The Bungalow: Paint Chatter

How about some homeowner fun on this Monday morning? Let’s talk paint.

All houses have their mysteries, and ours is no different. One of the things that we loved most about this house was the minimal updating. In fact, the paint colors even gave the impression of decades ago and the shadows on the walls showed where picture frames and shelves had hung for those same decades. We placed “painting the entire interior of the house” on our list of aesthetic priorities. There’s just something so satisfying about a new coat of paint suited to your own tastes.

I love to paint. Honestly. Give me some work lights, good music or Gilmore Girls for the background, and I will paint all night long (I don’t really have time to paint during the day). Prepping and priming aren’t my favorite tasks, but I’m warming up to them. But I love colors: thinking about them for days or weeks, matching them, choosing lots of different colors, etc. And the end result is always worth all of the effort and the paint that somehow ends up on my face.

So far I have painted three rooms (living room, bedroom, guest room) with four to go (dining room, kitchen, bathroom and office).  The guest room, which is the smallest room, took the longest amount of time and the most effort because of peeling paint on the plaster ceiling. And then I was inspired to paint horizontal stripes (which, by the way, sound scary and require a lot of painters tape. but turned out great). I owe a great deal of thanks to a few flamingos and my sister Sarah for their help.

Now I am moving on to my next project: the office. It is currently a pretty shade of blue, but there is one big problem: the paint is chipping everywhere in this room. By chipping, I mean something akin to alligatoring. See below.

The chipping blue paint.

Another angle of the chipping or about-to-chip paint.

And that is only one small section of this room.  See here:

Most of the room looks like this.

More chipping. It’s on every wall. And some ares of the ceiling.

Fun, yes? Good thing I like a historic house puzzle. However, this one is driving me crazy. Why is the paint chipping like that? It is the only room in the house where this is happening. For reference, aside from the wall with the windows, all of the walls are interior walls. I’ve asked everyone who walks through the door, but no one has come to any conclusions, yet. Perhaps you can help. Here is what I know about the paint in our house (with thanks to the sellers who were kind enough to answer my questions):

The upstairs rooms have only been painted once, probably with one coat. Downstairs rooms have been repainted in the same color, except for the kitchen (new color). Any room that was repainted was done in the 1970s. The house was built in 1928. In other words, there is very likely lead paint in this house (pre-1978 as all preservationists know).

My questions relating to this information: How has one coat of paint lasted 83 years? Why is the blue room chipping and the other rooms are not? And, how am I supposed to remove that chipping paint? And will this happen again when I repaint?

Regarding the one coat of paint: it’s good to know now that some rooms have been repainted. But was lead paint that durable to have one coat last 83 years? Isn’t that impossible? So far in my paint endeavors I have not found evidence of multiple coats. Others have suggested that the house was wallpapered, then stripped of its wallpaper and painted. (I would not want that job.) Others have suggested that the house (the walls) froze last winter when it was unoccupied and unheated. And others have suggested it’s just a bad application in the blue room. That was my first instinct, but I’m still amazed at the other rooms that have had only one coat of paint.

Regarding paint removal: scraping creates dust particles and scratches the smooth plaster. Chemical stripping or something like citrus stripper is not effective.

While I love colors and painting, I am not an expert. If you have experience with chipping paint or can help me solve the old paint questions, I’d be very interested to chat. This room will take a while to finish; but, I will share what I learn and the end results.


Tiny Apartment Love

Our ca. 1900 colonial revival house is divided into three apartments; two on the first floor and one on the second floor. Other houses in Burlington are chopped into 5-6 apartments, and it’s quite obvious based on the fire escapes, extra exits, carelessly inserted windows and doors… you get the idea. Aside from the terrible replacement windows, our house looks whole from the outside. However, this colonial revival house is moderately sized compared to the elaborate Queen Anne houses further down the street.

Now, when I say this colonial revival is divided into three apartments, I really should say two and one-half. Our apartment is more like a small studio, luckily it is more than one room. It is in the range of 350 square feet for two people and three (!!) cats. Really it should be for one small person and maybe one cat. Whatever, call us crazy.  We picked this place over the summer, with few other options, but decided this one would be our best bet because of the location, the southern exposure, permission to paint inside and permission to have cats. At the time it was not the prettiest apartment; it was dirty and bland. But, we could see the potential.  As we drove up here in August it suddenly struck me that I had signed a lease without ever looking at the bathroom. I panicked.  By the time we stepped foot in the apartment on a hot August day, dropped just a few of our bags and the (then) two cats, the space seemed full! How were we supposed to live in 350 square feet with one exceptionally small closet? (At least the bathroom was fine.)

We went to work: cleaning, scrubbing, painting, organizing, selling excess furniture, and moving boxes and boxes of books. (Since one of us, ahem, Vinny, is an English teacher, we live in our own personal library. Okay, there are some preservation books in there.) And by the time school started two weeks later, we were settled nicely and everything had found a place. Granted, our couch is a loveseat, and we don’t really have space for dinner guests, but it works for now.  Beyond grad school, it probably won’t be a functional space for us anymore. It’s a cozy, charming space, if you want real estate terms.

But for right now, Vinny and I love this place, particularly because we painted it the colors we wanted and put in a lot of work to make it sort of ours for a few years.  The kitchen floor has two different styles of linoleum, some of it cracked, and the floor is noticeably on an angle, but there is a breakfast nook in at the end of the galley. I love that our living is the former porch with all windows and a southern exposure. I love that it’s so small that heating it doesn’t cost too much. I love the strange built-in cabinets in the kitchen and the drawers underneath one set of shelves. I love the door frames and the clues to the previous arrangement inside the house. I even sort of the bathroom sink that is so old and stained by the separate hot and cold water faucets. Washing my face is a sport, trying not to burn or freeze my hands. See, character? And lots of it.

From the living room we get a glimpse of Lake Champlain and have beautiful sunsets. The houses across the street are beautiful and wherever we go, we walk through a historic district. And sure, maybe we could find something better or bigger (maybe not both), but we love it for all of its quirks and we are now experts on storage  in small spaces and making tiny places desirable. Wanting to stay in 350 square feet — talk about some tiny apartment, old house love.

My Record Player Table

I have always loved the idea of family heirlooms, vintage furniture, or flea markets finds to decorate my house. My parents have many family heirlooms, from a buffet to corner cabinet to dresser and beds, to enamel top kitchen tables, an old standing radio, end tables, metal patio chairs, and more. So while my mother and I might have admired those garage sale goers, those who bought beat up furniture that they planned to clean, refinish, and love, we did not have the space for anything of the sort. Our house was filled with all that it could hold. Therefore, it goes without saying that I never had the opportunity to restore something of my own. When I was 15, my parents let me paint my bedroom “daisy blue” (I’m sure I picked the color for the name), but that was as far as my experience went in home renovation projects.

While preparing to move to North Carolina, back in summer 2006, I carefully chose what excess furniture I would claim as my own (or “borrow” from my parents). I picked the enamel top table that was my grandmother’s (we had two, so my mom wouldn’t miss one of them), the solid wood bookshelf that I had in my room, and an old record table that I used as my nightstand.  Aside from the fact that I didn’t have much money, I wanted to bring part of home with me, 650 miles away. The tables could be considered family heirlooms, and I just always liked the bookshelf.  Perhaps because I am the oldest child and was the first to leave home, my parents graciously gave me this furniture.

The enamel top table and the bookshelf were in fine condition, but the record table had seen better days. Its brown paint had started chipping long ago, and its support weakened as I piled on books and moved it from house to house. I had great plans to sand and paint the table, but I never got beyond sanding it. Yes, that was three years ago – furniture refinishing was never on top of my list of things to do.  And most of the time it was hidden beneath books and other belongings. This wear and tear has taken a toll on the poor record player table, and within the past few months, I’ve been wondering if it will survive the upcoming move 850 miles north.

Finally, the urge to refinish the old record player table struck me on Sunday. Luckily, Vinny has taken on such projects before, much more than my bedroom painting days. After gathering the necessary supplies (sandpaper, polyurethane, “red cherry” paint, paintbrushes, steel wool, clamps, wood glue, and wood filler) from home and the store, we were ready to begin.

Before - the front of the table

Before - the front of the table

Before - the back of the table

Before - the back of the table

The condition seen above in the pictures was basically how it looked for three years. The visible dark brown paint was the former paint color, which had I tried to sand all of the it, probably would have destroyed the table. The tabletop and legs are solid wood. The shelves and records slats are not.  Taking this into consideration, we sanded the top only, in order to get the surface as smooth as possible and ready for the polyurethane. Still, as Vinny taught me, we had many steps before it was time to paint. To fix rickety-ness, we attempted to hammer some tacks between the shelves and the legs. That didn’t work. The flimsy shelves were not thick enough to take tacks. Instead, we switched to wood filler for the crevices. (Note: stainable wood killer is necessary).  In order to fix the underside of the bottom shelf, we glued and c-clamped it.

The table upside down.

The table upside down.

Repairing the flimsy bottom.

Repairing the flimsy bottom.

Once everything dried, we could begin the fun part: painting! The “cherry red” for the shelves and record slats took two coats of paint. I thoroughly enjoyed painting, but I can say that I am eternally grateful for blue painter’s tape and if the amount of paint on me is any indication of amateurism, I must be akin to a four-year-old learning to color. Vinny took care of the polyurethane (quick-drying and clear/natural), which required about seven coats and many more hours.

In between coats of paint and polyeurethane.

In between coats of paint and polyeurethane.

I called home to inform my parents that I finally completed this long-standing plan of a project. My mother was thrilled; my father, I think, imagines that the entire table is red and is frightened by that. My mom isn’t sure where her parents bought the table but she remembers them being very common.

Now, there are two issues that preservationists may have with my project. 1) I have not studied decorative arts in depth, so my furniture vocabulary is limited and unrefined. I apologize, but hopefully you know what I mean.2) Does it matter that I changed the color from brown to red?  How do you consider alterations to furniture as opposed to alterations to buildings? If you are a furniture purist, then it might be an issue. What do you decorative arts students think? However, consider this: all I did was change the colors. Note in the pictures below that the brown paint remains in the details. To sand the brown paint from the flutes (if you will) would have been a disaster. Instead, I left it as an accent color.  Also, the table is now stronger.





The tabletop/

The tabletop, with the natural wood visible.

Best of all, the table is a piece of family history that I hold close to my heart, updated to be a reflection of me, too. At most, the table is 60 years old. I don’t know the monetary value of such a thing, nor does it matter. I love the “new” old record player table. It has never looked better.

I’m glad that my home “renovation” resume can now include painting a bedroom and refinishing a table. After all, I continue to harbor the dream that Vinny and I will restore a rundown house one day.  I have a long way to go, but it’s good to start somewhere. And what could be better than with a piece of furniture that I love and that has been in my family for over half a century?

Does anyone else have good home stories?