Wood and wallpaper

Speaking of the living room, here is a little photo essay of that time in 2013 we got fed up with waiting for the renovations and refinished the living and dining rooms.

The floor was covered by old mangy carpet, the wood was pretty beat up, and the old heat registers were coated with asbestos.
The floor was covered by old mangy carpet, the wood was pretty beat up, and the old heat registers were coated with asbestos.

Part of the reason was our tenants in the little yellow house were wood artists expert at finishing wood. They replaced the cabinets in the yellow house beautifully for us, so we hired them to work on “the big house”, too.  We would never normally be able to afford such expertise, and they gave us a deal.

As you might expect, it wasn’t as simple as taking the carpet out, sanding everything, staining and then lacquering.

First, some of the slats on the wainscotting were cracked, so we wanted to replace them. Our tenant couldn’t find a matching size of wood in the stores, so if we had wanted the slats to match, he would have had to plane a thicker board very carefully down to half it’s thickness. He recommended replacing all the slats so they would all match, and that’s what we decided to do.

The blown-in foam insulation shows when the slats are removed. We put green tape on cracked wall boards.
The blown-in foam insulation shows when the slats are removed. We put green tape on cracked wall boards.

Even back then, in 2013, we were planning to put the house on posts to dig down the basement, so it was a little crazy to be finishing the floors–there would inevitably be cracks between the boards as the house shifted–but we went ahead anyway. Two years later and just starting the reno now, we’re glad we did.

We started on the living room, the room with the fireplace. It took some planning. All the furniture was moved into the dining room and we put a plastic sheet between the rooms to contain the dust. Then we started sanding. First sand, stain and lacquer the wood around the windows and mantel, then do the same with the floor and finally paint the walls. The sanding and lacquer (he sprayed the lacquer) can make a mess of your paint, so leave the painting for last.

Please click on the photos to enlarge them.

Leanne and I agreed easily on colours. Her parents believed the walls should be light to make them feel bigger. We felt the wallpaper print, with it’s gentle texture, cream colour and tiny flowers, was pretty bland. We thought darker, bolder colours would make the rooms warmer, cosier and more fun.

The problem I wrestled with for a few years was how to get around the wallpaper. We knew that there are several layers of old wallpaper going down to a very thick base layer. It would be a big job to strip it to get down to a paintable surface. I learned that there is something called “paintable wallpaper” you can buy and I almost did, but the idea of putting up wallpaper AND painting seemed like a lot of work.

Then it hit me. Why don’t we just paint THIS wallpaper? Is it “non-paintable wallpaper”? Will it dissolve if you paint it?

Apparently not. And it has a nice texture to it now.

The dining room is larger and, with its wooden wainscotting, more complicated. When we removed the slats on the exterior walls, we discovered gaps where the blown-in foam had not reached. I was determined to fill them.

You may recall that Dave the father-in-law helped us by paying for half-pound foam insulation to be blown into the exterior walls through holes drilled from the outside. In these rooms, that’s the only way we could insulate those walls without ripping the exterior siding off or ripping apart the beautiful interior walls.

Unfortunately, it was very difficult to fill the irregular cavities to the max without over-doing it and bursting through the interior walls. That happened in a few places. I used a simple can of expanding foam to inject more foam into the cavities that I discovered. It was satisfying, but that stuff is not a cost-effective way to insulate a whole wall.

Here is the room with the carpet remaining but the slats removed:

DSCN1041On the wall of the dining room between it and the kitchen is a patch where an old stove pipe used to connect to the central chimney. We think there was a heating stove in each room at one time because the uninsulated house was so cold in winter.

Originally, of course, there was that great big sawdust furnace in the basement which would radiate heat up through those registers I showed you at the top of this post. Carl would get sawdust from Hammond Mill where he worked and Leanne’s mom Julie would play in the pile of it in the basement. But that’s another post, I think.

Our tenant suggested a lacquer with a glossy finish, but we thought a satin finish retained the original character of the room better. We ended up with glossy slats, which were stained and lacquered in his workshop, and everything else satin. It looks quite nice, but I learned a lesson about being firm and clear.

In the photo above left you can see the air compressor he used for the nail gun and sprayer. Next came the floor:

Iago and a doomed gerbil
Iago, Othello and a doomed gerbil.

And then the paint:

When people talk about electric cars, solar panels, energy efficient appliances, etc. they often tell you how long it will take for the thing to “pay for itself” in savings. The same standard never applies to other improvements like refinishing floors or walls. We do these expensive and challenging improvements because we want to, not because we’ll get cash back. I suppose we do talk about “resale value” which is a term probably invented by the real estate industry to keep us in the mindset of selling our home and “moving up” when we could retrofit and put down roots, instead.

These rooms are where we have had big Christmas dinners for the past 5 years. I would post a photo but my Dad doesn’t want to be famous.

They are also where we work on projects, like my nice big Home Energy Retrofit Project sign. When will that make its next appearance?DSCN1230

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James Rowley

James lives in Maple Ridge, BC, Canada with his amazing partner, Leanne Koehn, and their two amazing kids in their beautiful house. He studied Science and English Literature at the University of British Columbia where he met Leanne. He also studied acting for a while at Studio 58 in Vancouver. He works as a teacher of English and curriculum writer for new Canadians.

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