I love my house. I love it a lot. And that’s good, because if I didn’t…
It’s probably best to start at the beginning. In the beginning, there was a mill owner. And the mill owner decided it was a good idea to construct some dwellings for his management and their families. And he had built a block of three-story-plus-basement row houses, decked out in the current fashions of 1895.
And it was good.
I know it was good because I am actually in possession of (as the lawyers insist on saying) a photograph of the house taken in 1900. There’s a proud gent standing on the wooden sidewalk next to the hitching post by the front porch. The woodwork I know and love is beautifully in evidence, too.
Fast forward sixty years and more and the mills are gone and the mill management is gone, and my adopted town is sliding into decay like so many other New England towns did at the time.
Add another twenty years and my entire street has turned into the town’s last stop on the way to the grave. The Victorian houses that line both sides of the street are known primarily for 1) being dangerous, and 2) being the best place in town to go buy drugs. Mine is a crack house that is home to uncounted drug-addled criminals and vagrants.
It’s a flop house. A squat.
Another 15 years and the town has revitalized due to the vision of several business people with unusually long sight. It’s now the regional arts, culture, dining, and shopping center with an entirely vibrant downtown…scarred only by the presence of the crack houses on my street.
Some equally long-sighted real estate speculators assess the “bones” of a bunch of the buildings, and find them good, despite decades of neglect and abuse. And they start buying up the properties and evicting the crack heads, junkies, and letting the leases expire for those who actually possessed a rental contract. And as the buildings empty of their former tenants, the speculators start systematically fixing up the buildings.
The people that renovated my house did a great job in some important ways (like installing central air and preserving original woodwork and doors) as well as some not-so-great jobs (cheap windows, cheap cosmetic finishes, cut-rate work on the new roof). All in all, I’m deeply grateful for them, because now I have a Victorian with original features and woodwork AND central air conditioning. The windows I can live with for a while. I just enter into all of those drawings you see for “Free Windows!” It means I have to put up with an endless onslaught of commercial sales, but I figure, it’s worth it for the long shot. In another few years, I’ll take some action.
What’s going on right now, though, is a matter related to the “cheap cosmetic finishes”. All of the rooms in my house have high ceilings. On about half of those, the finish is nice and flat and painted white. On the other half, it’s nasty looking stucco. Some of it is the blown-popcorn finish. On others, it’s a layer of plaster that was textured into random little points with a trowel.
A month ago, Roy called me at work to let me know that “the ceiling had fallen in”. As I later discovered, what really happened was that a piece of the textured finish had dropped off the ceiling. The day had been extremely humid, and the house opened to the elements, so I assume that moisture had something to do with it. I rang the painting contract we used a few years ago for some exterior work, and had him out to get a bid.
He looked at the second-floor hall ceiling where the finish had come off. It was his opinion that some more of the finish was going to come off, but most of it was probably rock hard and melted for eternity with the underlying ceiling plaster. I’d been kind of hoping we could just strip the lot off, but he felt that No, this wasn’t going to be feasible. He suggested the Monstrously Expensive Option, which involved joint compound or mud or something slicked on over the textured surface until it was flat, and then paint that flat surface. Then he suggested the Way Less Expensive Option, which involved pulling down the loose finish and patching it (preparing the surface properly, this time, first) with more textured stuff.
I went with Option 2, and the Painting Guy showed up with his Patching Guy this morning to start work. Painting Guy’s work shouldn’t be coming in until tomorrow, so he’s off at some other work site. Patching Guy started with some repairs in the bedroom that – thank heavens – turned out to be minor.
I was surprised by that. With This Old House, I just assume that any job I get bid out is going to turn out to be 3 times as big once the [contractor type] gets [into or through, or removes some surface element] and sees that [whatever we thought was the problem] is just scratching the surface.
So I was surprised when the bedroom patching job stayed small. The Patching Guy had pulled down the loose texture in the hallway and had mudded it and was letting it dry in preparation for the surface treatment which I think involves standing there and sucking a trowel onto the surface and then pulling it down so that the surface turns into little points. And I had to take off for an appointment.
“I’ll be back in about a half hour” I said.
“Yah! No prahblem!” he said.
Now, from here out, it’s going to be helpful to hear this conversation in your head. And to do that with greatest accuracy and effect, you’re going to have to slap a minor Texas drawl into my words. And the Patching Guy? Sounds like Nahm from This Old House. Or, if you’re more into cars than construction, Click or Clack from Car Talk. Take your pick.
I came back, happily, with a latte, thinking that this job ought to be done for the day in just an hour or so. I jingled into the house and put down my things. I heard footsteps coming down the stairs.
“Ah.” he said.
“Uh-oh,” I thought.
“Yep?” I said
“Ah, we’ve got a little bit of a prahblem.” he said.
“Oh?” I said.
“Yah. It’s a uuuuge mess upstahs.”
“Yah. I stahted to put the textuah dahn, but when I stuck the traaawl to thah ceiling and pulled it down, the rest of thah finish stahted to come dahn too.”
“What? You mean the texture that didn’t come down before is coming down now?”
“Yah. As soon as I get it aah little wet, it’s just faahlin raht daahn.”
“Oh. Let me see.”
Sure enough. There’s the parts that have been patched, and the rest of it’s just peeling right off.
“Looks to me like you’re going to have to take the rest of it down.”
“Yah. There’s gonna be cahst ovah-runs, just needed you to know.”
Well, Color Me Surprised.
A cost overrun? On a repair? For This Old House? Because someone cut a corner when they renovated?
No. Tell Me It Isn’t So.
So Plaster Guy removed quite a bit of furniture, swathed everything in plastic – which is rustling in the breeze just like a cheap tent in a tropical storm – and has been cheerfully pulling down 90% of the rest of this crappy finish. The question is whether the other 10% will come down obligingly, or whether I’m going to have to have the entire damned hall ceiling re-textured.
Since my preferred outcome from the start has been “Lose the textured ceiling” (it’s not an Original Detail) I’m not totally unhappy with this evolving circumstance. I WILL be unhappy if the remaining 10% is glued hard to the substrate. Plaster Guy is concerned because if he gets in around the top of the stairwell, it might make the textured finish come off the stairwell too.
“Fine” I said. “If it does, that will just save me some hassle down the road when it starts falling off anyway.”
Plaster Guy has gone off to the hardware store for more supplies. I am anxiously awaiting the outcome of the Remaining Ten Percent. In the meantime, here are some pictures from a hiking trip we took at Tyringham Cobble last fall.