Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Guest room makeover, stage 1

As I believe I've mentioned before, when it comes to home renovation, Brian and I aren't the fastest workers around. I often justify our slow-and-steady approach to home remodeling by arguing that we prefer a good and cheap job to one that's fast and cheap (but not that good) or fast and good (but really expensive). By taking our time with a room redo, I proclaim, we can wait as long as it takes to find really good deals on materials, and we can do all the work ourselves in our free time rather than hiring professionals. All of which is perfectly true.

But sometimes, I have to admit, our home projects get off to a slow start less out of a conscious decision to pace ourselves and more on account of simple procrastination. A case very much in point right now is our small back bedroom. Remember how I announced, back in April, that we were planning to redo that little room as a guest room? And remember how I predicted that we should be able to get started on the project "by May, if not sooner," just as soon as all our seedlings were transplanted out into the garden? Yeah, well, turns out I was off by four months or so. There's no real excuse for it; it's not as if we had some other big project we had to deal with first, or a major illness, or a financial crisis, or anything of that sort. It was just all the other little everyday things on the to-do list that kept pushing the room remodel down to the bottom.

But even if we tend to put jobs off sometimes, we do get around to them eventually, and this one is no exception. Last week, removed most of the furniture from the room, pushed the one remaining table with the recycling bins on it into the center, and got down to brass tacks. Or to be more accurate, steel nails—nails that had slipped out of their places in the drywall and were now forming visible bulges in the walls and ceiling. Removing those, and patching the resulting holes, was going to have to be our first job before we could get down to the work of mudding, priming, and painting.

Fortunately, Brian had a tool that turned out to be just the thing for getting in under the paint and working the nails loose from their positions. The manufacturer, Titan Tools, describes it as a "pry bar/scraper": it's a straight, flat length of steel, about a handsbreadth in length, that curves up at one end and has a wickedly sharp, wide edge on both the flat and curved ends. We had to handle them with extreme care to avoid slipping and nicking any important blood vessels, but they sure made it the job of prying nails from the walls go a lot faster. (We still have to tackle the ones on the ceiling, which may prove a bit trickier, since we'll be working at a more awkward angle and simultaneously trying to keep the nails from landing on our heads when they pop out.)

Unfortunately, removing the nails turned out to have an awkward side effect: each one that came out took with it a good-sized chunk of the plaster and paint. Patching the holes isn't a big deal; all it takes is a bit of spackling. But the paint is trickier, because once a single edge starts to peel up, it just keeps going and going. Brian thought we might end up having to strip the paint off the entire wall, which he thought might be a blessing in disguise, since it would have given us a clean, smooth surface to prime over. But as it turned out, the paint was stuck on much better in some places than others. It peeled off in big sheets, but only up to a point; beyond that point, it was almost impossible to peel at all. As a result, we now have a large bare patch on the wall that vaguely resembles a map of Afro-Eurasia. We can only hope that once it's been primed and painted over, its outline won't be visible.

And talking of paint, we've made a start on choosing colors for the room. Since it's quite a small room, we know we want to go with a light shade that's not too vivid, something in the white-to-beige family. However, this doesn't narrow it down nearly as much as you might think. As I stood in front of the paint display at Lowe's, my mind positively boggled at how many shades of white-to-beige the folks at Valspar can apparently distinguish with the naked eye. (In fact, I now think they should write a bestselling novel about a tempestuous love affair between two house painters: Fifty Shades of Beige.) So far I've managed to narrow down the candidates to about half a dozen, from "Bungalow White" at left to "Churchill Hotel Ecru" (an official National Trust for Historic Preservation shade) at right. I'm currently leaning toward "Cake Batter," although Brian thinks that may be just because I like the name.

Of course, choosing any of these colors may be premature, because I'm not sure Valspar is actually the brand we want to go with. It's the one we've tended to use in the past, but the latest report on interior paint from ConsumerSearch recommends a much pricier brand, Benjamin Moore Aura. At $54 a gallon, it's more than twice the price of Valspar, but on the other hand, it promises "one-coat coverage" with no need for a separate primer, so one gallon of Aura might be cheaper than two gallons of Valspar plus one of primer. It's also low-odor and very quick-drying, though the review notes this can be a negative as well as a positive; it sometimes dries so fast that you can't cover a whole area before it starts to dry, resulting in streaks. So I haven't decided yet whether it's worth it to spring for the fancy stuff or just go with our trusty old budget brand. In any case, there's no need to choose just yet; we still need to finish removing nails, cleaning and patching the walls, repairing woodwork, and possibly (depending on which brand we choose) priming before we're ready to paint.

All of which, if we work at our usual rate, shouldn't take us more than three or four months.
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