This Old Erie House
By Linda Martin Community Blogger
Owners of old houses have so much in common that house talk comes easy between us. Please join in the conversation as we try to fix, restore and update our old Erie houses.  Read more about this blog.
Posted: October 1st, 2010

We got the living-room floor finished last New Years (there abouts) and I finally got to the dining-room floor and finished the second half of it just before we left for our vacation.  It had been over 10 days since I put the top coat on before we left so we could have put the furniture back but decided to wait and let it cure a couple of more weeks while we were gone.

One of the first things I noticed when I came through the door when returning home was the shine difference between the two halves of the floor.  I used Waterlox Original and it dulls a good bit as it cures.  It always starts out looking really shiny but then it cures to a medium sheen in about 2 weeks.  It should be almost completely cured by now but the shine is way too shiny.  The last coat of the one side had come from a new gallon I opened. I’m a bit depressed as I took such care putting on that last top coat.  I’m going to have to put another top coat from that same gallon on the other half of the floor to be sure they match.  It is extra work and requires moving all that furniture again.  I think I’ll contact the company and ask “what’s up with that?!”

Posted in: finishes, floors
Posted: September 28th, 2010

My rush to finish painting my kitchen was because we were leaving for a 16-day cross-country trip to some of the most beautiful national parks in the US.  I never got the grate put back up on the wall because there is plaster damage where we took it down and the wood it was screwed into was damaged and wouldn’t hold the weight.  I think we were lucky it never fell off the wall all this time, it’s heavy. We just left it off and I wasn’t going to let it bother me on my vacation but I’ll have to get back at it now.

We stayed in the historic Many Glacier Hotel, built in 1914, in Glacier National Park.  The lobby and fireplace were awesome as well as the alpine views out the glass wall facing the lake and glaciers.  Next we headed down, via the Going to the Sun Road, to Lake McDonald in Glacier National Park and visited the Lake McDonald Lodge built in 1914. The grounds were beautiful, the lobby smaller than Many Glacier’s but still wonderful and decorated with all sorts of animal skins and rustic charm.  We didn’t stay there as I choose the Village Inn at Apgar, built in 1956, only because of the huge picture-window view every room had looking out over Lake McDonald.  It was breath-taking! Then on to Yellowstone National Park where we stayed a few days at the Mammoth Hotel in the Mammoth Hot Springs area of Yellowstone. The wing of the hotel we stayed in was built in 1913.  We visited that area of the park and then stayed at the Lake Yellowstone Hotel and Cabins where we stayed another 4 days.  Before we left, we stopped in at the Old Faithful Inn, built in 1904. The best, best, best lodge ever! I couldn’t believe the lobby inside!  We also stopped in at the newly completed “green” Old Faithful Visitors Center that cost 27 million.  The A-frame wall of windows faced Old Faithful Geyser. It’s a beautiful building but I wasn’t blown away by the displays.  We were at the old center 9 years ago and I found that more interesting.

English speaking visitors seemed to be close to a minority while we were in Yellowstone.  It appeared most people were Asian or German. There were lots of tour buses and you had to hope they wouldn’t be in the area you happened to be visiting as those areas got pretty crowded. I was surprised there were so many in Yellowstone because the main lodges were in their last week of operation for the year and children were back in school.   Most lodges were closing for the winter. Still, I’m sure there were less people than were there in the summer.  We visited Yellowstone 9 years ago and my husband and I were often the only people around when we saw the sights.  We came in the first week the lodges open back then and it was pretty cold but worth not having the crowds.

We left Yellowstone and headed down to the Grand Tetons.  Just beautiful! We stopped in at the Jackson Lodge while visiting.  The view from the lobby’s wall of windows is just beautiful.  Someday I’d like to spend a few days in that lodge!  There are often moose hanging out in the meadow not far from the lodge. In this perfectly gorgeous, serene setting there were people talking loudly on their cellphones, doing business instead of drinking in the views.  We were thankful that for most of our trip there wasn’t cell-phone service, TV nor internet.  We had to actually look out and enjoy the sights and sounds of the national parks.

We drove about 5,600 miles on this trip and the car purred along without a hiccup.  We listened to audio books through the more boring states (and there were quite a few.) Of all the states we went through, Montana wins as being our favorite state hands down.  We traveled through Ohio, Indiana, Illinois, Wisconsin, Minnesota, North Dakota, Montana, Wyoming, Nebraska (would we ever get through it?) Iowa and back through Illinois, Indiana, Ohio and back to Pennsylvania on this trip. We’ll have to go back someday.  I’d like to see Glacier National Park again as the weather hindered some of the sight-seeing while we were there, though it was still breath-taking. I’d like to go up to the Prince of Wales Hotel in Canada which is part of the International Peace Park which Glacier is a part of.  We don’t have our passports yet so we couldn’t drive the few miles north to see it.  Next time!

I’ll be sharing some of the lodge photos I took in some up-coming posts in between some more of my house projects.

Posted in: Uncategorized
Posted: September 7th, 2010

Paint cans, almost every kind of sander you can buy at the store, paint brushes, stacks of sand paper of different grades and sizes and shapes, Goof Off, paint rollers, spackle, mounds of plastic drop cloths, screw drivers, tape,  flashlights and numerous other items that clog the means of getting around in the kitchen have almost been cleared out. My cows are back up on the wall, my pot and pan hanger is too.  Little antique items have found their homes back on top of the microwave and refrigerator, the cat calendar and painted cat pictures are hung.  It’s starting to look like home again, except now it is yellow.  It’s a pleasing, pretty yellow and now I can finally see that all the work was worth it. I wasn’t seeing it before the stuff was put back where it  belonged. When I came down this morning I only saw a mess with yellow walls.

I’m taking a late lunch break.  There is more to do.  There is white powder on the kitchen carpet from sanding the ceiling spackle . I can’t wait to take that carpet up some day.  The wall light has to be remounted as well as the grate with the louvers put back on the wall to cover the hole to the chute.  But it’s almost done, I can see it now.  The only thing ruining the whole “picture” is the crooked doorbell chime.  It was mounted crooked decades ago by previous owners and it is in an odd location that catches your eye.   It is probably a 50s or 60s doorbell.  It is nice and loud and I like the sound of the chimes but it has to go.  It’s big and its placement is cock-eyed and kitty corner from the top of the kitchen door.  The wires won’t allow a new location so we’ll be scrapping it in the near future for a wireless model and finally get rid of the eyesore. Otherwise, I pretty much like my kitchen.

Of course it would look nice with brand new appliances and a tin ceiling but for now a little paint has gone a long way.

Posted in: painting
Posted: September 6th, 2010

I stripped the wallpaper off our plaster walls in the living room and dining room a few years ago and fixed the ceilings in both rooms.  What was left was a nice light surface but had some darker areas.  I primed them before painting just to be sure it covered the dark areas and because I was afraid I didn’t get all the glue off from the wallpaper.  I had no problems painting those rooms.

Fast forward to last week.

This kitchen is like the devil.  It’s evil.  It’s HOT! It is very small and has 4 doors with a bunch of decorative crowns on top, a full wall of hoosier-like cupboards with the crowns on them and 2 large windows with crowns. I decided against taping the woodwork because it would take days (exaggeration) going around all that molding. Old plaster ceilings don’t have perfectly straight edges and previous taping was a waste of time and it always bled under or stuck and took the finish off the woodwork. And even when it didn’t, the lines didn’t look straight. Now I know why the old houses have crown moldings, to hide the uneven seams between plaster ceilings and walls. Our kitchen doesn’t have them. Crowns on everything else in the kitchen, though. And I can’t even reach the ceiling where the counters are because the ladder doesn’t get my short arms close enough. Good thing for husbands with long arms.

We are on day, what is it now? Day 5 ? and we still aren’t done. Our tiny little kitchen doesn’t have room to walk with the refrigerator and stove  moved out so a ladder could fit near the wall.  We are so tired of scooting sideways to get by anything.  We can’t find anything.  We put plastic down on the floor and I trip on it, we drip paint and I step in it.  There is no room to work.  Elbow to elbow, “excuse me”, “excuse me!”  There is no air conditioning downstairs and the temperature near the ceiling has to be close to 90 or higher.  It’s easy to get cranky when it’s so hot and you can’t move.   I’ve been working on the dining room floor and the kitchen stairs during the day and when my husband comes home we work painting until we can’t do it anymore. The other rooms were a pleasure, this certainly is not.

Yellow must be a color that doesn’t cover other colors very well.  We paint and paint and the green still shows through.  The paint can says one-coat coverage.  LIAR!!  We bought extra to give it 2 coats just in case.  Two coats still doesn’t completely cover the green underneath.  I always thought the kitchen’s old green was a very light shade but against the light yellow it looks like a darker dull olive.

I went to the store today to get some kind of edger (and another gallon of paint)  because we were having such a time up against the woodwork. I was looking for miracles.  I saw one that looked like it really would work, I was sure of it.  I bought two so if it worked, we could both be cutting in at the same time. We tried one of the edgers to see how it worked before we opened the other one, that way we could return the unused one if it was junk.  It was junk.  My husband told me before he doesn’t like “gimmicks” and it certainly turned out to be just another gimmick and just made a mess and dripped paint on everything. So besides paint, I had egg on my face because I wasted $15 but I can return the other one. He did not rub it in and he could have.  I also bought a rather expensive cut-in brush as a back up.  I figured I could return it  if the edgers worked good, if they didn’t I would use the brush.  I ended up using the brush and it worked much better than anything else. I guess you can’t beat the old standards.

Soooo…what we should have done in hindsight is buy and apply tinted primer and then paint.  It would not have helped the temperature and sweating and it would not have helped doing miles of cutting in around the wood work but it probably would have made a more even color which we’ll get, eventually.  At least we got the one wall done (woohoo!!) and were able to put the appliances back against the wall tonight.  Now there will be room for two ladders.

I must have used a full  tank of hot water each night washing out all the trays and rollers and brushes.  It also take about 1/2 hour to clean everything.  No more. Tomorrow I’m lining the roller pan with one of my recycle bags.  When we are done, we’ll pour the extra back in the can and just throw the plastic away instead of washing the pan and having  paint going down the sink into the water supply.  I’m throwing the roller away, too.  I’ll scrape off the excess paint, let it dry and stick it in a plastic grocery bag.  They should be dried by garbage night. Good riddance. They aren’t that expensive.

It blows my mind that this one room is so hard.

Posted: August 31st, 2010

We spent most of the day Sunday sanding and cleaning up the powdered mess that was spackle. Again my husband worked on the ceiling. That sure saves my neck and back.

My husband sanding the ceiling. Note the ceiling fixture What is that?

We took down the light fixtures and cleaned them up and filled any cracks. I have always wondered about the ceiling light fixture. There is a matching one in the kitchen entrance (only smaller.) They looked Eames era to me but what do I know. After taking them down and cleaning them we saw the label on the fixture. (See photos below) The patent number was a little confusing. I looked it up on the date charts and it is between 1941 and 1942. That seems to early for this design. The D in front of the number may indicate it is a design patent. But the numbers don’t go that high on the design charts. That makes me think it must be from 1941-42. Whatever they are, they do not fit in this house. When other necessities get done, we’ll replace them with something more appropriate. For now, they are a conversation piece, :-)

Little matching light.

Posted: August 31st, 2010

No, we aren’t done with the kitchen and we spent all weekend and Monday evening working on it.

My last post I told how I had used the non-sandable spackling in error. That product is nothing more than white caulking. I managed to fix it by using a fairly new (and thus sharp) hand plane and shaved the high spots off and put the sandable caulking over it and feather it out. Those hand planes weigh a ton when you hold them and reach over your head to the ceiling.

Last week my husband said he was going to help me on the weekend. I was a bit skeptical. This is sweaty, dirty, and just plain boring work to fill in the cracks and sand it smooth.

My husband came through with flying colors, though, as he spackled most of the cracks in the ceiling and I helped on the walls. We accomplished a lot but things slowed our progress. We came across the vent grate and should we or should we not remove it from the wall? He unscrewed the two screws holding the vent cover to the wall. Four more screws held the louvers to the vent cover and we were lucky we took the correct screws out or the louver would have fallen down the vent chute to no-man’s land (actually to the basement.)  We bet this is the first time it was off the wall since it was built. They needed a good soak in ammonia.

The chute’s purpose is not really known to us. We were told it was a laundry chute when we bought the house. Its too small for that, your clothes would get stuck and why would there be vent louvers in the kitchen? It wasn’t a heat register, though, because the house always had a boiler with radiator heat. The chute ends in the attic where the chute suddenly tapers to a small opening and stops. I did come across something when searching on the internet about Ventilators. I’ll look further into our mystery at a later date. But when additional baseboard radiator heating and rewiring upstairs was done they ran that stuff through the chute as you can see in the second photo.  I also use it to run our ethernet cord and cables from the second story computer to the basement computer. It has really come in handy.

Painted over and situated above the stove.

Chute being used to route new wiring and pipes for additional radiators put in.

The top coat is light green. Under that was yellow and under that was dull olive green and then gold/copper.
The patent date of the louvers that attach to grate.

It was fun (though it took a lot of time) to take the grate off and determine the different colors it had been painted over the years. I first put Peel Away 6 on it for a short time and scraped away the top layer to reveal a yellow color. Then a darker green and then a gold or copper color. We decided we will paint it the original color before we put it back up. The louvers had a patent date of 1907, though our house was built in 1917. The same product can be made for years under the same patent.

Saturday ended and we hadn’t even finished repairing all the cracks, let alone paint.

Posted: August 26th, 2010

My husband called me into the living room to show me something last evening when I was fixing dinner.  We have a beanbag footstool that was taken over by the cats years ago.  The one cat loves it.  The other was afraid of the noise it made but lately has taken to it also.  I’m not sure which one did it, but one of them ripped a hole in it and there were little white beads on the floor.  I’d get to it after dinner.

I forgot about it until I came downstairs this morning.  I was greeted by our 2 cats begging for their treats.  They were covered with little white static-laden beads.  I looked into the dining room.  Thousands of little white beads on the floor and stuck to the sides of the furniture.  Same in the living room.  I tried to wipe the little styrofoam beads off the cats but they flew back to their hair like magnets.  I spent the morning vacuuming up those tiny white balls. You can tell everywhere the cats were last night  because they left a trail.

That done, I got out the drywall sander to sand off the repairs I had made to the kitchen walls and ceiling yesterday and feather it out with another wider coat.  I sanded and sanded and thought, what the heck….why isn’t it sanding?  Maybe it still wasn’t dry?  That didn’t make sense, it had been hours.  I got out my electric palm sander and tried sanding it and it didn’t do anything.  I scraped at it and the stuff was like rubber.  I wasn’t very careful spackling because you can always sand it off and feather it out on the next coat…..or can you?  Here is just one section around a light switch that I did yesterday.

Not a very good job but it was just the first coat and I’ve done it before in other rooms and you sand it down smooth and feather another coat and repeat until it is nice and smooth.  When it didn’t sand I took out the tub of stuff and looked at the label.  It didn’t say it was non-sandable on the front label.

It like talks about how SMOOTH it is (it wasn’t smooth and didn’t go on smooth, either) and how it won’t flash paint.  Sounds great.  I turned over to the directions and scanned them.  I didn’t see anything at first.  Then I carefully read the buried sentence that I highlighted but you wouldn’t see unless you read slowly and carefully. Who does that when buying spackle?  Well, I will now. I’ve used different kinds of spackle lots of times and even used the latex stuff and it always sanded.  I believe this sentence was intentionally buried in the instructions (or you’d never buy it) and I felt like throwing it across the room.  So what that little sentence says is that you have one shot to make that smooth as a baby’s bottom or you are screwed.

I worked at trying to get it to dissolve and smooth out.  I used denatured alcohol and that started to make it gummy but didn’t work.  I tried to get it off with Peel Away 6.  Balled up and made a mess.  I haven’t tried the Goof Off yet and maybe that will work to at least smooth the big bumps so I can feather normal spackling over the top of it to hide the patchwork. If it still shows, I’ll try the strong chemical stripper to try and get it off.  As a last resort I’ll try a razor blade (are you kidding me, scraping that stuff off with a razor blade?!) But it is all over my ceiling and walls. CEILING!  Where everything you do is 10 times harder up there!   Luckily, I only got part of the ceiling patched yesterday (or you could say destroyed using this crap.) So I thought washing the ceiling was hard.  That is nothing compared to what I’m going to have to do to fix this mess.

Posted in: ceilings, walls
Posted: August 24th, 2010

I’m prepping the kitchen ceiling to paint. My husband will do the painting. I climbed the ladder and to my horror (not really) there was caked on dirt on the top of the door moldings “crowns.”  I knew they would be dirty because it was more than a year since I took a ladder up to clean them off.  I have used the swiffers to dust them, of course,  but that doesn’t do much of anything for the kitchen ones. The kitchen is especially bad because the dirt doesn’t wipe off, it is grimy.  I took my usual Clorox cloths only to find the dirt turns to little sticky balls.  I took vinegar.  That didn’t do anything.  I tried the tsp substitute (full strength) and it didn’t do much either.  After 4 times climbing up and down that ladder, I found that straight ammonia took it right off. Ammonia will also take off shellac so you have to be really careful.  In high school, my home-ec teacher swore by ammonia. I used to get a rash on my hands from it but we had to use it. (Now days someone would sue the school but in those days we just took everything in stride and I went and bought some tar cream for rashes. ) When I saw the ammonia work so good,  I read the directions on the ammonia bottle for cleaning walls.  1 cup ammonia, 1/2 cup vinegar and some baking soda.   I made a little mixture (didn’t measure but guessed at it) and dipped my rag in it and it worked really good. I decided to use that for my ceilings.

I’m writing this as I take a break.  My neck hurts and I’m getting a headache.  I didn’t use gloves because it just drips back onto your arms when you are reaching above your head so now my fingers are all wrinkly.   I got a whole 4 x 6 ft section done and I’m wondering just how important it is to have to clean that ceiling before painting.  I can see doing it over the stove where it would be a little bit more grimy, but the whole ceiling?  Isn’t paint today suppose to stick regardless?  I’m thinking if ever there was a time to take shortcuts, this would be it.

Posted in: ceilings, walls
Posted: August 23rd, 2010

I’m currently involved with 3 projects at once.  Multitasking.  When my back hurts from one, I move to the other. The weather turned wonderful.  Low 70s is my kind of temperature and makes me want to work.  I put on my earphones and turn on the audio book and I’m in my own little world.

I finally got around to putting the Waterlox on the dining-room floor (I did the living-room floor back in Dec/Jan.)  I am using the same method I used with the living room.  I put painters tape along the boards to divide the room in half and moved all the furniture to one side.  When the finished side is cured, I’ll move the furniture back to the other side and finish the remaining floor.  It looks good so far.  It will have to cure for 7-10 days before I can start on the other side. (photos to come soon.)

In the meantime I am stripping the back stairs that leads from the kitchen to the upstairs landing.  I haven’t decided what finish to use yet.  The oak front stairs was just completed in the garnet shellac but the pine back stairs borders the kitchen with the natural heart pine woodwork so I may leave those stairs a natural color, too.  I’ll just use Waterlox if I do.  I’m only halfway done with the stripping of the back stairs. I tried both the strong chemical stripper and the Peel Away 6.  Both are so messy. The chemical is so much faster but requires thick gloves and being really careful. Even a little splatter will burn your skin.  Of the parts I have already stripped, the chemical cleaned it best. The downside to the chemical stripper is I can’t leave for a moment in case one of the cats happens down the stairs. Another question I have to answer is if I want to sand out all the marks and dents on the treads.  It’s part of the allure of “antique.”  Some of the treads are worn down in the middle from a century of use.  It would be nice to have the stairs look spanking new but I love the history in the old look. I think the sanding will be minimal. It is what it is, old stairs.  People often try to make their new wood look old like this.

My husband and I bought the paint for our kitchen.  It has been on our list since we bought the house but we just never got to it.  It’s not all that big of a project so why live with ugly dirty, green walls and a green ceiling?  Yesterday we said, “Let’s just do it.”  The worst part will be cleaning those old high ceilings and repairing the cracks.  My neck hates that stuff. It’s the pits to be short and everything seems harder when you are short.   My husband volunteered to do the ceiling. I say, “Have at it!”  We picked a light pale yellow.  It looked pretty light at the store but I knew through past experience how yellow yellow can be when it is up on the wall.  I have the paint sample card up on the wall this morning and I think we picked the perfect color.  We haven’t found a lighting fixture yet that we like for the kitchen.  I’ll keep my eyes open on eBay to try to find a restored vintage lighting fixture that will look right in our kitchen and doesn’t cost a fortune. There is also a foot-square grate near the ceiling.  We want to take that down and see what the original color was.  It is painted green like the walls  now.  I think it would look really nice black and I have a feeling that is the original color.

Posted: August 10th, 2010

Wow, this has been a long project.  It involved a lot of experimenting with shellac, shellac on-shellac off and also dealing with humidity.  I had a few-day window of lower humidity this past week and finally was able to finish them.  I’m really happy with how they turned out.  I tried different sheens by adding a shellac flattening agent.  I ended up with a moderate amount of sheen.  The flatter it is, the less mistakes show but I love the sheen.  In the photo you can see on the step’s riser second from the highest step shown, on the left-hand side, there is a small section that is still dull which I have now fixed.  I didn’t even see it until I took the photo but thought I’d let you see what a difference in sheen a little Shellac Flatt makes. I previously coated the whole stairs in the flatter sheen but didn’t like it and put a coat over it and had missed that spot.

Today, in a separate post,  I’ll tell you the shellac recipe (using some ammonia) I used for the stairs. There was no stain used on these white oak stairs.  The color comes from many coats of garnet shellac. Some of what you see on the stairs are reflections from a stained-glass window on the left. Also, half way up you can  see the grain pattern and rays of  a quarter-sawn riser. A few of the risers are quarter-sawn with the rays and some are not.  I’m not sure why they wouldn’t make them  uniform when they built it but the patterns are so pretty I embrace the ones we do have.

Posted in: antique, finishes, stairs