Sippican Cottage

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A Man Who Has Nothing In Particular To Recommend Him Discusses All Sorts of Subjects at Random as Though He Knew Everything

The Gods of Mayhem Strike Again

Well we got us plenty before pictures, ayuh. And after pictures ain’t hard to come by, neither. But by gad, where are the during pitchas? Beats me.

I wish we had some, but it’s not like I’m breaking new ground here. I can’t wow you with scintillating new methods to patch up crumbling horsehair plaster. We patched up the room, I promise. I aver that I didn’t go next door and take pictures of a different room in better shape to fool the unwary reader. Besides, every room in the town I live in is a before picture. I have the only after pictures there are.

But before we tread a step further into our truncated renovation wonderland, I want to assure you that I didn’t make my kids use that room in the hedronic state I showed you yesterday. We sort of patched it up right away, until we could fix it more or less properly. You know, like sticking your finger in a gunshot wound. I took some more of the ad hoc concoction of green wall paint and put it over the hedrons and poiple paint on the walls. We scrubbed the calsomine off the ceiling and painted it white. We wired a few plugs in a wall or two, and made the two sconces by the door operational, after disconnecting all the knob and tube wiring. At first, we used the room as a schoolroom. My wife took one of her famous fuzzy pictures of it:

Oh, man I remember that car carpet. I miss lolling on the floor with the kids and pushing Matchbox cars around. I often wonder how people who decide never to have kids manage to live without a car carpet and Matchbox cars. The kids make a good excuse to keep buying the little cars. Otherwise you feel silly. You do it, but you feel silly while you’re all alone at the toy store buying Hot Wheels cars with a gold card.

When they were real young, the kids actually sat and learned at that ancient school desk by the window. My wife patiently slipped a fresh sheet of foolscap under their noses while withdrawing the finished one, over and over, for many years. Her pictures are fuzzy but her thinking isn’t, except that one time she deigned to talk to a bass player. We all have lapses in judgment.

The bigger desk looked like this, and so did the bigger smaller kid.

Must be a day off. He’s Halo-ing or something, keyboard at the ready on two sides, and a shrine to the gods of mayhem on the wall. Please note the ripples in the wall. There was a lot of that after we jacked up the house. Old plaster over lath doesn’t hang on, sloopy, when things get jiggy. The plaster “keys” that hold it together from behind the lath break off, and it starts to crumble and lift off.

The roof over this room was among the largest sections of old roofing on the house, and the last to get replaced. It leaked like a disgruntled Pentagon staffer for years. Every once in a while, it rained inside in this room, and we’d position a wastebasket or two under the drips and keep on keepin’ on. I counseled my wife that it was folly to patch the place up permanently until the roof was fixed, but that kind of logic is cold comfort when you’re teaching class under an umbrella.

After a while, the ceiling got really bad, and we were worried all the plaster might stop thinking about the floor, and just finally go and introduce itself. Luckily, we re-roofed about that time, and convinced the roof to start leaking somewhere else for a change, and got busy in the green room, finally.

We installed beaucoup electricity in there, first. Almost every wall now has at least one plug, and the long walls have several. If you’re trying to retrofit a house with electricity like this, you’re going to get lots of advice from teevee that involves doing all sorts of contortions to avoid disturbing the plaster walls. As you can see, our walls were plenty disturbed already. In any case, I don’t understand that kind of advice. It’s easy to fix plaster and drywall walls. It’s a pain in the ass to fish wires horizontally with studs every sixteen inches or so.

So do like we did. At the proper height (18″ above the floor in most places), use a utility knife (box cutter) to slice a trench out of the plaster wall, about the height of the electrical boxes that will be added. In a drywall wall, you can save the drywall pieces you remove and then screw them back in place when you’re done, and tape and mud the seams. In a plaster and lath wall, you can chop out the plaster and discard it, and replace it with patches made from drywall.

Now pry the lath off the studs in the trench you made. With easy access, you can drill holes in the studs to run your new romex wire. We fed the sconces straight up the stud bays from some plugs we added, and fished a wire up to the switch by the door. Replace the lath when you’re done (for thickness), and then cut strips of drywall to the length and width of the slot in the plaster. Most plaster walls are about 1/2″ thick, same as a standard sheet of drywall. Tape and mud the seams, and finish the wall like any other.

Then we used about 10,000 plaster buttons on the ceiling. I may be misremembering this number. It could have been more. But we got it, and the wall ripples you saw in an earlier picture, to calm down and act flattish. We buried drywall reinforcing tape in all the plaster repairs to keep long cracks from reappearing before the paint dried. We painted the walls the same color as the kitchen and our bathroom (Titanium, by Ben Moore), because the kid said he liked it, and he’d have to spend all his time in there.

We used Ben Moore White Dove on all the trim again, too, because that spoke in the color wheel had already been invented, and looked nice. The woodwork shapes were too blah for my tastes. We had to completely pry off the door frames to square up the door jamb, because it wasn’t really a rectangle anymore. The sagging house had tried to make a hedron out of it, too. Might as well make improvements while we patched it back together. So I built up a head casing out of four pieces of lumberyard pine. A table saw and a router is all you need. Like this:

They had simple plain square blocks in the corners before, an homage to rosette blocks. Not much of a tribute, really. My solution is appropriate to the age of the house, more or less, and every doorway looks better with a head on its shoulders, if you ask me. We put the same head casing arrangement on the window.

So the room was electrified, if not exactly electrifying. The ceiling was white, and flat. The walls were painted. The wooden trim was a nice off-white. This means it was about time for me to make a huge mistake, like I usually do. I did.

[To be continued]

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