The Parlor

Project began January 7th 2002 - Completed November 21st 2002

The Parlor was the room that needed the most corrective attention.  In other words, it was trashed.  For the first five months or so that we lived here, we just left the doors closed and pretended the Parlor was not there.  There was very little in this room that could be saved.  This room was once the most formal and probably the most beautiful rooms in the house.  This room is where visitors were once seated by the Butler and would wait to be received by the Master and his Wife. There was even a servant's passage way to this room so the servant's could bring guests food and drinks without having to pass through the rest of the house.  After doing a little digging, we found that the room was once wallpapered in a rich red velvet pattern.  This must have been simply gorgeous!

 

The Parlor Tour Guide

There were so many projects required to completely restore this room. This page is quite lengthy.  Use these links to get to the stuff you really want to read about.

 

The 1970's Live... (The "Before" pictures)

Anyway, back to reality.  Unfortunately, this room fell victim to the worst of tragedies.  I almost have trouble even talking about it, but yes, it's true, this room was directly infected by the 1970's!!!  Oh, the horror!  That's right folks, the worst decade in the history of bad taste managed to leak into this room and absolutely destroy it.  What a shame.  Take a look...

That's right, it's our good old friend Mr. Paneling. The window encasements are oak, but someone felt it was a good idea to paint them egg shell white. Ouch!

 

This is the wall over the fireplace.  This was very cleverly covered with fake brick paneling.

 

This picture shows how the Servant's passageway was turned into a bookcase.  The passageway was turned into a small 1/2 bath. (look closely at the top of the picture and you will see the remains of a track that supported a dropped ceiling.)  Will the horror ever end?

In the upper left corner, this photo shows where someone intentionally broke a large hole through the original casted plaster moldings to run electrical wiring for a dropped ceiling. Why?

 

The Big Reality Check...

I decided to find out just how bad this room really was, so I started pulling off the paneling and the furring strips.  My worst nightmares were confirmed.  The walls were trashed.

Did I mention that the walls were trashed?  They were also missing in some places...

 

These photos are actually quite complimentary. Large sections of the plaster were ready to just fall off the lathe.  Not cool.  My visions of repairing the walls were dashed.

 

And now the color of the walls don't match the carpet, you know what that means...

 

It's Demolition Time...

The demolition of this room was nothing short of a Herculean effort. The paneling, plaster, carpet and lathe filled the better part of a 25 yard dumpster.  Even with a respirator we managed to inhale enough plaster to be able to cough up the Lincoln Memorial.  It took almost three full days of seriously hard labor, and when the dust settled, this is what it looked like...

We were luckily able to save the corbels from the arch and get them out of harm's way.  We are going to re-use them when the arch is built.  The lathe was removed from the exterior walls to allow for insulation to be added.

 

The inside of the old bookcase was removed revealing the original carved doorway still in tact.  This will re-finish well.  Lucky for us, the original door is still in the attic.

 

The bad news came when the chimney was revealed.  Note the cracking above the mantel.  If you lean your hand on this section of brick, it would literally fall into the fireplace.  Not cool.  This is going to take some work to correct.

 

Of course having, all the walls stripped off does have some advantages. We are now able to re-work all of the electrical so that we have lots of outlets, some switched outlets, and most importantly, switched overhead lighting - a convenience that never existed in this room before. (except when it had a dropped ceiling, but we don't even want to talk about that.) 

 

Rebuilding from Scratch

The next phase was to prepare the walls for the new sheetrock.  The first step was to insulate all of the outside walls.  (wouldn't you?  they are open, so now is the time).  Once the insulation was in place, I put up a plastic vapor barrier over all of the walls to better seal and protect against any moisture from outside.  Next, I used a spray foam insulation in all of the cracks and seams that were too narrow for the insulation.  We insulated the ceiling as well for a sound barrier as the room directly above will one day be the Master Bedroom and I like my quiet.  The last step was putting new lathe on all of the beams and to encase the arch.  The lathe is needed so that the new walls have the same depth around the windows and doors as the old walls did. 

A frame was needed to support the new walls over the chimney.  The challenge was to space it so the wall come flush with the existing fireplace.  Also keeping the frame square when attaching it to a chimney that is anything but square was an exercise in frustration, but not impossible.

 

The lathe on the arch served the same purpose, but also allowed me to correct some of the imperfections of the original construction.  Perfection wasn't needed for the original because the plaster was over half an inch thick and would compensate for errors.  The new wallboard will not be so forgiving.  I encased the entire arch and power sanded the inside to give a nice even arc to apply the new surface to.

 

The arch was then encased in 1/2 inch sheetrock. (along with the rest of the room)  The inside face of the arch was intentionally not covered.  Sheetrock can be bent, but not gracefully.  I decided to use a flexible plywood type product.

 

The flex-wood was carefully attached to the lathe, making fine adjustments along the way to further compensate for flaws in the original frame.  I purchased a few drywall corner beads and made multiple relief cuts along one edge so it would bend with the contour of the arch.  The beads were then attached to the wall and flex-wood with a nail gun.  Now the arch is ready for joint compound along with the rest of the room.

 

A few weeks and 10 gallons of joint compound later, we have a smooth arch.  I can't even begin to tell you how relieved I am that that is over with.  It came out exactly like the original.

 

 

Saving the Corbels

The interior of the house is adorned with three archways.  Each of these archways still has the original plaster corbels supporting either end. When originally installed, the mold was actually placed against the wall and the plaster poured on the spot.  This made for a rather "permanent" installation.  This is what they looked like prior to the demolition of the Parlor.

 

As you can see in the photograph, they have survived the past century pretty much unscathed.  The detail  has been lost a bit by the many layers of paint, but otherwise they are in great shape.  When the demolition was taking place, we carefully removed the section of wall containing both of these corbels in tact and carried them off to safety.

 

The next step was to carefully chip away the remaining wall from around the edges.  I used a pair of nipping snips to gently break off the pieces a nibble at a time.

 

Next, I carefully scraped the back of the Corbel removing the remains of the old wall until I reached plaster. Next the back was sanded to be perfectly smooth in order to be re-mounted later.  This photo shows the original square nail that was attached to the wall for additional support when the corbel was made.  This is going to be helpful when I reattach it later.

 

Now it was time to clean off the old paint.  I used a chemical wrap system because it was much less abrasive than traditional gel type paint removers that could damage the soft plaster beneath.  Using a very small putty knife, I coated the corbel with the chemical paste, similar to putting icing on a cake.

 

The Corbel is then immediately wrapped in a special paper that prevents the chemical paste from drying out.  The wrapped corbel is then left undisturbed for 24 hours.

 

The Corbel is then treated with a chemical neutralizer and allowed to dry.  Next comes the tedious task of cleaning out the details and removing any remaining gunk.  I mixed a little plaster and made a few minor repairs to places that had been chipped.  The corbel was then carefully sanded and sealed.

 

They are now ready to be re-installed. 

 

I simply drilled a hole for the original nail that was protruding from the back.  This same nail aided in the installation of these corbels once again.  I used a fair amount of Liquid Nails as the adhesive, then carefully wedged them into place.  After 24 hours, I mixed up some plaster and blended the seams into the wall.  It's as if they never left.  Whew! (big relief, I wasn't sure how this would turn out, I really winged this one!)

 

Next step was to carefully tape plastic to the wall to protect the newly finished windows.

 

A few coats of antique gold paint were then carefully applied.  I was careful to make sure the seam where the corbel meets the wall was completely covered.  This way there will be no white seams when wall paper is applied.

 

Next, a coat of water based antiquing paint was applied.  I had to move quickly because this stuff dries fast and you want to make sure all of the detail is covered.

 

Immediately after applying the antiquing coat, you start wiping it off with paper towels until the right look is achieved.  The picture does not do this process any justice.  The finished product is a wonderfully tarnished gold that really shows off the details.

 

The Fireplace

The Parlor fireplace was my first attempt at a total restoration of one of the house's original marble fireplaces.  The challenges would prove to be way beyond my initial estimates, but as the centerpiece to this wonderful room, it is essential that this be done carefully.

Prior to the complete demolition of the Parlor, there were a number of obvious problems with this fireplace.  The most obvious was the fact that it was literally sinking into the floor.  I was able to correct the problem by using a rather powerful hydraulic jacking system to raise the supporting beams in the basement and to add new support columns.  Problem number one - solved.  The rest of the problems were cracks in the marble and pieces that had simply fallen off.  I will address these later on.  After the demolition was complete, it was obvious, there were some bigger fish to fry...

  The Chimney

The arrows in this picture show the fracture in the chimney brick.  The fracture goes clear through to the inside liner of the chimney.  If one was to lean on this section of brick, it would fall into the fireplace.  In addition, if you actually had a fire in this fireplace, the room would surely fill with smoke.  Not cool.  The mortar is way too old to re-point, nothing will stick to it.  So, I had no choice but to reinforce the existing brickwork. 

 

I decided to encase the chimney, floor to ceiling with a stainless-steel mesh.  I attached it to the brick with 3-inch masonry nails.  It took a couple hundred nails to get the mesh tightly drawn against the brick.  But, now the chimney has a new skin.

 

Next, I then drilled a series of holes along the fracture, and in the damaged areas, and inserted 5 inch bolts.  The bolts were secured to the inside of the chimney with 3 inch washers and tightened down.  The damaged section was now tightly secured.

 

The next step was to apply a healthy layer of cement.  I pressed the wet cement into the crevices by hand until it oozed from the inside.  I filled all the gaps from floor to ceiling.  Now the chimney is extremely solid, sealed and ready to prep for the new walls.

 

  The fire box floor had looses bricks and crumbling mortar.  I broke out the ol' shop vac and started removing the mortar, carefully removing the bricks.  Next thing I know... CRASH!  The entire firebox floor and supporting archway went tumbling into the basement.  You can't make this stuff up folks.  This picture shows the lovely view of my furnace in the basement through the fireplace floor.  While this obviously means a great deal more work and expense, it is good to know that that hazard is gone.

 

The Marble Mantel

The mantel for this wonderful fireplace is grey carved marble, with black marble highlights.  As with a number of things in this house, it needs to be restored.  During the demolition, we carefully removed the cracked pieces so we could have them repaired.  The repair work is being performed by the same man who did all the tile work for my Living Room fireplace, John Longo.  (If you would like to contact John, his e-mail address is on my Links PageThe first step was to mix the bonding cement with grey dyes to match the color of the marble.  This way the seam will be much easier to hide once the repair is complete.

 

The next step was to grind two channels down the back of the broken pieces.  Steel rods were then inserted into the channels for added strength.

 

The grey tinted bonding cement was then applied to the break, and cement was also poured into the channels and allowed to dry.  Now the piece was properly repaired and ready to be wet-polished with diamond pads and re-installed.

Here is the repaired piece.  The former crack is completely undetectable ...

The Mantle shelf had a piece broken off the back edge.  When the original shelf was installed in 1890, the walls were plastered around it.  In other words, it stuck into the wall by approx. an inch.  In order to solve the problem of the break, and compensate for the fact that the shelf was now going to butt up even with the wall rather than stick into it, I needed to have the back edge cut off.  I took it over to Bridgewater Marble and Granite in Bridgewater NJ.  They had some really amazing machinery.  They had me in and out the door in less than ten minutes.

They took the shelf, placed it on a big slab under a laser guided wet saw, and took a few measurements...

Pressed a button and a fresh new edge was born!

 

Next step was to make the fireplace as solid as possible, so we filled her with cement.  That should do the trick...

 

The hearth stone was a real heart breaker.  After hours and hours of polishing, we came to the realization that there was damage that could not be completely repaired.  The Iron grate had leaked rust on the stone for so long that the rust stains had actually bled all the way through to the other side.  No amount of work would ever get them out.  I removed the stone and took it to Bridgewater Marble and Granite.  They are going to make an exact replica.  The old stone will be milled down to a smaller size, cutting off the stains and be used as a hearth for one of the bedroom fireplaces one day.  So at least the stone will remain in the house.  The new stone will also need to sit a bit higher to be even with the new floor.

 

We then built a wood frame and poured a cement slab to support the new hearth stone.

 

The next challenge was to build the slab up to be the exact height needed to ensure that the new hearth stone is even with the new floor, that will be installed soon.  This is what I did. First, I built a wooden frame that is the exact same dimensions as the marble hearthstone.  I then divided the frame into sections with wood dividers.  Next, I placed samples of the new floor around the slab and suspended the frame from the new floor.  At this point, the bottom of the frame is now sitting exactly at the height of where I need the new slab to be.  I then made a pair of sliding scrapers that are the exact same thickness of the frame.  Lastly, I poured cement into each of the sections, smoothing it out with the sliding scrapers until a perfect surface was achieved.  This worked out really well.

 

The new marble hearth is now installed and will be level with the new floor.  Cool!

 

A New Set of Problems...

With every new blessing come a new curse.  Let's talk about the blessing first.  I had some chimney specialists come and clean out the bird's nests and install a few chimney caps on both of my existing chimneys.  While he was here, he asked me "how many fireplaces do you have upstairs?"  I replied "none".  He smiles and says "oh yes you do..."  We take a walk upstairs and he walks me into the Master Bedroom, walks over to the wall that the chimney run behind and starts knocking on the wall until he reaches a hollow sound a few feet from the floor.  He then says "here's one"  Then he walks out of the room toward the rear of the house to my office where he proceeds to move my dresser and does the same thing, telling me "Here's number two"  and off to the rear bedroom and finds number three.  He then tells me that he could see the number of openings in the top of the chimney when he was cleaning it.  Amazing! We then returned to the first floor where he found yet another one in the Dining Room.  In one day, I went from four fireplaces to eight!  Nice score, I'd say.

That was the blessing, here comes the curse part.  After chimney guy leaves, I immediately went back to the Master bedroom with a Drill and a Hole Saw.  I proceeded to open up the covered fireplace.  This is what it looked like.

Now, of course the mantle and hearth are long gone, but the iron hook that held the original coal burning insert is still there.  So far this is all very cool.  Until I stick my head inside and look down and find myself looking into the Parlor Fireplace! This photo is looking down from the bedroom.

This is not good.  If you have a fire in the Parlor, anyone in the Master bedroom will most likely expire from smoke inhalation.  Apparantly, the original bedroom fireplace sat against the wall with a coal pot for heat.  The exhaust must have been somehow ported into this opening and pointed up with some sort of a flew to prevent down drafts.  Well, this means that I now have to devise a way to seperate the heat exhaust from the Parlor Fireplace from the heat exhaust of the future bedroom fireplace using the same chimney.  Otherwise neither fireplace can be safely used.  This sucks!

The Plan

This is the plan.  I decided to build a scoop inside the chimney that will catch the exhaust and port it up a sealed tube and out the chimney.  I purchased sheet metal and metal tubing and went to work.  I mounted thick steel L-brackets to the inside of the chimney appox one foot below the opening in the master bedroom and riveted the scoop and metal plate in place.  This is what it looked like once installed.

I then installed the metal tubing and ran it up the chimney from this point.  To ensure the seal was permanent and heat tolerant, I poured a 5-inch thick concrete layer over the scoop and tube. 

I then riveted a port onto the side of the tube with a pivoting collar to accommodate the exhaust of the future gas fireplace appliance that will be installed here in the future.  This port is sealed off for now.  (The future fireplace will of course be a coal burning replica. ; )

The final system looks like this.  The heat and fumes from the parlor will now safely pass up this tube and out of the chimney. 

This angle was taken from the Parlor looking up at the scoop.  (the bolts were from an earlier effort to secure the brick while the chimney was being concrete reinforced.  The bolts will be cut off before the fireplace is ever used.)

 

The next step was to use a Dremel tool to remove all of the old, crumbling mortar from between the bricks and re-point.  Once the mortar was dry, I used an electric detail sander to remove the soot from the face of the bricks.  Beneath was a nice array of different colored bricks.  This will add a beautiful glow to the fireplace when a fire is lit inside.  (The white portion is polish residue from when the marble was being polished, this will be beneath the new floor of the firebox.

 

Here is a picture of the new concrete floor.  Yes, I carved our names and the date in the back.  The black gas line was laid in place before pouring the concrete slab.  The gas line will be hidden behind the new gas appliance.  I know what you are saying...Gas?  Just trust me on this one. 

 

The Ceiling Moldings

The plaster ceiling moldings that were originally in this room were fairly large and quite ornate.  The design was not quite of my liking, so we decided to go with a design that was the same size and general layout with a prettier look.  This was a daunting task.  I shopped everywhere and could not find anything that went well with the remaining original molding of the house.  Finally, I found the right design and material.  The material is called Ultra-Light.  The moldings were delivered in 16-foot lengths, so there would be no seams.  The material has an almost fuzzy texture in it's raw form.  This is where the work begins...

The moldings need to be completely sanded, primed and painted prior to installation.  Because we are applying moldings to both the walls and ceiling, there is over 160 linear feet. 

 

I know what you are thinking...Pumpkin?  Just go with it.  It is part of a much larger color scheme that will make sense later on.  Anyway, it took about a month, but the moldings are painted and ready for installation.  I applied a gold leaf to one of the peaks in order to catch the light. 

 

All I can say at this point is, boy am I glad that step is behind me.  That was way too tedious!

 

Now it was time to install them. This was a job for a true craftsman.  The Carpenter that I hired specializes in these types of installations. The work performed was a sight to see.

The first step was to mount a 3 1/2 inch cove molding all the way around the room.  This picture shows a piece of the molding mounted into a corner.  Note that there is no 45 degree cut?

 

The other half of the corner was cut in the shape of the molding.  This is called coping. The Carpenter does this by eye with a jigsaw.  This takes years of skill to do this.  The idea behind making joints like these are that they are flexible.  Houses settle and shift. This type of fit will remain tight and perfect, even if it moves. 

Here is the really amazing stuff, he also did this with the large decorative moldings at every corner.  The picture does it no justice, but this edge is an exact mate to the pattern on the face.  There is no room for error here.

This picture shows the same piece from the previous picture being pressed into place.  I had him separate the corner just before nailing it in place for the sake of the picture.  The result of this is a perfect corner that will stay perfect for another hundred years.  This type of craftsmanship is not common these days, but was very common when the house was built in the 1890's

 

This picture just shows how the installation was done.

 

Here is what the room looked like with the moldings installed.  I will now have to fill all the nail holes and touch up the paint a bit, but this should only take a few hours at most.

 

Now this is progress.  The first piece of actual color to hit the room in almost six months.  Hooray!!!

 

The Ceiling Medallion

The ceiling medallion in the Parlor is quite nice.  In speaking with the former owners of the house I was told that quite a bit of finessing was done to preserve it.  It was not completely in-tact, but had lots of potential.  This is how it appeared when we purchased the house.

Sorry about the blocked image, but it is the only picture I have from then.  Anyway, it does show the detail and size of it.  I'm told it originally had four points. The plan was to remove it and the ceiling it was attached to during the demolition.  We had no choice as the ceiling was badly damaged and needed to be completely replaced (along with the rest of the room).  So demolish the room we did...

 

This is a picture looking up at the ceiling after the demolition was complete.  At this point we discovered that the medallion had either fallen at some point or was removed, because it was mounted to a piece of sheetrock.  We also found that there were a couple dozen sheetrock screws that had been screwed into the medallion.  This was not going to be easy.  We decided to build a cradle around it to support it.  Once the cradle was in place we began to slowly remove the screws one at a time.  We got about half way through when the medallion crumbled all at once and crashed to the floor.  We just stood there for a moment in silent disappointment.  I climbed off my ladder and cleaned up the pieces.  I know in my heart that I made every possible attempt to save this wonderful old piece of architecture, but it just wasn't in the cards.  : (

So began my search for another one.  I looked high and low for a company that still makes plaster medallions.  We didn't want to buy any of that Home Depot plastic crap, we want the real thing.  Finally, I found one.  I ordered it and had it shipped to my home.  The shipping was a bit outrageous, but you get what you pay for.  Anyway, finally it arrived.  I opened the box only to find it was broken.  There was a crack right down the middle of it as well as one of the corners was completely pulverized.  Ahhhhhhhhhh!!!

So, I contacted the company that I bought it from and they were very nice and offered me another one, but soon called back and told me they were out of stock and would be for quite a while.  They issued me a refund and told me to keep the broken medallion.  I began looking for another medallion, with no luck at all.  So I had no choice but to repair this one.  So I laid it on a table and went to work.  I successfully glued the main crack and mixed plaster to fill in the seam where the break was.  I continued to rebuild and sand out the broken parts until the main break was no longer detectable. 

Next was to fix the missing corner.  I decided to create a mold from one of the remaining corners.  I used a liquid latex.  I painted on the latex one layer at a time until it built up to be approx. a half inch thick.  Next, I built a small wooden box around it so the latex would retain it's shape.  I mixed up some liquid plaster and pored it into the mold.  The next day I had a perfect replica of the broken corner.  I ground the edge of the medallion and the edge of the piece until they matched and glued it in place.  the last step was to mix up some plaster and fill in the seam. 

Much to my utter amazement, it came out beautiful.  It was weeks of extra work but I had my medallion.  Hooray! 

 

We hired an artist to come over the house and see the medallion as well as the room it was going to be in.  We then brought all of our wall paper samples along with the medallion to the artist's studio and she started trying out some of our ideas.  She painted a "slice" of the medallion so we could get a feel of how it was going to look.  We made a few changes and left her to complete it.  This picture shows the medallion resting on a piece of the wallpaper that will be installed on the ceiling. 

 

This is what it looked like after we got it back from the Artist's studio...

 

The next thing was to decide how to attach it to the ceiling.  The problem here was that I didn't want to apply too much pressure from underneath and risk cracking the plaster medallion.  So, this is what I decided to do.  Luck for us, above every ceiling light fixture is an access panel in the floor above.  These were left over from the days of gas chandeliers.  So I built this adjustable support system that takes advantage of this access panel.  Simply put, the threaded rod is passed through a hole in a board on the floor upstairs and out of the ceiling below.  The medallion is then slid onto the rod and pressed against the ceiling.  A foam padded support is then slid onto the rod and secured with a washer and wing nut.  This wing nut is then tightened until just the right amount of pressure is applied to hold the medallion until the glue is dried.  Pretty simple eh?

 

 

Before the glue had a chance to dry, we measured the distance from the points to the nearest perpendicular wall to ensure the medallion was square.  We put tape marks on the ceiling to mark the square location.  We applied a liberal amount of Liquid Nails and allowed it to set up for around 5-minutes.  Then we pressed it into place and secured it with the mounting bracket.  We gently applied pressure over the entire face to make sure the glue was properly seated all the while gently tightening the wing nut at the bottom.  The Tape marks proved to be very handy as the medallion tended to slowly twist under pressure.  We had to correct it a number of times until the glue began to harden.

 

We allowed the glue to harden 24 hours, before removing the support.

 

Next we added this lovely Victorian HDOS-era light fixture. (Home Depot on Sale)  The fixture is only temporary until the rest of the room is completed.  The decision of the correct light fixture will be better made during the furnishing phase.  This one will have to do until then. 

 

The Windows

The windows have been a major point of contention from the start.  Do we replace them?  Do we rebuild them?  Do we strip them?  Do we paint them?  Well after much thought, it was decided that we would indeed keep the original windows.  There simply is no replacement window that would be large enough, or would look authentic enough.  So, begins the journey into restoring them.  For the record, none of the windows in the Parlor opens more than a couple inches.  This is only accomplished with a great deal of back-strain and the distinct possibility that we may have to live with a permanently open window. 

The first thing we decided to do was to remove the steam radiator from the bay.  It is such an eye sore there, and only obstructs the view of the window encasements.  The next step was to make the windows functional like the day they were new.  This would prove to be a major challenge!  First it was time to disassemble the sashes. The moldings were very brittle and broke upon removal.  This would mean new ones will have to be fashioned by hand.  Grrrr!

The next part was my idea.  The problem with the old wooden windows is the fact that they bind in their channels.  Especially in the Summer months when the air is hot and humid.  After all it is a wooden window sliding in a wooden track.  So, I decided to reduce the amount of friction in the channel by stopping the window sash from actually making contact with the channel.  This is what I did:

I drilled a depression in four places on the edge of the sash that rides in the channel, using a Forstner bit on the drill press.

 

Next I installed a set of vinyl furniture slides into the depressions, leaving approx 1/8th of an inch showing above the edge..  The kind that you put on the bottom of a chair so it slides smooth across the floor.  These are designed to take a great deal of wear under quite a bit of weight, and remain quite slippery.

 

This picture shows the window sash re-installed in the frame.  The slides were finely adjusted until the sash sat snug, but not tight in the frame. This gap will be completely concealed when the replacement moldings are installed during re-assembly.  The result is a sash that moves a smooth as silk, yet retaining the original look.  I'm pretty proud of this little trick. ; )

 

Back to the Original Finish

After hours and hours of sanding the window encasements we were able to conclude that the woodwork never had a natural finish, even when the house was new.  These windows were Faux Finished to look like English Oak.  In the 1890's, social class was everything. Showing off how much money you had was very important to maintaining your social status.  Faking some of these treasures was also quite the rage.  Hence come faux finishing.  When the woodwork was originally installed, it was pine.  The carpenters would finish their work and in would come the painters who would lay down a neutral base coat of paint.  Then, either the painters, or sometimes faux specialists would come in and literally hand paint the wood grain patterns of some very expensive or exotic hardwood.  In our case it was English Oak. Then the painters would apply one or two tinting coats to make the neutral background look like stain.  The finished product was English Oak woodwork throughout the house at a half of the cost. 

It would be easier to simply strip off all of the paint and refinish the raw wood, but the result would not be the same.  So we decided "When in Rome, do as the Roman's do" and attempt to recreate this process once again. This is our journey...

To start with, with the exception of three of them, every window in this room was cracked or broken.  So we started by removing all of the glass from each of the sashes.  Next it was sanding time. This was brutal!  There were multiple layers of paint that were peeling and chipping.  The Faux process doesn't require all the old paint be removed, but a smooth surface is a must.  It took weeks of constant work to get the surface smooth enough for fill.  

 

And fill we did.  The entire window encasement was then covered with filler, like icing on a cake, in order to fill in the dozens of dents and gouges in the wood. 

 

This is how it looked when we were finally done sanding.  I'm starting to like this look.  Isn't this "Shabby Chic"?

 

Next we painted two coats of an Almond shade enamel paint.  We had to make a few more repairs and repaint before we could call this step complete.  It is essential that the finish be shiny and smooth.

 

Next, all of the trim pieces are painted using a gel stain.  This needs to be done repeatedly until no almond paint shows through.

 

Now, this is when it gets serious. Using special tools, we then paint on wood grain patterns using the same Gel Stain product.  This is done in one direction, allowed to dry for two days, then the other.  This is a very long and tedious process.  The result is an exaggerated wood grain look.  The almond background will later be toned down to give a wood-like appearance.

 

This is more of a close-up showing the grain patterns we painted onto the almond base coat.

 

This is what the window looked like when we were done with this step.  What a mess!

 

Now it was time to tint the almond background to the desired color.  This is also done with the same gel stain.  This time it is applied in thin, even coats.  This photo was taken after the first coat.  As you can see, the wood-like appearance really starts to show at this stage.

 

This is just another photo taken after the first coat.

 

This is what it looked like after the tinting was complete.  Now all that was left to do is to seal the finish with a few coats of polyurethane to give it a furniture-like appearance.

 

Once the finishing was complete, I re-assembled the windows and added some ornate brass replica hardware.  We designed some simple stained glass panels for the upper sashes and had them made to fit.  The colors were chosen to match the wallpaper(s) that we ordered.  This photo shows the brass and porcelain window lock with the brass sash chain in the background.

 

I added new brass window pulleys for both functionality and aesthetics.

 

The original windows did not include finger lifts, but we really like the look of them.  In addition, they make it much easier to open the window.

 

The rest of the photos on this page pretty much speak for themselves.  I tried to take pictures at different times of the day to show how the stained glass dominates the windows during the day, and the warmth of the woodwork takes over at night..  It took me all Summer long to complete this project.  We are very pleased with the results.

 

 

The Servant's Passage

In the 1890's the people who lived here had Servants  The Parlor had a doorway beneath the master staircase that provided the Servant's easy access from the Kitchen.  This allowed the Servants to serve the guests without having to pass through the main parts of the house.  This was very important during Victorian times.  In later years, this doorway was closed off so a 1/2 bath could be added in it's place.  Rather than build a wall over the abandoned doorway, the owners cleverly converted it into a built-in book case. A great deal of care was taken not to destroy the doorway on either side, almost as if to leave it in case someone wanted to return it to original. Thank you, who ever you are (were) : )

 

This is what the passageway looked like the day we moved in.

 

This picture shows the shelving and framework from the cabinet conversion removed. 

 

We found the original door in the Attic.  At some point, It had been cut down to fit a smaller doorway.  I hung it back in it's frame so we could measure to see how much we needed to build up the door to the doorway.

 

After extending the bottom and top of the door, it was then re-hung to ensure a proper fit prior to re-finishing.  The strips of wood under the door are samples of the new floor that will be laid in a couple weeks.  This was to ensure proper clearance.

 

This is a close-up of the restored door hardware

 

These are the matching hinges that we are going to be using on all of the doors in the house

 

Let's not forget the floor!

The floor was pretty trashed to say the least.  When we began working on this room, we thought that we might restore it, but upon closer inspection, it was just too far gone.  We decided to have a custom floor installed.

 

We went with a Red Oak to compliment the color scheme that we have chosen for the room.  We had 4 inch planks installed to give it more of an older type feel.

 

We chose a deep red stain to go with the existing woodwork.  The border that wraps around the room is a combination of White Maple and Mahogany.

 

 

The Wallpaper

The color scheme for the Parlor wallpaper started during the demolition of the walls. I pulled off some of the wood trim beneath the plaster moldings and discovered a piece of the original wallpaper.  It was a burgundy red.  The piece was still brilliant in color because it had been protected from the light for over a century.  Right away we knew we wanted to go with a burgundy based color scheme.  The search was on for authentic Victorian wallpapers.  After doing some rather exhaustive searching, we decided to go with Bradbury & Bradbury.

We ordered tons of samples and came up with the final design.  Bradbury papers are not cheap.  Frankly, they are quite expensive, but you get what you pay for.  The papers are all silk screened by hand as they were a hundred years ago.  (Click here to see how they are made.) The prints are unlike anything we have ever seen before.  Anyway. the next challenge was to find someone qualified to hang these special papers.  All of the intricate trim pieces and borders are all cut by hand.  The ceiling work is even a bigger challenge.  I ended up getting a list of qualified hangers from Bradbury themselves.  The gentleman who ended up doing the job was named Dennis Ax.  Dennis lives in northern New Jersey.  On his first visit, Dennis measured and re-measured the room and reviewed our design ideas.  He then put together the order based on these measurements.  It took Bradbury six weeks to make all of the papers and send them to us.  Once the room was ready, we called Dennis and set a date.

The day Dennis started, he came in with what looked like a drafting table and a set of rather impressive tools of the trade. 

He then began by drawing a line using an auto-leveling laser beam around the room to determine how far off the walls were from perfect.  He then began measuring and drawing pencil lines on the walls. 

The laser line's purpose was to set the level of the Dado paper (chair rail) to dead level.  This way when you walk into the room, the optical illusion is that the room is level when it is far from it.  This was the starting point.  From there it only got better.  I knew that Dennis was going to be a craftsman, but I had no idea just how far he would take it. 

 

Next, it was cutting time.  Everything came from Bradbury in full size rolls.  All of the pieces that would make up the design had to be cut by hand.  This took a full days work in itself.  I came home and there were tiny rolls of paper everywhere.  Each one looked like it had been cut by a machine.  Very impressive work.  Now it was time to begin the walls...

 

The wall pieces were hung (as were all the pieces) with great care to detail.  No star was cut off, everything lining up perfect (on imperfect walls) Seams? What seams?

 

Next the Dado papers were then put up following the laser line.  The paper was hung in such a way that the pattern would exactly from the fireplace.  It is so perfect.  This photo shows the corner after I put up the new baseboards.  I made these by hand and my wife stained and finished them to match the rest of the woodwork in the room.  Looking good!

 

The detail pieces were sketched onto the ceiling to ensure proper fit.

 

Then the main ceiling pattern was put up, completing the job.  If you would like to contact my Paper Hanger - Dennis Ax, please go to my links page by clicking here.

 

 

The "After" Pictures...

And so after almost a full year of work we finally have the Victorian Parlor we dreamed of..

This is a close-up picture of the detail inside the Crown Moldings that surround the ceiling. 

To see a true contrast in the what this room looked like before compared to how it looks today go to the Before and After Gallery by clicking Here

 

 

 

 

If you have any questions please e-mail us at:

AtLeastImStillFunny@gmail.com