure, they're all babies now.  But they're going to become actual trees on day, and if I keep adding trees at the rate I've been going, Robb and I won't be able to walk through the back yard.  

With the winter time change, I don't have any opportunity to get anything accomplished in my garden when I get home from from work.  Tasks pile up. I'm ashamed to admit that I only just got my garlic and parsley starts planted this weekend.  Oh well, better late than never.

If you want to read what serious gardeners are up to, click here for the link to Daphne's weekly garden-party.

Sunday, November 23, 2014

"Great architecture has only two natural enemies: water and stupid men."


Robb has been slowly but steadily working on our house.  He's painted many of the exterior doors, replaced the screens in the screen doors, and has been reglazing our windows.  His current project involves undoing some of the work that was done by the contractors who worked on our house when we first got the place. 

When we first moved in, the front porch needed work.  The contractors replaced all the boards on the landing, and also replaced many of the stair treads.  Five years on, all of these boards -- every single one -- have "cupped."  They are no longer flat, and because of that water accumulates on them when it rains.  In addition, none of the contractor's nail holes were caulked.

Robb is working to fix all this.

He sanded the landing boards, and we'll be re-priming and repainting the porch and stairs.

On Saturday, his plan was to carefully remove the worst stair tread, and flip it over.  Sounded simple, right?

It turns out that the cupping of the boards -- combined with the uncaulked nail holes -- created the perfect conduit for water. Water seeped through the nail holes, and rotted out the supports for the stairs. 

This was part of our stair risers.  Robb and I sawed the riser apart, and then Robb removed it entirely.  It was bad.

There was only one member of our household who was excited about this discovery. Building Inspector Smog had a great time, jumping inside the stairs and running around under our house.  Our postal carrier may have been amused by the roped off stairs, as she chucked a package on to our porch with great gusto.  Good thing it didn't contain the vintage cocktail glasses we'd just bought.

At some point, our entire porch is going to have to be restored. But for the moment, we're stabilizing the structure, and choosing to deal with it later. 

Saturday, November 22, 2014

Tiles and Denial


Right after Christmas last year Robb and I embarked on the Sisyphean task of repainting our bathroom.  We had previously painted the ceiling and walls above the wainscoting with a buttery yellow color.

We set about stripping the paint from the woodwork and the 1920s plaster wall "tiles."  This was a tricky, and rather disgusting task.  We had decades of paint to remove, but we had to be careful not to destroy the layer of plaster that was at the bottom of it all.

I spent hours with my head wedged behind the toilet.  It was grim work, and the process of removal made the whole room look like a Dive Bar.

Once the loose paint was removed, I masked off individual tiles and delicately re-surfaced them with a custom made "schmoo" mixture.

We primed the repaired plaster "tiles" as well as the woodwork that we stripped.

And then it happened:  I oh-so-carefully removed my ridiculously expensive fancy painters' masking tape above the wainscoting.  And in doing so, I ripped the yellow paint right off the walls. The only part of the room that actually looked decent and finished was destroyed in an instant.

I'm a professional painter.  I have been for years.  I actually do know what I'm doing.  But this house is going to make me insane.  Every single paint project we've tackled has been a process of fixing decades-old messes.  In this case, some long-ago painter used incompatible paints on the bathroom walls and ceilings, and the bond between layers was so weak that I could pull it off with masking tape.

What did I do to fix this problem?


Nothing at all.

I was so disgusted that I let the project languish for almost a year before I found the emotional energy to face it again.  During this time, I painted numerous gigantic stage productions, and stripped and repainted our neighbors' peeling wooden garage.  I did all sorts of work, but ignored the bathroom, because it depressed me so badly.

Well the time has finally come to return to this project.  There's lots to do, and I'll be taking loads of pictures, because seeing the progress keeps me motivated.


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