Priorities, or Why I’m Removing 110 Years of Wallpaper

So, my to-do list for the HoHA is absurdly long – we’re talking probably close to 100 items, if you include all the minor annoyances.  For my own sanity, and the sake of being able to actually begin moving in (at the moment I have about 70% of my belongings there, but very little unpacked, because I can’t bring over furniture yet), I have to prioritize somewhat.  Some things are easy to push farther down the list (like changing the cabinet doors in the kitchen), while others (like replacing the rotted-out sink cabinet in the kitchen) are easy to put toward the top.  But some things are hard to figure out where they belong on the list.


The rotten joists at the back of the house are at the top of the list, but they’re a project I have to hire someone to do.  Likewise, fixing the downspout was a priority, but I had to pay my friend Marcel for his help and his ladder in order to get it done.  Other than that, the list was pretty up in the air.  I really wanted to paint the house, as this is the first time in my life that I’ve been able to do whatever the hell I want with the colors, but it was very clear to me that the house had had wallpaper put over paint put over wallpaper for, oh, about 110 years.  I really am a strong believer in not just doing things right, but in leaving a place better than I found it (if I can).


I wanted to paint the front bedroom before I moved into it, because I know myself, and I know that I’d put it off for years to come if I didn’t do it beforehand.  It was clear to me that the walls of this house needed some serious love instead of just another layer of paint, so I borrowed two steamers from my friend Jed and got to scraping.  Here’s what it looked like before I got out the steamers:



The striped wallpaper is slightly metallic and seems to be the oldest layer, dating to right around the turn of the century, when the house was built.  The leafy one has a decidedly Edwardian/early 20s look that is somewhat reminiscent of the William Morris wallpapers that were all the rage at the time (and with which I hope to do my bathroom).  There are a few other layers between the two, and between the leaves and the paint, but they are such poorer quality that they pretty much dissolved on contact.


Once I saw what the different layers of paper underneath were, and got a better sense of what I was going to be dealing with, I fired up one of the steamers and got to work.  This is what the eastern wall looked like after about 3 hours of work.  I couldn’t do the top because I couldn’t reach it, and the square in the middle is just paint over plaster, which will most likely have to be sanded off, as it’s exceptionally well-adhered.  The little square at the bottom is an old gas line for a gas heater.  I’d love to get one and hook it up, but without a venting system in place, they’re kind of a great way to give yourself carbon monoxide poisoning.



Even my friend Michael Elizabeth got in on the fun during a trip up from Houston to see me and some other friends.  Here’s what the western wall looked like after about an hour and a half with the two of us working:



There’s something kinda cool about knowing that you’re the first person in over 100 years to touch something.  As I’ve been stripping the walls, I’ve had a few moments in which I realized that the last people to touch them were likely the paperers that the original builder hired to wallpaper them.  Even though I’m only “digging” down by about 1/8th of an inch, this whole process has had a distinctly archaeological feel to it.


I will need to strip the wallpaper, then very lightly sand away any leftover glue, then fill all the numerous gouges with joint compound, then lightly sand those areas until they’re flush with the rest of the plaster, then wash the whole thing, then prime it with primer, then finally paint it.  Unfortunately, I’ve had a bunch of other errands and things to get done recently (like helping my friend Sonia get rid of 1/3rd of her belongings), so I haven’t had as much time as I would like to work on it, but I think I should be able to get the room done within a month.  Two more weeks to finish stripping it and clean up, a week to patch and caulk and sand, and another week to paint.  It has been a lot of work, but it will look really great when it’s finished, and I’ll also have the satisfaction of knowing that it was done right instead of simply done easily.


Once all the prep work has been done, I plan on painting the room a dark teal-ish blue.  This sort of peacock blue hue is what my friend Rose has, at times, referred to as “Wilson Blue” for how prominently it often features in my fashion and my life in general.  I generally prefer my living spaces to be dark (bright rooms tend to exhaust me by their mere existence), and it’s actually pretty appropriate to the period in which the house was built as well.  Something along these lines is what I had in mind:



I will definitely try to do better and write up shorter entries, to keep you all better apprised of where I am in the process as well as what other projects within the house I’m tackling.  For now, enjoy.

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