Monday, November 4, 2013

Stripping 123 Years of Paint off My Victorian Staircase

Last week I decided to strip the paint off my staircase. Because I have nothing better to do, right?

This is what it looked like before I started. Pay no attention to the Exorcist Dog.

I will eat your soooul!  Not really. She might eat your pizza, though.

It's not that I don't like the black and white paint. Black and white is much better than the various shades of green that it was when we first bought the house. If you look close, you can see some of the green on the baseboard, just as it turns to go up from the landing. I was still painting when Doodle decided she needed to go upstairs.

But a year ago, give or take, I had a Twitter exchange with Bob Vila, and he said he thinks my staircase is American Black Walnut.

American Black Walnut. That's way better than black and white paint.

Ever since, all I've been able to think about while walking up and down that staircase is what's hiding underneath all that paint. Because stripping a staircase is no small project, I just tucked it away for later.

Later is apparently the casual term for Friday, Nov 1, 2013.

I should back up a bit. There was a minor disaster in my office last Friday. I'd decided to clean the white carpet, but wound up with a spray of muddy water, and a much worse mess than if I'd left it alone in the first place. While picking up the chemicals for a different steam cleaner, I spotted paint stripper. After a brief chat with the Ace Hardware dude, I walked out of the store with my steam cleaner chemicals, and a can of stripper.

I paid for them.

Because I do things like this, I brushed a coat of stripper on one small part of the newel post before heading upstairs to work on the muddy carpet. I had to test it, after all, since there were who knows how many layers of old paint that needed to just go away.

I should say that I have stripped and scraped an awful lot of paint over the years. But this staircase is 123 years old. And the previous owners really, really loved their paint. There were so many layers, the whole thing started to take on a rounded, almost Disney appearance.

Once the top layer of paint started to look like a pair of baggy socks, I brought out the scraper. With my first scrape through the goopy mess, I found green, more green, white, assorted shades of beige, brown, and tan, more green (this time, Kelly green), and then numerous layers of some sort of varnish.


Yeah. We ain't playin in this house, not when it comes to covering up wood.

I used a product called Klean Strip. It's thick, it's gelatinous, and it's nowhere near as easy to brush on as the can implies. But it's recommended by the Ace Hardware dude, and it doesn't dry out as fast as thinner paint strippers.

Fastest! Strongest! Best! 

Now I am aware of citrus strippers, which are safer (and a lot less smelly). They do work beautifully for some projects. The problem with the citrus stripper approach is that I would really love to rid this staircase of all its superfluous paint while I am still young enough to brandish a 5-in-1 paint scraper.

I should also say that I could use a heat gun, but I don't own an infra red model. A standard heat gun heats up the paint too much for a project like this. There is almost certainly lead-based paint under there somewhere, and a standard heat gun would help it release its leady goodness into the air. Yum yummy. So to chemicals, we go.

I will not be finished with this project anytime soon, that's for sure. But I can see the old wood grain in some areas now. And that's enough to spur me on.

What would you change in your own house, if you had enough time and energy? 

Here's some of my progress so far:



Tuesday, January 8, 2013

Spines In, Thumbs Down

I heard and then read something this morning that makes me wonder where I've been for the past few years. Apparently there is a decorating trend which calls for flipping around the books on your bookshelf. That's right; spines turned in, not out.

This is one of the book shelves in my house. Pretty average.

Yes, I actually kept most of my college textbooks.

I rearranged that shelf to give you an idea of what a spines-in / pages-out bookshelf looks like.

Poor Calvin and Hobbes has seen better days.

Is it just me, or is this plain weird? Do these people not read? Or am I the only one who needs to see the spine of a book to know which book it is?

Mr. Vagabond and I have always adored books, both to read and for their aesthetic appeal. I am constantly changing around my book cases to make them look a little bit different. I've got nicknacks mixed in with books here and there, some larger books are stacked up and lying flat and there are magazines stacked on a couple of shelves, too. But one thing I've never considered is flipping books around backward.

If a uniform color scheme is what these decorators are aiming for, why not make matching book jackets for all of the books? That might actually be cute. It could be done with wrapping paper or unpasted wallpaper. The pasted kind might stick to the book.

Something like this:

Cut some wrapping paper (Sorry, Mr. Baldacci).

Fold it to fit the book.

Tuck the ends of the paper around the ends of the book cover and voila: Book jacket

If plain or white is what you're after, flip the paper over, use white paper or even brown Kraft paper.

Maybe even add labeling stickers to write the title on.

Book spines are functional. They help hold books together and guard against dust and UV rays. With the spines turned in, page edges will age and yellow a lot faster. Plus it just looks odd, and not groovy odd. Weird odd.

My official, and not terribly important judgment call for this trend is Thumbs Down.