Posts Tagged ‘tools’

So when I left things at the end of part one, we had a dark blue painted front door (no more flower mural), which was a step in the right direction.

But although I was glad to be done with the flower painting, and liked the color (Sherwin Williams Naval) it was still a little unfinished feeling, with sort of a “blank” look to me because of that big wood panel in the middle:


Whenever I’m lucky enough to travel someplace with pretty architecture, I like to take photos of my favorite doors and doorways. One of the loveliest cities in the world for pretty doorways is Bath, near where my husband grew up in England. There are so many gorgeous doors there in all that beautiful Georgian architecture.

Here’s are a few I fell in love with this summer in Bath and Oxford:

Bath Door 1

Bath Door 2

Oxford Door 1

Oxford Door 2

Look at the history! The glassy paint! The great mail-slots and knockers and hand-crank doorbells. In fact, when I couldn’t find anything particularly inspiring in our local hardware stores, my sister in law mentioned a place in Bath called The Knob Connection which specializes in “door furniture” which sounded like a place that took things seriously. And they even have a website! I was thrilled.

Since our house had many years of ownership by a prominent medical family in town, and I think the style is really beautiful and timeless, I was very interested in a “doctor’s knocker” – like on the white door above – these were used to mark the doors of physicians long ago so that in an emergency you could tell where a doctor lived even in a strange town. I love historical quirky things like that, so when my sister-in-law offered to visit the shop for me, I asked her to check out this one in person.

Another one caught my eye too, though, and it’s the one she said was much nicer in person: this “English rose” round knocker. The provided photo really isn’t doing it any favors there, which is why I had initially been looking at the other one more seriously. But my sister-in-law visited the shop and decided to buy it then and there and send it over as my Christmas present, since my husband’s parents were coming over for Christmas, she asked them to pack it and bring it over – it definitely weighed down their luggage, but I’m so glad they brought it!

Although the bolts to mount it are too long for our door, so I really need to shorten them (or buy shorter ones) I went ahead and mounted it right after Christmas. I just laid a piece of paper against the back of it and used a pencil to mark the two places I would need to drill for bolts. Since I really REALLY did not want to mess up the placement of the knocker, I made a color copy of it (just laid it on the scanner bed of our printer/scanner/copier and hit “Color Copy”) for a 1:1 model of it I could reposition lots of times on the front door with tape.

When we got it where we wanted it, and had the holes marked well, it was just a matter of drilling through the door. Again, since this door has a dumb plywood panel as its middle, rather than some gorgeous piece of antique wood, I wasn’t too worried about going through the door.

And drill I did! I really need to get some larger drill bits for our drill, because as it was our largest wasn’t quite large enough and I had to keep wiggling it around to make the hole bigger, which took forever and seemed like a pretty inexact way of doing it.

Nonetheless, I was happy with the results!

knocker installed

When my sister in law bought it the knob-store owner told her that it was cast from a mold of an old Tudor-era door knocker, and that’s why the bottom rose looks worn, because the original one was worn down from years of use. Who knows, but I liked the story. Best Christmas present ever!

The door almost felt done, but when we removed our storm door our mail carrier became concerned because our old mail-slot was very small – about a 4.5″ opening – and he was worried about leaving larger mail outside without the storm door to hold it in. So, because I didn’t want to reattach the ratty storm door, or buy and hang another one, I decided to look for what our options might be for ordering a larger mail slot.

After a little internet research and Pinterest window shopping, I ended up looking at the selection from Signature Hardware. They had at least a few options in various styles for old houses, and the prices were fairly reasonable for solid brass door “furniture.” Since our goal was to have a LARGER opening, the styles were a bit more limited, but we ended up liking this one quite a bit:

post slot from Signature Hardware

It had the larger dimensions we needed and the color seemed somewhat close to the knocker we already had. I noticed in the comments that it was somewhat confusing to install but thought I could probably handle it.

Ha, ha, ha.

While this is a very PRETTY mail slot, and there were instructions available to print from the website, the installation process was incredibly difficult.

You have to cut a hole for the mail to go through, so using our jigsaw I enlarged the current hole. This part was pretty nerve-wracking because it was in the thick, old, wood part of the door rather than the thin plywood part. However, what REALLY made it hard was that the hole had to be WIDER at the top so that the post-flap had clearance to fold in, but narrower in the middle so that the mounting bolts could grab into it. It was NOT well or simply designed at all. Because I was worried about accidentally making the hole too LARGE, I ended up slowly, slowly chipping away at it, holding up the mail slot, chipping away a bit more, holding up the slot again, etc. I ended up hand chiseling quite a bit of the part around the top, which took SO much longer than I had imagined. But finally it was up, albeit in the middle of a big mess of 103-year-old sawdust everywhere.

mail slot installed

I still feel like it could be a slightly better fit, and would like to get a larger drill bit to counter sink the spots where the plate screws in just a bit better, but it’s very stable as is and sometimes good enough is good enough for now. Additionally, the big inner flap is a nice bonus over our old one, which only had a flap inside the front door. This one is large enough for even wide manila envelopes and slim packages to go through. A big change, and we haven’t had any complaints from the mail carrier yet. (Phew.)

post holding mail

The added weight of the brass mail slot even holds outgoing mail, which was never an option before. Kind of neat.

So here’s the door now, knocker and mail slot in place:


Note that strong afternoon sun, the reason the original wood frame was so damaged. Hopefully this new look will last us a long time.


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When we first walked through our house four years ago, several rooms had wallpaper or paint colors that weren’t to our taste. It’s to be expected, really. And like everyone says, you have to have the vision to see past colors you dislike and look at the bones beneath.

The bones were good.

But the wallpaper? The wallpaper was bad. How bad, you ask?

Initial visit to our house

This bad.

We imagined that the dining room would be one of the first rooms we’d repaint, because it seemed like such an “easy” payoff. Big windows, a neat floorboard pattern, a built-in china cabinet, and a chandelier that, while over-the-top for sure, was original to the house and had a certain ragged glamor to it. Yet we never got around to it.

We had paint chips hanging from a nail on the wall. We even scraped a little of the wallpaper off one weekend, to see how hard it would be. We scraped a patch of the popcorn ceiling and sent it to the lab.

And then we just… stopped. We did other rooms. We worked. We watched lots of Netflix. We had a baby. And still the dining room remained in all its ridiculous glory.

The wallpaper border, when viewed closely, shows a rich variety of wildlife: birds, insects, hermit crabs and a horned tadpolish creature a friend once termed “fetal goats.” Not something you see every day, really.

Closeup of old wallpaper border

Unless you’re us. We saw it EXACTLY every day. For four years. But at long last, after far too long, and due almost entirely to the hard work of my father-in-law who was visiting (and swears he enjoys this stuff), we can finally say that the dining room is quite different now!

Dining Room Before & After

Dining Room Before & After

So the basic steps of the transformation (again, all credit to my in-laws, especially for the hard initial steps of scraping!)

  • Put down plastic and tape it to the baseboards.
  • Put very hot tap water into trigger spray bottles.
  • Spray a 3′ x 3′ patch of popcorn ceiling, move onto a second one, and then move back to scrape the first. (Side note of caution: We had our ceiling texture tested for asbestos and other evil things not long after moving in – don’t skip that step because you do NOT want to be breathing in all that bad stuff if it’s in your ceiling. The $50 the test cost is nothing compared to the chance of possible medical bills and heartbreak years down the line.)
  • Scrape the popcorn texture off with your putty knife lying almost parallel to the ceiling. Be careful not to gouge through because patching is no fun.
  • Patch the inevitable few gouges with joint compound.
  • Sand out the gouges and any weird spots in the ceiling.

If your popcorn texture is like ours, it leaves a chalky residue behind. We tried washing this off, sanding it, scrubbing it, etc. but sometimes it still causes the first coat of primer and paint to peel off.

Dining Room Project

This is not a happy moment. Not at all.

The good news was that when it all came down, it brought the worst of the chalky residue with it, so the next coat stuck. We used high-bonding primer from Lowe’s and Behr Ceiling White paint from HD.

For the wallpaper:
Seriously, wallpaper is different every time we remove it. In this room, here’s what worked.

  • Score the wallpaper with a scoring tool.
  • Put very hot tap water into trigger spray bottles and add a few drops of dish soap (this was the inlaws’ idea, and it seemed to work).
  • Spray the scored paper and let the water really soak in for a while while you keep spraying other parts of the wall.
  • Scrape off the wallpaper — ours was super old and came off in annoyingly tiny bits. But it did, eventually, come off.
  • Scrub the wall well to remove the wallpaper glue residue as much as possible (we used microfiber dishcloths for this, rinsed in hot tap water.)
  • Use joint compound to smooth any gouges or weird spots in the walls — in an old house, there are always weird spots — and sand smooth.

The people before us had painted a pink stripe UNDER the wallpaper border — probably to keep the blue paint from showing through? Who knows. Nothing a little high-hiding primer couldn’t handle!

Dining Room Project

This stuff is very helpful for putting dark colors to rest – we’ve used it in the foyer, too, and it really saved some time when we were painting that burgundy trim white. I’d say one coat of this is equal to 2-3 coats of Kilz2 latex primer, for color hiding at least.

Once the walls were primed it was time to pick a new wall color. With such a big shiny light fixture dominating the room, we wanted something that would blend in to the background and let the woodwork and lighting be the main attention-seekers in the room. We tried a few pale colors:

Dining Room Project

Left to Right these are:
Mild Mint by Behr, Lincoln White Sash by Valspar above Spring Melt by Martha Stewart (color matched to Behre Ultra), Valspar Luna, and Valspar Churchill Hotel Ecru.

They looked different in different parts of the room, and (as always) in daylight vs. lamplight, but we ultimately settled on the color-matched Spring Melt, because it was a nice pale grey/green/blue and we thought it looked kind of timeless and clean and light. Again, it’s a much paler color than we would usually go for, but we wanted the lighting to be the noticeable thing about the room, not the wallcolor.

And so, again, with the amazing help of my in-laws, we finished it up… two coats of paint on the walls, two or three on the trim, and all the cleanup.

But so far we’re feeling pretty good about how it turned out.

Smooth ceiling with the paint finally sticking properly:

Dining Room Project

Walls painted, in lamplight:

Dining Room Project

Walls painted in daylight, and the furniture back in!

Dining Room Project

We still have some finishing touches to do — notably finding some stuff to hang on the walls which look so much EMPTIER without all that busy wallpaper going on. But so far, so good.

Honestly, it will be really nice (kind of weird, but really nice) to be able to have people over and talk about something at dinner that is a topic OTHER than the walls. 🙂

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That is pretty much all I have to say about that. After removing wallpaper, the texture behind the wall is often super strange (probably the reason they picked wallpaper in the first place!) and this stuff really, really helps. I found lots of good online help — this site is a nice example with images of how to “skim coat” over a yucky texture before sanding/priming/painting. Lightweight All Purpose Joint Compound is good stuff!

Sanding it does make a huge mess — which can be helped a lot by using a dampened sanding sponge as opposed to, say, a dry power sander like I did last time. 😉 It was quick, though!

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Meet our new friend:

The wallpaper steamer!

At my cousin’s insistence (and after H saw his dad using one successfully on their new house in England last week) I spent a little time reading reviews and ordered this steam cleaner. I justified it despite my skepticism because in addition to the wallpaper wand attachment (that big square thing), it also features several cleaning attachments which seemed to have useful potential in other ways in case A) it didn’t work for our wallpaper (unlikely) or B) we ever finish removing all the wallpaper from this house (even less likely).


We’ve only spent about 30 quality minutes with it so far (only did a little tank of steam since it was the first run), but it’s already sped things up quite a bit in the downstairs bath.

We did all this (the “white” parts, not the beige) in only about 15 minutes – including that all-important first-timer’s learning curve! (Noted: keep a towel draped over your arm if you’re scraping with your free arm WHILE you steam with the other one. They aren’t kidding when they put all those “HOT WATER DRIPS” labels on the thing.)

So, even though we were both pretty tired from a long day of decluttering/sorting/filing work in the office upstairs, and both feeling a little overwhelmed with house ideas and plans, we decided to give this a whirl since UPS had just brought it at 4pm.

Yes, I have become the person who can jump up saying “Is that UPS? I bet it’s the wallpaper steamer!”

No, this was not in my life plan.

But anyway, despite the small scope of what we actually DID in the room (haha), this was definitely a promising start. Maybe the best part? It really softens the ancient wallpaper glue underneath well — well enough to scrub it off right away with some scrap towels. Definitely better on that nasty goop than anything else we’ve tried.

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Small Progresses

Yesterday my father-in-law (who is visiting from Britain) spend some of the afternoon scraping the remainder of the upstairs hall wallpaper. He is not afraid of standing on random bits of ladder and scraping far above his head, and I am, so when I got home from work we made a very good team. We did manage to temporarily kill the upstairs thermostat by getting glue water in it, but it dried out and seems to be fine. 🙂 A bonding experience, ironically.

I also began washing the remaining wallpaper glue off the walls — a hideous business. This afternoon I am going to try mopping it off instead. The water gets gluey very quickly so I got a double bucket and have a good-water/glue-water strategy in mind. We shall see if it works. Bleh. I much prefer peeling.

Also purchased a living room light fixture (there’s a blank disc there where it should be), a 6′ ladder, and a few necessary tools. I am realizing that the tools you need when you own a home are quite different from the ones you need as a renter. (We had hammers and wrenches and a drill, because we were always hanging pictures and putting up curtains, but no level or saw or electrical kit, because we were never checking outlets or putting up light fixtures or making shelves.)

And then there is the dilemma of the stove. The kitchen is not lovely, and a major remodeling is one thing we would love to save up for. But that will be years from now, and kitchens are important rooms. The question thus becomes how to make it comfortable and livable (we need to change, for example, its stovelessness) while not investing too much in it, since we know that if all goes as planned we’ll tear it all out in five years or so. We found a reasonably priced stove that sort of matches our fridge, but it’s electric and the most recent stove we took out is gas… and… ugh. My father-in-law can run the wiring for it, but it seems like a lot of work and then there’s also an electrical outlet in a place under some cabinets, but the place in the cabinets is 40 inches and the stove is only 30 inches… so do we:

  • Replace the huge gas stove (already gone) with a smaller gas stove, even though the only affordable ones are quite ugly and the selection is smaller locally? Gas is nice to cook on. But a stove on that side of the room is going to look lonely and strange.
  • Replace the huge gas stove (already gone) with an electric stove, and have my father in law do some wiring on his nice vacation? The space is already set up and no cabinet bashing would be necessary, which is a plus. But as above, the stove will look a bit isolated and on its own when finished, which is a minus.
  • Leave the gas stove place empty, making room for a small table in the kitchen so we can eat in there, and bash out the cabinet above the stove-outlet to put in the smaller stove? And then try to fill a 10″ gap in the cabinets with… something… a small shelf? Two smaller symmetrical shelves? Something.

Obviously I am leaning toward point 3 at the moment. My goal, which is difficult, is to make the kitchen comfortable and/or nonridiculous (wallpaper removal has helped) without spending much more money on it, since it’s a “temporary” kitchen. But knowing how things go, it could end up being a long-term version of “temporary” in a way.

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