Room renovation — a room as old as I grows up

As I mentioned previously, we bought our first house a little under a year ago. There are many great things about this house. The bones are very solid. (The house is listed as being built in 1900, which is shorthand for no one knows when it was built, but probably between 1890 and 1910). The layout of the house is excellent. I love the view from the back and the town. And it’s really a pretty large house — certainly big enough for our needs.

Every room in the house is perfectly usable for what it is. Other than a sewer pipe ready to disintigrate at the slightest touch, the house really was in move in condition.

But every room in the house could also stand an update. The first two stories of the house are entirely wood-panelled with drop ceilings. Every. Single. Room. (Or was when we moved in.) Better yet, each room has a DIFFERENT drop ceiling and DIFFERENT panelling. Basically, the house was more or less redone around the time I was born. And it’s been well-maintained since, but the decor is what you might call dated.

We painted a bit when we moved in (our office and Grey’s room — beige is no color for a little boy’s room!) We actually offered on the house when I was pregnant — the same weekend we made the offer I discovered this fact. I ended up miscarrying that child, but the house was purchased with the expectation that there would be four of us living there. The second floor has three bedrooms. Our room is ok (shag carpet and white panelling!), Grey’s room we painted over the panelling. But the nursery was by far the worst and smallest of the rooms. Here’s a picture from the first time we visited the house:

A blast from the '70s
A blast from the '70s
Another view -- love that closet door! It's the details that really make a room
Another view -- love that closet door! It's the details that really make a room

Now, it is not true that it would be impossible to put a child in that room. However, that is not a room that speaks to me of the nurture and warmth needed for a new baby. That is a room that speaks to me of, uh, a middle aged couple putting in a den in about 1975. (It was one of four tv viewing areas in the house as they had it set up.)

So I wanted to redo it.

The easy option would’ve been a coat of paint. There’s a lot to be said of a coat of paint. Grey’s room looks really good with the coat of paint over the panelling. But the drop ceiling wasn’t in good shape. The panelling was buckling in spots. And that carpet! Carpet is really not meant to be there for 30 years, even if the room has been lightly used. Did I really want my precious little spawn learning to crawl on that carpet? No, I did not. Also, the closet door was a sin against God and man. And I wanted an overhead fan.

So you start with removing the panelling. If you remove the panelling, you MUST remove the drop ceiling, as the drop ceiling is attached to the panelling. But you need to remove the drop ceiling ANYWAY because it turns out the light fixture was held up ONLY by the drop ceiling and that’s not going to work for a ceiling fan. So we need to put up a new ceiling. But there are wires that ran under the drop ceiling, so we can’t just go back the the layer above the drop ceiling — we need to add a new layer. (Actually, we ended up removing two layers — the drop ceiling and the water damaged ceiling tiles above that. And by we I mean my husband because pregnant women do not belong on ladders doing demo in rooms that may contain lead.) And so we removed two layers of ceiling and panelling to discover the badly damaged horsehair plaster walls that were original to the house.

The room at this stage was rather amusing in it’s hideousness. But here’s the thing. There were some big holes in that plaster wall. There’s wallpaper on all of it, which is probably good since paint from the same era would likely be lead paint. This is not a wall you can work with. We need to put new drywall in the entire room. That’s not actually the bad part. The bad part is that makes the room 1 inch smaller in every dimension (.5 inch drywall on all the walls). Unless you have redrywalled a room, you may never look at the trim in a room — inside and around the windows and doors and on the baseboard.

Thank heavens my husband got laid off about this time. (He got another job right away — but ended up with 2 weeks off.) He did what software engineers do when confronted with a hardware problem: he ordered about 8 books off Amazon, googled each problem and basically did a crash course in drywalling, painting and trim. He did an amazing, astounding job.

First, the ceiling. He added firring strips (strips of wood) to the ceiling, cursing roundly because the studs were elusive and had a tendency to disappear halfway through the ceiling. This was to create room to run the wires under the new ceiling. Then he and a friend and a rented contraption attached the new drywall on the ceiling to the firring strips. He cut a hole where the light fixture was to go. (Yeah, to add to the fun, lighting was an issue for the entire first half of the project — right from demo!)

Then we had a debacle getting the right drywall for the walls. This resulted in a whole heap of re-measuring and recutting. The studs in the walls were no more cooperative in their locations, once we had the drywall in place, either. Then taping and mudding. Remember — this includes the ceiling. Then priming. (I finally get to start helping around this point.) Finally, we get to paint the whole thing — ceiling and walls and closet. You start to feel like you’re almost done.

You are laughably wrong. The hardest part is yet ahead. But wait! You can’t do it yet. Because you need to put the new carpet in before you put the new trim in, or it won’t work measurement-wise. The room lived in this state for many a week before the carpet went in. (Lowe’s did the installation — we have no complaints with that whole process. It wasn’t nearly as expensive as I expected, either.)

New carpet, painted walls, light fixture in place… done, right?

No, there is yet the trim.

Did you know each window has 8 pieces of trim? (4 on the inside and 4 on the outside?) And moreover, each piece of trim has to be exactly the right length? Ambitious people even mitre it so they have nice angles. AHHAHAHAHAH!

We spent like 2 hours in the hardware store attempting to transform our careful window measurements into lengths of wood we should buy, considering all the variables like “Will it fit in our car”. Hours more went into measuring three times before sawing once, hammering into place, praying like fury, and caulking the inevitable shortcomings. Working together, it took two of us five hours to do one window. And that was without mishap. And it was the easy window.

The trim took a long time, and it was hard to do, but we perservered! And finally, after trimming, touching up, installing closet doors, trying not to get any paint on the new carpet and using so much caulk that the room would likely float if placed in water, I declared it done and ready to recieve a baby. Or at least baby furniture.

And here it is … a room for the next 30 years.

Needless to say, we are very proud of ourselves. Not bad for a pair of knowledge workers!

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Brenda currently lives in Stoneham MA, but grew up in Mineral WA. She is surrounded by men, with two sons, one husband and two boy cats. She plays trumpet at church, cans farmshare produce and works in software.

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