Category Archives: renovation

Stripping Living Room Windows & Trim: Progress!

This is how the conversation usually goes…

The Mister, with a glint of excitement: We should definitely strip all the woodwork in the house.

Me, flashing back to childhood weekends helping my dad strip paint from woodwork in our house: I don’t know. The white does make it feel a little more modern. Maybe we should just repaint it.

The Mister, downcast by resigned: Yeah, you’re probably right.

Me, leaving that window of opportunity slightly ajar: Although the trim really would be beautiful if it was stripped!

We’ve probably had this conversation a hundred times over the past five years of owning the house. That’s why we’ve left the trim untouched all the time. Until now, that is.

stripping wood trim in American System-Built Home

As I mentioned in the last post, we decided to take the leap and strip the wood in the living room. And you know what? It’s not so bad! Stripping paint is messy – there’s no way around that – but the work has been fairly quick. Well, some of the work has been quick. Stripping the windows is definitely more time consuming than stripping the picture rail and baseboard. All those little corners and crevices!

Stripping paint in an old home

But oh how good it looks!

I should clarify – when I say that I’m stripping the windows, I’m really talking about the frames. In the photos here, I’ve removed the interior storm windows so that I can strip the frame. I will not be stripping the exterior windows. The exterior windows will get a fresh coat of paint and the interior windows … well, now I’m getting ahead of myself.

stripping woodwork in an old house

By stripping the trim, we’ve discovered that some woods don’t match. Well, not exactly discovered. We’ve known this for a while – from our own strip test when we were pondering our options and as informed by former owners when they came to visit. Most of the wood that’s been replaced is around the windows, likely due to water damage.

The wood that is original has a very dark stain on it. While most of that stain comes up with the stripper, a dark hue remains on the wood. It doesn’t appear that the wood that has been replaced was ever stained at all. By the time the previous owner was replacing wood trim around the windows, all the other trim had already been painted. So of course they just painted the replacement trim instead of staining it. When everything is stripped we’ll face the task of using stain to try to make all the wood match.

restoring wood trim in an old house

There’s just something about 100-year-old woodwork! At the risk of sounding like the old man that I am, they just don’t make it like they used to! When the trim was painted white it looked flat and lifeless. By removing the paint from the trim, we’ve exposed the beautiful grain that gives the wood visual interest.

So many paper towels and garbage bags! Have I mentioned how incredibly messy stripping paint can be?!

rehabbing wood trim in an old American System-Built home

But just look at the difference!

Now, back to those windows. As I said, we’re not going to strip the exterior windows. The window sash that faces inward will get a fresh coat of paint. We’ve decided to use the same color that we used on the outside trim and windows – black fox. We will, however, be stripping and staining the inner (or storm) windows. These windows were not original and, like the replacement trim, were never stained. Stripping paint from untreated wood is not easy! Fortunately, the house had a little surprise for us.

I was poking around in the garage looking for some scrap wood when I spied a few old window screens in a dark corner. While most of the screens were painted, two of them had not been. And, like a gift from the renovation gods, one of those unpainted screens fits the living room windows that were just stripped! See that dark screen in the middle window? That’s the one! This old screen even has the original hardware attached to it!

Since this screen has never been painted and hence never stripped, we can finally see that this is how dark the wood trim was stained. This truly is a gift from the rehab gods because now we have a goal: stain all the woodwork to match the color of this screen.

I also started stripping one of the old screens that had been painted and installed it in the right window. You can really see the difference between the stained screen and the screen that’s been stripped. We’re still planning to go back and strip the storm windows but for now we’re just going to install the screen. Since we’re in the warm months, the screens will suffice. (Plus, we’ve never had screen in these windows so it will be nice to be able to open them for fresh air!) Come fall, though, we will definitely need to re-install the storm windows. They really do make a difference in keeping the house warm.

For now, let’s step back and admire the progress…

So beautiful, right? We have a long way to go but it’s heartening to see all of this progress. When it comes to DIY renovations, one must celebrate the small victories in order to forge ahead with the other projects.

Adventures in Stripping: Tackling the Trim

Stripping Wood Trim in Our American System Built Home

We’ve been in a bit of a holding pattern for the past five years, paralyzed by the question of whether to strip the interior trim in our house or repaint it. In the early days of ownership, when we were full of the exuberance that’s common to new homeownership, we stripped some small test sections of the trim and discovered that wood had been replaced in some areas. That discovery provided the excuse to put off the decision until a later date. And now here we are five years on and we’ve made a decision … sort of.

Continue reading

How to Install a Tile Backsplash
(Good News: It’s Easier Than You Might Think!)

Before installing the backsplash in our kitchen I had never in my life tiled a single thing. But how hard can it be? I reasoned. I mean, people have been tiling for thousands of years! And all of those people couldn’t have been geniuses. But then as I watched YouTube videos and read how-to posts with all their steps and warnings of pitfalls, I grew increasingly worried that tiling was a job best left to professionals. No! my inner adventurer called out. And so my can-do, DIY spirit kicked in and I decided to tackle the job on my own. And you know what? It’s not as hard as you might think! Now that I’ve mastered the art of tiling (because, you know, I’ve done it once so now I’m an expert), I’m going to share the process with you. Continue reading

Farmhouse Fabulous: New Flooring for the Kitchen

When I work on a DIY project – like, say, installing new Pergo laminate flooring in the kitchen – my mind wanders during the easier parts of the work. For instance, while ripping up the old vinyl tiles in the kitchen I thought up punny things I could say about the new flooring. I may have said a couple of my punny sentences out loud and chuckled to myself. That’s one of the things I love about DIY projects – that my hands are busy creating something beautiful while my mind is off on tangents all its own. Multi-tasking for the mind!

But enough about my mental quirks. You’re here for house updates, not to learn about my inner workings, right? Continue reading

One Thing Leads to Another: The Curse of Renovations

Growing up in the 80s and 90s, long before HGTV and the utter ubiquity of home and design shows, makeovers were relegated to daytime talk shows. Oprah or Sally Jesse or Ricki would host a group of guests who were sartorially challenged or stuck in the past. They’d bring the guests out and hear their tales of wardrobe woe for the first half of the show and then usher them offstage so that a team of stylists could transform them. In the final minutes of the episode the hosts would welcome their newly dapper guests back to the stage with some sort of flourish – standing next to a split screen of a “before” photo or breaking through a big printed copy of their old look a la a football player. The audiences would cheer and whistle and the guests would announce their happiness in their newfound beauty. But then what happened when the guests got home?

Even as a kid watching these shows, I used to think about how the lucky ladies and gents who walked away from the makeovers must have felt when they got home. When they took their new outfits out of the wardrobe bags and hung them next to their own clothes, it surely must have made everything look old, tattered and out of style. I can imagine them saying, “Well, I can never wear those again!” as they swept their hands across the contents of their closets. They might even look around their entire home and say, “I never knew this place looked so awful!” It wasn’t until they saw how good they good look that they recognized how bad everything was.

Renovating an old house is a lot like that. Every time one project is finished it makes it glaringly obvious that the old things around it are going to need some work too.

Sure, finishing a project like tiling the backsplash or stripping the painted fireplace can feel like a monumental achievement. But that sense of accomplishment is short lived. I’ll stand back and survey my handiwork, straining all the while to pat myself on the back, and be filled with a sense of pride in a job (usually pretty well) done. And then my attention will almost immediately dart to something adjacent to the finished project that is now begging for attention.

When we finished the fireplace, for instance, I noted the tile that needed to be replaced and the trim that needed repainting and the built-ins that needed to be replaced. As happy as I was that the fireplace project was finished, it merely opened the door to the projects around the corner.

And so it goes with the kitchen backsplash. Now that the tile is up and the grout is in, I’m noticing all the little things that need to be updated in order to really finish the kitchen. It started with the window. With the cabinets painted and the backsplash installed, it’s now glaringly obvious that the window needs a new finish. When the cabinets were old, dark and beat up and the wall was in no better shape, the window above the kitchen sink looked fine. But now that everything else is looking so polished, the window appears shabby.

As an act of pure torture, er, I mean planning, I sat down and made a list of all the little loose ends that need to be tied up in the kitchen.

  • Refinish the window
  • Install new flooring
  • Install wood trim around tile
  • Replace faucet
  • Replace outlets, switches and plates
  • Paint remaining walls
  • Replace toe kick
  • Install under cabinet lighting

Some of this stuff I knew would require repair or replacement in advance of the kitchen project. For instance, I knew that I’d want to replace the flooring and faucet before even one dab of paint was applied to the cabinets. Others didn’t make themselves apparent until just this past weekend. The outlets and switches, for example. They’re in fine working order and their off white color seemed just fine when the walls were painted. Now that wall is covered in white subway tile, however, the off white outlets stand out in a displeasing way. It’s never ending, I tell you!

Considering this growing list of projects for this one room, I should have the whole house in tip top shape sometime around 2030.