2004: The Year of the Paintbrush




I had vowed that we would be in bedrooms this year but, as usual, I ran up against the old saw that, whatever you plan to do, it'll take twice as long and cost twice as much as your first best guess.

Actually, now that we're moving out of the every-little-improvement-makes-a-big-impact phase, there are a thousand little things that need to be done before every big thing gets accomplished. Top of the list is still getting the house sealed adequately. Now that the big holes and collapsed walls are fixed, now that the chimneys are stable, Andy has been cleaning out the winter kitchen in the back basement, where there are still some crumbling walls that need shoring up. But he's already rebuilt the basement windows and their frames, so the basement is pretty much at last now stable, and things are moving along.

Another aspect of sealing the house is replacing the failed mortar in the brick exterior. When mortar breaks down, it loses its ability to keep out water. In our case, that means peeling paint and efflourescence on the inner walls, so before we can undertake much painting inside, the outside has to be sealed.

old mortar


First, the old mortar has to be removed, often by chiseling it out a bit at a time.

wall ready for repointing


Only after the joints are all cleaned out can we go back with new mortar.

finished wall


This job falls to me, because I'm really better with meticulous (Andy would say boring) work. Recently I've gotten incredulous looks when they find out I'm a moonlighting bricklayer, but I maintain that if you can frost a cake and if you can read a level, you can lay brick.

Andy and Jack have been working on the siding on the north face of the house, and that work is exacting and slow. Instead of wood siding, we're using a new kind of composite that is designed to hold paint and resist rot, both important features given that when we took off the old masonite siding, moss had been growing on it.

porch siding


Even with all the outdoor work, the work of the farm, the gardens, the produce that is now coming ripe and ready for canning, we've managed to get a little done here and there.

dining room


This is the new dining room, still in progress. I did manage to restore the windows this spring, and I learned a great deal about how they were constructed and how they work, from the days before counterweights.

living room

Someday this will be the corner of the living room, but right now it's Jack's bedroom.

guest room guest room

And at the end of last year I did manage to get one room done...

This is the first upstairs bedroom to be finished. The color pallets we're using are historical, many of the shades taken from paint samples that underlie the woodwork and the walls. The frieze is an adaptation of a Federal stencil pattern. There are two more bedrooms upstairs, in addition to a bathroom, the library, and the back still room, which one day I want to use for an office. But those rooms right now are a real mess, and work outside is still pressing. We're not making as much progress as we had hoped to because, although it's not nearly as wet as it was last year, we're still in a monsoon season, with thunderstorms about every afternoon and very little time to let things dry out.

original glazing on the door


Jack taped a poster to his door, which I removed while cleaning, and a strange thing happened. The latex paint let go and revealed the original glaze on the door. On the chance it might actually work that we could remove the paint and preserve the original wood graining, I found a whole new use for duct tape. So far, the work has revealed only minor flaws.

This is the original wood surface. Throughout the main rooms of the house, the wood trim was glazed and grained to look like mahogany, while the doors were finished to resemble walnut. That difference held through the old dining room (now the kitchen), and entryway. It's a real pleasure to be able to preserve this much of the original finish. When I have all the paint off the door, I'll seal it with lacquer or a clear finish to keep it.


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