When Jan and I were signing the closing papers for our house four years ago, our brains temporarily went on vacation, and we invited our out-of-town families (my parents from Illinois, his mom from upstate New York, our two brothers and the girlfriend of one of them from New York City) to come here for Thanksgiving. That year, Thanksgiving arrived ten days after we moved in.
Talk about motivation to get the unpacking done! It was exhausting, since we didn’t take any days off from our jobs and ended up working a full day at our offices (plus commuting time–Jan’s commute was thirty minutes each way, by car; mine was ninety minutes, by car, train, subway, and foot), working late into the evening, and collapsing into bed and falling fast asleep almost immediately. But we managed to finish it in time to host overnight guests for the weekend.
Somehow, the impending arrival of out-of-town parents motivates us to get started on (and finish, thank goodness) those around-the-house projects that would likely linger undone if we didn’t have visitors coming. Last spring we rushed to redo our living room and fix the shower in the master bath before Jan’s dad arrived for a two-week visit and my parents arrived for a long weekend (both visits overlapped and coincided with Sylvia’s second birthday).
In our subconscious, Jan and I have apparently decided that we really prefer our last-minute home-renovation panic to revolve around Thanksgiving. This year, we are hosting Thanksgiving (his mom, his brother and girlfriend, my brother). And this year, we have decided to redo our den.
Every since we moved in, we have hated the den. Along the top two-thirds of the wall is a yellowish wallpaper with small brown flowers in rows; along the bottom part of the wall is wood wainscoting. But it’s not the charming, New England-y wainscoting you might be imagining. Oh no. Imagine that someone found huge pieces of dark-brown wood at the city dump, chopped it up into wainscoting-ish pieces, took a hammer or chisel to the surfaces to get them all nice and jaggedy and uneven, then nailed it to the wall. “It’s rustic,” Jan explained. He liked the stuff. Me, I always hated it. We recently decided that, rustic or not, it looked pretty dated and that its dark color made a not-very-large room look even smaller. So yesterday morning, we ripped it all down.
(You all know that Thanksgiving is next week, right?)
The paneling came down easily. Armed with a wallpaper steamer borrowed from a friend, we figured the wallpaper removal would be a simple task. One wall of the den is a brick wall with a fireplace in the middle of it, one has the door to the power room, one has the doorway to the kitchen, and one has the sliding door the patio. So there’s not a huge amount of surface area to deal with here.
We quickly realized that this wallpaper is original to our forty-something-year-old house. And then, with mounting horror, we realized that the wallpaper had been applied directly to the wallboard. To get a real sense of the kind of horror we felt at that moment, try to imagine the phrase “directly to the wallboard” being pronounced in the same voice as “we’ve traced the call, and it’s coming from inside the house.” Yeah, it’s that bad.
‘Cause you see, when you remove wallpaper that’s been applied to the call is coming from inside the house, er, I mean, directly to the wallboard, you get a huge mess. No matter what technique you use (steamers or chemical removers), the wallboard gets damaged. The “proper” solution is to then go over all of your walls with a skim coat of wallboard mud, and then sand the whole thing down before painting. At least that’s what all the online how-to/fix-it sources I checked said. (Incidentally, nearly all of those sources used words like incompetent, lazy, and cheap to describe contractors who applied wallpaper right on top of wallboard.)
(Um, you do remember that Thanksgiving is just a little over a week away? And did I mention that the carpet installer will likely be showing up next Monday?)
We don’t have time to do all of this. And frankly, even if we did, I don’t think I’d want to do all that stuff. This room is not a showcase room. That doesn’t mean I’d be happy with a crappy paint job, but I am willing to have a result that isn’t quite up to snuff for the pages of House and Garden.
So Jan and I have decided to paint over the wallpaper. Yeah, those online how-to sites all said that’s a bad idea and that you should remove wallpaper rather than paint over it. But they all also said, “Sometimes, when the wallpaper situation is just really, really bad, you just have to paint over it.”
We’ve decided to do a test area: the narrow bit of wall between the powder room door and the archway leading to the kitchen. Last night we used wallboard mud to cover the vertical wallpaper seam (between strips of wallpaper), the lower edge (where it had met up with the paneling), spots where we’d tried to remove the wallpaper, and any other divets and whatnot. It dried overnight, and after dinner this evening we sanded it down (and generated an unbelievable amount of white dust–holy moly!) and applied a coat of oil-based primer (which you need to use on top of wallpaper or on top of anywhere wallpaper has been, in order to prevent the wallpaper glue–which can never be completely removed, apparently–from seeping through your top coat of latex paint). That’s drying now, and so far it’s looking pretty good.
If all goes well, we’ll mud the rest of the seams, etc., tomorrow evening, sand it the next night, and have it primed before the weekend. We should be ready to paint on Saturday, with that part of the job completed well in advance of the new carpet.
Somehow, we’ll find time to prepare the fare for Thursday’s feast. Hmmmm…there’s a Wawa just a five-minute walk from my house. And they never close. I wonder how everyone would feel about giving thanks over egg-salad sandwiches, Funyons, soft pretzels, and pints of Ben and Jerry’s…