The Living Room
February 1st 2003 - Completed February 16th 2004
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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!
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
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...
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
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
advantage of open walls while you have the opportunity!
This 3-foot section of wall is a prime example of this advice.
We replaced the old heating pipe and moved it
inside the wall. This was done to both exposed pipes in
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
We replaced all of the electrical service for the
room, putting lights, outlets and switches where we want them.
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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"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
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
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 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
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
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
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
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.
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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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
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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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
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
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
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
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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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