The last three houses David and I have lived in have been owned by people we know, and who could likely, and often did, stop in from time to time. That's a special kind of stress: besides the usual fears of them coming over unnanounced and finding a mess — perhaphs you (like me) sometimes decide, for whatever reason, to eat nothing but Little Caesar's Hot'n'Readys for a week and then leave the semi-empty boxes as a sort of trophy to your stellar life choices in a variety of rooms — you also have to deal with the weird semi-critique that any sort of change can feel like.
I mean, sometimes these changes can feel more pointed than others. When our landlord from a while ago remarked how different the house looked from the street since we moved in, it was hard not to be like "yeah well, watering the lawn, trimming the hedge, and clearing literally 20+ empty cardboard boxes from the open carport can really go a long way to make a place feel... not... condemned?" On the other hand, I also stressed out everytime our last landlords, close friends, saw their condo while we were living in it. Their space had been bright and crisp and extremely minimal, all their furniture geometric and modern; ours was more softly lit, tended towards cozy, and was stuffed to the gills with all the crap that we owned.
This place has me feeling somewhere between the two extremes. Our friends who owned our house before us had been here for about 13 years. They had two very young kids. They were tinkerers and craftspeople. As you saw in the previous post, they weren't shy about color, and the house was 100% their personality. Obviously we weren't obligated to keep any of their choices intact, but I still worry that our changes, done when it would be easiest for us (before moving anything over, beginning the day we took ownership) could be interpreted as being motivated by "I couldn't stand to look at this for one more second" sort of vibe — which wasn't the case. Similarly, living in a 115 year old home with a young family and two working parents... stuff is going to get rough in places, projects that you always meant to finish might get neglected, and some things just aren't priorities — this is all completely natural and totally understandable. Nevertheless, we opted to take care of some of these issues immediately as well.
Basically, all this to say: we changed everything the moment we could, the changes were drastic, I loved how things turned out.
I love the victorian-era character of our house, but I wanted to give it a modern bit of edge. I think the shortest point between those two points, without just shoehorning a bunch of severe furniture into a victorian box, is referencing industrial textures and colors from the victorian era — sooty blacks, laundry room whites, and hard-surface accents — brass, concrete, etc (I know that's not exactly a groundbreaking revelation, still, that was my guiding logic).
First, for orientation's sake, here's the house plan.
For our walls I decided on Sherwin William's Snowbound. It's a very bright white (on the LRV scale, with 100 being the brightest, it's an 83) with just the faintest hint of warmth. The walls are lath and plaster, rich with moldings, giant baseboards and detailing, so I knew the walls would retain a lot of texture and wouldn't feel bleached out or erased.
Due to the extreme colors currently on the walls, as well as some wonky textural difference from room to room, we decided to prime the main walls ourselves with Kilz GPI — and it only took one coat, even in the red room! I gang-pressed my 15 year-old sister to help me and my folks with masking and taping, and she banged out room after room in no time.
Then, on my dad's recommendation, I did maybe the smartest thing I've ever done: I hired my uncle Brad to come and paint the three main rooms. I didn't want to even begin thinking about hand-painting those built in bookshelves, painting the ceilings had been a never-ending nightmare, and I wanted a super even, reliable covering. He came over one morning, and had the whole thing primed and painted in about two hours — and that's including a leisurely lunch break around the corner at Rocco's. Amazing. Best $250 I've ever spent (ONLY! TWO! FIFTY!).
This is probably as good a point as any to address the wood in the home. I love the look of wood grain, I love the care and craftsmanship of pioneer-era detailing, and I love the warmth it brings. However, we were STRUGGLING with the woods in the house. First of all — everything, and I mean everything was hammered. The moldings and doors, while looking like walnut, are actually pine with turn-of-the-century hand graining, but they were in terrible shape, with huge divots and dings, scraped down to the bare wood in places, and generally just showing their age. Due to that faux finish, there was basically no way to restore them. Also, in color, they have a lot of green and gold to them, while the wooden floors, were stained a saturated cherry red.Combined with the new, more modern stair case, itself an almost orange varnishy color, we had three very different grains and very different colors competing with one another.
The one saving grace were the pocket doors — they had been jammed in their pockets for who knows how long, and so were in wonderful shape (except for one badly scraped panel). It was killing me to consider erasing all the hand work on the moldings, so we decided to leave the pocket doors intact, while patching and painting over the damage moldings. This seemed like an elegant way to preserve the still-lovely pieces of the woodwork while improving on all the damage.
Which I guess brings us to the floors. The floors in the back half of the house in the kitchen and office were older than those in the front, and slightly different in color (and running perpendicular to each other). They had been cut into at various points in the home's history to accommodate furnace ducting, wiring, and various repairs. They made me sad every time I looked at them, but they felt wonderful underfoot — every edge at this point had been softened over time, and they stay fairly warm even in the winter.
I wanted to do something to preserve the texture and feel of the floors but at the same time, minimize the differences in the age and condition of the two areas of the home. We didn't have the time or money to do a full re-finish job, so we started thinking about paint. We loved the dark hardwood in our last place and were used to the care and maintenance that comes with it, so that was in the back of my mind. The more I looked at the floors, the more sure I was that I wanted them black black black. When I told people I was planning on doing this, the reactions were a mix of shock and horror, with a few people being exceptionally encouraging.
There were a couple things that made this sort of daunting. I needed a paint that would grip the floor and dry as hard as possible. It needed to be super durable and not react with anything in the wood. Not knowing what had been put on the floors over the last century, this was something that made me pretty nervous. I kept having visions of the paint bubbling up in great blisters. I worked with this adorable, giant old man at the Sherwin Williams down the street from our house (over the preceding months I had gotten to know everyone there very well) — he'd been painting homes for the past 60 years and he recommended their Oil Based All Surface Enamel, and that I not fuss around with mixing anything — just go with BLACK. His point here was that the stocked black enamel's pigments were factory ground and mixed. Any other pigments we added would soften the final surface.
He instructed us to make sure we took any existing surface gloss off with a stripping pad on a floor-buffer, make sure it was thoroughly cleaned before painting, and to give the paint plenty of time to dry with no one walking on it.
Mostly things went pretty great. We had a horrific moment where a great sheet of masking paper came untaped from the wall overnight, and we returned in the morning to find it now completely glued to the floor. We spent the next few hours scraping the paper & paint off the floor and then had to repaint. As much as I was devastated when I initially saw that, the experience turned out to put a lot of fears to rest: the paint was incredibly difficult to get off the floor, and had dried hard enough to walk on (gently) after just 12 hours. This let me sleep a little easier knowing that the 10 days we had budgeted to leave the house completely alone while we went on a couple trips out of town would let the floor cure completely.
So! Here are the before and afters!
Somehow I misplaced a whole card of before shots, so here's the office and kitchen, heretofore sight-unseen, after painting. The walls in the office were a light, purpleish gray.
About 6 months into it, the floors have held up very nicely. No scratching, no peeling, and no hideous bubbling. I'm stuck all the time by how much older the floors look painted black. Not in a shabby way at all, just in a way that makes them look almost colonial, or the galley of a ship. I also enjoy how the staircase (and you'll have to trust me for now as I don't have a great image on hand with the railing put back on) looks intentional and deliberate. There was something a little... treehouse-y before, and I think it was all in the visible screws and the grain. Now it looks deliberately modern with its black treads and steel railing, but still feels like part of the whole.
From here we moved on to some construction and finishing work in the attic bedroom, but I'll save that for another post.