Posts Tagged ‘1930’s house’

Cleaning antique hardware

One of 8 sets of door hardware I cleaned. About 80 years old.

Restoring the hardware in your home is typically not difficult, and not something so time-consuming or expensive that you shouldn’t learn how to do it for yourself.  Now that our renovation is mostly complete, I look back at our hardware restoration dollars spent as having the highest return on investment of any task we took on.  The value of the hardware in our home makes me want to part out my house and Ebay it like an old car.  I stripped multiple coats of paint off of all of the copper, brass, and chrome hardware in the house and most of it came out perfect.


1.  The actual condition of your hardware is unknown.  There might be a good reason it was painted.

2.  Plated metals are really hard to work with.  Chrome plating much older than 40 years is almost definitely toast.  Don’t expect much good to come out of these procedures if used on chrome hardware.  There is still hope for your chrome hardware, but that’s a different procedure than this article will address.

3.  Some of the chemicals used here are corrosive and produce toxic fumes.  Wear goggles, chemical resistant gloves old clothes, and a canvas or rubber apron.

4.  Let the chemicals do the work! Don’t go grinding and scratching furiously on your hardware or you’ll destroy it.  Then you’ll end up with hardware that will look a lot like it could have been very nice.

Your shopping list:

1.  Chemical Resistant Gloves: I got mine at Wal-Mart in the “janitorial” section.  They’re cheap, if you have much to do, buy two pairs.

2.  Goggles: get the full coverage style you remember from science class.  Probably overkill, but blind is forever.

3. Canvas Apron: a good cheap way to put another layer of protection between your skin and the stripper.

4. Paintbrush: gel stripper works best if painted on with a brush.  Buy a new one so you can be sure it’s clean.  Tag this brush so you don’t accidentally ruin a bucket of paint with it.

5.  Klean-Strip KS-3: a good gel-based stripper. Gel is safer because it clings to surfaces and is less likely to splatter.  I read a lot of people recommending citrus based stripper products for environmental reasons, but I haven’t tried it.

6.  WD-40:  You probably have some around already.

7.# 0000 Steel Wool: Don’t step up in grit and think that your work will get done faster. This is for polishing and cleaning, not sanding/abrading.

8.  Wire Brush: Get one that’s just soft enough to brush against your skin. More bristles will move more gunk and scratch less.

9.  Fine tools: toothbrush, razor blade for getting into tiny spaces where the stripper has a hard time penetrating.

10. White T-shirt Rags: just go ahead and buy a box of jersey rags because you’ll burn through tons of them.  The white color is so you can clearly tell what is getting removed, and so that no dyes or screen printing dissolves while you’re working.

11.  Metal or Glass Tray or Pan and a Soupcan: thrift store cookware will be fine here, or grab a cheap metal paint roller tray.

This is all commonly available, and all adds up to a little under $100.  I told you this was cheap! (more…)


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Go to Lowe’s or Home Depot and ask someone about where to find floor waxing supplies, or worse yet, for advice, I dare you.  Waxing floors is “old-people” knowledge.  To figure out how to do it, ask somebody old how their mother did her wood floors.  It was lost as a common practice decades ago, supplanted by cheap polyurethanes and the desire for a tough, resilient finish.

Restoration of houses is so often plagued by lack of knowledge of historical methods.  Rather than do the real thing, lot’s of renovators would rather use a contemporary method and try to fake the antique look.  Plaster work is another fine example of this.  You’ll never match the real thing.  Ask a remodeling contractor how to do plaster repairs, and the answer is: “tear out the wall and dry wall it, then spray it with texture.”  Which, by the way, typically looks nasty compared to actual lathe and plaster with texture.  As if the builders had a job-site compressor with a hopper full of goop in 1935.  I still haven’t been able to figure out how they actually did it, but I’m guessing they sponged it and did the entire house by hand.  Labor was cheap in the 1930s, and materials were expensive.

When we bought our house, we pulled up the nasty light blue shag carpet to find mostly perfect old growth white oak floors.  According to contractors, hardware stores, neighbors, and the internet, the only option was to sand it all the way down to get all the wax out, and then apply a polyurethane or aluminum oxide coating.  Then the  bids on that came in at nearly $6,000!

But we didn’t even want “perfect floors,” we wanted “antique” floors.  Floors that showed the age of the house, and that had the same beautiful warm glow that these originals had.  I spent hours trying to figure out how to do this myself.  I could rent a sander and try to get the floors refinished myself- not that much of a stretch for me, because I’ve done a little bit of furniture finishing.  I estimated the cost of that process at over $1000- if I ignored all the time and energy that would be spent on cleaning up the unbelievable mess created by sanding 1500+ sq. ft. of wood down an 1/8 of an inch.  I’m not one of those people who thinks that I’m Donald Trump and that I can’t be hassled with doing work or spending time- but getting that much sawdust out of all these textured walls and trim would be an absolute nightmare.

So I took a risk and I pursued waxing the floors.

It's a finesse game, so I never got it.

It’s kind of inherent in my personality to distrust most of what people tell me not to do- especially when they don’t appear to have a good reason.  I’m happy to say that we almost have our entire house done with wax now, and I anticipate cost will easily be under $200.

Here’s what I learned:

1.  Wax: to wax a wood floor, you need a paste wax.  SC Johnson makes a good one for about $5 a can, and a can will do about 400 sq. ft.

2.  Restoration and Cleanup: I used Howard’s Restore-a-Finish and Howard’s Feed and Wax. They’re the highest cost items I bought, but a little goes a long, long way.  Both of these products were absolutely magic on the “golden oak” color of our floors.  Rub your stains and paint splatters out with steel wool and soapy water.  Let it dry.  If the stain lightened the wood, apply the restore a finish- in small amounts.  If it didn’t, then apply the feed and wax.  Always rub with the grain of the wood, and try to stick to one board at a time.  If you don’t, you’ll run the risk of the steel wool catching on a splinter and fraying.  Not a huge risk to the floor, but when you’ve got a lot of floor to do, don’t waste your time trying to pick #0000 steel wool out of splinters.

3. Applying Product to the floor: Apply Feed and Wax to the entire floor with a wide lambskin “stain applicator” on a long pole.  Use the pole to quickly smooth out any uneven application of wax.  Do this enough, and you might achieve a nice shine- but it’s not really important at this state.  Leave the floor alone as much as you can for a few days.  Then, using a rag, apply the SC Johnson Paste Wax with the grain and let it sit for a while.

4. Buffing:  we paid about $30 for 24 hrs. of renting a commercial buffer and buying the wheel.  This thing is like wrangling a roid raging rodeo bull.  Start the buffer in the middle of the room the first time- because it will pretty much tear your arms off.  Go slow, and cover every area you can with it.  Use the lambskin application on the corners.

In general, you should remember that the house you’re renovation may have really “thirsty” floors because it’s been poorly (or in our case: not) maintained.  So don’t rush into just paste wax and buff.  Clean the floor thoroughly and apply a feed and wax and wait. Give it two weeks if you have to.  You’ll probably find that your feed and wax sinks right in and looks like it was never applied.  Apply it again, and repeat a couple times before you apply wax and buffing.  Our first round with the buffer was disappointing because all the wax soaked in after we buffed it.  It looked awesome for a month.

The end result of all this is a finish that I absolutely love- and one that you can repair, not just replace.  Any time the floor gets damaged, I apply steel wool and feed and wax.  Once or twice a year, we’ll have to reapply wax and rent the buffer again.  That’s a lot of work.  But at 10% the cost of the alternatives, and when it looks this good, it’s hard to want a poly finish now.

Just look at how “worn” these floors feel.  It feels like every single board is a slightly different shade of gold.  I didn’t buy an old house to try and make a new house out of it- and if that’s your goal, you’ll find yourself frustrated at every turn in a home renovation.

This project was just another confirmation of our philosphy for the renovation: work with the house, not against it.


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The door before- Missing a Speakeasy, conveniently illustrated by our inspector.

The door before- Missing a Speakeasy, conveniently illustrated by our inspector.

Oh, what were we thinking when we bought this house? What a mess! It is still a mess but it is easy to forget what a mess it used to be! We have encountered so many weird things that I know other renovators haven’t dealt with. Our front door had a huge hole in it from a missing speakeasy. The other side was covered with black faux fur over 5 inch foam, under that a layer of faux wood contact paper, under that tons and tons of paint.

We thought we were going to have to find a new door. It is not OK to have a huge hole in your door and it is not OK to have a custom van inspired front door. After going door shopping, I was not impressed. I really don’t like new doors. They are ugly and lack character. I found a few cool Medieval looking doors with menacing grates for $1200. This is cool and all but doesn’t fit the house and I can think of better things to do with $1200. I also love wood. I’m so over this “energy efficient” man-made doors. I mean how much energy can I save from a door when my house is 70 years old, has lead windows, and no insulation? And I know these doors can’t be made of biodegradable substances. Our messed up door is made of solid wood.  Luckily, we have found the original speakeasy hidden under a mound of hoarder junk. But, like everything else in this massive project, it isn’t that easy. The speakeasy is nice but we are missing the back. We’ve been searching for the back either original or reproduction. I love it’s deco details and it matches the original hardware throughout the house. We found a cast iron speakeasy at a bargain building store. It’s lovely but very Norwegian and doesn’t fit the style of the house or the hole in our door. We are still searching. Some of our neighbors have the same speakeasy as us. I’m about to have an artisan cast the backside…

The door was water damaged, so we thought. David sanded that right out. It is amazing that it was in the shape that it was considering the moisture level of the PNW. David painted the door with a wonderful mistint we found at Home Depot ($5 gallon). It was the exact color that we had wanted. It also had the primer mixed in and went on rich and evenly with just 2 coats. (FIY, it was Behr, much better than my Lowe’s mistints). David cleaned up the original hardware. It wasn’t green! It actually appears to be a stainless steel finish, very modern. We purchased a kickplate to match and to cover up the less than perfect bottom part of the door. David took off the terrible glass door which was never installed properly the 1st time around. The door looks very different from the outside. I think it will look very nice once the exterior is finished.

Now to the interior portion of this front door, not perfect. The wood did not stain up nicely so we painted it the same exterior red shade. It’s classy. The back of the speakeasy is covered with aluminum foil. It does not keep that cool Pacific wind out and it looks awful. Oh, well. I’m still hunting.

I’m happy that we were able to salvage the door. We are all about working with what you have. Why create more landfill waste or spend too much money? So far we have spent about $35 on the door. And here it is (before the exterior paint job)…



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Painted upstairs bedroom

Painted upstairs bedroom

OK, I apologize for all of the slacking. We’ve been working hard on the house and at our jobs so we can have money to spend on the house. I know we aren’t taking pictures as much as we want and I know we aren’t sharing them enough. This is the upstairs bedroom, the bedroom that we are using, painted up.

It’s a Ralph Lauren $5 mistint. I ended up using this color all over the place because Home Depot had 5 gallons of the same shade. I used it in this bedroom, the “media” room (bedroom downstairs), and on the trim in the boudoir. I still have 3 gallons left.

At first I did not love this color. It was too sage. It was too “contemporary”. It would look taupe during the daytime and green at night. Now I love this color. It is a great neutral. It is a taupe with a bit of olive drab green. Once I got my stuff into this room, I love it. I’m still “decorating”. We just got our light fixture in this week. When this room is finished it will be very nice. Have I mentioned that I love mistints?

Before bedroom

Before bedroom

In case you have forgotten, here is the room before. And in case you have forgotten, this was a hoarder house, not our mess but this is what we had to work with. I like the “original” mint walls but you wouldn’t believe the filth on them! Just black mess, layers and layers. The trim was also painted the same shade as the wall. I wasn’t wild about that. It took 2 coats of primer and 3 coats of trim paint to make that trim not look minty fresh.

More to come…


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lorneI keep finding more and more Art Deco and Streamline Moderne details in the home. This is great because I have always dreamed of a deco home. But, I thought this would never happen. It is difficult to find a home that “fits” with deco without looking too Roger Rabbit and it is very expensive in interior design because the materials are so luxe. I’m talking to you shagreen and other exotic animal hides. I didn’t realize that the home has these subtle details so I didn’t “plan” accordingly. Now I am trying to get into “character” just a little and imagine everything smokier and with the scent of cognac and gardenias in the air.

I began to have Art Deco fantasies (again) after watching Angel. I loved the hotel with its Hollywood deco details and always wanted a room like Lorne’s. It was dark, rich, and had the best details. I know deco is hokey because it was so mass produced and the 80’s fascination with it almost destroyed it (please don’t pair pink neon lights with streamline anymore), but deco is pretty darn glamorous. I won’t have an all out Art Deco home because our tastes are too eclectic and mixed but I do want that vibe to be there. It’s both cold and warm and practical and unromantic. It’s just right for me, “dark” and glamorous. I’ve always loved this aesthetic because I have loved film noir for quite sometime but Angel added color.

Red living room

Red living room

I forgot where I “found” this red living room but I love it. First, it is an intense color. This is dramatic with nothing else added. But, that teal and chartreuse look amazing with it. I know that no room in my house will ever look this fabulous, I can’t stay in my film noir character this long, but I absolutely lust over this room. If I can just have a little bit of this, then I will be happy. It has colors that I will never grow tired of (chartreuse & teal), great textures, and yes, even pops of zebra print.


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woodfloorsOK, so we have to move into our “mess sweet mess” next week. We’ve been working really hard to make it “acceptable”, but what really matters is that the plumbers and electricians can finish so that the place will be “working” and “usable”. Initially our plan was to rid the home of its ugliness. This means removing wallpaper, prime, paint, remove carpet, tile a few floors, and refinish the floors. Last Friday we came to our senses. This was going to be too much work. We realized that we only had a week of prep time and refinishing the floors would take all of our time. Plus, the “team” hasn’t finished and rumor has it they want to cut up some floors, walls, umm, destroy. After feeling overwhelmed and researching wood floor refinishing online and at every home improvement store in the area (no help at all), we talked to a few neighbors. Many have the same “batch” of floor as we have. A few have refinished and this was time consuming and expensive. Others have done nothing and just live with it, rugs do so much. And another waxes their floors for that hand-rubbed shine. We realized that we can live in a floor that is less than perfect for the time being. We have to prioritize expenses and our time. David sanded down a closet and put a poly coat over it. This looks awful! I really dislike the look of poly and the sanding took the lovely patina out of the floor. We were not going to do this throughout the house.  I bought a can of Minwax Paste Finishing Wax because I always liked the sheen it left on my parent’s Shaker furniture reproductions. I practiced in a closet and it looks “revived”, yet still very rustic. (Hey, I’m working with what I have here). So, our plan is to do this before we move in: wax the floors. We plan on renting a buffer and going to town with this task. We have almost finished all of our painting upstairs and half of downstairs! The place already looks soo different. (I’m working on creating an album). I think clean floors will make a difference, haha. The floors aren’t in the best condition. There are scratches, looks like somebody has been shooting off fireworks in one room, and horrible kitty stains (the worst!). But, we are looking at empty rooms and to be honest most of our furniture will cover this up, rugs, etc. And really, as you can see from the pic, the floors aren’t horrible. I think sometimes we strive for too much perfection. We’ve decided to live with it and eventually have a pro do it in the future. Refinishing floors that are over 70 years old and have had zero maintenance is too much for us right now. We are stressed and have decided to not take on such a big job on top of our other big jobs, well, at least for now. I better go and finish painting over black trim…


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The bathroom floor, excuse the messy glue. I'm working on it.

The bathroom floor, excuse the messy glue. I'm working on it.

While we were waiting to close on this house, I was able to thoroughly plan every room out in detail. I had a style journal and was ready to go. This has been very helpful. We’ve been able to jump into many rooms and start working. So far the one room that has not worked out has been the main bathroom upstairs. I had planned for it to be crisp, solid white. I thought the floor tiles were white hexagons (nope). I thought I would have shiny chrome fixtures, glamorous lighting, and I would paint one of my Brocade Home style mirrors a crisp white. It was going to be white, shiny, clean, and OTT. Well, for me to get that I am going to spend much more than I had planned. After I ripped up the 70’s self-adhesive tile flooring, I did not find dainty white tiles. Instead I found a mix match of tiny squares yellowed over time by the glue. Around the floors and walls there is a super shiny black tile. These 2 things do not mix very well. After doing some 30’s research and after convincing myself the black was added much later, I found that this was very typical of a 30’s home. Many people in the neighborhood have the same black tiles. Colors in the 30’s were pretty brash and not complimentary by our standards. We have sanitary white streamline fixtures, shiny black tile, buttery yellow walls, and tiles that are mainly off-white with tiny tiles of jade, baby blue, pink, eggplant, black, and tons of others. I do not want to lose my vintage fixtures but I was hating the floors. How could I make this work for now? Well, I have to have an entirely new direction. No more monochrome white. I was going to go “traditionalist” to the house and I’m going to go Art Deco. So here’s the plan on how to make this work without doing major renovations and “keeping it real”: bathroomideas

-The sink has to be replaced. Don’t worry, the current one isn’t the original. I’m going to replace it with a hanging sink or as David calls them “the urinal sink”. I bought one and it was only $32. Bonus. The awful vanity lighting will be replaced by the black Rufus overhead lighting from Rejuvenation (pictured in my style idea collage). I really want sconces but that means ripping up the plaster and I just really do not feel like dealing with all of that.

-There is no mirror in this space. I would like to have an Art Deco styled mirror. I’ll find one, just give me sometime.I don’t think the one in my collage will go with the lighting but I’ll find something. I’m thinking of salvaging one from a waterfall dresser. Or maybe I can find a cute medicine cabinet at one of the salvage stores.

-The accessories will be the streamline porcelain ones from Rejuvenation as well. This ties in the black glossy tile around the floor. The house has deco hardware. Bonus. I’ll get some black hooks or chrome hooks to go in there.

– The walls will be painted a rich jade shade. I think this will do. It isn’t something I would normally choose but I really think it will bring out the jade in the floor tiles, look great with the glossy black, and look good with dark woods. It will add more of a masculine feel to the room like a cigar lounge. It will still be very deco. Think a Tamara de Lempicka painting with a gangster slap in the face.

– I want a set of waterfall end tables to put in there for storage. I’ll have my deco perfume bottles courtesy of Guerlain and Tom Ford’s lovely bottles plus cigar boxes holding things like hair pins.

– Other items will include a black or zebra print bath rug so we don’t bust our bottoms on the tile (and it will cover it up, haha). I also want a pop of red somewhere. This jade with lacquer black demands it. I’m thinking a lush vase or a house plant. I don’t know yet but something in there must be a rich red. I may incorporate that into perfume bottles. Samsara?

Some obstacles in the space include: The tub is surronded by sometype of plywood painted white. Yep. This must be removed. Should I tile around the tub? If I do what color? It’s all very overwhelming. I don’t think I am cut out for bathrooms.


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