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Monday, January 28, 2019

My summer project

It seems as if every summer has to have some sort of project. It makes us feel like we’ve accomplishing something with the long, mild days, or maybe to make up for hibernating in the winter. Either way, summer is a great time to get things done around the house. This year, my project has been painting.

The photos up top are the before and after photos of our toilet (the room, not the throne), the first room I painted. The before and after photos of the main bathroom, the second room I painted, are below. It turned out to be more of an adventure than I’d expected, but before getting into that, first the why.

The house is what part of a line of a special type of home called “Initial Homes” (and usually stylised as “1nitial Homes”). The homes were a more budget-friendly version of Lockwood Homes, and while the Initial Homes brand has disappeared, Lockwood now has a range of home styles available.

Lockwood Homes use a special system of solid wood married with polystyrene and locking pins. The long sections are manufactured into chunky plank-like things, which are then assembled into a house on site. The somewhat modular nature means that there are numerous modifications that can be made fairly easily and relatively inexpensively.

Traditionally, the houses featured varnished wood finish on the walls (visible in both before photos), and, of course, the varnish slowly yellows over time. A whitewashed look was also available, and now they have a range of finishes/colours available, too. However, for many years, varnished wood was king.

Lockwood Homes generally had solid wood roofs/ceilings, in addition to the walls, and Initial Homes had conventional roofs and gib (plasterboard) ceilings. Some people love the all-wood look, and others hate it, which is all a matter of personal taste. The solid wood roofs/ceilings make for a very strong roofing system, however, it can mean being surrounded by a lot of wood.

Personally, I think they’re great for a holiday home, where the sort of cabin-like feel just seems appropriate. But being surrounded every single day by all that wood everywhere, including inside the wardrobes (closets), is just a bit too much. This was especially true in the toilet, bathroom, and en suite (also known as a “master bath”; I haven’t painted that room yet), which were quite dark and just didn’t feel fresh. In fact, the toilet felt a bit like an outhouse to me.

Before we could do anything, some prep work* was required. In addition to removing things like towel rods, the toilet paper holder, and picture hooks, I also needed to wash the walls. This was for two reasons. First, it got rid of the dust in the grooves between the boards, and second, because it’s good to wash walls before painting: Because they were still in their original finish, they might have dirt/grime/grease after all those years, and the best way to make sure they didn’t was to wash them. I used sugar soap, which is commonly used in this part of the world, the specific brand being Selleys. I followed the label instructions, which included the advice that it wasn’t necessary to rinse/wipe down the walls after washing them with the sugar soap. This was important.

Next, it was time to paint. After doing our research, we chose to prime/seal the wood with Zinsser Bulls Eye 1-2-3 by Rustoleum* because—in addition to being recommended by folks who’ve done what we were about to do—it had several important advantages. It’s water-based (easy to clean up), dries quickly (one hour, though it takes 7 days to fully cure/harden), and it can go over any surface without it being sanded first, something that was important for our use—who’d want to sand all those walls?!

The label says that two coats usually aren’t necessary, and in our case we wanted it to prepare the wood for the paint, not to prime the walls. So, I only used one coat. Our top was a primer and paint in one, in a colour called “Black White” which is a white, but with a bit of black to tone it down a little bit, making it sort of alabaster-looking (as paint experts put it). It took three coats of the paint to fully cover the wood.

Because the original surface was smooth, I’d intended to paint the room with foam brushes and very low nap rollers. However, there were areas where sap had bled through and hardened, and there were some saw marks that couldn’t be seen, and they all made the walls rougher than they looked, especially near mouldings around the doors and windows, it seemed. I ended up using brushes exclusively for the whole job.

When I painted the toilet, I laboriously taped all the wooden mouldings, which I thought was a waste of time. But when I went to paint the bathroom, and discovered how hard it was to paint without hitting the mouldings, I stopped and taped them all up. Lesson learned: Mask everything first.

All of which fit our goal: We weren’t trying to hide what the house is or made of, and we wanted it to be obvious it was wood (the outline of the knots can still be seen). Similarly, the fact that some of my brush stokes could be seen, despite all my caution and attempts to do, long, gentle, feathered strokes, meant that it ended up looking like old wood that someone had painted. In a sense, it made the rooms seem kind of vintage, farmhouse-like, even, which is all the rage. It also made those yellowed-varnish walls look like shiplap, which seems to be used in a lot of the American home improvement shows I watch. If we hadn't wanted any of that, and wanted smooth walls, we would have gibbed over (put plasterboard over) the walls, which some people with these homes choose to do.

We decided to leave the mouldings in their original state, varnished wood, rather than painting them, for two reasons. First, they match the rest of the house, and we felt that would add continuity to the look—the difference wouldn’t be so jarring. Second, it provided some contrast with the white walls to help break it up a bit. I think the result did both.

Overall, the rooms ended up looking as we wanted them to, though somewhat different than I’d originally thought I wanted. While I originally wanted perfectly smooth walls, after I realised how rough the walls actually are, I think the result I got is more authentic, for lack of a better word, than a totally smooth finish would have been. Painting the two rooms white brightened them both up, of course, and made them seem fresher and more modern. But they also reflect light into the hallway they both open onto, brightening up what is often a dark space.

Most of the tips I’d give anyone doing a similar project are covered anywhere painting advice is given—like making sure the paint is well stirred, that dropcloths cover the floor (and cover them well…), and that things not to be painted are well masked (and take time to get it right; I rushed too much and should have worn my reading classes. Sigh.). However, I have some specific tips that don’t often get mentioned.

First, if it’s a small room, take the door off its hinges. I didn’t do that with the toilet, and nearly passed out from the heat (not entirely joking about that…), and had trouble painting the moulding behind the door in particular (in this style house, there’s usually very little room, maybe the width of a pencil, between one or both walls near a door and the mouldings around it). I learned my lesson, and took the door off its hinges when I did the bathroom and will do it again when I paint the en suite later this month.

Second, and most important of all, sit on the toilet—literally. Also, stand in a shower, at the vanity, and sit on the edge of the bathtub. Then, look around for any spots you may have missed. People will have the most time to contemplate the quality of your labour when they’re spending time in one place, so it makes sense to quality-control your work from those perspectives. I found small areas I missed that way. Criticism averted.

My greatest challenge was at the beginning: The small size of the toilet made it cramped and too tight to use a stepladder, though I was able to use my small step stool. It was hard painting over my head, and it left my upper arms very tired. That was also the most active I’d been in months, and I felt it. Near the end of the second coat in the toilet, I thought to myself that I wished we’d never started the project. Things got better, though, and the bathroom went better. No doubt part of that was that I’d become just enough fitter that it didn’t bother me as much; I can only imagine how much easier it would have been had I been completely fit.

There was, of course, some inevitable overpainting (for example, when I painted the toilet, and left the door on its hinges, I sometimes hit the hinges or the doorframe when trying to paint behind the mouldings around the door. I also dripped a bit on the tile floor, and a little on the carpet. The carpet spots, which were light, came out easily with the same wet vacuum we use for pet accidents and spills. The overpainting on the mouldings came off with a damp rag and a little rubbing. The drops on the floor I was able to scrape up with a plastic bread bag closer, or, if it was really stubborn, a razor blade. Some tweezers also came in handy for removing little bits of masking tape that stuck to the wood, after I first sliced through the paint with an X-ACTO knife. A photo of the tools I used in my clean up, without the damp rag, is at the very bottom of this post.

Finally, a blogger’s notes on the photos: I took them in as near-identical states as possible. Many times I’ve seen “before” photos that show a terrible room, and the “after” photo shows it all finished and dressed and looking magazine worthy. I wanted to be able to show a more direct comparison of the projects, so neither room has any unnecessary adornments or anything. However, the “before” photo of the bathroom had the photos still on the wall, so the “after” does, too. Also, Nigel had attached the heated towel rail to the bathroom wall before I was able to take the “after” photo (it still has to be connected to the power by an electrician). So, the photos show the rooms in nearly the same state before and after…

And that’s what I’ve done on my Summer Holiday: A Summer Project.

The bathroom, before and after.

My clean-up tools.

*The products listed and their names are registered trademarks, and are used here for purposes of description and clarity. No company or entity provided any support or payment for this blog post, and we purchased the products at normal retail prices. So, the opinions I expressed are my own genuinely held opinions, and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of the manufacturers, any retailer, or any known human being, alive or dead, real or corporate. Just so we’re clear.

*Update: After I published this post, I realised that I accidentally left out information about the prep stage, and it is an important part of the process. I added the paragraph on prep work for full transparency.

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