Palmer House

Renovating and Restoring Our 1880 Folk Victorian

I love my house. I love my house so much. I love my house so much that I forgot to post a blog about it because I was too busy entertaining sixteen guests for my father’s 60th birthday party! Fun was had by all, but now it’s back to business! Grab a drink and a snack people, because this is going to be a long one!

The Little Blue Room. When we looked at Palmer House, this was the smallest bedroom in the house. At the time, it was being used as a sewing room by the owner. It was a Tiffany Blue color, and the trim was the same cream color found on the rest of the trim in the house. There was a small, shallow built-in bookcase and a closet that was just big enough to step into, turn around in place three hundred and sixty degrees, and step back out. The closet had no door at the time, just a sheer curtain hung on a suspension rod. It was the cutest little room! But it needed some help.

The walls in the Little Blue Room were plaster, and the plasterer, whoever they were, didn’t seem to know what they were doing. The walls were not only lumpy and bumpy – they weren’t even straight up and down! The exterior wall was definitely not at a ninety degree angle and would need to be fixed before we could do anything else in the room.

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Here is a shot showing the poor quality of the plaster on the walls. You can see the lath underneath through the hole. This corner of the room didn’t have the piece of base molding in place – this is how we found it. You can see the quarter round that was removed in this picture and what a poor paint job they had.

The floor was the original maple subfloor that was put in the house 138 years ago, and I was thrilled…until I lifted the area rug in the room and found dry rot hiding. NOOO!! We had beautiful, wide-plank maple in the upstairs hallway that carried into this little bedroom, but time had done its worst and destroyed the middle of the floor.

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This is what was hiding under and area rug in the Little Blue Room. CURSE YOU DRY ROT! You are an original floor killer! (Picture me shaking my fist in the air).

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More rot and holes that couldn’t be repaired. My heart was aching!

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This is the doorway to the Little Blue Room leading from the hallway into the room. See the gorgeous maple flooring on the left side of the picture? That’s what I was HOPING would be under the carpet throughout the Little Blue Room! But no luck. You can also see the big gap between the new-construction door and the floor after we removed the threshold into the room, which was placed there in order to take up the gap when the new-construction door was hung.

The small cubby hole (as I called it) of a closet was actually perfect for hiding away small items that didn’t seem to have any other storage place in the house. The walls in there were even worse than the walls in the actual room, but as it was inside a closet and the walls were so bad, I decided that I would have a door made to hide the inside.

So work began! We hired none other than the man! They myth! The Legend! (AKA my dad) to repair the walls and put in a new floor. The painting, I decided, would be my job. I like doing it. I like the instant gratification of seeing a wall transformed by something as simple as a coat of paint. For me, it’s also a mindless activity. One where I can shut my brain off and just go through the motions.

The first thing that needed to be done was to fix the walls. Altogether, my dad spread five five-gallon pails of mud on the walls in order to straighten them and smooth them as best he could. The walls are not perfect, but it’s kinda what I love about them. It took three days to do all the work – mud, sand, mud, sand.

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Here is the interior wall. You can see how much mud was put on the walls! And you can see the high spots of the walls that didn’t need the mudding by the Tiffany Blue peaking through. This also gives you an idea of what the original floors looked like! There was a small patch in the floor – you can see it near the door. Right next to the box fan in the left corner of the picture, you can see where the dry rot starts. We contemplated trying to pry up the center of the floor and replacing just those pieces, but it would have ended up costing us more money and given us no guarantee that it would match or that the original floor would have not started to deteriorate around the new. We also had to account for a large gap that was left between the floor and the walls that we discovered once some quarter-round was removed from the base molding.

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Can you make out the faint line on the wall to the right of the picture? That’s the exterior wall. It bends out awkwardly starting at that line. How did that happen, riddle me this??

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You can see some more of the high points on the walls in this picture, and a slightly better view of how widespread the dry rot was. It encompassed the entire middle-section of the floor.

During those three days, I was THRILLED to find the original door for the cubby hole in the basement! I was even more excited to find the original rim lock and porcelain knob on the door. And then I took it outside…

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This broke my heart…again.

Sadly, sitting in a wet basement did not treat this cute little door well. The rim lock was totally seized and rusted all the way through. There was no saving it…we tried.

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The door was chipping and the lock was lost, but the door itself was solid, and the wood was still in good shape. We cut the rim lock out and I set to work on scraping it down. And then, the most magical thing happened:

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I came home from work and found that my dad had put down the new floor over the old one! I was adamant that the floor we put in was the same size and species that was already there, so five-inch maple was put in! Aren’t they beautiful? My dad did an awesome job picking out boards that had a lot of grain and knots to them. I imagine that they are the spitting image of what the originals looked like when they were put in new! Over the next couple of days, we stained and polyurethaned the entire floor. I chose Minwax’s Early American for the stain color. It didn’t match the hallway, but I felt it allowed the natural wood tones and grain to shine through without forcing the wood to take on an unnatural color.

While the floor was going through the stain and polyurethane process, I started work on another little project! One of my favorite places to go for inspiration and household objects is the Historic Albany Foundation. The Historic Albany Foundation is a private, not-for-profit organization that preserves buildings of historical value. They advocate for protection, education, and provide technical assistance to those of us who are architectural and historical nuts! They own a warehouse which is the most glorious type of Disneyland that someone like me could ever enter. They. Have. Everything. Tubs, molding, balusters, sinks, toilets – ENTIRE STAIRCASES!

Lighting! Our house does not have grand, ten foot ceilings. This was a blue-collar house, and the ceilings were not made to be extravagant. However, I desperately wanted a small chandelier for in this room. I went to the warehouse and walked circles through the lighting section probably six times. Everything fell under the same categories: Too big, missing pieces, or too expensive. But…I kept coming back to this little three-armed chandelier. She was brass and glass and gorgeous. She wasn’t missing any pieces, but it was obvious that she would need to be re-wired. I bought her for $20.00, put her in to be re-wired that day, and walked away with a total investment in lighting of $50.00. WINNING.

Such a cute little chandelier, I thought, was in need of a pretty ceiling medallion. And I was inspired by Amy Heavilin of Vivacious Victorian (go check her blog out!) to paint my own! So I went to Restoration Hardware, ordered a primed ceiling medallion that wasn’t too complicated, borrowed some paint and brushes from my mom, and created a beauty.

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Don’t worry, you’ll see her soon. I’m building the suspense!

The next step was to hang the cubby door and see if there were any adjustments that needed to be made now that we had a new floor in.

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She’s a pretty little girl! We had to cut the bottom of the door because the floor was at a slight slant, and I didn’t want any scratches in my new beautiful maple floors! (We also replaced the bit of base molding that was missing!)

Then, I had a decision to make: Keep the door chippy, or paint it to match the rest of the molding. I wasn’t exactly sure what I wanted to do, so I did what any rational human would do…I set up a poll on Instagram! I got a resounding “PAINT IT!”, and in the end, I’m so glad I did, because the new rim lock I ordered, although a gorgeous reproduction, would have looked way too new and perfect against a chippy door. It crossed my mind briefly to go back to the warehouse and get an old, patinaed rim lock, but I wanted a door that would be functional – which meant a lock with a key that I knew would work! So I found a happy medium, and instead of stripping the door completely, I just painted over the door as-is, giving her, in the end, a rustic look that matched my base boards (They had been scraped and painted over a number of times over the years!)

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This was what the door looked like after the first of two coats of paint. The yellow stripe running down the door was my attempt at filling a rather large crack that had occurred over the years in the first board.

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Before I could start painting, I needed light in the room. So up went my ceiling medallion and my cute mini chandelier. Prepare yourself…

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Shut the front door.

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LOOK AT HER. WOULD YA LOOK AT HER?!

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Three little Edison bulbs completed the look. No shades here!

Next, I donned my painting sweats and started with the first coat on the walls!

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Yes, the slippers were a must too. It was March in Upstate New York after all…there was still snow on the ground!

Before paint, I primed all the walls using a flat primer. For color, hubby chose “Brick House” from the Colonial Williamsburg palette by Benjamin Moore, but I had the paint mixed at Sherwin Williams. I have found that I like the coverage that Sherwin Williams gives over the other brands.

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In June the year before, we had spent our summer vacation in Colonial Williamsburg in Virginia and – Oh my heart! I swear, had a known that such a place existed, I would not have ended up a nurse living in Upstate New York in a Folk Victorian! I would have been working in Colonial Williamsburg and living in a Colonial-era home!

So now, enjoy some time-lapse video of me putting the first coat of paint on the walls. Here is a critical lesson to all of you: Always do two coats of paint. At least two. And take your time. Painting is easy, but you have to take your time cutting in with a brush and then rolling slowly to avoid splatter and bubbles. Do what I did: Put on a movie you know by heart, grab some vino, and listen to the movie while you paint. (And yes, some of the videos are sideways because I didn’t know that you couldn’t video time-lapse with your phone horizontally. Lesson learned).

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

It took a three-day weekend and a full bottle of wine, but I got the color on. And I loved it. IT IS THE PERFECT WARM BROWN! This was the color I was looking for when I painted our master bedroom. You hear me Milk Toast?! BROWN. NOT PINK. BROWN! This brown made the trim pop without making the room too dark and it didn’t overwhelm the color of the stain on the wood floors and make them look too bright…I’m telling you, it’s the stuff of dreams.

Next, we needed to cut, cope, and install quarter round on the top and bottom of the base molding to cover the gaps that were left. You guys – I bought twelve different sample colors for the walls. All of them came from the Colonial Williamsburg palette (because I have an obsession) and they ranged from grey to green to brown to blue! I was seriously all over the map. And since we all know what a good judge of color I am (insert eye roll here) I left it up to the hubby to choose (Bravo, hubs!). But what to do with all those pint-size (literally) samples of paint? YOU USE THEM. Again, shout out to Amy Heavilin from Vivicious Victorian for that golden nugget of advice! So the light green I choose, called “Bassett Hall Green”, was used to paint the quarter round and give a little detail and contrast to the room. Bassett Hall also made it on to the ceiling medallion I painted!

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Yup. That would be our formal living room I was painting in. And that would be Winnie making yet another guest appearance.

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Dad came back to teach me how to use an air nailer to install the quarter round. I’m a regular pro now!

Now again, there is nothing “perfect” about this room. The walls are still wonky, the floor is flat but still has a slant (what floor doesn’t in an old house?) and the baseboards are not perfect. As such, the quarter round didn’t fit “perfectly” to the wall. And that’s ok. I prefer it that way. Trying to make an old house too perfect will make it look like you are trying to make an old thing look too new, and that was not the look I was going for here. There would be no extreme caulking to take up the gaps or cutting things at super crazy angles to make them fit just right. We pressed the quarter round in place and shot a nail through it,puddied up the holes from the nail and touched them up with paint (FYI: Q-tips work GREAT for that kind of spot work!). In the end, I loved the perfectly imperfect way it turned out!

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Remember, we didn’t remove the base molding and replace it. There was nothing wrong with it! Yes, it had been painted over (poorly) God knows how many times over the years and yes the paint had chipped and things were drilled into the wood (we have an obscene number of telephone wires and jacks around this house…and before you ask, no. It was never an office!), but I fell in love with the texture and the story that those base moldings told. So no gaps were filled, and no crazy cuts were made. What was there was there, and I love the results! (The outlet covers are egg and dart antiqued brass reproductions from House of Antique Hardware. All the Hardware in this room was from there! I chose egg and dart because it is a classic pattern that was very “in” in the late 1800’s).

The very last thing that needed to be painted in the room was the inside of the closet. I wasn’t planning on painting the inside…it was an expense I just couldn’t afford! But remember all those sample paint colors? Yup, you betcha! What better paint to use and what better way to add an unexpected pop of color to this very neutral room? You wouldn’t see it unless the door was open (which would be pretty much never) and it didn’t cost me a dime extra! So, I chose to use the color “Williamsburg Wythe Blue” for the inside of my cubby hole. It was my first pick for the color of the entire room, but hubby nixed it (“The room is blue already and you want to paint it blue again?” Ugh. His logic kills me sometimes…). So, away I went! (PS, the video is moving because my phone was slowly slipping down the floor. Again, lesson learned).

 

 

Isn’t it a pretty blue? Lots of grey undertones! Can you see all the imperfections in the walls in the closet? We didn’t spend any extra money or time fixing the closet. Like I said, the door was going to be closed most of the time anyways.

Last, before furniture, was hardware. Imagine me as the heart-eyed emoji right now! To me, hardware is how you take a normal room and make it vintage. Everything I chose for the room was in an egg and dart pattern and in antique brass. Regular brass screams “too new” and “too 80’s” all at the same time! But add some shadowing to it and BAM! You got show stoppers! The only other “metal” in the room is the cast-iron vent cover over the heating and AC duct for the room. But boy, between that ceiling medallion, the chandelier and the hardware, this room sung!

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Be still my heart! Someday, all of the light switches in the house will be switched over to the old-fashioned push button variety! We have ONE of those left in the house in the upstairs hallway, and it always makes me smile! At the time, there just wasn’t enough room in the budget for something like that when the switch that was there worked just fine.

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Remember how I said I was going to replace that rim lock?? I chose a black porcelain knob to tie in with the cast iron grate over the heating and AC duct, even though the original knob was white.

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This cast iron heating cover gives me all the feels! When previous owners put in the central air (Thank you Lord and baby Jesus!), the opening through the lath and plaster was basically knocked out with a hammer. We couldn’t expand the hole, but the cast iron grate was too big and showed the rough edges, not to mention the shiny ductwork inside. So what do you do? You spray paint it all black of course! Now you don’t even notice!

FINISHED! Now, I just had to get all this back into this tiny room…

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Most of this stuff didn’t make it back into the room…it ran away to live with other unwanted stuff from other people’s houses and it’s much happier now.

Items started to trickle in slowly. Unfortunately, the previous July, my Uncle passed away. I ended up taking a lot of his belongings to use my own house – most notably, a lot of his books. They now sit on the shallow bookcase in the room (which I discovered USED to be a doorway between our master bedroom and the little blue room! Hence why it is so shallow!)

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All of the books in this room came from my Uncle’s house, along with various other items that belonged to my great grandmother, like the small perfume bottle at the top of the bookcase. The handsome devil in the picture is my paternal grandfather. He was such a looker! (You like that super crooked framing at the top?? I do!)

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The rug was bought on sale from Wayfair.com. And yes, those wrinkles are now gone! The little writing desk was my grandmother’s, and the small chair was a side-of-the-road find that hubby brought home for me!

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The type writer belonged to hubby’s grandmother, and I think it might be my favorite thing in this room! The wooden American flag was my anniversary gift from the hubs this past year. I have been asking for one forever! And when I opened it and it was the Betsy Ross flag – forget about it! (The brown box hanging on the wall behind the door is my hideaway iron and ironing board!)

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The last thing that was put into this room was one of my grandmother’s rocking chairs. I sit in this chair and read all the time! The “side table” is made up of two wooden Drambuie boxes from out of my Uncle’s house. We have them all over Palmer House! He used to distribute the Drambuie to local liquor stores and keep the boxes for storage in his basement. I put felt furniture pads under the bottom one to protect the floors and just stacked two on top of one another! The newspaper article in the frame is an advertisement for this brand new thing called a telephone book! It’s from approximately 1911 (more on that good stuff coming soon!). The books belonged to Uncle, and the small pitcher and saucer were likely my great grandmothers.

So there you have it! The Little Blue Room turned sitting room! We put a lot of love into this room and I feel like it shows. It’s probably my favorite in the house so far since it holds so many items from family members. This room was fun to do! And what a transformation from Tiffany Blue to a coffee color! The scary part is that this is probably the simplest room in terms of size and what it needed in terms of restoration. The other bedrooms are going to be much bigger jobs, and I am dreading it as much as I am looking forwards to it! More to come soon!

“If you don’t see the book you want on the shelf, write it” – Beverly Cleary

 

2 thoughts on “The Little Blue Room

  1. hmalcorn says:

    amazing work! I’m in love with that medallion for your chandelier

    Like

    1. Thank you! I was SO upset with it in the beginning when there was only the light green on it! I wanted to paint over it and start again! Hubby encouraged me to at least finish it and see how I liked it then. I’m so glad I did!!

      Liked by 1 person

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