Cordia’s legacy in our home

1930s couch and chair
1930s couch and chair

I haven’t shared much of our family history here, yet, as this blog is primarily about our actual house.  But, what is creating our house and making it a home is our roots, our ancestral history, the history of the time our home was built, and the history of each of our families. . .so I thought I’d start sharing a bit of those pieces, too.

When one purchases a large home, there is a daunting task of furnishing it.  We didn’t have much when we bought this place, as I have moved every 2 years for the past 18 years and Bill sold a lot of his pieces when he sold his last house.  So, we scraped together what we had, bought a couch and a table and that has been about it, oh, and started scouring antique malls.  Upstate NY has fabulous antique places.

c.1930s chair, upholstered on the back, too in the original fabric
c.1930s chair, upholstered on the back, too in the original fabric

However, I have been fortunate to have garnered some furniture that has been in my family for a century.  My mother’s godmother and my grandmother’s cousin, Cordia Grunewald had some wonderful pieces.  I remember seeing them in her apartment when we would visit for Thanksgiving years ago.  I remembering thinking how grand her bed was and how quaint the couch.  I was attracted to antiques as a young teen and chose them for my own bedroom when I had it redone in high school.  So, I had a natural inclination towards Cordia’s furniture when she moved into assisted living.  None of my mom’s 3 siblings or their children wanted the furniture, so I really scored!  I have attained the couch and chair as well as a large mirror for our living area.  For our bedroom, I was given a headboard, footboard and 2 dressers.  I’m not sure what type of wood this is, though.  Mahoghany maybe?

These pieces are circa 1903, from Cordia’s parents’ first bedroom.  Cordia always had a trunk at the base of her bed, so my father gave one to me that he found and lined with cedar.

Our bed set up on a queen size frame even though the original was full.
Our bed set up on a queen size frame even though the original was full.

The couch and living room chair are circa 1930’s from their living room and I cannot guess the date on the large mirror above our mantel, but it is plaster with gold guilding.  I feel so lucky to be enjoying these pieces as they fit beautifully into our home and still look grand.

Cordia, as most of my mother’s side, was of German heritage.  An only child, she went into the army and also became a teacher.  She traveled the world and knew the important tidbits to save, like special old coins and stamps.  She never married or had children of her own, so our family grew close to her, spending Christmas’s and many Thanksgivings together.  I think of her often as Will climbs on her couch and removes the heavy horsehair cushions.

Corida around the time of high school graduation, circa 1920.
Corida around the time of high school graduation, circa 1920.

I think she’d smile and giggle to see her family’s things enjoyed so much.  And I think she would be happy to know how much we are appreciating them.

Before and After. . . Renovations so far

Dining room, before we began
Dining room, complete with lemon trees

Here are a few images to give you an idea of how far we’ve come in 2 and a half years.  We still have a ways to go, but our house has become “ours”.  I’ll move through the images based on the order in which we completed the work.

We moved in during July of 2009, but since we were only renting (waiting on our loan to go through), we didn’t want to start any major work.  We spent the summer cleaning out the house, pruning back vines and readying for our paint crew.

When the outdoor work was underway, we began by cleaning up the kitchen and sealing the pantry.  We pulled carpet out of the laundry room, which I still haven’t show you.

And then we started the big work.  Since the dining room looked as though it would be one of the easier rooms, we started there.

Library with window still boarded
Library finished

Next we worked on the library, though we still have yet to put in shelves.

Bathroom before demolition
Completed bath

Then we started upstairs with the full bath and alongside we painted the kitchen.  It took us a LOOONG time to do the bath because we had to remove crappy wallpaper, which was adhered with caulk and a soldering gun.  Just kidding, but it was put on eerily strong.

Kitchen, fall 2009
Kitchen, freshly painted

We stayed upstairs to work on the master bedroom and redid the ceiling in the dining room, not even a year later.  Then we began the nursery and finished up with the living room, where we are still putting final details in place.

Pantry in progress
Pantry, painted

We’ve yet to redo anymore floors except for the master bedroom, though we did consider having someone else come in and do them for us.  We are still debating what to do there.  Such a big job for us.

We still have yet to put up the chandelier in the living room and attach the mantle, though Bill has completed it.

Master Bedroom, with windows covered
Master Bedroom completed, except for ceiling fan and stencil
Nursery first used as our bedroom
Nursery with mural begun

Once those pieces are in place, he will begin our bookshelves!  I cannot wait to get all my books in place.  I feel as though we still haven’t moved in because my books are waiting patiently in boxes all over the house.  I’m not a hoarder by any stretch, nor a collector of anything in particular, but I do love books.  And, thankfully, Bill loves building and working with wood, so this will be a great project for us both.

While Bill is working on the shelves, I have yet to finish painting and stenciling several areas in the house.  I am also going to draft up plans for our garden.  I’d like to get some flowerbeds in place this spring, for once.

Living room, first week moved in
Living Room complete!

Moved in

The master bedroom is complete and we moved in this weekend.  I have a touch up of stenciling to do, but other than that — it is a livable, decorated space.

Painted cornice and velvet curtains

You can see that we completed the paint job by painting in a cornice moulding around the top of the room in the trim color, leaving the lines crisp.  Without the furniture, it looks rather tailored and formal, unlike the frilly Victorian feel the room would have originally had, likely with flowered wallpaper.  So, the stenciling should help that feel quite a bit.  As I mentioned earlier, I may go ahead and stencil the whole room, but I’ll have to sit with that for a while before I take the leap.  Doing one wall is weeks worth of work.


The wood furniture is turn of the century, coming from my grandmother’s cousin’s parents, known in the family as Uncle Gus and Aunt Ella.  The bed, dresser and gentleman’s bureau were their personal bedroom furniture.  I am very lucky to have these pieces as they fit beautifully into our home and are in wonderful condition.

The  black and white upholstered chair was my Christmas gift from Bill.  I had wanted a nice glider or rocker for the baby’s arrival, but something that would endure many years and not look dated.  This is what I chose, a glider that is also a recliner.  Very comfy and a nice contrast to the solid gray walls.

Nursery Nook

The nook is also completely furnished with the baby’s goodies: crib, dresser and changing table.  We’ll plan to have the baby with us in the nook until his room is ready for moving in, likely at least five months.

Now that we’re all moved in, we’ll be taking a close look at our old bedroom, the octagon room, and deciding how to attack it next.  Eventually it will be the baby’s full time room, to be decorated in turquoise and chocolate with a Peter Rabbit theme.  (You can tell I’ve been ready to do this one a while.)  Pictures and process yet to come!

Stenciled wall behind the bed

The Master Bedroom is Complete!

Finally we can breathe a sigh of relief as we can move into the Master Bedroom. . .every repair and redo is complete.

We will get new lights once we find what we’re looking for and we can save up for them.  A Victorian looking ceiling fan would be ideal, both for energy and looks.

Just to recap how we spent the past six months doing the master bedroom, I’ve written out how we spent every single day working:

  1. My dad and Bill pulled out sheetrock covering windows
  2. Dad and Bill removed “closet” made of sheetrock
  3. Bill and I redid all sash cords for front windows
  4. Bill puts in window moulding
  5. Bill removes the red shelves in the nook

    Goodbye red shelves
  6. Karyn cleans floors and Bill stabilizes plaster
  7. Karyn finishes last two windows and sash cords; Bill put up moulding and scraped sashes for priming
  8. Bill painted sashes
  9. Bill worked on moulding and Karyn learned to plaster
  10. Bill plastered
  11. Bill plastered and Karyn chipped paint and primed moulding
  12. Bill plastered
  13. Bill stabilized cracks and removed light fixtures
  14. Bill plastered
  15. Sanding the plastered ceiling
  16. Bill and Karyn laid in mesh ceiling and plastered corners
  17. Bill plastered ceiling
  18. Bill plastered ceiling second coat
  19. Bill plastered nook and ceiling
  20. Bill sanded ceiling and plastered nook
  21. Bill primed
  22. Bill and Karyn laid in mesh for hairline cracks
  23. Bill plastered back wall over mesh and touched up
  24. Bill finished putting in moulding and touched up plaster
  25. Bill and Karyn primed woodwork
  26. Karyn painted ceiling
  27. Karyn painted second coat on ceiling
  28. Bill and Karyn painted walls
  29. Bill painted second coat on walls

    Painting the walls
  30. Bill plastered and repaired nook
  31. Bill sanded and primed nook
  32. Bill painted the closet
  33. Bill painted the first coat in the nook
  34. Bill painted second coat in nook and Karyn cleaned the floor
  35. Karyn and Bill painted woodwork
  36. Karyn and Bill painted woodwork again
  37. Karyn did a first run stencil test
  38. Bill sanded the floor
  39. More sanding
  40. Karyn stenciled
  41. Bill sanded edges on floor
  42. Bill sanded corners, cleaned the floor and applied the first oil coat
  43. Bill applied the second coat
  44. Bill applied the third coat

    Cleaning windows
  45. Bill sanded the lamb’s wool fuzz, cleaned and applied the 4th coat
  46. Bill put up the hardware
  47. Bill built his closet shelves
  48. Bill put up the base moulding
  49. We cleaned the woodwork and painted the base moulding
  50. Bill put up shoe moulding and curtain rods
  51. Cleaned!

Whew, that was a lot of work, and well worth it, I think.  I hope you enjoy the before and after photos below. It is quite a difference.

I’ll post pics of the finished stencil work and decorated room once we have completely moved in and are settled.  Then you can stay tuned for our next project.  Let me know if you enjoyed the step by step posts of this room, and we can do the same for the next piece of the house.

The wall which hides two windows
View of the nook
Get a load of those floors and pink trim
Sheetrock gone, ready for plaster
In full plaster mode
Completed room (minus the light)
View of the nook with crib ready for baby
View towards closet and hallway

Refinishing Floors

It’s been a while since I’ve written a blog post, mostly due to my spending my time more focused on the house work and the fact that I am actively working on my degree. With a baby on the way, the master bedroom and adjoining nursery-nook are of the highest priority!

Most every floor in our house needs refinishing. All of the first floor has worn finish and some slight damage due to years of neglect. The second floor has a mix of things going on. THe hall is very worn, the bathroom we have already refinished and the bedrooms are all at different degrees of “bad”. Worse of all the rooms in the entire house is the master bedroom. With heavy paint on the perimeter 20 -24 inches of the room and the entire niche painted with what is at least three coats of porch enamel there’s major sanding and work to be done on this room’s floor!

Refinishing floors is something any energetic DIYer can do. It involves renting some equipment and being fairly organized but more so, it requires muscle and energy. Sanding a wood floor is hard, dusty work. The sanders are heavy, operating the sander requires upper body strength and you’ll feel like quitting well before the job is done.

Drum Sander

Here’s a picture of a typical drum sander rented from the local hardware / rental center. We’re lucky enough to have a rental center 15 minutes from our house in the next village south of where we live. Their prices are reasonable and better yet, they are very encouraging and nice people.

Without going into too much detail about the sander, know this: The whole unit weighs about 180-200 pounds so get help if you need to carry it up stairs!

Taking the Sander for a Walk Floor sanded before edging completed

The sander is essentially a large electric motor that spins a single drum that the sandpaper is attached to. This drum spins at a very fast rate of speed tearing whatever it comes in contact with into dust! And speaking of dust, 90% is captured by the suction the machine generates and deposits into the attached dust bag. The master bedroom being roughly 400 square feet of floorspace generated just under a full 30 gallon garbage can of dust when all said and done. Good thing the sander has dust collection. Could you imagine having to sweep all that dust!

As you can also see in the picture, we had paint to remove from the master bedroom floor. It appeared to be a porch and deck enamel type paint that was still very well adhered to the floor. Luckily it was only painted around the perimeter of the room … what appears to have been a painted border around a centered throw-rug which was stapled to the wood. To efficiently remove the paint required that I start with 26 grit paper. For those of you that have not seen 26 grit before it’s similar in texture as asphalt roofing shingles. Needless to say, this floor has some irreversible damage not even this heavy-duty sander can remedy but the floor will be massively improved no doubt!

The sander has an on and off trigger. It’s as easy as that. You plug it in and pull the trigger and hang on! The sander wants to move forward due to the rotation of the spinning drum as it gets traction on the floor. The only “rule” is do not allow the drum to be in contact with the floor while standing still. If you keep the sander moving forward or backwards, the finish will be good. If you stop, even pause, the drum will create a “swail” in the floor.

The painted floor was in such poor condition it required 5 full passes starting with 26 grit and ending with 100 (26, 32, 60, 80, 100). With so many passes on heart pine flooring, I surely got a few “swails” in there. Although not pictured, I rented a “pad sander” that allowed me to remove many of the defects of the more harsh sanding process the drum sander left behind.
Also not pictured is the edge sander. As you can barely see in the picture, the drum and pad sander cannot quite get closer enough to the baseboards so an edge sander is required. The edge sander is a heavy-Floor sanded before edging completed duty disc sander that allows you to safely sand right up to the baseboards. I removed and discarded all of the shoe molding since what was used was quarter-round. I’ll digress here but it really bugs me when carpenters use quarter-round instead of real shoe molding. Quarter-round lacks the slight vertical gain you get from shoe molding which makes the profile a little more elegant but more so, makes sweeping the floor, up to the edges, more easily done!

After all the sanding was complete and I vacuumed and tack-mopped the floor to rid it of all dust the finishing could begin! We chose to stay true to the period of the house and used an oil finish. To be specific, I researched oil finishes for 1880’s era homes. Most commonly used were tung oil finishes; sometimes simply tung oil alone. Waterlox still makes their “Original” formula just as they did in 1910, only 25 years later than our home was built. As far as commercially available floor coatings go, this was as close as we were going to get to “original”.

The oil accepts up to 25% oil based stain added directly to it or the floor can be stained first. Since we only wanted to add subtle tone to the already well aged heart pine floor, we added 25% Minwax Early American stain directly to the first coat of oil. I pad-applied the first coat and vented the room. One nice feature about tung oil is that it dries and cures by oxidation meaning all you have to do is supply fresh air to the room. An open window with a window fan does the trick… even in the middle of the winter with temperatures in the 20’s.

The entire finish takes 4 coats to complete. The first coat with stain mixture (which soaks in dramatically) and then three subsequent coats of the oil alone to build up a durable, semi-gloss finish. Allowing at least 24 hours between coats to dry, an entire floor takes just under a week to complete however with the busy schedule of everyday life and trying to optimize the warmest days to vent and circulate air had us done in about 2 weeks.  

Putting in the base molding

I’m sure we’ll write one last blog post on the mast bedroom to show the room in it’s finished state but here I’ll share one last picture that gives a decent visual for the finished floor. There are a few tools on the floor due to my putting in some extra base molding. The living and dining rooms have double stacked bas moldings so we took that design element upstairs into the master bedroom as well. This allowed me to make a new, clean line of base molding which framed the newly refinished floor nicely.

Every project thus far has taught us new lessons. The major lesson I’m taking away from refinishing the master bedroom floor is to never use a lamb’s wool applicator pad again. I brushed the last coat by hand due to the fuzz left from the “lint free, fuzzless” pads we bought. I washed them before use as directed and “delinted” them too. Oil floor finishes do not require any sanding of the oil but due to the pad leaving fuzz on the third coat, I had to sand the third coat, mop with mineral spirits and then proceeded to brush apply the final coat. It came out nicely considering where it began!

Stenciled and Sanded, part 8

The first day's work of stenciling

Well, I’ve spent the last week working on the stenciling and I’m quite pleased.  The pattern is delicate and very Victorian, and the monochromatic palette is just perfect.  As the stencil is so delicate, I’ve had to work in small batches, only doing 5-8 patterns at a time.  I’ve only worked one wall completely, and I’m debating on doing more as I like the pattern so much and the rest of the fabrics will be solids (textures, but solids).

Bill is in favor of me doing the whole room, but it is exhausting work.  So for now, we’re starting with just the one wall.  We’ll see what January brings.

Huge belt sander

For his part, Bill has started the floor.  We rented a huge floor sander and he spent 8 hours sanding the previously painted floor with 4 different levels of sand paper.  One has to go in steps with sanding.  You start with the heaviest grade and go down slowly.  The grit on the initial sandpaper was like asphalt it was so heavy.  Neither of us could believe that it was what would be needed, but sure enough, once Bill used it, we couldn’t have gotten by without it.  I think that this room is truly the most difficult room in the house, due to all the plastering and sanding and wall removing we’ve had to do.  Other rooms should be smoother.  But, each comes with its challenges and cool discoveries.

Bill sanding away

Once the main part of the floor was sanded, Bill rented and edger to get close to the walls.  Unfortunately, this is a hands and knees sort of machine, but it tucks right in next to the woodwork.

The pine floors smell amazing during and after the process.  I can’t imagine how this house must have smelled when it was brand new.  This house would have smelled of fresh pine and waxed cherry woods (at least, that is what I imagine.)  Course, it could have smelled like coal and bad wallpaper paste.

Now that the edges are smooth, Bill rented a second push sander, a pad sander.  It was a newer machine and lighter “on its feet”, smoothing out any ridges that were left.  We will likely be able to do most of the house with just this sander, but we’ll see as we get into each room.  This is just our first test on the floors.  Bill worked tirelessly on Sunday finishing the corners with a hand sander and then cleaning the dust out of the room.  He was anxious to put our first coat of stain and oil on the floor.  The weather was warmer yesterday, so we could vent the room properly.  I didn’t go upstairs most of the day to avoid the fumes, but I peeked in on the room this morning.  It is stunning.  Bill is gifted and the original pine floors lend to a beautiful finish.  We’ll put on several more coats of oil to finish over the next week/two weeks.  Can’t wait to show you the final pics.

Floor sanded before edging completed

Finishing the painting, Master part 7

We took a little time for ourselves over Thanksgiving, sharing a wonderful weekend with Bill’s family, including his parents, brother with his wife and children and Uncle Ron from Manhattan.  As is tradition, we cooked a lot and ate a lot, rested some and just enjoyed the good company.  It was a much needed break.

Now that the holiday is over and we’re looming into Christmas, we are back in full mode over the next several weekends to complete the Master Bedroom.  Whew, it’s been a long time coming.  I believe we are in day 35 of working on the room.

I chose the color "Aspen Grey" for the walls

The nook has been primed and painted, the closet has been painted and I’m in process of painting woodwork with the final coat.  Bill will put new shelves in the closet and make it more usable, as it will be his closet for work clothes.  I’m looking forward to inheriting his home-built armoire for my own closet, which you’ll be able to see once we move in all the furniture.

And on to stenciling.  A huge thanks to my mom, Clare,  who managed to find my stencil in her area in South Carolina!  I’m so grateful to her and so excited that the room will have the decor I was hoping for.

In tribute to Donna Jean who asked me to outline my stencil process, I’ve posted some photos and I’ll walk you through it.

My stencil -- in blue acetate.

First, it is vital to have a good quality stencil, and preferably more than one for any project.  The stencil should be well made, and I personally prefer working on a heavy acetate stencil.  Just in case something happens to it, like tearing or paint build up, you’ll want to have more than one.  For this project, I have four.  It is an incredibly delicate pattern, and I didn’t want to run out of it.

Second, a stencil brush is the best way to go.  Stencil companies try to reel in people by showing how easily they can roll a stencil, but a brush will give a quality finish without seepage underneath.  Stencil brushes are stout, round, short bristle brushes.  I have three on hand in different sizes, but will likely use a 1″ for this project.

Here is my test, the stencil paint is too wet for my liking. I'll redo.

Third, the paint should be thick, not watery.  Plain latex housepaint is sometimes okay, but I like the heavy body acrylics as they give me the driest brush.  It is important to keep the brush dry during the process.  If it is wet or soaked with paint, the paint will seep under the pattern on the stencil and ruin the design.

You can use a removable adhesive spray to position and reposition the stencil on the wall so you don’t have to hold it, but I just tend to hold it in place and work from there.  (You can also use tidbits of blue painters tape to hold the edges)

Since this stencil has a definitive pattern that is whole, I will start a few inches away from the left corner and work both to the right and down across the wall.  There are small triangles in the stencil called registration marks; they are meant to help me align the stencil pattern as I go.  You can see one of them in the bottom right of the photo above.  I will also use a bubble level to make sure the stencil is straight on the wall; I can’t count on the ceiling or floor to be even.

Putting up the stencil for the first time, I get some paint on my brush and make sure that all the bristles are evenly covered by moving the brush in a circular motion on a flat surface, like the edge of my stencil.  Then, I press the brush lightly and use a circular motion to work the paint into the stencil.  If the brush is dry enough, it will leave just the pattern, and not seep underneath.

I plan on doing just one wall to start the room.  It is weeks of work to do a whole room, as you might remember from the dining room, and this is a more delicate stencil.  If I really like it and I have the energy, I might do the other three walls.

After the painting is complete, Bill will ready the floor by sanding!!  Hopefully, this Friday we will start that process!