November 15: Doors to Nowhere

HELLO, I am still here and still renovating! If you’re facebook friends with me you’ve seen the occasional picture update, and also know that actually not a ton has gotten done since I last blogged in mid August. First of all, I’ve spent a lot of time traveling this fall; I’m nearing the end of my second three-week stint out of town now. Second, I’ve had some false starts in the kitchen, so work in there has been kind of do it — undo it — redo it — rethink everything again. (More on this below). And third, because of some stuff going on with my now-mostly-former housemates’ family, I ended up moving a lot of my things over to the new house very abruptly shortly after the last time I wrote, to make more room for them in the old house. This hasn’t been great from the renovating point of view because a thing I still don’t have much of is storage, so I’ve spent a fair amount of the fall getting overwhelmed by piles of things and finding it difficult to actually make progress. Such is life!

Anyway, let me bring you up to date on what has been done and then I’ll talk about the kitchen situation in a later post.

  1. I had some help during a visit from my parents, brother, and niece
much help
Less cute, but knows more math

2. My friend Charity who is also renovating an old house came over and helped me refinish the kitchen and ground floor bedroom floors. The rest of the floors will wait a while but I thought these should be done before I put furniture into them.

Charity sanding in the bedroom
the kitchen floor — I think this is after one coat, we did two.

I’m using a hardened oil product to finish them rather than poly because I preferred the natural, matte, hand-rubbed look. It’s a little harder to apply but honestly not much more, and has the great benefit that you can walk on it just a few hours after it goes down, and it has no fumes or off-gassing. Of course the floors are now all messed up and dusty due to ongoing work but they’ll be fine once things settle down more.

3. I got ambitious at like 8 pm on a random Saturday and suddenly decided to create the closet door for the downstairs bedroom. This closet used to open into the kitchen, but now that opening is behind the fridge, so I wanted it to open into the bedroom (which had no closet) instead. Would it have been sensible to just go ahead and do this demo prior to fixing all the other walls up and having the room primed and refinishing the floors? Yes. Don’t @me. I really should have done this earlier, but (a) the space I would have needed to work in was occupied for a long time by various other supplies and (b) I was intimidated by the reframing I knew would have to be done and therefore kept putting it off. The good news is that now that I finally have done it, I realized it’s actually pretty easy. Dusty, yes; requiring a number of steps, yes; but not super hard. It made me feel much more confident about some future projects upstairs that will also involve cutting holes in walls and reframing doors.

I started by just pulling off some layers on the inside of the closet. There was thin cedar paneling over furring strips over drywall over more drywall (on the bottom) and plaster (on the top). I think the double layer of drywall on the bottom is because the stairs used to go up here, so when they took them out and turned it into a closet they had to work with a lack of plaster in the lower part.
breaking through from the bedroom side
A couple days later, after removing the interior stud with a sawzall, re-installing the horizontal support across the top, and using plaster magic to hopefully prevent future delaminating where I cut away the plaster. Look how nice the bedroom floor looks!

I also stripped, sanded, and primed the door frame, although now I’m regretting the latter and wishing I’d sanded it well enough to stain it instead. (Not regretting it enough to redo it though.) There is still a ways to go on this project as I write in mid-November, even though these pictures were taken in late August. I did fix up the exterior door surround, mostly, with drywall strips, corner bead, and joint compound, but there are some finishing steps that haven’t been done. The door surround still needs cleaning up on the interior, and since the door I’m putting there is going to change its swing, I have to either learn how to do that or get someone else to do it (I think it involves chiseling new depressions for hinges on the frame.) It needs a threshold. And finally of course we’ll have to actually hang the door and some trim.

4. Got the bedroom painted and a bed put together and moved some furniture in! No pictures because I haven’t taken any yet. I think at this point I’ll wait to take them until some trim is up and the whole thing is less of a godawful mess/furniture dumping ground.

5. Got the mudroom ceiling framed out and insulated and hung a beadboard ceiling (pictured halfway through, but the beadboard is all up now and the drywall is taped and mudded, just waiting for trim-out and paint)

6. Got the clawfoot tub taken out of upstairs (it is going to a good home) and a couch taken up

going down
Going up

7. Experimented with hiring a scissor lift to work on scraping and painting the soffits and trim. This was a very worthwhile learning experience; I probably won’t do it again at this house because the spaces are too tight, but it was very useful when it did work and I probably got about half of what I needed to do done. In April I will probably try scaffolding to get at the rest. A bucket lift (like a cherry picker) is also an option, although it would be way more expensive. TBD — definitely done with exterior work for the year now.

No pics of me on the lift, but the one in the middle, taken at my friends’ house, shows what it looks like extended.
The same section of trim before (massively alligatored); during (post-scraping with speedheater); and after a coat of oil-based primer. I got caught by the weather and just didn’t have time to get two coats of proper paint on the trim, so the primer is going to have to hold it over the winter.


9. Went to Chicago and bought a staircase

10. Learned all about shellac! Did you know that shellac flakes are an excretion of a lac bug, native to various parts of southeast Asia? And that it’s nontoxic and used to coat pills and candy? And that it dissolves in alcohol, so your brush will soften up again if you soak it in the shellac can after it dries and hardens? After some experimentation, I ended up deciding to refinish the four downstairs doors with a coat of a darker brown stain, three coats of amber shellac, and then two rubbed in coats of finish products, one that has abrasives in it to move the finish towards gloss, and a final coat of beeswax-based polish. Except for the stain (which is necessary because the shellac on its own was too orange) it all smells amazing, and it’s all very easy to work with. I’m really satisfied with how the doors are coming out, and I think I’m going to strip the jambs all the way and do them too even though it’s more work than just stripping enough off that I could repaint them.

one of the downstairs doors, before; how they look stripped (in the back) and with just a layer of shellac; and how they look after all the layers have gone on. I think they’re probably pine, possibly fir. Something soft and inexpensive, anyway. But they look like a million bucks with the stain, shellac, and wax finishes.

11. On a whim hired my neighbor’s yard guy to clear out the various tree limbs I took down while I had the scissor lift, plus a bunch of other random vegetation that grew up over the summer while I wasn’t paying any mind, plus a bunch of leftover tree bits from when my friend took down a couple of smaller pines last winter. Probably overpaid, don’t care, great decision making.

Planning a raised bed in the newly cleared out space to the right there along the fence.

12. Other miscellanea: hired someone to take down a tree I couldn’t handle myself; bought a bunch of exterior trim; (with Charity) had a very long and sweaty afternoon/evening pulling the remainder of the screws out of the upstairs floor in preparation for having it sanded, as well as clearing the floors upstairs by stuffing all the other random things up there into closets, and replacing (this was C) some subflooring that was just plywood with planks from the attic; and taking down plaster from the ex-bathroom wall that I thought was just too damaged to save. It was not only crumbling and delaminating in some places, but was also covered with adhesive from the fake tile panels that had been glued to it — those are the black bands in the photo below — and I would either have had to do the world’s best skim coating job; demo the whole thing back to the studs; or do what I decided to do after a few months of vacillating, which was gently knock out the plaster and leave the lath in place in the hopes that I can drywall over it. It’s holding in the blown in insulation, so if the lath comes down all of that will also need to be replaced and the pain in the ass level of the project will go up significantly. That said, if I still do end up having to gut this wall at this point, the worst is already over — the plaster is the dustiest and heaviest. Lath is super easy to pull off and insulation, while itchy and bulky, is at least lightweight. And it went really smoothly and quickly thanks to some friends showing up — I think we only worked about forty minutes, including the cleanup.

Plaster removal crew doing an album cover pose partway through

Note, as I type this I’m thinking it through, and maybe I should go ahead and pull down the rest of it. A new window is eventually going in about where Janna is standing at the right of the picture, and it would certainly be easier to frame that if the wall is down to the studs. Enough to make it worth having to pull everything else out and down to the trash, and also to make it worth having to re-insulate the whole wall? Maybe, maybe not.

This is super long, so later I’ll do a second catchup post about all the kitchen vacillating and backtracking that’s been going on.

Published by Catherine R. Osborne

Historian, theologian, editor.

3 thoughts on “November 15: Doors to Nowhere

  1. Finally! Obviously the best thing about this post is…the kitten. I kid…not really.

    You majorly undersold your progress. I know you are going to get to the kitchen in a later post but I don’t know if it’s the lighting but I love your kitchen cabinet color…it’s more mint looking that sage. So cute and fresh with the farmhouse sink and GORGEOUS wood floors.

    I hope you are having a wonderful time traveling. It’s so very deserved. Now let me sneak over to that kitchen post…


  2. The kitchen floors look sooooo pretty! What kind of oil did you used? We did Rubio Monocoat on our floors and, while I love the look and the non-stinkiness and that the stairs aren’t slippery, the slight roughness of the floors means that dust gets kind of stuck. And you bought a staircase?! (yes, yes, I’m catching up on all your posts)


    1. I used Pallmann Magic Oil — — and I’ve been really pleased with how it’s held up so far. Although I am not expecting it to be dustless at the moment, so I guess we’ll see how I feel after the whole renovation is over. I feel like it’s very smooth though, possibly because you use a mechanical buffer on it.

      And yes, I bought a staircase 🙂 My house has no staircase — there are some stairs but not a STAIRCASE — and now that the duplex-separating wall is down I really wanted one. It’s amazing what you can get salvaged on facebook marketplace!


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