Tuesday 3 January 2012

Adventures of a Reluctant Renovator

     "There's always something happening, and it's usually quite loud."

     Life on the hard is...  hard.

     Sharing an obsession with SWMBO is a wonderful thing.  It puts us on the same page, sympatico, our lives synchronized.  We share an understanding: May-October is Dock season.  April 15-Nov. 15 is boat season- refitting and splashing at one end, hauling and winter prep at the other.  This sacred season is also a season of neglect.  Our winter home could burn down, and we'd worry about it after the boats are out of the water.

      That means that winter, in addition to being Boatbuilding Season, Work- your- ass-off-at-your-real-job-so-you-can-relax-during-Dock-Season-Season, is also Home Repair Season.

     Sooner or later, I might actually learn my lesson, and buy something new. But, noooo, I've got to be
eccentric, a curmudgeon-in-training, suspicious of new-fangled things, an adherent to the belief that craftsmanship is largely lost in today's disposable society. Old cars, old boats, old houses- love how they look, love how they feel, love how they are built, but, to borrow from the great Ms. Radner,

     "it's always something."

     I HATE Home Repair Season.

    For this reason, improvements to Stately Jones Manor proceed at a pace that could best be described as, er, stately.

    Okay, in the interest of accuracy, perhaps the word I am looking for is "glacial."

   Our upstairs bath is the current case-in-point.

   Here's how it looked in 1999: (It's way back there, at the end of the hall:)

Nice tile, stained glass bay window. (Seriously, who puts a stained glass bay window in a bathroom?) Functional sink.
That's it.  The rest has to go.  Back then Art and I painted the ceiling, tore down the old wallpaper and installed new wallpaper and called it done.


   Flash forward to 2008.  The wallpaper is hanging off, and the roof has leaked causing the plaster to fall off the wall in spots.  The roof has been replaced, so now it is time to tackle repairing the bath.  The hanging wallpaper was peeled off, the cracked marble trim around the bay was removed, the plaster was stabilized, the cracks and gaps filled.  In a fit of decor delirium I installed a new sink and vanity and called it redone.

I figured I'd finish it up during the winter of 08/09.  It didn't happen.
Here's why:

     Normally, I enjoy investing sweat equity, but lately it seems like I have to put in a hell of a lot of the former to gain precious little of the latter. Mostly, it feels like I am playing catchup, and my house knows.

     And the sonofabitch of an abode is laughing at me.

     The bathtub leaked.

     Last winter.


     It took a couple of months to trace the problem.

     It took a couple of hours to fix the problem.

     It took a few months for me to convince myself that the problem was well and truly fixed.

  Satisfied that the tub was well and truly watertight, I decided it was time to fix the damaged plaster ceiling in the living room, directly under the tub. Well, okay, SWMBO decided I needed to fix
the ceiling. I decided I liked sleeping indoors. And, really I have no excuse for procrastinating, cuz it's just a small job. Messy, but small.

  Might take an hour.

  Two, tops.

  So, at two cups of coffee past ten this morning, I drag out the dropcloths, the shop-vac, the big stepladder, the smaller auxiliary stepladder, and all the various putty knives, sanding screens, RO sander, etc., etc. and dig into the project. All the furniture is moved, dropclothed, the doors are sealed off, and I get to sanding the stalactites off the ceiling. Reread the logistics list I provided at the beginning of this paragraph and note what is missing.

   Two words: Mask. Goggles.

   Or Safety. Gear.

   Or Fu**ing. Moron.

   Take your pick. They all start applying about now.

    I begin to think goggles might be a good idea as I reflexively step off the big ladder after cropdusting my corneas with early 20th century plaster dust.

     It wasn't the four foot drop that perturbed me, it was landing on the smaller auxiliary ladder.

    Who came up with the expression "that smarts' for something that was obviously a direct result
of an imbecilic act? Oh yeah, and just to increase the slapstick quotient, I had assembled all of the plaster tools on a tray on top of the smaller auxiliary ladder (henceforth known as the SAL) all surgical- like. I landed on one end of the tray like a fat kid on a teeter-totter, and launched the tools into the air like they were a vegan  kid with a peanut allergy.

     I could hear my house snickering.

     I collected myself, collected my tools, righted my wrongs and got back to abrasive abuse. Thought
about making yet another trip to the workshop for my goggles and mask, but rejected such prudence. I just wanted to get this job done. Besides, the stats were on my side. With a major pratfall out of the way, the odds against further mishaps had to be in my favour, right?


     Apparently, this appeared to be the case, as the smoothing, beveling and toothing proceeded without further incident.

    Except for some sneezing. Man, this dust is dusty.

   I think I hear the house snorting. But it's probably just the radiators.

     I open my bucket of plaster, and start spreading. I quickly realize two things:

    One, this stuff is THICK, and

    Two, one bucket isn't gonna cut it.

    Luckily, I had a second bucket. I quickly exhaust the first bucket, and crack open the second, and notice something.

     It is DRY.

     Not the same as bucket number one, a handy, premixed, container of goop, oh no, bucket two requires water. It says so, right on the side.

     Which I didn't bother to read before I
bought it.

     The house is now definitely quietly chuckling.

     But how much water? the side of the bucket says, “add
water until desired thickness is achieved." So, back down to the basement
workshop to find a bucket (right past the goggles and mask which I obviously do
not need at this point), back upstairs, and I do my best Goldilocks impression.

     First batch: Too hard. Chip out of bucket. Try again.

     Second batch: Starts out too wet. Carefully dump more plaster mix into bucket. Very close. Gently start to tap more plaster into mixing bucket. Sneeze. See results of first batch.

     Third batch: Close enough. Still not as thick as the premix, but close enough. And I just want to get this job done.

     Back up the big ladder. Start slathering the plaster onto the ceiling. Yep, definitely not as thick as the premix. Keep slathering and
hope for the best. Head tilted back, carefully eyeballing the buttered ceiling, I feel a sneeze coming on... I open my mouth, and brace for it... here's the wind-up...

     …and a glop of plaster drops into my wide open piehole.

     Shortly after, the sneeze follows through, and ejects the plaster from my tongue to be deposited on the wall across the room.

      Shortly after, I again depart the ladder.
    With a bucket of runny plaster in my hand.

      At, least, it was when I left the ladder.

    The house is now laughing so hard that I can hear new cracks forming in the plaster.

    By 7:00 that night, the ceiling looks better. The floors look better. the wall looks better. All I have to do is wait for it to dry, and then I can sand it tomorrow.

     No big deal. Shouldn't take more than 20 minutes or so...

     Three days later it was all done.

     That put me off plaster work for a while.

    Over the holidays I had a full-throttle case of the flu.  I haven't been this sick in decades, and found myself spending a great deal of time in the bathroom.  It was time to do something.  I had an idea.

   Aside from procrastination, or perhaps a contributing factor to the aforementioned procrastination, the biggest stumbling block  was colour.  SWMBO and I wanted to maintained the funkiness of the original tile work, so the new paint had to work with the old  tile.  I hate buying paint.  I either buy too much, or too little or the wrong colour, or all of the above.  Consequently I have a collection of partly full (or partly empty, depending upon your point of view) cans of paint stashed under a workbench in the skunkworks.  I figured I'd mix together some of the dregs, and see if I could create a suitable colour.  Best case scenario, I had free paint and cleaned up the skunkworks a little by emptying some paint cans.  Worse case, I cleaned up the skunkworks a little by emptying some paint cans.
Either way, I am full of win/win.

  Here's how things looked on Dec. 30:

  Now I just have to install new casing trim around the bay and the door, paint the ceiling, trim the mirror, replace a couple of tiles...

   It should be finished before the opening ceremonies of the next Winter Olympics.

   Thanks for taking the time to check us out.  Please feel free to "Talk the Dock!"  Link us, follow us, or just tell your friends.


  1. Brian,
    I'm sure it wasn't funny while you were going through it, but you sure had me laughing!

    By the way, the pait color looks pretty good.

  2. Beauty man. I hate how those short jobs keep on keeping on.

  3. Very salty and cool. I could almost spend the off-season in there.