House and Home

Living Room Restoration Overview

This post was written for as part of a sweepstakes sponsored by True Value

This past December, we finally finished the first phase of restoration in our living room. 


As many loyal readers know, this project was long in coming.  The room, as it was, was pretty dreary.  The 1960’s-era, cigarette-smoke-stained wallpaper was ugly and just plain gross.  The drop-ceiling from about the same era was out-of-place and looked awful, especially considering that we had recently restored the dining room and removed the drop ceiling in that room, making the difference even more obvious.  The large front window had been painted shut for many years, cutting-off a valuable source of ventilation during the hot summer.  The carpet had been abused by a few generations of cats, I think, including ours.  There was a place where a fireplace should be, but it was bricked-up and hidden from view.  All of the woodwork was painted.  There was no central light in the room.  It was just begging to get back to some of its former glory and function. 

We started on the project almost a full year before we finished.  Shortly after the Christmas decorations came down during the previous January, we started demolition in the living room.  I hate to use a word like "demolition," but that’s what we were doing.  The ceiling had to come down, which involved removing all of the tiles, then the support structure, then the support structure anchors.  The people who installed this stuff had little regard for the condition of things behind the tiles.  There were lots of test holes in the ceiling where they went looking for joists, cracked plaster bits where they were trying to nail into studs or anything in the wall to hold up the side frames, and just a general mess in other areas. 

Jenny and I are lucky to have supportive families.  My family is pretty close, and they were able to come down for several work sessions so that we could make good progress on the room.  My Dad was here a lot, helping with all sorts of things, from demo, to electrical, to wood finishing, to painting. On one of those work sessions, we were getting a little curious about the fireplace.  Jenny was at work, so we took a hammer to the wall and smacked at the most hollow-sounding spot we heard.  A slab of rough mortar fell away, and we could start to see the bricks that were covering the firebox opening.  About an hour of hammering and brick-moving later, and the firebox was revealed!  It was full of debris from what looks like the old fireplace surround.  We were able to salvage some tile parts from there, which we hope to be able to match someday when we can get this fireplace back in order.  There’s no mantel for it yet, but it feels so much better to have it open!  I was building a wooden screen for just this purpose, which we now have in place in front of the open firebox. 

In addition to the drop ceiling, we were also stripping wallpaper.  The 1960’s wallpaper came off easily in whole sheets.  It was a vinyl-like material with a pretty loose glue, and it just peeled right off the walls.  We had the same stuff in the dining room.  In there, it had been adhered to clean plaster walls, as the people installing that paper had stripped the walls.  In this room, though, they didn’t strip the walls, so we had to then deal with multiple layers of ancient wallpaper on nearly every square inch of the walls.  In the dining room, we only had to deal with old wallpaper above the level of the drop ceiling, which was only a band about eight inches wide at the top of the wall.  That took a while to do, but it wasn’t horrible.  This wallpaper just didn’t want to give up!  Generous applications of Dif, though, persuaded it (and its awful adhesive) to finally give-up and come free from the walls.

In the middle of all of this, my Dad also helped us to re-wire the living room outlets.  Everything had been on one circuit, which also fed large portions of the second floor.  We severed those connections and ran brand new wiring to put two of the three outlets onto one circuit, and a third outlet got a separate circuit specifically for the A/V equipment.  Woo hoo!  We could now run the fan, two heat guns, lights, and the air conditioner in the bedroom at the same time! 

While we were working on the room, we decided to also strip the paint from the woodwork.  This wasn’t originally part of the plan. We had intended to leave it alone and do it later.  After I tested a part of the trim, though, we couldn’t resist.  The paint looked horrible next to the small section that I stripped, so we proceeded with gusto–at least with as much gusto as we could muster, given that we were working with heat guns in protective gear during some of the hottest parts of the summer! 

Weeks stretched into months, and we were still working.  Around November, we had a week that was going to be pretty mild.  I decided that this was a good time to remove the sash from the big front window so that we could finish stripping, sanding, and finishing it and the window frame.  Again, my Dad came down, and we worked a bit of a marathon to get this done and get it reinstalled.  We weren’t really happy having a big hole in the front of the house covered with only some thin plastic sheeting to keep out any really cold weather.  We were lucky that the mild weather held for the whole week, and we were able to get it finished and reinstalled before the really cold weather returned. 

We knew that there was hardwood under the carpet, and we hoped to pull-up the carpet to get to it.  Before we pulled-up the carpet, though, we expected to leave it in place to serve as a drop-cloth during woodwork finishing and then painting.  We employed as many people as we could to finish stripping and sanding the woodwork.  There really is no good way to do this part.  There are lots of tiny curves and decorative bits that no power sander could handle, which translated to lots of hand sanding.  After that was a lot of cleaning of the wood to ensure that it was as dust-free as we could get it, and then the shellacking began.  Everything had to get three coats minimum, and four coats if possible.  After all was said and done, the baseboards got three, and the window and door frames all got four.  The fourth coat really resulted in a nice appearance on the showy parts of the trim.  It was hard to tell the difference with four coats on the baseboards, so we stopped there at three.  

Then there was the painting to do.  Here’s my Dad helping to prime the walls and ceiling, on yet another one of his trips here to help us.  Needless to say, our arms were pretty tired at the end of all of this.  While my dad rolled, I cut-in and did the parts where the roller wouldn’t fit. 

After the primer was dry, Jenny and my Dad alternated helping to get the room painted with two coats of gold, and a lighter version of the same gold on the ceiling.  I can’t remember the name of the wall color, but the ceiling was called "Belgian Waffle".  I got a kick out of that name. 

Finally, thanks to the help of a lot of people, we were actually finished.  The picture here is a panoramic view of the living room (click on it to see the full view).  We later hung some artwork on the walls that had been waiting for quite some time.  For New Years, we attended First Night Pittsburgh, where we found two paintings that we purchased to put in the room as well.  Now it’s looking pretty finished.  We still need to get a mantel, but we’re so happy with how comfortable the room is that we can’t stop "living" in it! 

More pictures can be found here.  It was a lot of fun, but we’re glad to be sitting in the room now, instead of working on it.

Jonathan does a lot of stuff. If you ask Jenny, maybe he does too much stuff.