Getting Plastered

By on 25 November, 2013 in Historic preservation, Kate and Stephen with 0 Comments

A few weeks ago we wrote about getting our chimney stabilized. Not leaning visibly, it was nevertheless falling slowly. After 83 years, it was time to give the old girl a lift. We didn’t set out to pour concrete pillars underneath our chimney. Who does? We were just looking to fix some sagging crown molding in our front room. Things are just never uncomplicated when you’re looking to fix up a beautiful old Cloverdale home.

We waited two weeks for the house to settle after the chimney was leveled and stabilized, and then our friends from Aspinwall & Associates came back to finish the inside job. We were curious about what would become of the front room, but first there was another issue that needed fixing. Years ago, someone closed in our porch (this past spring, we finished the job with salvaged windows), but the falling chimney had torqued the brick in the sunroom. After trying industrial glue, it was clear that another solution was needed – we couldn’t have bricks falling on our nice new windows. A clever solution was found: Run wood along the inside of the upper windowbox to support the bricks. While we were at it, we repainted the sunroom, saying goodbye to the old and musty cream color and hello to light grey walls and a lovely blue ceiling.

The trim is new – hard to tell, right?


“Haint blue” looks nice against bright walls.


The color is a traditional Southern one, “haint blue.” It’s long been tradition to paint porch ceilings blue down here. We were told that the tradition started because insects wouldn’t burrow into the blue ceiling – folks thought this was because bugs thought the ceiling was the sky. Turns out the blue paint was made with lye back in those times, which was the real cause of the insect repellent. Still, traditions are nice, so we went with the blue ceiling.

The day the ceiling was repainted, our workers got a surprise in the front yard. While one was cutting trim, a beautiful green and blue parakeet landed on his shoulder. No kidding. The poor thing was lonely and hungry. We put it in a box with some air holes while someone ran to Wet Pets to get him a cage and some food. Though there was a near-escape, we managed to put him in his new cage. He couldn’t stay with us (with our cats, more to the point); fortunately, he found a good home and a new name – Messi, after soccer star Lionel Messi.

Messi, caged

The repair of the front room was the last thing before painting. Up until now, our contractors had thought they’d be able to replace the plaster with new plaster. They brought in a cool device with little spindles designed to fit around edges for custom tile and wood working. They used this on the old molding to create a kind of key, out of wood, that they planned to drag along wet plaster to create a match. Turns out this is much harder than it looks. Plaster is soggy and lumpy and hard to work with. It also dries super fast. And the molding in our house is complicated – it has lots of bumps and shelves and curves, not the kind of thing that lends itself to easy replication. There are, of course, many videos online with folks doing this kind of work. We’d seen all these, and once it became clear that the wooden key wasn’t going to cut it (it needed to be cleaned every 30 seconds or so, didn’t have sharp edges for definition, etc.) we had to consider our options. We could pay nearly a thousand dollars to get a custom blade for cutting wood to match the existing molding, or we could get wooden molding and put it over the existing. We opted for the latter, and we’re happy we did – you can hardly tell that it’s different from the molding in the dining room, and we saved a bundle in money and time.


Working on the plaster.

The dog was eager to help dispose of the old molding.

The paint was easy, by comparison. As much as we’d like to update our beige walls, we weren’t looking to repaint the whole house. We did update the ceiling color a little, opting for a brown more gray than the previous green-ish one, but that’s about it. Finally, after almost six years of living in it, our old house doesn’t have a hole in the front room. And we found a home for a lonely bird in the process. Progress!

New molding, no hole.

Kate and Stephen are Midtown residents with two cats, a dog, eight fish, a garden, an old house and a sense of adventure. They write about life in Midtown here and about life in Montgomery at their blog Lost in Montgomery.

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