One of my husband Chris’s hobbies is to refurbish vintage Coleman lanterns. He finds them through various sources, corroded and tarnished, and by the time he is done with them they look better than new.
But the steps he takes to transform them cross squarely into “mad scientist” territory, with cauldrons of chemicals bubbling away on the stove.
Still, there is no arguing with the results. And recently he’s put his slightly terrifying talents to work on a couple of our home’s long-neglected light fixtures.
Our Sad-Looking Outdoor Sconces
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We found our two craftsman-style outdoor sconces years ago on a closeout table at Rejuvenation. They were identical except that one had amber glass shade panels and the other had white panels. But the price was right, and they were a great style for our old house. So we bought them despite the mismatched shades.
They were lacquered brass, but over time the lacquer wore off and the brass became corroded.
One was hanging next to our back door,
And the other one next to the “people” door on our detached garage.
There is a fine line between a nice vintage patina and a finish that just looks tired and corroded, and to us they had crossed that line.
These fixtures had been bugging us for a while – both because of their sad state and because we wanted a back-door light fixture that matched our charcoal-colored door.
So Chris decided to try his hand at refurbishing them.
Disassemble, Submerge, And Dry
The first thing he did was to remove the sconces from the wall and then remove the glass shades from the sconces and any screws and other hardware that came off easily.
Then came the don’t-try-this-at-home part of the project: He mixed a ratio of one teaspoon of citric acid powder per one litre of water and set it to boil in a large pot on the stove.
Then he submerged the light fixtures and small metal parts he’d removed (but not the glass shades) into this steaming witch’s cauldron and let it simmer for about a half hour to 45 minutes, turning the fixtures when needed to make sure every part had its proper boiling time.
This step had me Googling“Is breathing citric acid vapors safe?” So is it? Not really, especially in large amounts (whatever that means).
I opened the windows and stayed well away.
(Health and safety concerns aside, Chris tells me that diluted citric acid is a great compound for removing corrosion from brass and some other metals, although he changes the water-to-citric-acid ratio depending on which metal he is cleaning. Seems that further research is key here if you actually feel compelled to experiment with this compound. Use caution! And one important caveat, when working with brass, is that the citric acid bath does turn brass pink, so the brass needs to be polished after its bath with brass polish and/or super fine grade steel wool.)
Anyway, he eventually removed the parts from the cauldron and rinsed them in fresh water. Then he dried them in the oven at 200°F for about a half hour.
Then, in another don’t-try-this-at-home moment, he put them back in the oven for 30 minutes at 200°F.
He let them cool and put the pieces back together, being very careful not to scratch any of the pieces in the process.
He also needed to re-engineer a bracket that held one of the glass panels on, as it had broken off. And, on one of the fixtures, he replaced a strange twist-and-pull socket, meant only for florescent bulbs, with a new socket that could accommodate LED bulbs.
The Glass Shades
The shades were the easy part. They just needed a light cleaning with a spray-on window cleaner.
Before the refurbishing, these light fixtures were drab and easy to overlook. Now they have more presence. I love how well the new color works with our back door.
And the new color provides a nicer contrast to the shades.
I’m glad that we didn’t need to buy new light fixtures. To me, it’s much better to refurbish what we already have. As with his vintage lanterns, Chris made these light fixtures look better than new.
Posts on this website are for entertainment only and are not tutorials.
Our home was built in the 1920s, and I find it a fun challenge to make every upgrade look as original as possible. One advantage to having an older home is that, while decorating fads may come and go, you can never really go wrong by using the home’s original design features as a template for upgrades and remodels.
So, here today, we have a guest writer with a few helpful hints for redecorating a heritage home.
The following is a contributed post. For more information about my contributed posts, please see this page.
Redecorating Your Heritage Home The Right Way
If you are lucky enough to have a heritage home, then you probably have a property that is filled with beauty and character. People are attracted to heritage properties because they tell a story and they have so much personality. Because of this, it is imperative that you consider every redesign process carefully. The last thing you want is to end up ruining the overall look and feel of your heritage property because you have cut corners when it comes to any sort of design and/or repair services. With that being said, in this blog post, we are going to provide you with some helpful advice when it comes to redecorating your heritage property.
Replacing the Windows and Doors Of Your Heritage Property
There may come a time when you will need to replace the windows and doors in your heritage property. When you do this, it is imperative that the materials you choose are in keeping with your home’s character.
As companies like New Rochelle Window will tell you, windows have advanced dramatically over the years, and the models available today are incredibly energy-efficient. You will want to capitalize on this to boost the performance of your property, ensuring it stays nice and warm throughout the winter months. However, you need to do this without losing the overall appearance and character of your period home, and this is why it makes sense to work with an experienced and reputable company that has worked on heritage properties before.
You also need to apply this concept when replacing the doors in your heritage home. Heritage properties tend to have very rustic, authentic, and traditional doors fitted in them. However, as time goes on, wear and tear take over, and they can become creaky, shabby, and simply ineffective.
While the old school vibe is in keeping with the heritage feel, you cannot keep your doors forever. No matter how much effort you go to in terms of maintaining your doors and looking after them, you may some day reach the point where a replacement is going to be needed. You can help to bring back that authentic and rustic feel to your home by choosing wooden doors with care.
It is vital to make sure you choose a contractor with care and that you carefully discuss your wants and needs with them. Again, it makes a lot of sense to work with a company that has provided replacement doors for period properties before, as they will have an understanding of what is required.
You also need to make sure the company you choose has expertise in the sort of repair that you require. For instance, should you have period wallpaper that is currently in place around your door frames, you will want to make sure that the company you choose will be extremely careful when maneuvering around this part of your home. After all, the last thing you want is for the wallpaper to be ruined because of carelessness and lack of experience.
In addition to this, it makes sense to use the original fittings whenever you can, or to at least look for something that is incredibly similar. From brass knobs to period door handles, it is finishing touches like this that really make all of the difference.
Replacing Countertops In Your Heritage Property
Aside from getting new windows and doors for your period home, there are other ways that you may wish to redecorate your property. For example, you may wish to replace the countertop that you currently have in your kitchen.
The kitchen tends to be one of the key rooms and features when it comes to any sort of period home. A lot of the kitchens in heritage properties tend to have traditional pine and oak elements. Others have stone countertops.
However, the trouble is that these worktops would become damaged over time. They would get scratched and, naturally, wear and tear would take place. Plus, the countertop materials were not treated with the same sort of products that we use today for protection.
If you are going to replace the countertops that you currently have in your kitchen, it is imperative to look for something that is as close to a match as possible. Luckily, wooden and stone worktops are still very popular today, so it should be relatively easy to find a material that is suitable to the period of your home.
Plus, there is always the option of having the kitchen countertops custom-made so that they fit in with the style of your kitchen.
Always Make Sure to Choose Similar Materials To Ensure Consistent Design
In fact, this piece of advice is something you can use irrespective of what part of your period property you are decorating: Always look for the closest possible match in terms of material.
Materials have a massive impact on interior design. Their color and texture play a huge role when it comes to developing a room’s personality. Some materials look incredibly modern whereas others have that rustic and old-school vibe. With that in mind, it makes a lot of sense to look for materials that match the original features in your home so that you can be sure you do not lose the authentic feel and vibe of your property.
So there you have it: Some important tips and pieces of advice when it comes to redecorating your heritage property. If you are lucky enough to own a heritage property, it was probably the unique character of the building that attracted you to it to begin with. Considering that, it is imperative to do everything in your power to make sure that the beauty and authenticity of the building are not lost whenever you embark on a redecoration process. By following the tips and advice that have been provided above, you can help to make certain that this is the case.
Posts on this website are for entertainment only and are not tutorials.
Have you ever participated in the One Room Challenge? The first time I participated was in the Fall 2019 – during which Chris and I had six weeks to remodel my dressing room/walk-in closet.
Part of the remodel involved rebuilding a small hollow-core door and giving it some much-needed character. That was a fun project, but things were moving along so quickly during the One Room Challenge that I never had a chance to talk about it in detail.
So I’m sharing it with you today.
The Door Rebuild
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This tiny dressing room has a sloped ceiling that follows the roof line of the house. As a result, the east wall of the room is very short. There is a door on that wall that measures just over five feet tall and leads to an unfinished attic space.
It is a hollow-core door that is not original to our circa 1927 house. The two-inch moldings surrounding the door, and the brushed-brass doorknob, were likely installed around the same time as the door – maybe in the 1950s or 60s.
No doubt it was difficult to find such a short door, and whoever installed it made no attempt to match it with the original single-panel doors in the house (example below).
But, with our remodel underway, we were finally going to change that.
Making Space For Period-Appropriate Molding
The door’s only redeeming feature was the beveled mirror. We carefully removed it and stashed it somewhere safe. Then Chris pried off the cheap two-inch molding that framed the door.
The molding he would install in its place would be four inches wide. So, Chris used his Ryobi multi tool to cut back the baseboard on either side of the door by two inches to accommodate that wider molding.
Installing Reclaimed 1920s Molding
We actually had the right molding on hand – and it was original to the house! It had been removed from another room we’d remodeled, and Chris had been saving it for just this type of occasion.
Now the molding around the door would match the other moldings in the house. It was in slightly rough shape, but we could fix that later by sanding and spackling.
A Molding/Doorknob Conundrum
So as I mentioned earlier, the other doors in the house are the single-panel doors that are very common in 1920s houses. We decided the easiest way to make this door look like the others would be to install molding around the perimeter of the door face itself to give it the appearance of a single-panel door.
Adding molding to the door itself would mean that the location of the doorknob would have to change. So, Chris created a wooden plug for the existing doorknob hole. This plug would be concealed later by spackling and paint.
Now the molding could be installed around the perimeter of the door face.
Sand, Spackle, Prime, and Paint
With all the molding installed, it was finally time for me to sand, spackle, prime, and paint the door and moldings. I used Benjamin Moore’s Simply White.
Once this was done, it was time to add some pretty little details.
A Vintage Doorknob
All the original doors in the house have either glass or antique brass knobs. We had some 1920s vintage door hardware on hand, but most of it was too large and out of scale for this petite door.
Luckily, we’ve collected a pretty good stash of old house parts over the years and, rummaging through it, we found these elegant little beauties.
Their small and narrow profiles would fit the door. But there was no lock mechanism to go with them. And even if there had been, it may not have worked with the door.
But Chris made do. He installed the faceplate and the knob. For a door latch, he installed a ball catch – much like you would find on old cabinet doors.
So, when I open the door, I don’t actually turn the knob. I just pull. And to latch it closed again, I just push. It’s very simple but it works – and it looks pretty.
We also replaced the flimsy hinges on the door with some nice vintage hinges we had on hand which, besides being very well made, are identical to the hinges on the home’s original doors.
Re-Installing The Mirror
Then it was just a matter of re-installing the beveled mirror.
The door is exactly what I wanted in this room: 1920s elegance, feminine but classic, and in a soft vintage white.
Our efforts to keep things in scale for this small door paid off. Looking at the photo above, you wouldn’t immediately notice that the door is only about five feet tall.
But there is one small drawback: The molding we installed on the door itself does not sit flush with the molding that frames the door opening. So, the door appears to protrude a tiny bit, as you can see from the photo below.
But the overall look is such an improvement that I feel it’s a small price to pay.
To recap, here is the before,
And the after.
This was a fun little project that made a big impact.
The door now looks like it’s been with the house all along.
More On Our Dressing Room Remodel
For this remodel, we challenged ourselves to work on a very tight budget – and to keep the carbon footprint small by using repurposed items that we either had on hand or found at salvage shops. Since we were trying for a very specific look, we really had to get creative. The challenges we set for ourselves made the project fun!
If you want to see more of this remodel, check out my posts below.
We’re here at last: The big “ta-da” moment in our One Room Challenge® adventure! For five weeks, my husband Chris and I have been remodeling my small and quirky dressing room, and I’ve been posting weekly updates. And it’s all come down to this: The final reveal!
In case you missed them, here are links to my previous posts:
My little dressing room, located on the second floor, measures roughly 70 square feet. And those square feet are very oddly shaped.
In addition to the odd shape, this room also has a sloping ceiling that follows the roofline along the east side. It has two doors: An entry door and a door leading to an unfinished attic space.
Our house was built in 1927 so, although we don’t want the house to look like a shrine to the 1920s, we always want new work – cabinetry, hardware, doors, and moldings – to blend seamlessly with the existing design features of the house.
I feel that the house’s original design features are easy on the eyes. They’re simple and clean – yet charming. And they’ve stood the test of time. So I would rather use those design features than a trend that will look dated in a few years anyway.
You’ll see that the little dressing room was a claustrophobic and cluttered mess. I wanted the redesign to include ample storage yet feel spacious.
The room is small and has a sloped ceiling, so I decided to use one paint color on every surface, including that sloped ceiling, all the moldings, and all the cabinetry that we added.
The goal was for the room to be brighter, more elegant, more cohesive – and for that sloped ceiling to feel less oppressive. I opted for good old “Simply White” by Benjamin Moore.
Since what we were remodeling was basically a closet, we challenged ourselves to keep the budget tight. So, a challenge within a challenge! We had lots of fun with this. We sourced cabinetry pieces through Craigslist, salvage shops, and our own basement storage. We always look to repurpose items instead of buying new when we can anyway – not only to save money but also because it’s an earth-friendly alternative.
The total expenditure (outlined in detail last week) was under $900 U.S.
Let’s start the tour!
Dressing Room Tour
Won’t you come in.
The North Wall
Before the remodel, the north wall looked like this.
I’d brought in a portable garment rack because there was not enough rod space in the room to hang my clothes. A patched-together assortment of old dressers, shoe boxes, and racks made for a cluttered look that scratched away at my psyche every time I entered the room. And there was a lot of vertical wall space going to waste here.
Now I have the enclosed wardrobe space.
Plus, for longer items, the new garment rod we installed over a shoe bench.
The new garment rod, which adds a much-needed rustic touch to the room, is made of authentic industrial pipe.
We did away with the worn carpet in the room, but failed in our attempt to daylight the original fir floor, which is buried under mid century linoleum.
Instead, we covered the whole mess with a plywood underlayment, and then I painted, stenciled, and protected the plywood with a finish.
I love all the space that I have in the large wardrobe, which we purchased from a private seller on Craigslist and then refurbished. It’s a perfect width for the alcove space. Above the wardrobe, baskets will hold things I rarely use – like ski gear and travel accessories.
In the northeast corner, we added a vintage leaded glass cabinet, which we rehabbed and then put on these turned legs so that it would be tall enough to clear the baseboard and fit snugly in the corner.
Years ago, we bought two of these cabinets at a garage sale for $5 apiece. This cabinet’s mirror-image twin currently lives in our kitchen.
My vintage dolls and other little items were collecting dust in this room, and one of my goals for the remodel was to find a place where they could be displayed but protected from dust. I also wanted a better system for organizing my jewelry.
The vintage cabinet meets both needs. We added hooks to make necklaces easy to sort and find.
And all my little vintage items that used to drive me crazy have a home now.
I love how the north wall turned out. It’s fun, it has character, yet it’s calm and uncluttered – a far cry from the chaos I had going on before.
Looking at these before photos again, it’s surprising to me how much larger this wall space looks now.
We did keep the light fixture that was already in the room. It was a recent upgrade – a vintage milk glass light.
The East Wall
The ceiling slopes all along the east wall. There is a short door that leads to an attic space. It’s a cheap, hollow-core door that is not original to the house. It had a 1970s-era knob, flimsy hinges, and was framed in with tragically cheap molding. Its only redeeming quality was the beveled dressing mirror. Otherwise, it was very sad.
He added 1920s moldings that he’d saved from another project, and he added vintage hardware that we already had on hand – including a petite vintage glass door knob that would fit well on this petite door.
He made this cheap hollow-core door look original to our house – all without spending a cent.
On the east wall, we turn to face the south wall.
The South Wall
The south wall is a strange part of the room that is not even four feet wide. It’s a long, narrow alcove that felt even narrower because of where I had placed the tall dresser.
It was no fun trying to get anything out of these drawers. And, as you can see, this is where the carpeting stopped and an area rug took over. Pretty classy!
Here is the area now.
Southeast wall after
Since the overhead light is near the north wall, this part of the room was dark at night, so our one splurge for the room was to buy a 1920s-era sconce light, which had been professionally restored, from a salvage shop.
Up until yesterday, we were still working on this part of the room. I decided at the last minute that a chair was needed here, but it would have to be very petite.
I had this little bentwood chair kicking around in our basement. But of course it needed work, and I was still putting the final touches on my “ebonized” finish for it yesterday morning. And the faux fur seat cover arrived just in time.
At the same salvage shop where we found the sconce light, we found two narrow kitchen cabinets that, rehabbed and put together with an old dresser from our basement, would work nicely for the space around the window.
Where these kitchen cabinets once held canned goods, they now will hold sweaters – or maybe handbags.
And the old dresser, with its inset drawers, looks identical to the original built-in cabinetry in our home. For a detailed account of how we installed these built-ins, please see this post.
We added glass cabinet knobs to all the pieces to match the cabinet hardware throughout the house.
And I lined all the shelves and drawers in this south wall installation with a retro-floral shelf paper that I just love.
It was easy to reposition – unlike some other shelf papers that I would end up wadding and throwing away in frustration.
So you might be wondering if I forgot to add wall art. But actually I love this uncluttered look so much that I have no desire to hang anything on these soothing white walls. I might change my mind at some point, but right now I can almost feel my blood pressure drop when I walk into this room.
Welcome to Week 5 of the One Room Challenge®. It’s been a busy week, and we’ve made some progress on the remodel of my little dressing room. And we needed to – next week is the big reveal!
I can sum up my week in five words: Clean, sand, prime, paint, repeat. Not that I’m complaining. But I am dreaming of the day, hopefully soon, when I can actually use this cute little dressing room.
But I have the easy part. It’s up to Chris to make all the pieces that I’ve been painting fit into the room and more or less look built in – maybe even like they could be original to our circa 1927 house.
Except for one piece, the shoe rack I shared last week, all of the cabinetry in this room will be second-hand items that we have rehabbed and repurposed.
The cabinet itself, and the body of a vintage dresser, in the upstairs landing.
And the dresser drawers in the driveway.
A Visit To The Salvage Shop
We visited a local architectural salvage shop hoping to find a vintage sconce light for the room – which we did. But we also found these little kitchen cabinets. Believe it or not, they are just what the room needs – and we found them in the nick of time.
What we liked about them, besides their great condition and affordable price, was the single-panel doors. We knew that, once we painted them and replaced the door hardware, they would resemble the original single-panel cabinetry that appears throughout our house.
A Rustic Touch
Since the room will be mostly white, I thought it needed a little rustic counterbalance.
So we bought this wall-mounted garment rack kit. Made of authentic industrial pipe, it’s exactly the look I wanted. We could have made our own out of plumbing parts, but it was actually less expensive to buy this kit.
Every piece had a protective coating of grease to keep it from rusting. So they all needed to be cleaned and then sealed with a spray-on finish. Since I was running out of work space, I did that project on the back patio.
The Vintage Cabinet
Several years ago, we bought two adorable vintage cabinets for $5 apiece at a garage sale. If you’ve been with me for a while, you might remember that we used one of them in our kitchen.
We needed to put that cabinet on legs to clear the heat register in the wall behind it.
We are using the second cabinet in the dressing room. And that one also needed to go on legs – this time to clear the baseboard so it would fit snugly against the wall. Since we like them and they are a good value, we used the same legs that we’d installed on the first cabinet.
The only difference is that I painted these legs with the “Simply White” cabinet paint instead of using a finish on them.
Chris inset the legs just enough so that they would clear the baseboard. The cabinet was going in a corner, so it had to clear the baseboard on two walls.
Just like with the first cabinet, Chris anchored this one to the wall. After all, we live in earthquake country.
I had several little paint sample containers left from when I was deciding on the floor color. So I used one of them – Iron Frost by Valspar – to paint the interior of the cabinet and give it a little interest.
Because this cabinet has a leaded glass door, it can display “pretty” things. So Chris installed brass hooks along the top of the interior where I can hang necklaces and scarves.
The South Wall Comes Together
I haven’t shared much about the south wall of the room. That’s because, until now, there wasn’t much going on. It’s a very narrow portion of the room (not even four feet wide) and easy to over-fill. So our goal is to make it a useful yet uncluttered space.
This is where the vintage dresser and those salvage shop kitchen cabinets come into play. Put together, they work around a sloped ceiling and a window.
It doesn’t look like much yet, but I’m hoping it will soon!
All the cabinetry in the room will have the same hardware – glass knobs that match what is already on the cabinetry throughout the house.
Vintage glass knobs are fairly common, and I assumed they’d be easy to find locally. But none of the salvage shops we visited had enough of them. So we had to buy reproductions.
There we found the best price on the glass knobs we needed – and by searching I found an online coupon I could use. The knobs look great, but the screws they came with are all too long, so we will need to size every one of them down.
That’s on the list, but the list is getting a little shorter.
And speaking of lists . . .
Even with a super-small budget, things add up. Here is what the actual project cost is looking like, in round numbers. (The vintage dresser is not included because we’ve had that piece forever.)
Wall, Trim, Cabinet, and Floor Paint and Floor Stencil
Since this was a small room, I used this Shur-Line paint and stain applicator and got a nice, even finish. (Of course, not wanting to take any chances, I didn’t use an extension handle. I was on my knees at floor level!)
And to reward myself for having come this far, I finally broke out my new HANDy paint tray. But more on that later.
I applied four coats of the finish, letting each coat dry thoroughly before applying the next. After the last coat, I let the room just sit empty for a few days to make darn sure the finish was dry.
So, lots of drying time. But while this was going on, Chris and I were tackling a monster.
The Wardrobe (aka, “The Monster”)
Chris and I found this wardrobe listed by a private seller on Craigslist. I wish I’d taken a photo of it before we set it on sawhorses in our living room. But at the time, it was all I could do to help him muscle it in from the truck.
So, here it is on sawhorses.
Carrying it down to the basement workshop was out of the question. This was a huge and solid piece of wood furniture. It was in great condition and it smelled fresh. And the best part (besides the price – only $100) was that, according to our measurements, it would fit perfectly into an alcove in the dressing room.
That is, with a few modifications.
Making it Fit
The top piece was wider than the body of the cabinet. So, the first thing Chris did was pull off that top piece and trim the sides to make it fit the alcove space.
Yes, it would fit – barely.
But there was another problem: The baseboard. In order for the wardrobe to fit, the baseboard in that alcove space had to go.
Chris used his Ryobi multi tool for this. I was a bit worried about the floor, but he didn’t damage it.
Meanwhile, I cleaned, lightly sanded, primed, and painted the wardrobe.
Again I used my new HANDy paint tray. It has a feature that I just love: A magnet holds the paint brush so it doesn’t slip into the paint.
Even with a much-used paint brush like mine, with many coats of paint over the metal, the magnet held it.
For applying the paint, I used my Shur-Line paint and stain applicator – the same tool I’d used to apply the floor finish. (Of course I still needed to use a small paintbrush for the detail work).
This method gave me what I wanted: An even application that looked more like a “factory finish” than I could have gotten by using the conventional roller-and-back-brushing method.
And it seemed like less work.
So I applied two coats of the Benjamin Moore “Simply White” cabinet paint – the same paint that I’d used on the moldings and doors in the dressing room.
The Wardrobe Goes Upstairs!
Then Chris and my brother Dan hauled the huge monster up our narrow staircase and muscled it into place in the alcove.
Wardrobe (sans doors and drawers) in place in the alcove. This kind of fit was exactly what I was looking for. One my goals for the room, which I listed in my Week 1 introduction, was to add furniture that looked built in but was actually removable.
This piece fits the space so well, and finding it on Craigstlist was very fortunate – like finding a needle in a haystack.
If you’re into details, you probably noticed the small attic hatch in the ceiling above the wardrobe. Nothing is stored in that attic but, if there were ever a roof leak, we might need to access that attic space.
So Chris put the wardrobe on these low-profile trundle casters. Now it can be moved when we need to get into the attic. And, unless you know to look for them, the casters aren’t really that noticeable.
We put little wedges in front of the casters for now, but we’re going to anchor the wardrobe to the wall with an easy-to-remove screw.
And then Chris will replace the baseboard that runs along the wall in front of the wardrobe. But that too will have screws instead of nails so it can be removed if we ever need to roll the wardrobe out.
A “Customized” Shoe Rack
I bought this shoe rack (which is actually called a horizontal cube) from Target because its style and dimensions were perfect for the space I had in mind.
I wanted it to fit flush against the wall, but again the baseboard was an issue. So Chris carefully cut a small chunk out of the back of the shoe rack to make it fit neatly around the baseboard.
The shoe rack came unassembled, so Chris could make the necessary cuts before he assembled it.
I love that the white of the shoe rack is so close to the Simply White that I’ve been painting everything. The only thing I don’t like about this piece is that the screw heads are exposed. But I’m not sure they will be very noticeable once the other pieces we have planned for this wall are in place.
By the way, this shoe rack is the only new piece of furniture going into this room. All the other pieces will be ones that we already had or that we purchased second-hand.
After all, this is a budget project.
Coming Next Week
We are getting down to the wire, and there is still so much ground to cover. We need to install a second light fixture, a garment rack, a bit of molding, and possibly a wall shelf. Chris has more furniture customizing to do.
And I have more painting – much more. After the wardrobe went upstairs, I immediately put another piece on the sawhorses in our living room.
Lots of white will be going into the dressing room, but I’ll leave you with a little preview of some of the other colors that we’ll be incorporating.
There are so many amazing room transformations happening over on the One Room Challenge. If you get a chance, check out what some of the featured designers and the other guest participants are working on.
Chris had installed a plywood floor in the room to cover some hideous mid century linoleum. (Check out Week 2 to see the ugly linoleum!)
We came to the conclusion that, to avoid having too much of a height variance between the hallway and dressing room floors, and to keep this project cost-effective, simply painting the plywood was the best option.
The mostly-white room would need something to “pop,” so we kept coming back to the idea of a stenciled floor. After all, stenciled floors and stenciled tiles are kind of a thing right now.
But sometimes it doesn’t take long for “a thing” to become “that old thing,” which is why I try to keep my decor classic and avoid those kinds of “things.”
Then it dawned on me that this is just paint – one of the easiest and most inexpensive ways to infuse a trend. Once the stencil is not “a thing” anymore, I can simply paint over it. But I really don’t want it to come to that, so we chose this classic eight-inch stencil.
You can see that four stylized fleur-de-lis images make up the eight-inch square. It really doesn’t get more classic than the fleur-de-lis, which has been around for centuries.
And it would also work with nicely with the original design elements of our circa 1927 house.
The Fun Begins!
I suspected (and rightly so) that this project would be time consuming and frustrating. So I did a little research and found a wealth of information over at lovelyetc. com. Here, Carrie talks about her DIY stenciled plywood living room floor. She even has updates on how it is holding up.
Not wanting to re-invent the wheel, I followed her advice pretty much to the letter. And when I didn’t follow her advice, I lived to regret it (more on that later).
Before we go any further, I should mention that plywood is considered a subfloor, and this might become an issue when selling a home because some lenders don’t like exposed subfloors. Not sure if that would count in my case because there is a “real” floor under the plywood, but it’s worth mentioning.
The Paint and Colors
I used Valspar Porch, Floor and Patio Latex Paint. After much deliberation (insert eye roll by my husband here), my colors were “Crucible” for the base coat and “Fresh Bread” for the stencil.
With the room being so tiny, a quart of each was enough.
Applying the Base Coat
I’d already applied two coats of Zinnser Bulls Eye Primer. So over this, I applied two coats of the Crucible using a roller cover designed for smooth surfaces and my trusty, and much used, Shur-Line edger for the edges. (And of course, I vacuumed the floor, the roller cover, and edger pad within an inch of their lives first, for a lint-free application.)
This was definitely the easy part.
Measuring For the Stencil – What, No Way!!
Measure twice, stencil once. I measured the room to figure out the best plan of attack for the pattern I was about to paint. If there would be a part-pattern along any edge, which edge should it be? And then where should I start?
After measuring, I was sure I was wrong. No way could I be this lucky: The pattern repeat would fit perfectly with the dimensions of this weirdly-shaped little room. There would be no part-patterns along any of the floor edges!
To better wrap my head around this (and to practice a bit more with the stencil), I painted the pattern repeat on a test board that I’d used earlier to experiment with paint colors.
I wasn’t wrong.
Painting the Stencil
The size of my stencil turned out to be both a blessing and a curse. While it fit perfectly with the room dimensions, at eight inches it was a very small stencil for use on a floor. I bought it because I liked it, knowing full well that Carrie recommends using a larger stencil.
I’d created a lot of work for myself.
The process took many hours over several days. I learned that the stencil worked best if wasn’t too clean but also not too gummed up with paint. Medium gummy was just right. And it was important not to oversaturate the roller with paint. Less paint on the roller meant less cursing by me.
I kept a wet rag handy to wipe away any mistakes. And there were mistakes.
The stencil had a guide to make it easier to keep the pattern lined up.
But I was so focused on keeping the lines straight that I forgot one important fact: Straight lines and old houses don’t mix.
I found out the hard way that one of the walls runs ever so slightly at an angle. So, while the stencil pattern lined up, it looked a bit crooked running next to that wall.
I had to paint over that portion and start again – carefully repainting it so that the pattern looked lined up yet still ran straight along the wall.
By this time, I was dreaming about the end of this project, when I would light a glorious bonfire and watch that stencil burn! (Of course it was only a dream since burning plastic is very uncool.)
And I shouldn’t be mad at the stencil anyway. Made in the U.S.A., it was good quality. It held up well considering how many times I cleaned it during the process.
Now the hard part is over. The floor looks a bit busy but, once the furniture is in, it will all come together.
It’s not perfect, but it is a hand-painted floor so I think the imperfections give it character. That is what I’m telling myself, anyway.
Because, perfect or not, I’m done stenciling!
Coming Next Week
The next step is to protect my work with several coats of finish, and then we can focus on the furniture.
Our house was built on a country lane over 90 years ago. Slowly the city grew in around it, and the neighborhood it sits in now is nothing at all like the one it started in.
Chris and I have always been interested in the history of our house and the evolution of our neighborhood. What were the original owners like? Why did they choose this location for their house? And how had our house changed over time?
We’ve been able to locate many pieces of the puzzle, so today I’m sharing the methods we used in finding our home’s hidden past.
County Tax Records
Property tax assessors like to keep close tabs on the real estate that they tax.
Starting back in 1937, our county periodically took photographs of every home in the county. Those old photos are now housed in archives that our state maintains. For a small fee, we ordered a copy of the 1937 photograph of our house.
(Many of our friends and neighbors with old houses have done the same. We just refer to them as the “old tax photos,” and we proudly frame them.)
So what did we learn from the photo? We’d always known that most of the windows on the south side of our house have been replaced, and we could only guess what the original windows looked like. But there they were in the tax photo – mullioned leaded glass windows. So now we have a reference in case we ever want to duplicate them.
We could also see that, at the time of the photo, our house was in a much more rural setting.
The photograph came with a copy of an old property record card. It contained some goodies – like the a sketch of the house’s “footprint,” the year it was built, the home’s condition at the time, and of course some assessment information.
City and State Archives
Our city has an extensive online collection of historic photographs and records, mostly pertaining to civic projects. And while a search of the records didn’t turn up anything on our house specifically, browsing the collection taught us about our neighborhood.
When financing a house, banks usually require title insurance. And that title insurance policy usually comes with a title report.
Title reports are pretty tedious, and my eyes usually glaze over after the first page. But they can contain all kinds of clues about a home’s past.
Several years ago, hoping to gain even more detailed information about our house, we ordered a chain-of-title report from a title company. Chain-of-title reports are usually done by request, where title reports are done as backup for title insurance policies. So, chain-of-title reports can sometimes contain more detail than a title report.
Our chain-of-title report went back to 1922 when the bare lot was sold as a two-acre parcel of land.
Starting there, it showed every division of the property and every change in ownership – including the names of all former owners.
The report showed that the most recent subdivision of the lot happened in the 1950s. The timing makes sense since the house next door is of mid-century architecture and sits on land that was once a part of our home’s original lot.
With the information from our report, we headed to the library to look at . . .
Old City Directories
Old city directories often list a person’s occupation. In 1927, when our house was built, the property was owned by a married couple. By looking them up in an old city directory, we learned that the husband was a plaster contractor. So this could be why our house has a stucco exterior in a city where the majority of older homes are wood clad.
I was thrilled to find out that our city library had scanned our old local newspapers and made them searchable. From an old obituary, we learned that the couple who built the house came from England. This might explain why our house was built in the English cottage style.
And it gives context to something we’d found in the house: When we remodeled our kitchen several years ago, we discovered a closet that we didn’t even know we had. It had been walled in and forgotten during an unfortunate mid-century kitchen remodel undertaken by the same owner who had subdivided the lot. Inside the closet was an old wooden coat hanger from England.
That coat hanger is now part of the collection of vintage coat hangers in our laundry room.
Around the mid-1800s, the Sanborn Map Company started creating “fire insurance” maps of cities and towns. These maps are sometimes available at local libraries. And the Library of Congress has a large digital collection.
The Kroll Map Company also keeps an archive of their historical maps. We got a plat map of our neighborhood from about the 1930s showing the original two-acre lot that our house once sat on – along with the other large lots that made up our neighborhood at the time.
Snooping Around Our House
With old houses, something as innocuous as a patch in the plaster can tell a story.
But through its little quirks, our house is always talking to us: There is a tiny door in the wall halfway up the basement stairs that opens into a closet that is also accessible from the kitchen. Upon further investigation, we found the pipe for the original kitchen stove tucked into the back of this closet. So, the little door halfway up the basement stairs could have been to make it easier to bring coal up from the basement (where the old coal shoot emptied) to use in the kitchen stove.
There is also an old cistern in the ground under our carport. No doubt it was used for irrigation in the former rural setting.
Talking to Neighbors and Former Occupants
Long-time residents are usually very happy when newcomers take an interest in neighborhood history.
From talking with retired neighbors (including our friend Mr. B) we learned that, in addition to having dairy pastures, our neighborhood was once the site of an experimental orchard. There is a reason that the old fruit trees that grace many of our back yards are aligned so perfectly with one another!
But one lucky day, we really hit the jackpot: The nephew of that plaster contractor from the 1920s showed up in our driveway!
He’d actually lived in our house for a short time during his childhood. He remembered the day his uncle planted the now-huge weeping cherry tree in the front garden.
He also remembered their friendly dog, the couple’s vegetable patch where the house next door now stands, and how his uncle kept a bottle there – hidden from his teetotaling wife.
He remembered big family dinners on Sunday, and he laughed at us because what we were using as our “dining room” was actually just an alcove where his uncle smoked his pipe. No wonder it is so small!
We convinced him to return with old photos. One of the photos, from the 1940s, was of the original kitchen – with a large farmhouse table in the middle. There sat the extended family – enjoying one of those Sunday dinners. The photo confirmed what I had long suspected: The original kitchen had been an eat-in kitchen.
If a house has been around long enough, it’s sure to have seen some sadness. And while the visiting nephew had only happy memories to share, a neighbor told us a very different story – about a family tragedy that had taken place in our house in the 1970s.
But that is the risk we take when we delve into the past. Not everything we uncover will be pleasant. But it’s all part of life.
Did I Miss Anything?
In researching our old house, I’m sure we overlooked some resources – census records for example. So, I’d love to hear about any research tips you have – or any interesting discoveries about your own old house.
Posts on this website are for entertainment only and are not tutorials.
In this post, I’m hoping to solve a mystery – and I’m sharing a fun little DIY decor project.
And the two are related.
Mysteries and Secrets
Our 1927 cottage has many mysteries and secrets.
For example, if you’ve been reading along for a while, you know that we’re in the middle of a laundry room remodel. Well recently, while working on the heating system, my husband Chris found a secret chamber under the laundry room. We’d always assumed the laundry room was set on a concrete slab. Turns out it has its own little basement.
And this isn’t even the first secret chamber we’ve found.
But today I want to talk about the laundry room’s mystery cupboard.
The Mystery Cupboard
This is how our laundry room looked before we started the remodel.
Note the innocent-looking recessed cupboard above the washing machine.
Although lately, during the remodel, it’s been looking more like this.
Anyway, here is the inside of the cupboard. Pretty rustic.
Can’t see the top? That’s because there isn’t one. This cupboard goes all the way up to the unfinished attic.
So is it a laundry chute? Probably not. After all, who would want to climb far into the unfinished attic to deposit laundry only to have some of it land on that little shelf at the halfway point.
It also stretches to the left behind the wall for several feet, so it’s larger than it looks.
Its inconvenient location above the washing machine meant that I needed a stepladder to access it. And since it’s recessed into the wall, I practically had to climb into the cabinet to get anything back out. So I avoided using it.
My theory is that this is just oddly shaped extra space that the builder wanted to keep accessible in case anyone needed it.
But what do you think? Do you know what it might be? Help me solve this mystery!
Whatever this cupboard is or was, our plans for the laundry room do not include it. No, it will be covered over in the remodel. And if we should ever need to access the weird empty space behind the wall, we can still do so from the attic.
But I was sad. That cupboard door was kind of cute. It was also a piece of the house’s history – however weird that history might be. I wanted to repurpose it. But what should its new role be?
A DIY Chalkboard
My friend Sandi is a very creative person, and she had a great idea: Turn it into a chalkboard. At the time, Sandi didn’t even know that I’d been looking for a chalkboard for our kitchen. Perfect!
Cleaning the Hardware
It was a simple project. We removed all the hardware pieces from the cupboard door and soaked them in acetone to remove the paint.
After that, the hardware pieces were clean but they still had a patina. I was happy that they didn’t look brand new.
A Chalk Ledge
Chris cut and attached a piece of brick molding to the bottom of the door to serve as a chalk ledge.
Painting the Door
I sanded and cleaned the cupboard door. I painted the frame, the edges, and the new chalk ledge with the same white trim paint we used for the kitchen.
After the paint dried, I used masking tape to ensure a nice clean profile for the chalkboard paint, which would go in the center panel.
I’d never worked with chalkboard paint before. I used FolkArt Multisurface Chalkboard Paint by Plaid¹. I followed the instructions on the bottle and on the Plaid website. This included conditioning the chalkboard with chalk – something I will need to re-do from time to time.
To evenly apply the paint – which has a slightly gel-like consistency – I used a paint edger². Then I back-brushed the paint with a paint brush. (I have found that paint edgers come in handy for all kinds of paint applications beyond just edging.)
Reattaching the Hardware
Chris reattached the hardware, and the chalkboard was ready.
Now the hardware is just for character.
This chalkboard was long overdue. Since we shop for groceries at several stores and a farmers market, keeping lists of what we needed from each place was cluttery and difficult – especially since these lists often went missing. Keeping lists on our phones didn’t work either.
But now, as soon as we realize we need something, it’s a few steps to “chalkboard central” to write it down.
I’ve been trying both chalk and chalk markers to see which I like better, but I’m not completely happy with either. So I’m thinking of ordering some white chalk pencils I found on Etsy.³
I have found that wiping the chalkboard with a damp paper towel works better than using a chalk eraser. We’ll see how all this holds up over time.
I’m happy now. Not only is the little cupboard door still with us, but it’s serving an even better purpose than it did originally.
Before and After
You know how I love my before and after recaps.
Before (photographed upside-down).
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Interest in mid-century homes is rising as a new generation is coming to appreciate their open, innovative floor plans and uncluttered charm.
Mid-Century Gone Bad
But there is also a dark side to mid-century carpentry: During the Mad Men era, unfortunate things were happening to older homes in the name of “modernizing.” They were being stripped of their original charm and left with little else.
One example is the elegant dining room in my brother and sister-in-law’s 1908 home. It stood shrouded in mediocrity for over 50 years after a bland mid-century remodel.
Another example is our own kitchen. As I mentioned in my post Kitchen Remodel Part 1, the original kitchen in our 1927 bungalow was sliced in half by a wall in the 1950s as part of an unfortunate remodel.
The purpose of the remodel: To turn the space on one side of the wall into a cramped galley kitchen with a lowered ceiling. And to turn the space on the other side of the wall into a confusing interior room, essentially a wide hallway, which Chris and I referred to as “the Weird Room.”
Why was this ever done? The answer is lost to time.
After several years of living with the space and planning the remodel, it was finally time to tear down that wall and bring the kitchen back to its original size.
I could not wait for this wall to come down so we could see the whole space as one big room!
Stories from the Past
Chris enjoys a good demolition project, and he arranged to work with a demo crew to remove the wall and take the whole space down to the studs and ceiling joists.
Turns out you can learn a lot about a house by tearing out an old remodel. As the wall came down, the stories unfolded.
The Hidden Closet
While tearing down the Weird Room wall, the crew came across a little broom closet had been walled over and forgotten.
Someone must have thought, “Who needs closet space anyway?” And why make the space part of the room when you can just wall it over and not have to use that pesky square footage?
When the crew uncovered the closet, the little light fixture in it still worked.
Unfortunately the closet was pretty damaged at this point so it had to be removed, but it did add some space for our new kitchen that we hadn’t counted on – just right for a planning desk.
A Coincidence . . . or Something Else?
When the demo crew brought down the part of the wall nearest the dining room, an old newspaper fell out. The date: November 12, 1952. Now we had an approximate date for the unfortunate remodel.
But that wasn’t the eerie part. Can you guess?
Yes, the day that Chris and his crew tore down that wall was also November 12.
I decided to take that as a good sign.
Squaring Off the Past
Many houses from the 1920s have coved ceilings and arched doorways. When we bought the house, it had a coved ceiling in the living room, but the entrances to the dining room and the kitchen were squared off, not arched.
We always thought that was weird since, as a design scheme, coved ceilings and arched doorways usually go hand in hand. We suspected that the squared-off entrances were not original but part of the mid-century remodel.
The demo project proved our suspicions to be correct. When the crew reached the wall that separated the kitchen from the dining room, they uncovered evidence that the doorway had once been arched.
We had already planned to change the squared entrances to arches as part of the kitchen remodel, but this at least confirmed that we were actually returning an original feature to the house.
Raising the Ceiling
Perhaps as important as tearing down the wall was tearing off the lowered ceiling in the galley kitchen and bringing the space back to its original height.
In this photo the original ceiling is exposed. You can see the line where the greenish paint ends. That is where the lowered ceiling was hung, almost down to the window frame.
By the paint line we could also see that the original cabinets went all the way up to the ceiling – a feature that we later repeated with new cabinets.
Here is a full demo photo of the same area, taken to the studs and joists. We were happy to see the framing was still in good shape.
Let There be Light
The dark and gloomy Weird Room was finally gone! The former dividing wall would have been right about in the center of this photo.
You can also see the brick chimney stack and pipe vent for the original kitchen stove – located in the area of the former Weird Room. This leaves no doubt that the entire space was once the kitchen.
Now that the wall was gone, the room looked so light and spacious. Daylight was streaming in and this entire space would soon be one nice bright kitchen again.
More to Come
Check out Part 3, featuring before and after photos of our remodel. I will also cover how not to starve during a major kitchen remodel. So stay tuned!
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Featured image courtesy of the Seattle Municipal Archives, Image #13672