25 December, 2009

Why I Am Stripping Wallpaper on Christmas

You know how it goes. You begin stripping the paint off the bathroom door trim, and because it's only right, you strip the trim on both sides of the door at the same time. And as long as you're stripping the wood on the entryway side of the bathroom door, you decide to strip the trim on all six doors off the entryway at once.

And one of those doors leads into the kitchen. And the trim of this door is attached, at the corner of the room, to another door off the kitchen (this one opening to one of the bedrooms); so it gets stripped, too.

 Kitchen corner with entryway door at left, 
bedroom door at right.

So, as long as you're stripping the wood trim on that bedroom door, you might as well strip the wood trim on all the doors remaining on that stretch of wall—an ironing board closet, a pantry, and the back door.

And because each of these doors is surrounded by wallpaper, you decide to pull just enough of the wallpaper away from the edges of each to strip the wood.

But really, because it looks stupid partially torn and you've always hated the wallpaper anyway, you decide to push that part of your renovation project forward, and pull off all the fifty-year-old wallpaper the last owner put up.*

(Of course, you find it ever so slightly annoying to pull off a layer of wallpaper only to discover that there is another layer of the very same paper underneath. WTF?)

So this is how, fueled with too much ambition and hot buttered rum from an old family recipe, you end up stripping wallpaper on Christmas Eve.

But it definitely looks better than it did, and the rest of the wood stripping should be a piece o' cake.

The same corner of the kitchen where the entryway door 
and the bedroom door meet, sans wallpaper.

* In our case, because I am too cheap to rent a steamer and hesitant to use toxic wallpaper strippers, I just scored the paper with a PaperTiger, soaked paper towels in a mixture of equal parts hot water and white vinegar, laid out the sheets of paper towel on the wall, left them there for ten minutes or so, and then peeled the paper off. This worked well because the underlying paint is a semi-gloss.)

Christmas Yumminess

Just had to give my mom a shout out for her wonderful sugar cookies this year. If you've never seen the movie The Christmas Story, there's no way I can explain the significance of the leg lamp cookie.

Happy Holidays, y'all!

23 December, 2009

Here We Come A-Wassailing

Wassaile the trees, that they may beare
You many a Plum and many a Peare:
For more or lesse fruits they will bring, 
As you do give them Wassailing.

Each solstice since we've been in The Box House (this is our third) we have wassailed the garden, whereby we drink a toast to the health of the fruit-bearing trees and sing to them so that they may produce abundant harvests the next year. The tune of choice, of course, is "Here We Come A-Wassailing." We then splash a bit of whatever brew we're drinking on the trees themselves, shouting Wes hāl ("be merry" or "good health"). Some years it's actual wassail punch, a type of hot spiked cider, this year it was a bottle of pumpkin spice liquor. (I wonder what our neighbors thought of all the orange snow.) It's our twist on an old custom from the cider-producing regions of England. We have a small collection of dwarf cherry trees we planted our first spring, as well as peaches, plums, and apples, but the whole garden gets blessed. This past fall, we had planted over fifty new shrubs, so there was a lot of toasting to be done.

According to Wikipedia:

The purpose of wassailing is to awake the cider apple trees and to scare away evil spirits to ensure a good harvest of fruit in the Autumn. The ceremonies of each wassail varies from village to village but they generally all have the same core elements. A wassail King and Queen to lead the proceedings, and song and/or a processional tune to be played/sung from one orchard to the next, the wassail Queen will be lifted up into the boughs of the tree where she will place toast that has been soaked in Wassail from the Clayen Cup as a gift the tree spirits and to show them the fruits of what they created the previous year. Then an incantation is usually recited such as

"Here's to thee, old apple tree,
That blooms well, bears well.
Hats full, caps full,
Three bushel bags full,
An' all under one tree. Hurrah! Hurrah!"

Then the assembled crowd will sing and shout and bang drums and pots and  pans and generally make a terrible racket until the gunsmen give a great final volley through the branches to make sure the work is done and then off to the next orchard. Perhaps unbeknown to the general public, this ancient English tradition is still very much thriving today. The West Country is the most famous and largest cider producing region of the country and some of the most important wassails are held annually in Carhampton (Somerset) and Whimple (Devon), both on 17 January (old Twelfth Night).

I added the links above so that you can see pictures from two different wassailing ceremonies.

Here are a few more traditional rhymes:

Here's to thee, old apple tree,
Whence thou mayst bud
And whence thou mayst blow!
And whence thou mayst bear apples enow!
Hats full! Caps full!
Bushel—bushel—sacks full,
And my pockets full too! Huzza! — South Hams of Devon, 1871

Huzza, Huzza, in our good town
The bread shall be white, and the liquor be brown
So here my old fellow I drink to thee
And the very health of each other tree.
Well may ye blow, well may ye bear
Blossom and fruit both apple and pear.
So that every bough and every twig
May bend with a burden both fair and big
May ye bear us and yield us fruit such a stors
That the bags and chambers and house run o'er. — Cornworthy, Devon, 1805

Stand fast root, bear well top
Pray the God send us a howling good crop.
Every twig, apples big.
Every bough, apples now. — 19th century Sussex, Surrey

Apple-tree, apple-tree,
Bear good fruit,
Or down with your top
And up with your root. — 19th century S. Hams.

Bud well, bear well
God send you fare well;
Every sprig and every spray
A bushel of apples next New Year Day. — 19th century Worcestershire

Here we come a wassailing
Among the leaves so green,
Here we come a wandering
So fair to be seen.
Love and joy come to you,
And to you your wassail too,
And God bless you and send you a happy New Year.
And God send you a happy New Year. — Somerset, 1871

21 December, 2009

Sneak Peek of New Bathroom Fixtures...

We're doing our bathroom remodel in stages, replacing the sink and toilet first and then the shower in the spring. I just finished ordering everything we need for stage one, and we should be able to install them in early January. The faucet from Porcher I posted a few days ago:

The vanity and stand are from Rohl; purchasing online from someone who had a clearance sale of old models saved us $500. (Even among online vendors, there was a difference of $800 between the highest and lowest price. Seriously. For the exact same item, with the exact same item number. Do they just pull prices out of the air?) At present, we have a humongous cabinet vanity which is way too bulky for the room. Although this has approximately the same footprint, it will make the bathroom seem bigger because of the openness. We toyed with the idea of a pedestal base, but opted for this one because our bathroom--which is only 5x7--has little room for towel bars and toilet paper holders. We'll be able to hang hand towels from this and store toilet paper rolls on the glass shelf below.

And finally, what I'm most excited about, a reproduction pillbox toilet from Sunrise Specialty. I've wanted one ever since I spotted it in Jane Powell's Bungalow Bathrooms. It was the biggest splurge, but we're justifying it, at least in our heads, because we have been able to save money elsewhere and were also able to restore our original 1920s toilet in the basement rather than replacing it, as we thought we'd have to do. Again, it was going for 50% of what similar vendors were asking.

Isn't it just beautiful?

20 December, 2009

It's Sometimes Hard to Support the Little Guy

The fun part of any home renovation project is shopping. We try to shop locally when we can, but honestly, it's hard to beat the deals you can find on the Internet.

We recently went to a bath and kitchen showroom in Chicago to get a firsthand look at some of the items we were coveting. The service was great, and the salesman was able to educate us on what to watch for when buying fixtures from different manufacturers. (Plain ol' white porcelain, for instance, is not an industry-standard color.)

During our visit, the sales guy told us how the staff had all accepted pay cuts to keep the company afloat, and how one of their competitors—who had been in business over a hundred years—had to close its doors this year due to the bad economy. Like everything right now, the kitchen/bath industry looks pretty grim.

He typed up our quote, telling us the bid was good "forever," and not just for their standard 30 days, and we took it home to discuss; we never make such large purchases without going home to mull it over a bit. And, admittedly, to comparison shop online to see if the prices are at least in the ballpark of what they should be.

If the difference is negligible, we'll buy from the local guy, even if it's a tad more, just because it's less of a hassle and it keeps the money in the community. But in the case of our bathroom, the difference was HUGE. For instance, after about twenty minutes of poking around online, I found our faucet for less than half of what the showroom was charging. Free shipping and no sales tax certainly helps. (Chicago sales tax is 10.25%—yeah, that's right, highest in the U.S.) The 5% coupon code I found cinched the deal.

So I do feel bad that we can't go with the local guy this time, who was so nice and who works on commission. But when an hour or two of my time surfing online cuts our bathroom renovation costs by roughly 35%, it's kind of a no brainer; we're watching every penny in this economy just like everyone else. Even if we have to order from four different merchants to get everything we need, the savings are worth it to us right now.

On another note, I think we found a company in Chicago that takes donations of old bathroom fixtures for resale. I'll check them out, see if they'll take our old things, and post the link later this week if it looks like a good thing.

16 December, 2009

Support Our Troops This Holiday Season

A video I put together several years ago...

14 December, 2009

Light Fixture Fetish, Part 3

Last week, Ted and I took a (slightly) impromptu road trip to Charleston and Savannah. That's right, we drove all the way from Chicago to South Carolina/Georgia and back in six days. That meant several days in the car, but we did break it up with a few well-chosen detours to stretch our legs. One of our favorites was in Atlanta, where we stayed just long enough to grab breakfast and tour the Atlanta Fox Theatre before heading back out on the highway.

Now, the two of us are huge, I mean HUGE fans of 1920s era movie palaces. We're passionate advocates for Chicago's Uptown Theatre, and would love to see that one restored. And there are few movie palaces out there that have been restored to the level of detail as Atlanta's Fox. It's what every restoration effort should be.

The Fox was built at a time when Tutmania and a fascination with Moorish art was sweeping the country. So much of the decor reflects Egyptian themes. It's just beautiful. Unfortunately, we were not allowed to take pictures in the auditorium while we were there, due to copyright restrictions for the set of the current show, so I had to satisfy myself with snapping photos of the elaborate--and completely original--sconces and lights in the ballrooms and other areas of the theatre. So, if you'd like to see more, definitely visit the Fox's Web site.

We're slowly working out how much of a 1920s Egyptian theme we want to pull off for the living room. It's easy to go over the top. These light fixtures definitely serve as inspiration!

Light Fixture Fetish, Part 2 — Anyone want a set of sconces?

As much as I've tried, I don't like the sconces we have in the bathroom. Like 95% of the fixtures that were still in place when we moved in, they're probably original to the house. However, even if I get the paint stripped off them, I just don't think they'll wow me. Nothing wrong with them, they just don't fit our vision for the bathroom and we'll be going with a different, although still vintage, pair.

Here is one in place beside the half-stripped medicine cabinet.

And so, after a fair bit of searching, we came across this vintage pair of porcelain bathroom sconces in excellent condition. They still have the porcelain pulls and three-prong grounded receptacles. (I didn't know it, but the earliest such receptacles date to the 1920s.) We won't use these receptacles, but they do look neat.

Don't worry, I won't throw out the old sconces, because they are vintage and worth saving. Like I said, they do need to be stripped. Also, one is missing its switch (easily remedied) and both need to be rewired, but if there are any among you who would like to give them a new home, let me know. We'll be rewiring the bathroom circuit in the next month, and installing the porcelain sconces then. We'll store the old set until finding someone to take them off our hands.

So, if you'd like the pair of sconces with the shades, just drop me a note in the comments or e-mail me at editor(a)compassrose.com with your contact info.

Light Fixture Fetish, Part 1

I'm serious; I've mentioned it before, but I really must have a psychic connection with Gustave Villaret, a 1920s designer. We already have two sconce sets and a chandelier of his. And now, after weeks of staying away from eBay, a random search brought me two more of his chandeliers.

Unfortunately, it's hard to justify the purchase as we're maxed out on interior space and light fixture funds this year, so I'll sadly be letting these go. However, if we wanted to really spruce up our porches, they would have been awesome. (Santa, are you listening?)

03 December, 2009

Bathroom Decisions -- Repair or Replace the Hex Tile?

So many decisions need to be made before we begin the major demolition work of the bathroom.

The bathrooms in each unit of The Box House still have their original hex tile, and I love the look of it. Unfortunately, the floor in our unit also has a big crack across nearly the entire length, right in the center of the room. (I think the tenants' unit is fine, but it's been a while since I actually looked at the floor critically.)

And no matter what we try, it never really looks clean. If the surface ever had a coating, it's been worn away. The grout is really grungy, too. And who knows what it looks like underneath the cabinet vanity some previous owner installed. It could be even worse.

Poking around the Internet, we found recommendations for Dremmeling out the old grout and redoing it, but that still leaves the issue of the very large crack and the general dingy look of the tiles. So we're toying with the idea of replacing the floor.

The bathroom is small, only five by seven feet including the tub. The section we'd have to replace is maybe 25 square feet.

I ordered a few tile samples online, and here's what we have so far:

The ones above (the blue and the soccer ball pattern) are modern versions. I love the cobalt, which happens to be my favorite color. They measure 3/4 inch, rather than the 1-inch we have now, although they do come larger. They are not historically accurate, as the edges are beveled and the tiles themselves are quite shiny. While a floor made of them might look cool, it wouldn't look right for our 1920s home.

The ones above (with the HC codes) I absolutely love. They are historically accurate, are the exact same size we have now, and come in many colors. The lighter of the two whites actually matches ours, but the blue here is more of a navy. (They also come in a nifty red, but I didn't get a sample of that one.) There are numerous vendors online who sell them; the price averages $10-20 a square foot. They come polished and unpolished (these are the unpolished).

I'm flip-flopping on a daily basis about what to do--some days I think "let's just Dremmel it, regrout, and live with the crack." Other days I think, "Well, if we're gutting everything else, why not this, too?" If we replace the floor, we'll go with the historically accurate tiles. And if we do that, we may create our own design—why limit ourselves to the blue rosettes?

American Restoration Tile has numerous pictures on their site to inspire the creative muse.

Are we crazy for even thinking of trying to replace the floor? How big a nightmare will it be to pull up the old one?

01 December, 2009

Cheap Heat Gun and a $3.95 Scraper -- The Best Wood Stripping Tools

These pictures are really for me more than you. As far as stripping projects go, it's not too impressive, so far. But if you knew how many environmental-friendly (and not-so-friendly) strippers I tried, without success, you'll understand how I nearly wept with joy to see the paint peel right off the bathroom trim with a $20 heat gun. The first four or five layers came right off. Look how thick the paint is.

The last layer--the brutal fleshy peach--comes off with the cheap-o scrapper I bought at Home Depot for $3.95. I'm irritated that I wasted money on The Silent Paint Remover, even if it was second hand. Back on Craigslist that unwieldy monster will go.

Of course, the process does stink to high heaven; the old paint contains lead and it's critical you wear a mask rated for lead and keep the windows open for continual ventilation when using a heat gun. And you have to be careful to move quickly and not scorch the wood. 

We're actually working on the entryway at the same time as the bathroom. When you enter our unit, you are greeted with five doors going off in various directions, six if you count the one you just came through. One of them is the bathroom. As long as I'm stripping the trim on the bathroom door, I'm doing it all. I don't know what some previous owner did to bugger it so badly, but this is what the trim looks like in the entryway (at least it's not painted).

Yup, every single door and frame is bubbly and peeling. (The upstairs unit, thank goodness, does not have the same problem.) We tried various means to fix it, from rubbing it with denatured alcohol to sanding it with a hand sander. The first method didn't really work, creating more of a sticky mess than anything, the second method was tedious and slow. So I tried the $3.95 scraper, and voila! Success.

So successful, that in about an hour I had managed to scrape about 20 feet of trim. The bubbly stuff comes right off, and I'll be able to sand and refinish with (relative) ease.

Of course, there are still still six door frames to do, seven if you count the middle arch.

And the doors themselves? That's next summer's problem. I mean project.