The Living Room

Project began February 1st 2003 - Completed February 16th 2004

The Living Room was the second major restoration project we took on.  This room needed to be completely demolished down to the rafters and re-built from the ground up.  This room has seen many major changes over the life of this house and we brought it back to original.  This was not easy.  All of the original Victorian charm had been stripped away from this room.  There were a number of problems that needed to be addressed during the rebuild. 

The Living Room Tour Guide

There is so much work going on in this room, this page is going to be lengthy.  Use these links to get to the stuff you really want to read about.

The Before Pics


The Fireplace


The Demolition


The Rebuild


The Windows


The Floors


The Tin Ceiling


The Moldings


The Doorway

The Wallpaper

The After Pics

Home Page


The Living Room Fireplace

This is a real shame.  The fireplace in the Living Room was originally a black slate with gold inlay.  Unfortunately, over the years this fireplace was severely mistreated.  There are pieces missing, and damage from when a wood burning stove was installed.  In order to accommodate the wood burning stove, someone took a chisel to to the face and frame.  Anyway, this is all that was left of it when we took ownership of the house.


There was no proper venting installed for this wood burning unit.  You can see the blast marks where the intense heat was blowing through the mortar and brick.  It's a small wonder the house didn't burn down.  The brick and mortar inside the firebox were completely ruined.  You could remove the bricks by simply pulling them out one by one. 


We then brought in a fireplace specialist who installed new chimney caps, and flews.  Then a mason installed a new firebox.  They also added the row of brick that fell off when the old stove was removed.  Once the new box was built.  The new beige firebrick was stained black to look aged. A new hearthstone was also installed to cover some previous problems with the floor.


We purchased some really nice Victorian tile and had it shipped to us from England.  The tiles were exact replicas of a design from the 1870's.  The tiles were made in the same factory from that period, still in business today. We then employed a tile specialist to carefully install them.  He built a frame out of wood around the outside of the brick.  The frame was measured and leveled over and over until it was exactly even and perfect. The frame around the inside of the firebox opening was pressed into place with no screws.  This was done so that it could be carefully tapped out when the new mortar surface was dry without disturbing it, or chancing chipping it.  Very nice work.


Then he started applying coat after coat of a special mortar called thin-set.  Just like the name, it needs to be applied in thin layers.  He came back day after day applying coat after coat, eventually building it up to match the surface of the frame.  The result was an absolutely flawless surface, perfectly square, top to bottom to apply the tile to.



The mantle needed to be modified to fit the new fireplace.  I made a new frame around the firebox opening that sits flush against the tiles when mounted.  Now the mantle can be stained and finished.

John came back and applied the final coat of thin-set and applied the tiles.  They set overnight and then he applied the grout and was finished.  A beautiful job!    I mounted the mantle on a temporary basis until the room gets restored at which time it will need to be removed.  But in the mean time it looks like this.

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The Before Shots...

We have already replaced the fireplace (click here to see how we did it), and the previous owners had replaced the floors, so those two things were good.  Unfortunately, those were the only two things...


This picture shows the rear view.  At one time, (we believe around 1920) this room was split into two rooms.  Upon closer inspection, we discovered the doorway shown in this picture was once a double doorway just like the one on the front end of the room.  The good news is that we have the original door in the attic.  As you can see, high-hat ceiling lights were added at some point.  These would look great in a Municipal Building, or perhaps the DMV, but not here.  Decades later and the damage from the 70's lives on.

The news continues to get worse...  We noticed that the walls have been replaced with sheetrock.  Okay, I can live with that, but the problem is that the plaster and lathe are still there, just underneath! 

The walls are literally flush with the doorframes and window frames, making it impossible to wallpaper.  Conclusion? The walls and ceilings must be completely demolished.


And More Problems...

The ceiling is severely warped.  The house dramatically shifted and settled over the years.  The joists that are supported by the chimney didn't move, while the rest of the house did.  The result?  The ceiling in the center of the room is 4 inches higher than either end of the room. 


External heating pipes. During the early part of the century when the heating system was added the only way to get heat to the second floor bedrooms was to run the pipes up the walls.  During this time it was actually considered somewhat fashionable to show off your "modern age" heating system.  But now they are just plain old ugly!

As with much of the house, the doors and windows have been painted.  The window sash chains are broken and/or missing, the window hardware is missing or badly damaged. Each of the windows will need to be disassembled, refinished, and reassembled with all new historically correct hardware.  The doors will need to be stripped, repaired, refinished and have the hardware replaced. (with the exception of the key hole covers)



Wait, there's more... The previous owners had some VERY large dogs.  They were really cool dogs, but they were not exactly house friendly.  The majority of the doors in the house have severe gouges from them trying to open doors. 


Did I mention, the doors need work.  Lots of work...


So, what does all this mean?  It's going to be another really long restoration for this room.  Put on your seatbelts folks, it's gonna be a rough ride...

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It's Demolition Time Once Again...

A picture is worth a thousand words.  This picture was taken during the Living Room demolition.  We had fans blowing in the back of the house and out the front to keep the plaster dust from killing us all.  It got pretty bad in there...


No folks, this is not the DEVO reunion tour, these are some of my friends who came to lend a helping hand.  We had almost a dozen people helping in all.  We started with the ceiling and went from there.  This shot shows some of the old wallpaper that had been covered with wallboard.

Next thing you know, all Hell was breaking loose.  In no time, I had my own personal battle zone.  The sad part was, how much fun my friends seemed to be having while trashing my home...

This was my moment in the sun!  This picture shows the single doorway in the back of the room that I had theorized was once a double doorway.  With the plaster stripped away, we could see much newer lathe where the double sized opening once was.  I was right!  Later everything was confirmed as both doorframes matched exactly.  A little detective work pays off...

The actual demolition was over and the debris was in the dumpster in approximately 5 hours.  The rest of the day was spent sweeping, cleaning and preparing for the re-build.  We managed to fill a 30 yard dumpster to 2/3 capacity.  (we filled the other 1/3 with stuff from around the house)


Another picture of the room, now gutted and cleaned and ready for the re-build.

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All the King's Horses and All the Kings Men...

The Rebuild

This is my best friend Craig.  For some reason, he likes to work on my house.  He voluntarily flies here, just to help.  We're not really sure why he does it.  We think it's a self-punishment thing.  We sure hope he never seeks help for his problem.  ; )

The first step in the re-build, was to replace all of the wiring and put electrical sockets and switches where we want them.  This is my area of expertise. (I use the term lightly...) While I did this, Craig insulated the entire ceiling with R-25 insulation.  This will dramatically reduce the sound from the future home-theater from the bedrooms above.  Thank you Craig!


Next, I rented a spinning laser leveler from the Home Depot.  I jacked it up to the ceiling and turned it on.  After making a few adjustments, I had a level line on all four walls starting 1 1/2 inches below the lowest point of the ceiling.  A pencil and a straight-edge marked the wall.  The leveler was back to Home Depot in less than 3 hours. Next a 2x4 frame was bolted to the perimeter of the room at the level line.


Next, I bolted a series of 2 x 4's to the existing joists.  I bolted a series of Shim Blocks to the joists first to compensate for the warped ceiling and to ensure the beams were even with the new level frame.  I used a level to double check each beam along the way.  The result is a perfectly level sub-frame to attach the new ceiling to.


The next step was to cover the entire ceiling edge to edge with 1/2" plywood.  Why plywood?  We are planning to put up tin ceiling.  The plywood will ensure that there is wood to nail into across the entire surface of the ceiling. 


Advice: Take advantage of open walls while you have the opportunity!  This 3-foot section of wall is a prime example of this advice. 

  1. We replaced the old heating pipe and moved it inside the wall.  This was done to both exposed pipes in the room. 

  2. We started converting the Linen closet (directly above this wall) into a 2nd floor Laundry room by running hot & cold water, electrical service, gas service, and drainage for the new washer/dryer setup.

  3. We replaced all of the electrical service for the room, putting lights, outlets and switches where we want them.

  4. We ran electrical and cable lines from the basement to the attic and capped them off, for future use.


We also ran gas lines inside the walls and out into the Reception Hall to service a pair of restored Victorian Gas Lights that we plan to install when the hall is completed.


A new frame was built around the fireplace.  The frame is a foot wider that the existing fireplace to allow for the larger mantle. (also note that all interior as well as exterior walls have been insulated.  Why insulate interior walls?  The insulation will help to absorb sound.


Plastic sheeting was hung on all exterior walls as an additional moisture barrier.   The old plaster and lathe was much thicker than today's sheetrock, so lathe strips were nailed on the face of all of the joists. This way, when the sheetrock is applied it will fit snug against the existing window and door frames.


Most important is the time capsule.  I always try to leave a little something future renovators to find if they open up the walls.  (the newspaper and website paperwork were actually placed in the side opening away from any heat from future fires in the fireplace)


I decided to spare you the gory details about putting up drywall.  I can honestly say that given a choice between doing drywall and getting a root canal, I would probably opt of the root canal.  At least it's over faster. 

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The Windows

"A true test of patience"

Okay, let's start from the beginning.  There are eight (8) eight foot windows in this room.  All of them have a minimum of 6 coats of paint on them.  Four of the were actually painted open.  That's right, the upper sashes were painted open - not stuck open, but painted with the tops open more than half an inch in spots.  Only two windows have sash chains left.  The original windows were faux painted to a dark English oak.  We intend to return them to this original state.  First things first, all of the paint has got to go...


This is where my Mother-in-law stepped into the picture.  Using an Infrared Paint Remover she began removing the 6-8 layers of caked on paint.  This tool heats the paint just hot enough that you can remove it right down to the wood.  A very effective tool, well worth the investment.  What you see left behind is a paper thin layer that just turns to powder as soon as you hit it with a sander.  The sand paper doesn't even clog up.  It's pretty amazing.  The black areas you see in the photo are not burned wood, they are "cooked" paint.


This is what the windows look like after a good sanding.  This is where my Wife took the wheel.  Each 8 foot double window went from 6-8 layers of paint to bare wood in approx. 10 hours (each).  No burnt or damaged wood from scraping. A heat gun was used for the detail work.  All of this without any the use of messy chemicals.  Just sweep up the paint chips when you are done.  For those who may have attempted this type of work in the past, let me tell you, that is nothing short of a miracle!

Next, all of the details of the widow and encasements were stained with dark oak gel stain.  The remaining surfaces were primed and light sanded.


Making these old windows new again...

This is a picture of my smoke filled basement after my router caught on fire.  When we disassembled the windows, the sash-stop moldings were not in very good condition, so they needed to be replicated.  Obviously, the right size moldings are not available in stores, so I had to mill them from raw lumber.  (not a job I particularly enjoy)  Half way through this dusty, noisy, laborious task, I smelled something burning.  It was my router, which had caught fire.  I disconnected it from the table and carried it outside where it smoldered for the next few minutes.  Off to the Home Depot I went and was back in business with a heavy-duty router in no time.  Why am I telling you all of this?  Why is this important?  I don't know, I just thought I would share. : )


After a whole day of cutting, planing, and routing (and firefighting...) I had enough custom moldings to cover all eight 8-foot windows.  Yipee!



A few hours of fitting and mitering, and the windows are now semi-operational again.



Using the Faux graining process, the windows were then grained, stained and polyurethaned.



Behind the window trim is a panel that when removed exposes the broken window weights.  The date on the weights was from 1860.  We ran new brass chain to the weights and tucked them back into the window frame.


New brass pulleys were installed at the top of the frames



The fitted moldings were then removed along with the lower sashes and brought back to the basement for finishing.

The window sashes were all wood filled, reinforced, and sanded.  These went through the same Faux process


Once everything was finished, we then installed the stained glass.  The colors of the glass were picked to match the wallpaper.

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The Tin Ceiling

A quick refresher...  This was the lovely warped 1970's municipal building ceiling that we started with...



Then we completely gutted the room.  Next we added sound insulation, and built a level sub-frame to compensate for the major warp.


Finally, we covered the sub-frame with plywood to provide a good surface to attach the tin panels to.



Next, I set up a paint studio in the Attic.  I used a standard Wagner power sprayer to paint the tin panels.  For the record, I ordered them pre-primed to save time.  It only cost $1.00 more per panel and made painting go a lot faster.  Either way, this process took a very long time, but the finish is beautiful and well worth the effort of using a sprayer.


This may seem a little ridiculous, but just trust me on this one.  This is a scale model of the layout of the new ceiling.  It was a bit of a pain to make, but will prove invaluable when actually installing the ceiling. All I did was copy a picture of the tiles I was using from the manufacturer's website.  Then I shrunk the images to be exactly 1:12 of the original size.  I made a board that is exactly 1:12 the size of the Living Room, broke out the spay adhesive and laid out the tiles.  This was very helpful when ordering as well.

The next job was to scribe a line down the center of the room from front to back as well as side to side, forming a point in the center of the ceiling. I used red ink for this line because it is only a reference point.  Next, using the scale model as a guide, I then scribed the lines showing where each of the panels would be placed.  The key was to use the centerlines as the guide, not any of the walls. No wall in an old house is straight enough.


In order to place the tin panels on the ceiling in exactly the right location, I needed a way to hold them to the ceiling while I nailed them in place.  I built a simple but effective tool that worked perfectly.  A simple 2X4 with a 15" square plywood platform screwed onto the end.  I measured the length of the 2X4 to be 5 inches short of the ceiling when placed on top of my mini scaffold.  Then, I attached a 12" thick piece of insulation to the platform.  This way, I was able to place a tin panel on the platform, and push the panel into place.  The insulation compressed down to only a few inches thick leaving the panel secure, but able to move for slight adjustments before the final nailing. I used two ladders placed on either side to be able to check that the panels were straight from different angles without disturbing the panel.



After all the center tiles were up (and my back recovered from hours of nailing upside down...) it was time to address the seams.  No matter how hard you try there will always be visible seams. I used a paint-able caulk and filled all of the seams and smoothed it off with my finger.  This was a tedious job but worth the effort.

This is the same seam shown above.  If you are planning on putting up a painted tin ceiling, don't skip this step!


Once the caulk was allowed to dry, we then covered everything in the room with plastic and I painted the ceiling again using a sprayer to avoid brush or roller marks.  The seams and the nail heads simply disappeared.  Now the panels look beautiful.  



The border needs to be filled in with a filler panels.  In short, filler panels have some arbitrary pattern that looks good no matter what shape it is cut into.  We chose a simple pebble finish because it will be more of background for the moldings we plan to put up.  (I know it sounds confusing, but you'll see what I mean when I put them up.)  Anyway, these panels were pretty easy to deal with, just trim them with a pair of tin snips and nail them up.    This time I used a nail gun because all of the nails will be covered by moldings.  This made quick work of putting these up.


I repeated the same process as before where I filled in all the seams with caulk and applied a second coat of paint.  (This time I rolled the paint on because of the pebble finish.  Now the ceiling is covered, but we're not finished just yet...


The crown moldings that I chose to use are made of Poplar.  I decided against using tin cornices because there are two outside corners around the fireplace.  From the work I have seen in the past, outside corners are not very sharp in tin.  The moldings arrived wrapped in plastic.


The moldings have heat embossed detailing along the bottom edge. 


After lightly sanding the moldings, they were painted with primer.  The detail was lightly brushed over being careful not to fill any of the pattern.


Next we painted the molding with one of the shades matched from the wallpaper.


Next, I carefully taped off the center and the bottom edge of the molding with painter's tape.  Then the molding was sprayed gold with an antique gold spray paint.


Using a special antiquing paint, the detail was painted and the excess paint immediately wiped off.  The result is the black paint left in the crevices, showing off the detail very nicely.


The final step is to carefully peel back the painter's tape, leaving the new gold stripes behind.  Pretty cool.


This picture shows the moldings installed with nice clean corners both inside and out.  Now we need to cover the seam in the tin ceiling where the two colors meet...



The molding that I chose to use is a tin cornice molding.  I bent the tin to make the edges sit flat while the center is still arched upward slightly. this will give the molding a nice three dimensional look.  (as a tin ceiling should.)  So the same process was followed.  First primer, then paint.  The centers were taped off,  leaving the detail along the edges exposed.  The, the edges were spray painted with an antique gold spray paint.


The detail along the edges were then painted with the black antiquing paint and wiped, highlighting some of the pattern.  There were hundreds of these little things that need to be done in a semi-uniform manner.  This took FOREVER!!!  Once dry, the center tape was removed as seen in the completed moldings above.


This is a picture of the ceiling with the finish molding installed.  This ceiling took considerably longer than I had originally anticipated.  I now have a spine that looks like a question mark from working upside down for six months, but the result is just what I was looking for.

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The Floors

A few years ago, the former owners put down new solid oak flooring throughout about half of the first floor.  While the color needs to be changed to better suit the Victorian period, the floors are really nice.  The picture shown here is of the rear doorway.  During the 1920's, this was a double doorway that had been reduced to a single doorway in order to split the Living room into two separate rooms, an Office in the rear and a Music room in the front.  The previous owners removed the dividing wall and returned it to one large room.  During my restoration of this room I continued the process by turning the doorway back into a double.  Luck for us, the extra door was in the attic.


With the wall now gone and the original doorway exposed, we have a big gap in the flooring.  Honestly speaking, the budget for the project has been running a little hot, so I decided to take a crack at floor repair.  Here goes...


In order to make it look like the gap was never there.  I first cut out the threshold boards, then carefully removed the boards along the gap.  This way when the new threshold is laid in, the surrounding floor boards will have the same staggered pattern found in the rest of the floor.  Removing the floor boards was quite easy.  I just used a circular saw.  I set the depth to cut the floor boards but not the sub floor.  Then I made cuts that removed the tongue from one side and the groove from the other, being careful not to damage the board adjacent to it.


Using a chop saw I laid in the new threshold using two long pieces.  Then I began installing the boards one at a time on either side.  I used a sub floor adhesive under each before nailing them into place.  Now I just have to sand everything out to match.


The radiators had leaked onto the floor over a few winters, staining the floor.  I repeated the repair process above in two corners of the room as well.


Once all the repairs were complete, the floor was sanded end to end removing all of the old finish and stain.


Then we stained it and put down three coats of finish, sanding in between each coat.

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The Doorway

Okay, this part of the story all begins right here.  From 1890 to 1920 this was a double doorway, identical to the one on the front half of the room.  The family who lived here at the time needed to save money on heat, so the Living room was divided into to bedrooms.  The back half was smaller so they decided to convert the double door into a single bedroom door.  That being said, we decided to bring it back to it's original state.


We knocked out the wall, back to the original frame during the demolition.  We then rebuilt the walls and floors.


Making the cut

This is probably going to bore the living heck out of most people, but I beat my brains out over this dillema and I have to talk about it.  Bear with me here. All of the woodwork in the house has the same design on the edge.  While it is a simple looking thing, it was a serious challenge to duplicate.  This is what I had to do.  The cut is a dual 45 degree angle, so I made the sliding jig you see in the picture.  The wood will rest on this jig holding it at a 45 degree angle to the table.  That settles one of the angles.  Then, the blade on the table saw is set to 45 degrees as well.



The wood is then cut, making a small dual 45 degree angular cut.  Then the edge is routed to match the exact angle and depth of the cut.  The router cannot cut into a corner, so it must be stopped just short of the cut.



The rest of the angled edge needs to be carefully chiseled manually with a sharp wood chisel to match the two cuts together.  This process needs to be repeated over and over on all the woodwork that needs to be replicated throughout the house.


With all that in mind, I set out to build my first doorway.  I disassembled the doorway on the other end of the room and duplicated all of the pieces one by one and replicated it on the other side of the room.  I have to say that everything went quite well.  I followed the pitch in the floor to keep the doorway in the position it would have been if it had never been modified.  In short, the doorway was intentionally put out of square to match the settling of the house.  Trust me, it would stand out like a sore thumb if I had made it square.



The picture on the left is of the new doorway.  The picture on the right is of the original doorway.  A perfect match, just like it was in 1875.  Mission accomplished!


The last step was to re-hang the doors.  The original second door was in the attic.  It was nice to see the twins reunited after 85 years apart.  The doors will need to be augmented in some places and trimmed in others to perfectly fit.  Once this is done, they will be refinished and hung.

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The Wallpaper

Well, now it's time to make it all pretty.  In following the feel of a Victorian Era home, we chose wallpaper that was not quite as formal for the Living Room.  We used papers from Bradbury and Bradbury that are hand silk screened.  The hand made wallpapers do not come pre-cut like everyday wallpapers do. 


This picture shows the Installer carefully cutting out the borders from one large roll.  I'm sure this is a major pain in the neck.  While I insist on doing all of the work on this house myself, sometimes you have to leave it up to the professionals.


The fun part about having to have your borders cut from a master roll, is that you can make custom borders from elements that you choose during the installation.  This picture shows a border being installed into the crown moldings. This is a great effect.

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We're Finally Done!









Be sure to see the REAL comparison of before and after in the Before and After Gallery by clicking Here!

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