If you guys remember the roller coaster that was my kitchen remodel, you probably understand why I decided to take it slow with remodeling the living and dining rooms. I wanted to do as much of it myself as possible for budgetary reasons and also because of what happened the last time we worked with a contractor. Because we did everything ourselves, it ended up taking 10 months from start to finish. Trying to balance work with remodeling projects is was kind of insane, and it is such a relief to have it finished. I am soooooo happy to be able to share it here with you guys! We made a lot of changes, and I’m going to tell you all about them.
The biggest one was plastering the walls with historically authentic restoration plaster from Master of Plaster. What I mean by historically authentic is that they make plaster the old-school way, by grinding up marble and stone and lime into dust and using that as the base of the plaster mixture. That’s why plaster walls have such an interesting and unique sheen to them. They shipped us the plaster is these large plastic buckets, and I plastered the walls myself. I was a little nervous working with the trowel at first, but the more you do it the more natural it feels and the easier it becomes. To get the beautiful sheen that comes from plastered walls, you actually have to layer three different types of plaster onto the walls, so I had to plaster the living and dining room three separate times. By the end I felt like a pro and am pretty confident I could drywall the heck out of any wall after plastering that much. It is fascinating to watch the transformation with the different layers of plaster, though. The first type of plaster is kind of like a base coat, it is really thick, white, and has some small sand and gravelly bits in it. The second type of plaster is a bit thinner and is actually tinted to the color that you’ve ordered, and the third type of plaster is very thin and is similar in consistency to pancake batter, and it’s tinted, too. When you apply this final coat, you can really determine how much ‘movement’ there is in the wall by making your application strokes small or large. If they’re large, the wall will have less drastic changes in color and less ‘smeared’ looking areas, if the strokes are small, the wall will look busier with more changes in color and more ‘smeared’ looking streaks. Because I have short arms and am not very tall, my application strokes were fairly short. I am *so* happy with how it all came together, I love the old world feel that it gives my living and dining rooms and am definitely going to be using it again when we start tackling the second floor of the house.
So, the other big thing we did was refinish the hardwood floors. They’re the original hardwoods but they had this orange stain to them that I wasn’t a fan of and had a lot of scuff marks, so Jeremy and I rented heavy duty sanders from Home Depot and sanded down the floors ourselves. We decided to try an iron & vinegar stain on the floor, which is basically when you put a steel wool blob in a jar of vinegar and let it sit overnight. It makes a solution that when you paint it on wood can turn it kind of a rustic grey color. But the thing is, it goes on clear and then turns the new color as it dries, so you can’t really tell what it looks like until the wood floor is totally dry about an hour later. So, after meticulously washing the floors to get off all the sawdust, we put down the stain. And then we watched in horror as it turned our floors navy blue. Yep, apparently our floors weren’t white oak, but golden oak, which is one of the woods that turns blue rather than grey when an iron and vinegar stain is applied to it. So after some crying about the idea of having to re-sand and re-clean the entire floor again, we rented more sanding gear the next weekend and redid the whole thing, this time staining it a nice ‘walnut’ wood stain. We then did two layers of a matte protective coating over it to waterproof it and help keep it from getting scratched as easily. I love the color, but honestly after the ordeal of it all I don’t think I’m ever going to try and refinish a floor on my own again. It’s one of those things that’s worth hiring out for, for sure.
Since the floors were now dark brown, the white trim looked kind of weird. I really wanted to keep the original trim, and wanted it to look wood-like, but there was no way Jeremy and I were going to have the time to sand down all the trim to get the old white paint off, and also risk exposing ourselves to lead poisoning through old lead paint dust. So, I just wiped down the trim to get any dust off and then painted it a nice dark brown to match the floor. It still matches everything really well, and took about 1/10th of the time it would have taken to stain it brown rather than paint it.
The last really big change we made was the fireplace in the living room. The old one had a 1970’s feel to it and had terrible smoke stains on the rocks, and I didn’t like the mantelpiece. So Jeremy demo-ed it and tore it down to the bare facade. Then he built a mantel and supporting beams out of reclaimed wood, staining it to match the trim and floors. And there it sat for 4 months while I planned on re-stoning it myself but never actually had the time to do it. Then I thought about the stress of doing it myself and the possibility of it looking terrible, so I hired a stone mason and am *so* glad I did because it took them one morning to do the whole thing and it looked amazing. It was totally worth the cost just having the peace of mind that it was structurally sound and the stones wouldn’t fall off in a year or two. I wanted to have river rocks on the fireplace because I love the round soft shape of the stones and the fact that they’re common here in the Pacific Northwest. But as it turns out, those are incredibly dangerous for stone masons to cut since, because they are round, they tend to slip and then shoot out of the stone cutting machines and into the people trying to cut them. So now they make cast river rock, which is basically fake river rock that is made from casts of actual rocks, so they look completely real, and no one has to die trying to make your fireplace. A win for both the homeowner and the stone mason.
After that was done, it was just decorative touches, like filling the living room with plants (as I tend to do with most rooms), and getting a real dining table in order. Jeremy built ours with reclaimed wood from a salvage yard here in Portland. It’s so strong and sturdy that now I can just stand on it to take overheads shots, which is soooo much easier (and less dangerous) than hanging off of a step ladder or a chair like I used to. I also wanted to have some family photos around, so I had prints made of the old pictures my parents and Jeremy’s parents had and hung them on the wall in front of the dining table. Family has been the single reason behind why I cook, grow my own, and why I am so passionate about food, so even though my grandparents and papou and yiayia aren’t with us anymore, they can still be a part of every meal this way.
Even though it was a long, long journey, and there were many ups and downs, I am still really happy we did it ourselves (…maybe aside from the floor part). It was a huge learning experience and I’ve got some new plastering skills that I didn’t even know I’d have had if you asked me a year ago. It’s so nice to finally have a living and dining room that really feels like us and fits who we are, and I can’t wait to tackle the second floor and do the same. Stay tuned…