Wednesday, November 30, 2011

in which www.saipua.blogspot.com becomes a home renovation blog

plaster

At some point I had envisioned a formal portrait of us in front of our house. You know...real stoic and shit. We might get around to it one day. That fantasy was followed by pictures of me in a fields of flowers I had grown myself, snip-snipping, but pictures like that require too much effort to stage. It seems life blows by while you're desperately trying to set shit like that up. Maybe one thing I've started to understand about farming - in the microsecond we've been at it - is that time is of the essence.

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But more on the gardening part another time. Tonight, we talk plaster. But Wait! Safety first! Cue the plaster-removal-hazmat-suit-striptease please!!!

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So in a time before sheet rock, or even the time when a contractor was a person you could call for such matters; people used to mix gypsum dust with water and horse hair and then slather it over thin parallel strips of wood called lath to make walls. Bear with me, I'm learning.

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Through a quick series of events it became clear to us that if we wanted to really "fix up" our little money pit (and this is where we shrink down to micro type - and if you're already bored with the direction of this post, as someone like myself may have been in the not too distant past, than please skip ahead. Lets play choose you're own adventure! ready?

You fall into a property with a 200 year old greek revival that has never been renovated. To be clear; Ever. A reputable contractor advises you to tear it down and put up a module. A second opinion lands you with a builder named Ivan who strikes you as so trustworthy, so right as rain, it's rather off-putting. (Read: NYC Contractors) Anyway Ivan... he throws around practically pornographic series of words like "wood cooking stove" and "staircase to the sleeping loft" like there's no tomorrow. One thing Ivan makes perfectly clear is that the house will continue to fall apart unless you get all the moisture out of it - you have to put in a new dry foundation. Ivan is smart, and he talks about the house in terms of it being a "museum piece" which sure is neat. He suggests you pull out all the plaster walls and lath to relive downward pressure on the foundation for when his crew jacks up the central beams...

Do you follow his advise and run to Ace Hardware for respirators and a crow bar...?

-or-

Do you.. --- actually there is no other path in this story, so shall we just quietly exit this little game? Those books were always mildly disappointing in the end, were they not?

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So for the past few weeks I've been orbiting between plaster removal, plantings and making weddings. On plaster days we make a little coffee, fry some eggs on the grill and then suit up hazmat style. We work all day ripping off layers of wallpaper (7 layers deep in some rooms), chipping away at plaster, horse hair and lath and hauling the debris out in (what use to be flower) buckets. We spread it through the forest in a thin line, the first layer of what will become a path through the woods to the beaver pond and eventually my walled-in secret garden.

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It sounds all very charming doesn't it - and there are a few small moments that it feels charmed. Not the moment when a iota of plaster lodged in my left eye for an afternoon, or when we found a rapture of century old fly carcasses between walls, each of us silently whispering to ourselves "museum piece, museum piece" as we vacuumed them up with the antique hoover left in the house from another era.

We'll see.

59 comments:

Michelle Stiles said...

we did nearly the same renovation that you are doing a few years ago. I remember knocking down some plaster and filling up a garbage bucket, a big one, in one of the back bedrooms. I then tried to take it out of the house once full. I was rolling on the ground with histaria over the weight of that damn plaster. This will be over before you know it - I promise.

Jennifer Blanco said...

Whoa - what kind of wall is that in the last shot? I've never seen anything like it.

An Urban Cottage said...

I just started following so I don't know if this is a new house. It's a really beautiful example of a Greek Revival farmhouse with an inverted porch.

It's too bad the horsehair plaster couldn't be saved but that lath is really beautiful at the same time. I hope you'll consider leaving it exposed.

When I bought my Greek Revival I had every intention of gutting and renovating. But as you live in it, the mysteries and stories unfold that make you appreciate every bump and crack and crusty edge. Take your time and let it tell you what to do...and what not to do.

east side bride said...

i won't lie, i am pret-ty excited about this.

also: those strip-tease photos are amazeballs

McKenzie Powell said...

Museum piece, museum piece. It will be. You touch something and make it beautiful. It will be.

bls said...

i've been through the same thing. i promise you it's worth it. promise promise promise. whenever-you-feel-in-over-your-head, post and we will bolster you! you're doing good!

Stacey said...

You can do it, I believe in you. And when it's done, it will be awesome!

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joy said...

Wow! what a tough job! I am in awe! By removing all that plaster, you are uncovering and honoring the craftsmanship of your old house. And when you begin to put your own mark on the house, it will be no doubt be gloriously beautiful.

flwrjane said...

Unbelievable and already strangely beautiful.

I am reeling from the amount of work you're dong.

Bring it on, we're here to cheer.

xo jane

Liane said...

ditto on the lath. when we were renovating our old house i thought it was beautiful stuff but the ex thought i was crazy for wanting to keep it exposed. sounds like you have to remove it too, says ivan, but maybe you can still hold onto it for another use.

it's so much work but i feel excited for you sarah. i'll be thinking about you and yer house!

ps- i like the name ivan. he single?

Sarah said...

urban cottage - i think we are going to leave the lath exposed in the stairwell going to the second floor. it is really beautiful. what's interesting, is that in order to save time they nailed boards right up, then split them - in essence creating the lath right on the wall.

any more advice keep it coming! It's nice to know a lot of you have done this sort of thing before and are still around afterwards.

Sarah said...

Liane you're a hoot. he's most definitely not single. he told us a lovely story about how he built his wife custom cabinetry to accomodate all her antique dishes. don't make them like that very often anymore.

sandra said...

bloody marvelous, i love photos of crumbling things almost as much as photos of flowers! i especially like the you use an old hoover...or is it just a pretty prop.

Julie said...

Wow. We did a renovation this summer, but it was on our Brandy Bunch house, not an amazing museum piece. Still...being without a kitchen for three months was--interesting. Thank god it was summer, and we could slice and dice from the garden instead of cooking.

It will be worth it. I leave you with an image: during our master bath renovation, I walked into our bedroom to find five tile guys, sitting on the bedroom floor, with a microwave plugged in, having a picnic lunch. As much as I encouraged them to eat at a table--I don't think they ever understood me.

Repeat after me: it will be amazing. When it is done. And you won't remember the pain. (It's kind of like childbirth.)

Good luck! Can't wait to hear what you have planned for the gardens...

An Urban Cottage said...

Really interesting about how they did the lath. I was wondering how they managed to get the curves to line up so beautifully.

I wish I could leave some of my post-and-beam exposed but think it's a little too rustic for my urban cottage.

Kayla said...

Hey, random blog reader here. I really like reading about your renovation...a place like that can turn into your life's work. Good luck with everything!

Amelia said...

Our house is 106 years old, a babe in the woods compared to yours, but somehow worth every frickin(sp) headache that comes with old age (hey, alot like people!). Can't wait to see the progress as you go. It's going to be gorgeous!

Jennifer Blanco said...

What a strange process for lath - never heard or seen it done that way! Freaking amazing. I'd be tempted to leave that exposed too sheesh.

Ambra said...

I love that house and I want it. Congrats, it'll be so worth it :)

Miz.November said...

Holy shit! I have never actually seen the insides of a plastered wall. Crazy! Haha. I just read a comment that made it madly clear that some people are not reading the posts.
I will tell you one thing. Renovating is crazy expensive. And you want to do it right. No skimping. The front half of our 100+ yr old house has NO insulation whatsoever. The monitor has to work extra hard to keep things warm in there.

Hang in there, champ. The photo in front of the finished product will be so worth it.

fleur_delicious said...

oh, wow. Yeah, I agree, the curves of your lathe and plaster are absolutely amazing, I've never seen anything like it before. And you are one. badass.brave.woman. to be taking this on. GO you. This house is going to be AMAZINGLY beautiful (I cannot WAIT to see the stair when you are done - the texture on the wall is so stunning!) Oh, how impatient I am to see your gardens start to unfold next summer!

mazel tov!! (again!) on the house... and keep up the good work!!

Amber said...

I am super excited for this, the house looks absolutely incredible. Funny though, cause I read this and then saw this house on 100layer cake and had to do a double take that maybe you hadn't already renovated it and were hosting weddings in the garden.

http://www.100layercake.com/blog/2011/11/29/upstate-new-york-diy-wedding-allison-kevin/

Those photos of the broken wallpaper bits are so beautiful. What memories they must hold.

count buckula said...

those hazmat suits are *sexy*

glad you're using masks

Lisa said...

I know you're kind of busy and all, but I would read a book of this stuff...

Home Builder wellesley said...

Is that a wall? (last shot). Some kind of Greek

Sarah said...

lisa book is in the works as of yesterday but my agent's not going to go for the renovation stuff i can tell you right now.

K said...

That is the most beautiful lath I have ever seen.

D said...

Cool shit that lathe and horse hair plaster (bought a 1920's bungalow a couple years back in need of some TLC). Thought of skim coating the walls but the rough, pitted texture of the plaster had this special kind of raw beauty---I just couldn't bring myself to cover it up---so, I totally get you leaving the lathe exposed. Love to Ivan.

annabelle said...

Wow. That's some sexy shit right there! Sorry I missed you in NYC. Looks like a second full time job you guys have on your hands there.

xo

MaryAnn Nardo said...

You can do it all yourselves.... or haul your most trusted and able fingered friends to help you do some of this removing of plaster and any of the myriad of upcoming projects ie: grunt work- can you say grunt work when you're working on a museum piece? Just feed them well! Having done a few remodels on our 1920 bungalow, it kind of makes my fingers twitch in excitement. I love/hate remodeling. It will go by sooner than you think, I promise. This is a wonderful opportunity. It will be beautiful.

Sally May Mills said...

As an Aussie, this house looks like it is straight out of an American movie set - I can see you swinging on the porch with a cider in hand. My architect husband just had palpatations over the lath walls and is dreaming up ways to incorporate them into his next design. Working on your own house is perhaps the most satistying project you'll ever do. Stick with it.

Sara Lacey said...

I am so excited to watch this project unfold. What a beautiful canvas you have.

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Melanie said...

We did this. I did it pregnant, actually make that over the course of two years and two pregnancies. My husband about halfway through: time is a funny thing. It seems long when you're in but when it's over it seems so short. And it's true. All the best!
If you're planning on re-doing the lighting, spend lots of time on planning the lights. Houses are so much more exciting with lots of lighting than with one fixture in the center of the room!

bigBANG studio said...

YEEEES. this is so hysterically fabulous i can't wait for more posts! i know ye olde vole battle like a war-weary soldier, and this new farmstead aventure has me hanging on every word.

also: it's been a while since i've haunted these parts, but i was the lassie who emailed about two years ago telling you the whole town of joshua tree smelled marvelous because one wee shop started carrying your soaps (mt. fuji general store, to be precise, which is like the desert version of saipua in its multitasking magic, but i digress). anywho, now i live in brooklyn. and i gotta get my carcass over to the SHOP. in real life.

looking forward to it very. very. much.

addie said...

I am incredibly jealous of you and this house/project. So cool, and I'm sure rewarding, even in the bleak moments. Looking forward to seeing how it comes along.

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