Saturday, October 31, 2009

Day One: Removal

To remove or not to remove?

When we did the trim in the bedroom upstairs, some of the woodwork had been removed for the electrical project and some remained in place. We decided it would be a good opportunity to see which way worked better.

There are pros and cons to each method, but ultimately we decided to remove the trim for this project. For the following reasons:
  1. We are doing this over the winter and paint stripping creates a large mess that we didn't want to be living with.
  2. It's easier to get crisp lines where the wood meets the wall if it's removed.
  3. When the wood is left in place, the cracks and corners are really hard to get into, which means lots of work with dental tools picking out little bits of paint.
  4. The finished job looks better where we removed the woodwork than where we kept it installed.
The cons for removing the trim:
Okay, so that's a pretty unlikely occurrence, but the point is you can get plaster damage. You can also crack the trim (I had a couple mishaps of that nature today), but usually both cracked (or missing) plaster and cracked woodwork can be fixed. I would rather fix that than spend hours with dental tools, but it's really a personal choice.

If you would like to remove the woodwork to strip it, read on. If giant chunks of plaster falling off scares you, wait until the next installment.

First step: gather your tools.
Stuff you Need:
  1. Marker or pencil
  2. tape
  3. utility knife
  4. five-in-one or stiff putty knife
  5. hammer
  6. crow bar (the little ones work well too, I just couldn't find ours)
  7. stiff piece of plastic or wood (I use a plastic putty knife)
  8. drop cloth
  9. Shop-Vac
  10. Vise-Grips
  11. small step ladder
Step One:
Score the paint. Kevin uses a utility knife for this and runs it between where the wood meets the wall or other trim piece. I like to use a five-in-one tool and gently tap the end with a hammer to break the paint. If you don't do this, the paint can sometimes be bonded to the wood so badly that it will pull chunks of the wood off.

Step Two:
GENTLY, GENTLY, tap the five-in-one with the hammer at the edge of the woodwork. Move up and down the entire length of the trim gently prying it away from the wall. Once you get enough room, you can move to the crow bar. This is where the stiff plastic comes in. I use the plastic putty knife because the handle is easy to grip. Place it between the crow bar and whatever surface is behind it so the force of the prying is on the plastic. You'll do less damage this way. Focus on the nails that are nailed into other woodwork, as wood is much stronger than plaster when it comes to prying.

Step Three:
At this point, the trim should be off the wall. This is where the marker comes in. Label it. My labels look like this:

"Hallway- S. Side- E. of Kitch Door"

I try to be as detailed as possible, because I am kind of scared of putting it back together.

The tape is for taping pieces that become cracked back together. Our trim style is unusual enough that the cap is not available in the twin cities. I save even little chips that fall off by just wrapping some tape around the board with the chip in place.

Step Four:
Get the nails out. This is where the Vise-Grips comes in. The key to pulling the nails is to pull them through the entire board from the back, not pry them out from the face. This way, you don't risk break-out from the force of the nail.

Finally, interesting pictures from the day of trim removal:

Here is a shot of the round doorway. The trim is removed on one half.

The fruits of my labor. I just hadn't removed all the nails yet. There were four doorways in this hall, so a lot of the work was vertical.
If done really well, this is what the plaster should look behind the trim. I'm not going to lie, this is the only one that looks this nice.
Finally, hidden treasures. This is the original wallpaper I unearthed behind some of the trim. It looks almost stenciled. I might use the design somewhere eventually.
And finally, a partially disintegrated crayon that a child pushed down a crack in the molding. Can anyone date it?
Stay Tuned for: Stripping....

Paint Removal 101

My sister and her husband bought an old Victorian in our hometown recently and it, like our house, has painted woodwork. Except for the room that the previous owner started, realized what a pain in the neck stripping woodwork is, and just put a coat of polyurethane over her half finished job, paint chips and all. Maybe she was going for a distressed look?

Anyway, since we are once again on a paint stripping adventure, I thought I'd document our process for her and anyone else out there interested in stripping their woodwork.

Our project is the entire main floor of our house. We have stripped the paint on three main floor windows already and an entire room upstairs, so we have had the opportunity to experience multiple different methods. I plan to write a series of detailed posts using the methods we have found to work best.

Note: If anyone would like to add their suggestions or tips, please comment. I would love to hear other ideas!

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Because we can't just sit still for a weekend...

We are going to sneak one little mini-project in before the great main floor bungle-revival begins: rewiring the basement.

In the first few months of us owning the Bungled House, we tackled a complete rewiring of the living room, dining room, foyer and all three bedrooms. This replaced some scary electrical work the house had acquired over the years. For more on this project, go here, here and here.

However, knowing that a full remodel of the rooms was underway, we left a few areas unfinished (no, there's no exposed live wires anywhere). For instance, there are a lot of things like this:
Note the bad plaster job around the outlet and the giant pink foam block. That is a plug, as it is an outside wall. Interior walls were simply ignored. Seriously; there are giant holes in the molding all over our house. Why, you ask, did we not just install the outlets in the giant holes? well for one, it's not code, and for two, we felt the holes in the molding were done in poor taste. Solution?
It's not perfect, but Kevin tried to match the wood grain and I think he did an excellent job. This was also a first attempt, and if we've learned anything from do-it-yourselfing, it's that the first attempt takes the longest, looks the worst and irks you every time you walk past it.

Anyway, back to the original message of this post: rewiring the basement. Two rooms, the kitchen and bathroom, were not rewired in the original project, as both these rooms will require a total renovation some day. Our solution was to run dedicated circuits to every outlet in the rooms so we knew we wouldn't run into any unknown live wires. In the process, we killed the basement electrical. There is one working light in the basement currently (and a few lamps) and one or two outlets. Our plan is to have five lights and two outlets per wall throughout the basement. All lights will be turned on by a switch at the top of the stairs.

I hate dark basements.

It was always one of those things we meant to come back to, as it would really only take a weekend if well planned, but other things just kept getting in the way. Now, however, two things are pushing this project up on the list. The first: trim stripping is going to take place in the basement, and the lighting is seriously subpar right now. The second: the rewiring also cut-off the low voltage wires for the doorbell, and I want it working for trick-or-treaters this year.

I think this might be the original doorbell (or at least the first installed in this house). It worked before the wiring project. It is made by the Edwards Company and has the original installation and maintenance instructions glued onto the back. I will post more pictures and information about the doorbell as I work to revive it this weekend.

I hate houses with broken doorbells. Tacky.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009


A warning: This is an honest portrayal of the condition of the three main level living areas we are going to be restoring this year. You may see some disturbing images. You'll cringe for sure, and be thankful you don't live in such a dwelling.

So I ask, try to see it how I do (on good days). The floors are refinished. The trim is stripped. The walls are painted and the ceilings are deglitterpopcornified (I totally made up a new word there--think it will catch on?).

Our house has three things going for it that make it work for the kind of total restoration we plan to do. The first is its size. At 1100 square feet, projects are never more than we can handle (or at least don't appear that way until we've gone too far to go back). In this picture, I am standing in the northwest corner of the house, and you can see the door on the south side of the house in the upper right. It's only about 26 feet long.

The second is its condition. It's livable, but at the same time, because no real work has been done to it for so long, I never feel guilty about replacing something or redoing someone else's work.

The third is also related to its condition. Even in its 101 years, its owners have seen the value in some key old house features. It had seven original light fixtures when we bought it. The beveled glass front door, though in need of some help, is intact.
All of the original window and door hardware is still here.
Even the hardwood floors have never been refinished, though they sat hidden under linoleum and carpet for over sixty years.

Kevin and I had always intended to do a lot of the work ourselves on the house, but we always thought we'd be open to hiring things out as well. The more we do ourselves, however, the more connected we become to the house and its quirks. And the less we trust others to complete the job to our standards. At this point, it's almost a challenge to me to see what we can do ourselves. I love looking at the pieces of the house that we've restored and knowing the effort and value we take in the work has paid off in some beautiful way.
Our latest project is a catastrophic undertaking, especially for two people who have been on a one-wall kick for some time. We plan to restore the trim back to a natural wood finish in the foyer, living room, dining room and hallway.

Here are two half-hearted attempts (I said I'd be honest), really more tool experimentation than anything else. We have completed a whole room upstairs already, so this isn't a new skill for us.

While the trim is off, we are going to take down the ceilings. They are already all drywall, but the job was done rather poorly, and they are popcorn and glittery and gross. So we are going to knock them out and reinstall drywall the right way this time. Then we're going to tackle the walls. Cracks will be repaired (Kevin's specialty) and I'm going to do a test to see how hard sanding off the texture will be. Then everything is going to be painted. NOT WHITE. This house has been too white for too long. It is aching for color. I can feel it.

While I'm doing a lot of the finish work on the trim, Kevin is going to be building new corner cabinets. The originals met their demise back in the fifties by the looks of it, and their replacements are ugly and weird. It's like someone poured mustard on them.

Finally, we will refinish the floors. This might be the one thing we hire out (but I doubt it considering our history on these things).

Like I said, a huge undertaking, and I know, like everything else it will take longer than we plan. You'd think we would get better at time estimation, but the thing is, deep down, I like to grossly underestimate the time it takes us to finish a project.

Although it does drive Kevin crazy.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009


I need to get into the habit of writing every weekend again.

Windows have been the theme of house remodel lately for Kevin and I. He has been hard at work making combination wood storms for the side of the house we repainted this summer. He installed the first two today, finally (the installation was interrupted by my parents when they came to take us to the last Twins game in the Metrodome on Sunday).
Here's a detail shot of one primed. I will take pictures of them on the house when it's not dark. Note: As promised, pictures of the storms have been added.

This isn't a storm Kevin made, but one we restored. The color on this is more accurate than the picture of Kevin's storms.
Here are Kevin's storms installed:
The first storms went in our bedroom, and with winter coming a little early this year in Minnesota, the comfort level in the bedroom is sure to improve. It's been especially hard getting out of bed knowing I'm about to walk into such a cold room. They look beautiful, but if you talk to Kevin, he will tell you they are riddled with mistakes. Either he's too modest or they'll fall off the house in a few years...stay tuned.

The dining room window is also getting a homemade combination wood storm. I know I have mentioned this before, but the window is huge. The wood part of the storm had to be bungeed to the top of our car because it wouldn't fit inside. Which really bummed me out because we have fit quite a laundry list of things inside this car before with no problems. Although the apple tree is still leaning a little....

I have been working on a bedroom window that I took out in May when I was bored between the fence project and the siding project (there was only a week between these two projects, by the way). I thought it would be a nice little activity to tide me over. Like I said, the siding project began and my window was forgotten. Until I realized it was getting close to heating season. And then the temperature dropped fifteen degrees. And then it snowed. And now the heat is on and there is a gaping hole in our house. Okay, fine, it has a storm window, but it's a cheap metal one.
So I have been working on the window. Once it is done, however, it will mark the first truly finished room in the bungled house. See, it's getting less bungled every day.

On the last day of summer, which also proved to be the first and last day of fall as well, I went crazy on the yard while I was waiting for paint to dry on the window. There was this patch of yard that had been largely neglected by the PO, and was in desperate need of attention. There were cement chunks and a subculture of daylillies that decided to secede from the mainstream society of daylillies on the other side of the yard.
So I ripped everything out. Then I went around the yard and transplanted all of the ferns that had been growing in nooks and crannies and looking very uncomfortable and made a little fern bed of sorts. The only other plant I left was the ivy growing up the fence, because last year, when we actually had fall, it turned a brilliant red. In the spring, I'm going to fill in with a groundcover. My goal is to eventually fill in this whole area with plantings to cut down on mowing.