Sunday, March 6, 2011

Wall Register Project Complete

When I started this project, I thought it would take me a day or two. Buy some salvaged registers, strip them, repaint them, and swap out the cheap ones. As usual, it didn't turn out to be nearly that simple.

The big problem was the position of the mounting screws. Wall registers for old forced air systems were inserts in larger metal housings, and the mounting screws were designed to fit this housing, versus being screwed directly into the wall.

Once I had cut 4, 10X8 inch holes in the walls, I realized that I really didn't have a feasible way of installing the registers. This meant about 5 trips to Ace Hardware to try a variety of creative solutions.

I actually started going to multiple Ace stores, because I figured I was going to the same one too often and it was becoming embarrassing. After a few failures, the folks at Diamond Lake Ace helped me come up with a plan. The key was to use a J-hook to grab against the lath, plus a coupling to screw into. I used gel epoxy to secure the J-hook and coupling to the top and bottom of each wall opening. You can see how the J-hook wraps around the opening and grabs the lath in the picture below. In the end, I am really pleased with how these turned out. They look infinitely better than the ones the contractors used when the installed the AC. They just look right with the house and they actually work.

Sunday, January 23, 2011

Winter Projects Update

When winter rolls around, it becomes obvious that I am not a native Minnesotan. I have absolutely no outdoor winter hobbies, unless you count angry shoveling. No skiing, no ice skating, no snowshoeing, no hockey, no broomball (which is a strange sport played by Minnesotans, and I suspect Canadians). The closest things I have to hobbies right now are coffee drinking and going insane, which usually happens by mid-February.

In an effort to delay insanity, I am still working on slowly peeling the paint off the downstairs doors. It is coming along slowly, but surely.I have also decided to upgrade the wall returns for our air conditioning system. About a year ago, my desire for air conditioning trumped my old-house puristness and we invested in a Unico system. While we like the system, the Menard's style air returns really leave something to be desired. The system required 4 of these and we tried to hide them as best we could.

I have decided to replace them with salvaged cast iron wall register inserts. Originally, a register like this would have fit inside a larger metal housing and would have been positioned through the baseboard, closer to the floor. So, even though it isn't really accurate, it will still look a heck of a lot better than the current one.

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Fumeless Indoor Paint Removal

The interior doors of our house are birch and were originally finished in a dark color to look like mahogany. At some point, they were all painted white. I had planned on stripping and restoring all of them this winter, but it struggled to figure out how to do so without creating fumes or using chemicals.

I started by taking one of the closet doors to the garage and attacking it with a heat gun, followed by soy gel in stubborn spots. I noticed that the paint would flake offs next to where the heat was directly applied.

I realized that the paint would peel away if I passed the heat gun over it at low temperature, leaving the original finish completely intact. The process also creates no fumes and the paint itself comes off in large strips. I use Gorilla Tape to pull off any stubborn spots that the peeling process leaves behind.

My disclaimer is that this process works because the surface was originally finished and no prep work was done before the doors were painted. If the doors had been scuff sanded, this probably would not work. That said, he are the results so far.
The rings you see in the dark area are reflections in the finish that each strip leaves behind. Once I add a top coat of shellac, these will disappear.

Monday, November 15, 2010

Looking for Lamps

Whenever I see period style bungalow interiors in books or magazines, it seems like there are always a bunch of perfectly placed antique lamps in every scene.

Given our lack of furniture/decor, I decided to start looking for some antique lamps for our place like the ones in the pictures. I soon realized that all the antique lamps I liked were ridiculously out of my price range. I really had no idea that authentic antique lamps sell for thousands of dollars in many cases. I just can't justify spending that much of a lamp, no matter how cool it is.

So, I realized I would have to get creative. Sadly, craigslist is pretty much the extent of my creativity. Luckily, I was able to find a posting from a great local antique store that was looking to clear out some extra inventory. Among this inventory were two lamp bases I liked. One was a student lamp from the 30's or so, and the other was a reproduction cast bronze arts and crafts base. The two bases cost me just under $100.

I then learned that finding shades is trickier than finding bases. The student lamp has a 2.25" shade fitter, so that was the easy one. For that, I started watching art glass shades on eBay. After about a week of watching, I found an antique Quezal shade I liked for a fair price ($120). This was considerably lower than similar antique art glass shades at local salvage stores. The finished product is shown below. I think it looks pretty cool and fits nicely on my wife's desk.

I thought I had done pretty well to keep it under $200, but then I saw this on craigslist. Dang.

The picture below shows the second base I bought. It isn't antique, but I really like the look of it. Finding a shade for it is proving to be painful though. I wanted to get a tiffany style stained glass shade, but I am finding those are very pricey. I have been looking at mica shades as well, but am not entirely sold on those either. If anyone has any ideas on where I could find an authentic looking arts and crafts lampshade for a reasonable price, please let me know.

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Living Room: Before and After

The living room is finally "done". I use the quotes because I still have to refinish the door, clean the windows, and remove the horrible 80's door-thingee from the front of the fireplace.

I also realized that I started this project in fall of 2009, which is ridiculous. I used the same process as the dining room: 2 coats of dye stain, 2 coats of shellac (50:50 mix of amber shellac and alcohol), glaze with Old Masters Dark Walnut Gel stain, 1 more coat of shellac, and finally a layer of dark brown Briwax.

Here are a couple things I learned during this project
  • If you decide to use an alcohol based dye stain, you have to be very careful with the first coat of shellac to avoid pulling up the dye and causing streaks. The best advice I can give is to start with an extremely light coat of shellac so the alcohol flashes off quickly to avoid pulling up the dye.
  • Taping windows for refinishing is a waste of time.
Before (note the popcorn ceiling)After

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Exterior Update

I actually tore the aluminum off the 'ol bungalow at the start of the summer, but realized I never posted anything. As you can see by the precarious position of my ladder in the second picture, this work had to be done while my wife was not at home. As she just pointed out, I didn't actually tear it all off. I had some handymen help me with the high stuff.Since the aluminum was added in 1971, there were at least 4 pigeon nests, 3 hornet's nests and half a dozen dead sparrows in the soffits. Maintenance free my a%&.Check out this triumphant heap of aluminum.

The painters will be coming out soon. Hopefully that will prevent the neighbors from calling the city on us.

Sunday, July 4, 2010

Impulse Porch Furniture

My wife and I went out to buy a chair we found on Craigslist yesterday and somehow wound up buying an antique 3 piece wicker set (loveseat, rocker, and chair) for our front porch. We got them from a great antique shop that is not far from our house. Here is their website - It is a fantastic store with great furniture, rugs, and very reasonable prices.

While each piece will need to be reupholstered and painted, they are all really solid structurally. I also think they have really great lines despite their current nursing home look.
Here is the rocker
Given the sad state of the upholstery, I started removing it from the chair and rocker after we got them home. This resulted in a number of cool finds. In the picture below, you can see that the chair was originally a blue color and also where the original cushion was as the blue outline on the back of the chair shows.
The underside of the seat cushion was also very interesting. It was clear that both chairs had been reupholstered numerous times and the previous upholstery was actually just covered up or reused in some way. The final layer was the embroidered piece you see on the seat. By the looks of it, I would say this dates from pre 1930 and may have been the original seat cushion or back piece.
The coolest find was in the padding on the back of the arm chair. There was a piece of cardboard with the words "Glen Lake Sanatorium" written on it.
From some internet research, I found that the Glen Lake Sanatorium was a tuberculosis sanatorium that opened in 1916. My bet is that this is where the chairs came from and that the note was put there by whomever reupholstered the chair. It was a huge complex and the top story of the building had a huge open air porch because fresh air was believed the help tuberculosis. It was converted to a nursing home in 1961 (which explains the nursing home look of the furniture) and was eventually torn down. I think a lot of people would be creeped out by this, but I think its great. I also think it is great the tuberculosis cannot survive in a chair after 50+ years.