Hatton House Diaries

One day, we decided to buy a 125 year old Victorian House in Des Moines, Iowa…….

Refinishing Wood…the David Sweet Way February 8, 2013

This week (month?), I’m continuing the first floor woodwork refinishing, using the David Sweet method. David uses historically appropriate strippers and finishes (read: no poly) and creates finishes that look like they belong in a 125 year old house. The process takes longer than dip stripping and smacking on poly based finish, but the color is so deep and finish so rich, I can’t really argue with it. It’s my forever house, right?

I’m using a heat gun to remove paint when I have to, but my first choice is to find pieces without paint. My least favorite is pieces that have paint over bare wood, because you have to work extremely fast with the heat gun in order to avoid scorching the wood. Wood that’s been stained then painted is easy to work with a heat gun, working from the details out to the flat surfaces. After the heat gun, my biggest expense was the very nice respirator I purchased after working for an hour without one and feeling like I’d just taken a year off my life.

Best case, you start with a piece that looks like the one on the left, and you can scrape off what little paint is on it and not even involve paint removers. Be careful with strippers, as many can permanently damage some wood species. We used a mixture of denatured alcohol and old shellac from previous projects (this reminded me of something like sourdough starter) to remove the shellac and 100 years of wax and dirt buildup. I felt like I was flipping back through stories of maids who were too lazy to strip the previous year’s wax as I was removing all the layers by alternating my denatured alcohol starter and ragging off. That will leave you at the piece that looks like the left center plinth block.

The right center plinth has been coated with shellac. A few more coats of shellac would give it a true historic finish that is deep and rich. We were trying to match the color of our aged wood, as shellac will age into a darker reddish tone from it’s dark golden start with wax and years. You can pigment shellac, or add a stain layer for color. It takes some experimentation to get the exact color, but as you can see, the end result is gorgeous! Now, on to the miles of board I have left!

 

River Bend, It’s Not Funny Anymore October 2, 2012

When I first moved to River Bend, I thought it was funny, the reaction some people had when I told them where I was moving. “Oh, you’re moving THERE? Do you think it’s safe?” I gave them the same eye roll I give people when they talk about “rush hour traffic” in Des Moines. Oh, you charming people, who have to strive so hard to find something wrong with our idyllic world in Central Iowa. Granted, I grew up in the part of the northeast that is also pretty utopian (at least until you check the price tag). Montclair, New Jersey had racial and economic diversity, but it had a wonderful community spirit in the 70s and 80s that taught me that there is great strength in a diverse community that works together.

It was that diversity that I found lacking in other places I’ve lived in Central Iowa. When I first moved to Ames, and then spent 15 years in Des Moines North Side suburbs, it was “nice” in the anti-septic way I suppose works for some people. People would pull into their attached garages after work and rarely even say hello to each other. In 15 months of living in River Bend, I’ve made more neighborhood friends than I made in 15 years on the north side. I love that about River Bend: it’s real. People talk to each other, care about each other, care about making the neighborhood a better place. On the north side, my daughter was told she couldn’t play with one neighborhood girl because we support the gay marriage of one of her aunts. In River Bend, my children will grow up knowing that regardless of race, economics, or marital preference or status, they will have plenty of children to make friends with.

When I learned from a friend that Big Tomato Pizza refused to deliver to her just a few blocks from my house, it wasn’t funny anymore. I never thought River Bend was unsafe, even before I moved my family here. But now that we’ve lived here for 16 months, I’m offended. I’m a night owl, and I’m often up way past midnight. This summer, I would run after dark several times a week, by myself, with headphones. That’s how safe I feel in my neighborhood. I could go to the gym, but I’d rather wait for it to cool down after sunset, and run on the often totally deserted streets of River Bend, on our well lit streets, looking at the beautiful hundred year old homes in various degrees of revitalization.

Do I believe my neighborhood was different in the past? I know the very house I live in used to be home to drug users and dealers, just the same as a Civil War hero used to live here and host parties where Louis Armstrong played. I also know that since Officer Yanira Scarlett started working as out neighborhood liaison about 4 years ago, crime is down 30%, to the point that we are now statistically safer than many suburban neighborhood to the west of us. Neighborhoods change, and while I find the history of this place to be fascinating, it shouldn’t be used to discriminate against the people who are here today. Yes, we are a diverse community, racially, economically, spiritually, and in almost any –ly you can think of, and it is that diversity that makes us stronger. To continue to not deliver to River Bend is to disgrace the hard work that has taken place here over the past decade by residents, community activists, and the Des Moines Police Department. I’m not claiming to live in a perfect world, but if it’s a neighborhood where I have been safe running at night, isn’t it safe enough for a pizza delivery guy?

Thank you to ABC5 for reporting on this story tonight, 10/2/12, at 10 PM. I hope we can turn this slight on our neighborhood into a chance for Big Tomato Pizza and the rest of Des Moines to take another look at River Bend. We think you’ll like what you see.

Update: Here’s the link to the channel 5 story: http://www.myabc5.com/story/19711436/denied-pizza-delivery#.UGuhBBYawjA.twitter

 

Guest Working at a River Bend Neighborhood House – Ceiling Demo April 9, 2012

Filed under: Remodeling and Design Projects — hattonhousedsm @ 7:37 am
Tags: , , ,

Kitchen Ceiling Before

I had been pestering one of the contractors in the neighborhood to let me help in one of his houses in exchange for advising and helping me with the Hatton House. I figured that I may not really know what I’m doing in remodeling, but I am good at following directions, and if someone could tell me what to do, I’d be able to do it pretty easily. So I could just do some unskilled job somewhere else in exchange for some skilled advice here. After several pestering him several time, he said “Well, I have to tear down a kitchen ceiling, you want to do that?”

I realize this was a trick question. Apparently no one WANTS to tear down a ceiling. But for me, this was the best news ever! I can’t possibly screw up destroying something! No leveling, measuring, detailing….just tear it down! Can do! I wish I had a photo of how I showed up: open toed shoes, safety glasses (but not goggles), no gloves, short sleeves, no breathing mask, I was an accident waiting to happen. I got my hair covered and a white mask and went to town.

Let’s be clear: “plaster” in old homes is a lot closer to concrete than the plaster I’ve used in craft projects. It comes down in huge, unpredictable chunks, and you had better not be in the way when they fall. It took me a while to figure it out, but soon (after going home for work gloves) I was prying down strips of lath, grabbing it with one hand while the other hand tapped a hammer against it to knock out all the concrete-like chunks down that strip. Sometimes, whole chunks of ceiling would crash down, sometimes it was just dust. Sometimes there would be black dust in the ceiling, sometimes 1930s newspapers that were shredded with age. One particularly unfortunate strip pulled down heaps of sawdust.

The whole ceiling came down in an afternoon. As you can see, it was one of the dirtiest jobs I’ve ever done, but the satisfaction was pretty intense. I’m really glad that demolition work isn’t my full time job, but every once in a while, it’s nice to tear something apart! If you want to see what I looked like after this job, you’ll find a photo here. 

Kitchen Ceiling After