Saturday, 31 August 2013

Keeping busy: Reasons to be suspicious of wallpaper!

So it's been a little busy the last week, and if you follow me on keek, you'll probably be guessing where I'm heading with this! :-)

I was due to be packing my bags and heading up north to the seaside for a few days when I got asked to decorate the kids playroom as they would be away .......

They were to be away for a few days on holiday, and it was going to be a surprise - this gave me 8 days to strip the wallpaper and paint the walls...Easy............or not!

So first thing thursday morning all was quiet, and the kids gone, out comes all the furniture, and a mountain of toys, games, teddies etc

With the room emptied of everything, and scrapper in hand the dustbin bag was filled with a steady stream of dated, stripey wallpaper. This would be finished within 3-4 days at this rate! The paper was putting up no real fight, and I wasn't even using a warm wet sponge!

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Of course this was because for the most part the paper was not really stuck to the walls very well! So very often you see wallpaper peeling the walls because of not being stuck on very well in the first place, sometimes it's because there's been a damp issue........this was a combination of both, and was becoming more work than originally planned - still not a major issue, I've got 8 days, and it was only looking to be 4 days work thus far!
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with the wall paper slowly dissapearing the true scale was becoming clear, there was going to be skimming to do, at least....
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40 miles seperated me from my plastering kit, and there was no telling how long it would take to dry out....at this point I set course for the unknown..

....Now I've been plastering for many years now, and although i don't pretend to be be a time severed "spread", I can hold my own with a bag of multi-finish, and not just in fight with a sheet of plasterboard ;-), some years ago I trained with suffolk county councils heritage and conservation team and learned traditional lime plastering, using horse hair and slaked lime. This was to be a gypsum plaster job, but I know how lime works, how it reacts and importantly in this job, how gypsum plaster reacts with it! - this is an old victorian house, brickwalls built with lime mortar and plastered with lime plaster. It had had a damp problem with the previous owners, and this was clear now the paper was off and the original plaster exposed. not only was there plastering to do, (bearing in mind this job was some 40 miles away from my plastering tools: so half a day nearly in real terms traffic permitting), but the chimney breast had been blocked up previously, and the original timber floor changed for a concrete screed, on one side the original timber angle bead was still in place, but stopped about 6 inches high of the floor (why? *alarms bells ringing in the distance*). The angle beads purpose is two-fold, it protects the delecate edges of the plaster from being knocked and damaged, and provides a straight plumb line to edge the wall, with the paper covering you could'nt see it was missing, but it would now need replacing with a modern metal one, and this means taking off the skirting boards ( carefully so they can be put back again) so the beads end is covered by the skirting

As it turned out, both beads needed to be replaced, the timber bead had worm, which had spread to the skirting, which in turn needed replacing and the remaining to be treated just for good measure. the metal angle bead also needed changed as this had been set into the concrete screed, effectively bridging the damp coarse, and had steadily rusted since the day it was installed, so it had completely rusted through up to a height of about 18", all nicely hidden away by the wallpaper! :-)

Oh and there were several sections of plaster which were so badly "blown" they had blistered from the brickwork and needed patching all the way back to the brickwork.

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As you can see, this was more than "a lick of paint, and put your feet up 4 days later"!.......

Now,  I'm not the sort to blow my own trumpet, but had I not seen this before, I would be flicking through the yellow pages under "p" for panic/plasterers.

All this can be dealt with, it just looks worse than it really is. The first time you take plaster off a wall all the way back to brickwork, you start to doubt things.... and although I was happily chopping out bad plaster I was totting up a mental list of things that were now creeping onto the bottom of the to do list.

Normally when you go into a job there's a little bit in the budget for contingency, normally you explain that this needs doing because of this reason, show the customer the problem, tell them the remedy, agree things and the job just takes a little longer......Time was starting to get cut short on this though, it was a day to plaster, and an unknown amount of time to dry...my course into the unknown had been set long ago, but the currents were starting to flow just a little too fast for comfort!, This was still only day one though!

Day 2 was an early start, go get plaster and plastering tools, get stuck in traffic for 90 minutes, take ridiculous detour, get back and just get stuck in. Each section of wall was divided in two by a chair rail, a period feature (although modern fitting) designed to stop the backs of chairs damaging plastered walls. removing these and skimming the walls in one made it easier, but since they were to be kept, and they could be plastered round it was just a case going round them - besides, "easy" had gone out the window it seemed at the same time I embarked on this course!
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I'm reading this back in my head, and it's starting to sound like some mammoth impossible task requiring huge amounts of skill and effort.....But in reality it had never crossed my mind that this was not still doable, on-time, and in budget.
In the back of my mind was simply the look on the kids faces - the kind of reaction you see on telly on the home makeover shows....but this time I would get a front row seat!

In all it took two days to prep and skim, this included removing the damaged plaster, sealing walls, replacing the beads, scratch coats (the backing plaster) and final skims (top plaster coat). Luckily on the second day I had a helper, who is not only wonderfully gifted in the kitchen, but also a fantastic decorator. So whilst I was skimming walls, the timber was being rubbed down ready for glossing at the end.

At last the walls were all skimmed, luckily as it turned out over two day period. let me explain: Gypsum plaster can take several days to dry out enough to paint on, time that I didn't have lots of.

Decorating a room is fairly simple in theory, paint the ceiling, then walls, then gloss, then crack open a beer, and put feet up!

now that's fine if the plaster is dry, and there's only one colour going on the walls, I had both wet and dry plaster on the walls including various mid-stages and a colour scheme which included 4 colours including the ceiling! Oh for goodness sake, remember I started out saying i was originally going away for a few days??!!!???

This may seem complicated (simply because it is), but to be honest at this point 'simple' had failed to attend, 'normal' and 'mundane' had long since sailed off into the unknown and were probably eating each other, I had nearly gone barking mad, and everything was just about being held together by the thought of the front row seat when the kids got home......

Basically though it could all still be done with a little jiggling around of things, and cleaning brushes a few times more than you'd like to, a small price to pay in the big picture. The formula was in fact pretty simple. Put various colours of paint on the right walls, once the plaster was dry enough. This was a couple of days, a bit longer than if everything was dry plaster, but it was also a good use of time to eat, collect materials, a new door, new lengths of skirting etc. Even a trip to "my local home furnishing supplier" Yeah OK, IKEA! made for a good use of time whilst nothing else could go forward until various bits of plaster had dried out. So actually, I think very little time overall was wasted or even lost.
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I should also like to add a little extra to the story, as it wasn't just a decorating exercise, it was a complete room make over. Along with all the painting, a new vent cover was made, three bespoke storage cubes were made to fit an existing storage unit - Ikea boxes were the wrong size, colour and price as it turned out, so a sheet of 9mm MDF and some of the wall paint varnished made up for that. the new skirting had to be done, as did a replacement door as the old one was damaged, and a few other "accessories"
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In all it was a very rewarding project, and I'm glad Took it all on. Really really glad i did this job, and actually managed to finish ahead of time amazingly!

But there is one final twist to the tail, as originally i was to be there when the kids got back and saw the room for the first , "the glue that held it all together for the week", "the fuel that kept me going for so long" BLAH BLAH Blah, and such line, well.....

It never actually happened! They were late coming home, it was really late, I had to leave, and I never saw the reaction. (it was good though, so I'm told)!

That said, I was actually sent a video message, so see for yourself how they felt! :-)

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