Sunday, March 25, 2012

Adventures in Paint

1. Thank you for indulging me in last post's rant.  I shall try not to do it often.  Be warned, though: I am liable to rant as often as 2x per year, and when I do, I gesticulate with the vim and intensity of a crowd of Italian mothers debating their rival sauces.  One wants to stand at a safe distance.

2. Do you ever have one of those weekend where you go out with all your old college friends and you hit up the G Street bars you used to hit regularly in college, and then somehow someone orders shots and the beer chasers don't really drown the buzz and another few rounds later and another few bars later, you suddenly wake up in your own bed with your mouth tasting fuzzy and the absolute certainty in your mind that whatever you might have done in college, you are clearly too old for that now?  And what on earth were you thinking?

That is exactly how I feel.  Only there was neither friends nor bars, nor sadly, even drinking involved.  Just that delightful wrung out and put away wet feeling of utter inability to move another muscle, even to blink your eyes.  Ho baby, that was a weekend.  And like the alcoholic version above, the only cure - I'm certain of this - is hair of the dog.

I must. keep. painting.

Since the day I bought this house, I've fretted over the foyer.  Actually, I've fretted over the entrance hall, because I'm not really a foyer kind of girl.

This is how it goes: You walk in my front door.  You're standing in a big, empty room, with a pile of shoes on the floor by the door.  It's one story high at the door behind you, sloping up to 1 1/2 stories directly in front of you.  Straight ahead, through a double door, is the dining room.  To your left is the playroom/den, to your right, a staircase and the door to the living room.  It's physically the central room in the house.  It's the room that's supposed that's supposed to welcome you.  But it's dark, and gloomy, and the wood panelled walls are stained a muddy mushroom brown green grey.  The only lighting is from grimy, brassy can lights on grimy brass tracks.  Some of the bulbs don't work - not because the bulbs have burned out but because the lights are just very far gone.  The ceiling has wood beams in the same muddy mushroom as the walls, and the panels between them might have once been white, but are now stained yellow with age and cracked.  There's one window: a small, octagonal thing next to the door, in the shade of the house, that lets in no direct light.

(I think that if you shift and click on a photo, it will show it to you much larger in a new window)

From the moment I bought the house I've been trying to fix this room.  18 months, and the number of paint colors I've tried has long past into double digits.   I went a bright sunny yellow for awhile, but my husband couldn't stand it.  "Mexican restaurant,"  he said, dampingly.  And somehow, even with bright yellow walls, it remained a dark and depressing room. 

I cut the front door in half to let in more light.  That didn't help.

I looked past the entryway and painted the dining room, which had been the same muddy brown, until it glowed and shone.  I took off the door frames and sanded them down to their original redwood and laquered and waxed them till they glowed.


In progress

After left

After center

After right

Now the view from the front door was vastly improved - you enter the house and your eye is drawn straight past the entryway and into a bright and welcoming room.  But you were still standing in a dreary, dark, hall.  I primed the walls white - that brightened it a bit, but what color to paint on top?  I tried ice blue, faint blue, light blue, middle blue.  I gave up for six months.

Then, finally, in utter despair,  I called Victor.  Victor is a color consultant, and I had never consulted a color consultant before.  I do my own colors, blast it!

He offered grey.  I rejected grey, absolutely.  He argued that my dining room's green had a lot of grey in it, and as the two rooms are closely ensconced, that grey would mesh well.  I spurned grey, and offered red, in shades of brick or terracotta.  He sneered.  We had already tried and rejected yellow, in a myriad of hues.  He found a slate blue, and in a 6" by 6" square, it looked great.

I painted three of five walls in Victor's slate blue, and despaired again.  It was green blue, it was grey, it was one color here and another there, and over all hung those grimey, horrid, depressing  track lights and cracked ceiling.

For a year I'd been hiding from that ceiling - it was terrifying, daunting, in the amount of labor it represented.  I thought I could ignore it, hide from it, pretend it would go away if I didn't look.  We talked about someday stripping and restoring the redwood beams.  We talked about antique tin tiles.

But Victor's failed blue, if it did nothing else, shook something awake in me.  That room was not going  to remain another month in that condition.  So I stopped consulting Victor, or my husband, and I bought lights, and I called in reinforcements.

This is Ruben.

And this is Chuey.

They built my mom's house last year from the ground up, and by god they were going to save my entry.  Yesterday, Ruben and Chuey and I spent the day on ladders.  Today, we sent the kids away and my husband and I spent another day on ladders. 

And it is not done.

But it is getting there.....

Painting the ceilings

Wall 1/2 painted, tester lights hung.  We may go down a size.

Front wall.  No door frames yet.  N looking as blurry as he feels.
I walk in now, and the ceiling is bright, and the whole room, even with half finished walls, feels bright.  The new lights, although only two, give more than twice the light of the 8 cans that used to be.

The walls are Victor's slate with stripes of Mozart Blue.  The ceiling rafters are marscapone and the panels are glacier (a super pale blue).  The door frames will be the same refurbished redwood that the dining room doorframes are. Color for the two side walls (behind the staircase and towards the playroom, visible in the pic where I'm painting the ceiling) is yet to be determined.  Something very pale, I think. I'll take suggestions, happily.

Halfway through Saturday, N was out with the kids, and I stopped painting to text him: "Happy happy happy."

Happy.  But utterly, drunkenly, full body exhausted.

When the entry hall is done (and yes I will post pictures), the upstairs bathroom will be tackled.
You want to see my test paints??

Clearly, I haven't found the right ones yet.  Yes, I'm testing paint on the mirror.  That mirror will go away and become a wall.

A catalog page with the mirrors which will replace the wall sized mirror, a sconce which will replace the 1980s starlette lights, two paint brushes, five cans of paint, the edge of a watercolor by my grandmother which will hang on the wall, the tile with which we must coordinate, and a partridge in a pear tree.
Why yes, old houses are indeed a blast.


  1. Oh my! I think you need to be bottled and sold as a prescription drug. Your energy is boundless, as is your questing spirit when it comes to tracking down the right colour.

    I have one thing to add. Consider indirect lights as your main source of rather than the overhead lanterns. LARGE table lamps or standard lamps or contemporary free-standing spots to give pools and washes of light in selected areas. (Overhead lamps tend to 'down light' a dark space rather oppressively. They actually bring TOO much light.) Much better to walk into a space that offers glowing areas of light and interest. But if you do this, be sure to have the lights circuited to one point so that when you enter you can turn them all on from a single wall-switch.

    The space looks reasonably big. How about a large circular table in the middle to take a bowl of flowers and the morning-post and newspapers? Don't allow this to be just the space where people pass through. It's an alluring part of your living-space where you'll want to linger, rather than just rush through. A place with comfortable chairs too, and furniture to take lamps. Sometimes people arrive who you need to speak to, but may not want to take through to your private living spaces. This hallway will be both a welcoming space and an appropriate one for conducting business. Better than talking on the doorstep, and yet not so intimate as taking them deeper into the house. It should be said that art, too, would help maximise the impact. Had you not divided the walls with stripes I'd have suggested a large painting, but that would be too busy now. Perhaps a beautiful piece of sculpture on a centre table could give a focal point. A small upright sofa with a beautiful antique throw, lit by the light of a lamp on a table next to it. This should definitely NOT be the room to leave boots and shoes and to pile up coats. The place for that should be elsewhere.

    Just my four-pennies worth. Use or ignore as you please.

    Glad to hear that you're getting there.

    1. Clive, it is **such** a maddening room. It's a huge space, and utterly wasted - it's the size of a master bedroom, but so full of doors and closets there's practically no way to place furniture in there, that I've been able to live with. And you have to go through it to get anywhere at all in the house, so obstructing the traffic is an issue, too. We have a desk in there now, against the stairs,(when it's not being painted) and a couple of chairs, but mostly the kids use it for building forts and turning somersaults.

      I agree with everything you've said, re what should be done with it, but I can't make it work.

      I also dislike the location of the dining room - WHAT a strange place for a dining room. So I'm thinking of switching it and the living room, but that will require pulling out that built in buffet, which will require redoing the floors, which will required the hazmat people coming in to remove the old asbestos tiles under that carpeting, which means it is a long term vision and not something I'm pulling off in the next few years.

      But if what is now the dining room becomes the living room, (and my grand rafter living room becomes a Banquet Hall), I think it will be much easier to pull the entry hall into some sort of living space.

      You and Peter should come visit and set me to rights.

  2. I am exhausted just reading this. Is the upstairs bathroom one you use often? Because I'd stray away from darker colors or blues. Having lived with a maroon bathroom for two years, it does weigh on you in the mornings. We have since replaced with a sunny yellow, with just a HINTY HINT of pinky cream in the yellow, and 1) the room feels bigger and lighter 2) it's infinitely more flattering and 3) it's cheerful and sunshiney, even though the bathroom has only one window

    1. The dark colors are accent only. The main walls and ceilings will be some version of yellow. But one should never paint a bathroom a color one can't wear, or you'll always look bad in the mirror, and there are very few yellows I can wear. So it's tricky.