Our old house renovation so far has just included lots of yard work, 2 bedrooms, and the kitchen. We had also done the fence, some yardwork, eavestroughs, refinished some floors and tested for asbestos.
As empty nesters with four University student children, we still had time in March and April to finish the downstairs bathroom and another bedroom (paint and floor) before our house got crowded again. But then, Coronavirus shut down the Universities and the kids started arriving home.
Having 6 large adults in an old house, suddenly removed from their own student residences involves a lot of possessions. The bedrooms are full to the rafters with their stuff. The clutter makes it’s way downstairs to the living and family rooms constantly and the dining room is a gaming and study hall. The kitchen is open 24 hours and the pantry is constantly raided.
I wish that I had completed a few more jobs over the winter so that we were more organized now. I finally blew a gasket the other day and had to start another home improvement project. Our living room is now regularly used for television watching, studying and other forms of quarantine-nesting.
The room was wall-papered in a muted red sponge painted style of wallpaper, applied in the 1990s over plastered walls painted in the same warm colour. I love this colour as it is warm, but the wallpaper was dreadfully marked up with holes and peeling, and the room is dark and cavelike. It seems charming at first, but the room seems smaller than it is, claustrophobic and dim. Instead of cozy – it’s dark and depressing. When we viewed the house the first time we kept forgetting whether it had a living room. At first glance it seemed like a small reading nook.
I had planned to leave doing anything to the living room until last, as it is not a necessary renovation, but now that all the bedrooms and bathrooms are in use, we can’t take them out of use, and I just can’t help but peel the wallpaper in this room. While trying to avoid thinking about the state of the world and watching my family lounging around on all of these rooms in our house while I paced around looking for a project, I went squirrelly. We can only stay home and wait out this pandemic, but for me stress relief though comes with keeping busy, and so the wallpaper had to go.
There are no special tools required for wallpaper removal. This makes it the perfect project for home quarantining. No tools required, just time and patience. It’s not like we have to worry about the neighbours or relatives dropping in and finding the living room in disarray. I have noticed the neighbours peering in the windows though – as this room is visible from the sidewalk from 2 streets!
For wallpaper removal, I have previously tried special chemicals and solutions and a fancy scrubbing tool. These things had cost me $30-$40. This was a waste! I have even seen HGTV stars using a special heat stripping tool to remove wallpaper. I bet they don’t really use it when the cameras are off. For me, the best things to use are warm water in a spray container, hands, sometimes a metal spatula, a kitchen scrubby and kitchen steel wool. In 3 days, I peeled 1 large wall (10 feet in height) and an archway, first peeling the large pieces, then going back over the whole area with the scrubby and steel wool, and finally applying drywall filler to the 100 or so nail holes in this wall. Working around couch surfers, one small area at a time, cleaning each area, moving the furniture back in place so that the isolatees were undisturbed.
When removing wallpaper in an old house, it’s important to think first about why on earth the wallpaper was put up. I had asked the previous homeowner and her response was vague. Fortunately before the pandemic we had each room’s plaster walls tested for asbestos. My thought was that there could be some hiding in the walls and if so, I wouldn’t want to release the fibers into the air by pulling off wallpaper and scraping the plaster. Fortunately no asbestos was found in the walls. If we had found asbestos, we would have considered applying a neutral wallpaper over the wallpaper or some other creative solution.
Sometimes wallpaper is applied to seal in and conceal some sort of problem. Upstairs on our inside chimney wall, when we peeled the wallpaper there we found a nasty longterm sticky dark oozing leak under some white wallcovering. For this leak we had the chimney flashing re-sealed, scraped away the nasty leak – let it dry (inside) through the summer, and then applied wall filler and a seal-in primer. We have no further oozing. (Keeping fingers crossed)
In the Living Room we have found no serious issues, only hundreds of picture/plate hanging nail holes. (Seriously –one hundred in one wall). Nevertheless, we got lucky here if holes are the only problem.
The other challenge to home improvement during this time is finding supplies without visiting the stores. Our big box stores (Lowes and Home Depot) are closed to visitors but online ordering and pickup is possible. I recently placed some orders for curbside pickup from my local stores, for items instock in-store. For Lowes, I had a 48 hour turnaround from order to pickup (topsoil and caulking). At my local store, there were only about 3 people visibly working. At my Home Depot, my pickup (plaster of paris and a garbage can) was 72 hours, but there were many people working and 40 cars at least in line. I think the world is starting to get antsy like me and starting more projects.
We can order paint online but paint cannot be tinted. Pre-tinted paint from Walmart is out of stock. So I visited my basement leftover paint supply and created a mix of 4 varieties of white and off-white latex paint and primer. I know that this is not ideal and will horrify decorators, but I know that this will give the room a good overall coverage, and I can re-paint if necessary after the pandemic with just one coat. I was aiming for a warm off-white colour, similar to my kitchen and family room. However, the logic of my paint mixing did not work out as expected, and I have achieved a pale grey. Still a neutral, but grey.
I had some leftover drywall compound to fill all of those wall holes, but it was pretty dried out. As I said earlier, I ordered some powdered plaster of paris. I think it should last between projects in a dry form. I also bought some DAP white paintable latex caulking for use along the baseboards. We are keeping the original baseboards in most of the house, but most of them are gapping from the wall – or have some rough edges. I use the small tubes of DAP because I can easily reseal them, and work small areas at a time. Using a small tube avoids the use of those nasty metal caulking guns which hurt my hands, but they are getting hard to find online now!
After the wallpaper was removed, I gave the walls one more scrub down with steel wool, filled the little holes and sanded with a block, cleaned up and then painted one wall at a time. I already had some painting equipment (tray, rollers and brushes) onhand – and was able to quickly apply 2 layers of the off-white paint. I am blessed to have home my youngest – who is tall, and created his own house painting company last summer. He hates painting now – but I do not feel guilty for enlisting his help. He was able to do the “cutting in” that I don’t enjoy – around the ceiling, and I had him paint the higher trim!
The room is now mostly painted. The radiators still need to be done – but we will wait until the heat is turned off for the summer to paint those! We still need to apply some quarter-round molding around the flooring – but we will wait for the stores to fully open so that we can see the molding selection ourselves. We are considering replacing the blinds with shutters or drapes, and it’s time to think about some new art on the walls. I had previously put some things up just to cover the wall holes. We have lots of time to think about what to hang and where. Currently I am thinking floral, but that could be because it’s spring!
We also need some lighting, an area rug and some sort of tables or coffee-table – but searching for antiques isn’t OK right now. Earlier today we were out for a drive and I spotted a coffee table up for grabs on the side of the road. Normally, I would be given some discouragement for picking up and refinishing such items, but today my husband hit the accelerator as soon as he saw me looking. There is no re-purposing of finds in the days of Coronavirus.
Normally it would have taken me a few days to strip wallpaper and paint this room, but working around the nesters resulted in this little project taking a little less than 2 weeks. That’s OK – I NEEDED to keep busy, while the kids needed to relax. For now the room is a little more open and cheerful – which is just what’s needed when we have a crowded house.
Stay safe and busy at home!