Friday, January 8, 2016

Deconstructing the Living Room Ceiling

My husband wanted a project to work on (and hopefully finish) while he was off work for two weeks over Christmas.  He decided that this would be the perfect time for him to deconstruct our living room ceiling.

We decided a long time ago that it would be better to remove the ceiling in our living room, instead of trying to repair it.  It had extensive water damage, and large portions of the plaster had separated from the lath.  When our plasterer remedied a similar situation in our guest bedroom, he used screws and plaster washers to resecure the detached plaster, then he taped and skimmed over his repair and made it disappear.  The living room ceiling had an additional complication which made it less of a candidate for the plaster washer repair.  Over the years, debris had collected in the space between the large sections of loose plaster and the lath where it was formerly attached, which prevented us from reestablishing a good connection using the screws.  





It took a long time for me to get comfortable with this.  Throughout our renovation of this house, I have done whatever I can to preserve original elements.  I respect the history here, and I want to keep as much of it as possible.  In order to move forward with the work in the living room, I had to grit my teeth and admit that this ceiling, though largely original, had to go.

First, we had to remove everything from the room ... and we stashed stuff wherever we could throughout the house. 

Rug, console, and a pile of trunks in our foyer.


Sofa, Maggie's favorite wing chair, and disassembled recliner in the dining room.


Once the room was empty, we laid paper to protect the floor.



This paper was previously used during ceiling repairs upstairs ... reuse and recycle!


Plaster removal itself was done carefully ... using a 5-in-one tool and a hammer to chip off manageable pieces, which were dropped into buckets.  I'm no fan of sledgehammer demolition, because it creates a huge mess, causes unnecessary destruction, and would most certainly damage the floor as the heavy debris falls.



See the bit of brown horsehair in the one chunk of plaster?

Slow, steady progress.  





The strip of something that you see on the wall below the ceiling is a wallpaper border that had been hidden behind crown molding.  The crown molding also hid a strip of wallpaper on the ceiling.  The wallpaper is not an 1840s original, but it does look old.  This room has been updated a number of times, most notably in the 1930s, and the wallpaper may have been installed during that remodel.

The ceiling paper has a slight sheen.


From a distance, it looks vaguely like an all-over floral ...


... though I can't make out a true pattern to it.


Plaster removal took 2-1/2 days.  Plaster is heavy, and working overhead like this is very tiring.



There was an insane amount of sand and brick dust in the ceiling above the fireplace.


Plaster ... all gone.





Originally, we planned to leave the lath in place and drywall over it.  With the plaster gone, we could see that the lath wasn't even enough for us to do this ... and there was a LOT of stuff in some of the joist spaces above it.  Just like with the plaster, the lath had to come down ... carefully.



It was really exciting to reveal the original ceiling joists.  The ones that appear to be short are extensions of the the joists of the adjacent foyer.





Once the lath was down, we sifted through the debris on the floor as we swept it up, to make sure that there weren't any hidden treasures.  What did we find?

A vintage rat nest ...


... which contained lots of fabric scraps ... none of which was modern, thank goodness.


Two rat mummies.


Walnuts, a corn cob, mud dauber nests, and some leaves from the Post Oak tree beside the house.


Pieces of glass, some newspaper shards, and a few old nails.


Three of the pieces of glass fit together, and they appear to be part of a pressed glass footed compote.


We pulled the nails out of each piece of lath, sorted them by size, and bundled them for easier storage.  I hope to give it to someone who has a need for 19th century sawn lath.





I am always in awe of the craftsmanship of the framework of this house!

There are cross beams beside the chimney, which support fireplaces on the upper floor.


The cross beams are connected to the floor joists with pegged mortise-and-tenon joints.


With the plaster and lath removed, and the mess cleaned up, this part of the living room renovation is finished. 







It will be a while till we work in this room anymore.  We have to rerun the wires for the recessed lights, add new wire and a switch for a chandelier, decide what to do with the bookcase space, etc., etc., etc.  In true old-house tunnel-vision fashion, we put the furniture back into the room and we will use it as is ... till we get the energy, motivation, and inspiration to keep working to make it beautiful again.

40 comments:

  1. UGH. What a job and a half!!! but how fabulous it will be once it's done.

    have a great weekend!

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    1. As dramatic as it was to demolish this ceiling, it actually wasn’t as bad a job as we imagined it would be. Feels good to get this behind us.

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  2. Such a big job but I know it will be good once it is done. You have done such an amazing job of restoring this old house.

    Linda

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    1. Thank you, Linda! I'm really excited to get this project 'off the ground'. It's gonna be a while till we can really see improvement.

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  3. HUGE project, you are very brave for taking it on yourselves and being patient while taking it step by step. Good luck!

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    1. Reporting on stuff like this now makes me wish that I had been blogging during the main restoration in the beginning, from the beginning of 2003 through 2007. There would certainly have been no shortage of stuff to talk about. There was one time in 2005 when I had three major projects running at once (kitchen, front porch, and garage construction). Thinking back, I am amazed at how I successfully kept it all organized.

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  4. The demolition is the worst part, isn't it? Now comes the fun part ... decorating! :)

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    1. I like demolition because that's when we find the treasures! My husband has stopped rolling his eyes at me as he watches me I carefully sift through debris looking for signs of anything from the past. Yesterday, I was picking through the rat's nest (yes, I kept it ... for now), making a little pile of different kinds of fabric scraps. I plan to put them into some sort of display, along with some of the other artifacts (not the rats, disposed of them) which will stay in the room.

      Decorating! I have such a clear vision of what this room looks like when its finished. All I have to do from here on out is to make each project look like the 'picture'.

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  5. My goodness, what a messy chore! That would be comparable to cleaning my house, which is in dire need... not to mention repairs!

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    1. Let's not talk about house cleaning. My cleaning lady retired in November, and I had completely forgotten how much work it is to keep a place like this.

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  6. Bless your hearts, minds and bodies. What a LOT of GRUESOME work that needed doing! You did a GREAT job.

    I LOVE your walls! They speak to me. Are you going to leave them like that? Love that wall paper border too. The 'floral' pattern almost looks like flocking.

    While you settle back into your living room temporarily, you can ruminate over what's to be done.

    You are such an inspiration to me. Thank you for sharing all of your projects.

    Love & hugs ~ FlowerLady

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    1. All of the congratulations on this job belong to my husband. I said ‘we’ a lot while I was writing about it, but he was the one who did all the hard work this time. I consulted, and sifted, and helped with the final clean up.

      The walls will be repaired and painted. I have an awesome color planned, which I know the house will love. The old color on them now, which was underneath bad wallpaper and layers of paint, is probably remnants from the 1930s redo of this room … when the bookcase was built and all the molding in the room was updated.

      I find myself staring up at the ceiling, marveling at the craftsmanship. Our house is ‘new’ enough that all of the wood was sawn instead of split, but any joinery was still done by hand.

      You make me blush. The feeling is mutual, because you are an inspiration to me, too.

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  7. Fascinating. Every moment of this post just fascinating.

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    1. Almost as good as being here ... without getting sand and schmutz in your hair.

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  8. I love the ease at which you guys tackle these huge jobs. It is a gift! Poetry in motion watching the plaster and lath come down. Well done! 🌹🌹🌹

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    1. We've been at this for a LONG time, so demolishing a ceiling feels like just another day around here.

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  9. Ahh, "... to make it beautiful again" I think that's what this post was all about.

    Love the detail and your archeological finds :) This post made it look so easy :p

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    1. This part of the process IS easy. Take stuff down in the opposite order that it went up, no brainy stuff needed. The NEXT part, where we marry old parts with new stuff is where it can get tricky ... requires a lot of sitting, and staring, and scheming before the plan comes together.

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    2. I also wonder what will happen to those little archeological finds... Perhaps a cloche for the mummified rats? ;p That is a bit too creepy for me but perhaps not for you!

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    3. The rats were returned to the earth (in this case, that's another word for landfill). Preserving and displaying them is too creepy even for me. I am honoring them by preserving select parts of their collection.

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  10. What an interesting post with great photos. Isn't that plaster debris something, when it gets broken up and falls between loose walls? Our walls and ceilings are the same as yours and I always think how much work it was to add all those pieces of lathe to the studs and beams. I love the pegged beams, I have not come across that in a house before. I do not love the RAT skeleton, yuk!

    ReplyDelete
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    1. You've no doubt already figured out that I take FULL advantage of an unlimited supply of pixels to document most everything around here. :)

      Admit it ... you would have been disappointed if I hadn't shown you the rat mummies.

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  11. Glad of the ending to this post. Was doubting ya'll were real people, instead robotic perfection of humans.

    Congrats, reaching this layer of renovation.

    I think walls of our 1900 home, inside, are plank boards with plaster.

    Amazing seeing the interior construction of your home look rock solid & pure.

    XOT

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    1. We are as real as it gets, with regard to old house renovation. It was surreal for the first five years, when this was a work site and not our domicile. Now that we live here, it's a constant balancing act ... keeping the function of something, or figuring out how to do without it, while trying to make progress and move things forward.

      This house is fortunate to not have suffered any structural insults in all of its years. Most of its Gothic style and gingerbread left in the name of 'colonializing' the place in the 1960s, but the framework has not been chopped or compromised. For that, we are thankful.

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  12. Quite a job, but some day it will be marvellous. Fun to see your treasure of the day, the vintage rat nest and then the mummies, what are you going to do with them, I suppose you make a small showcase for them.

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    1. The rat mummies went to the landfill, but I am keeping some of their collections. The fabric scraps are interesting, and I think there are some readable parts on some of the bits of newspaper. I didn't photograph them yet, but we also found four buttons and a faux pearl earring. I think I can make a small display in a frame.

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  13. I'm always impressed by your projects, Connie! Overhead work is just the hardest in my opinion! Your husband did an outstanding job. I'm looking forward to seeing what you come up with next! The history of your home is being honored. ♥

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    1. That little rolling scaffolding makes the overhead work a whole lot less grueling. Creates a work platform where we can work on a larger space than would be possible if we were working from ladders. This thing is the best $169 that I think I have ever spent!

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  14. I know exactly how you feel about saving every possible scrap of plaster possible, but once the decision is made and the work done I swear the house just feels lighter and happier!

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    1. This is only the second time that we have done a wholesale plaster removal like this. It feels pretty liberating, once I get past the heebie jeebies over trashing original house stuff.

      You, of all people, know what we go through with this renovation. Your place has more issues than ours, and I consider you to be one of my heroes ... just saying'.

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  15. This post was cool! Living in an old house myself, I absolutely love the deconstruction and seeing the bones of the house, that haven't been seen for a century or more. Passed on post to Bob. I can't wait to see how this room turns out. I remember walking in here, and visioning it when it was new. And I know it will take time...I too have lived in unfinished rooms for YEARS! ;)

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    1. You and Bob do totally awe-inspiring stuff with your old house. I bow to your dear husband's skills.

      Unfinished rooms are everyday life ... I know that you totally understand.

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  16. What an interesting part of the renovation/restoration. I have to say, my neck and shoulders are hurting just looking at the photos of the overhead work. How fun to find the little rat treasures :-)

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    1. With HGTV sledgehammer demolition, one misses the little cool things that may be waiting to be discovered. I'm really glad, after finding the nests and stuff, that we discovered actual critters, too. Otherwise, we would still be wondering ... rat, or squirrel?

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  17. What. a. project!
    Will be saying prayers for you guys!
    Catherine

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    1. Just another day at the old-house salt mine ... ceiling is down, furniture is back in the room, further work will done one day ... normal life.

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  18. I almost missed this post! in fact I would have, if it wasn't for the paint samples on your wall of your next post!
    I have a 100 yr house with lath.
    When I had water damage, due to a leaky roof, in the bathroom, I hammered down the plaster in that spot and then puzzle pieced drywall up and plastered the whole thing and now it looks like frosting.
    Are you horrified? LOL! Thank god it was the bathroom!
    I had no idea what I was doing. It's been 7 years so, so far so good!
    I'm in awe of what you two are doing! I would just sit down and cry if I had to try to do something like that!
    I can't wait to see the final results. But I love that you are doing it at a pace that doesn't stress you out.
    Very wise.
    Great post!
    xoxo

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    1. Wait till I show you the puzzle pieces, drywall mud cake icing, and Michaelangelo sculpting that I did to the walls of the bay in this room ... it sounds a lot like what you did ... perfectly okay to me!

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  19. I am always fascinated by the little scraps and pieces of evidence that an old house coughs up during this type of renovation. I'm curious about the footed compote/broken glass. How did it get there? What is the story behind it? It always seems like a good mystery story to me!

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  20. We disassembled our bathroom a few months ago and still have the plaster and lath. You piles were definitely tidier than ours. Given your beautiful prior projects, I really look forward to when that room gets going again.

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