The kitchen ceiling is DONE

Working on the kitchen has been an exercise in fits and starts. One task would begin, then be delayed, then another part of the project would rear its ugly head. Rinse, repeat. So it’s been hard to figure out a good point at which to write an update here. But here goes.

Application of the ceiling tiles continued as before (I followed this guide). I managed to kill one brad gun and a case of Liquid Nails before I was done. It wasn’t a complicated task, just a laborious one, especially since installing from the center outwards is non-intuitive and the tiles needed to be overlapped in a single direction across the whole ceiling. I used a big guillotine paper cutter to fit the tiles to the edges and the attic door. Did I mention that instead of clear-coating the first 3 tiles I accidentally used white paint instead? Yeah, it took me 2.5 tiles to figure that out. Because of that, I used every last good tile and Randall had to scrub paint off a couple of the ones I messed up.

After about a month of working on it for an hour here or there (and a surprise week in NYC), it was finally all covered.


But just as important was the finishing. Crown molding to hide the junction of wall and ceiling and also a molding around the top of the cabinets to give them less of a mid-century look. I started with the cabinets since it would be small, flat pieces of molding that I could handle alone. Measure, cut, paint, nail.

The crown was another story however. A weird, complicated 2-person job. I was heartened by this post, but it seems that a rotten first try is required in the crown molding game. After much second-guessing, heated discussion, and exhaustion, we got it installed. But it’s not our finest work… the lumpy walls and ceiling saw to that. Ooh, that gap!


It IS gappy, no question. But we did the best we could (first timers!) and hopefully the razzle-dazzle factor will make these problems disappear for less critical eyes.

Here’s a little before and after of both the cabinet and crown molding:


It’s looking pretty smart! Though now that I see it all together the room looks more buttoned-up and proper than I expected. I’m sure we’ll fix that.

Next: The light fixture.

Still working on the walls


Well, skim coating the walls only made the bubbles beneath the wallpapers more obvious. So I sanded and applied more mud. Rinse, repeat. Also patched a few holes we put in when we were crowbarring the ceiling and spackled ONE THOUSAND nail holes. It took a couple weeks of working here and there, but the walls are smoothish. They’ve got “character” for sure, but I think they look pretty nice. I’m not bad with a trowel and I think I might actually be able to install drywall if I needed to.

They’re ready for primer and paint. Now that we have SO MUCH wall space and the room seems big, I was thinking about painting the walls a soft light gray instead of white. Just to add some dimension. A desaturated sage or dove kind of color. I liked these so I gave them a shot:


Naturally they don’t really look the same on the wall. The one on the top is too dark, but I like the one on the bottom. It looks like cloud vapor.


My only concern is the room looking too cold with the silver ceiling and white cabinets. But the counters are still wood, and I’d like to put in wood flooring too, so maybe it balances out. Maybe? What do you think?

Meanwhile. The plan for the kitchen ceiling is to cover the whole holey thing with plywood and nail up the (unpainted) tin ceiling tiles. Tin tiles were apparently created in America to mimic the look of fancy European plaster but they really took off in the late 1800s when lath and plaster ceilings began to decay in earnest. Makes perfect sense to me. Aaron is going to install the plywood for us, but he has a day job so it’ll get done when he can fit it in.

But what about the walls?

Before we even start on the ceiling, there’s a lot to be done. Like the walls. I didn’t really think about the walls. On one side there’s painted chipboard paneling, 1960s style. Not entirely sure what’s underneath it, but I hope it’s not smashed up plaster. On the other side, we have three layers of wallpaper and at least two layers of paint, some of which only go partway up the wall.

wallpaper side

This picture is actually after I pulled the former crown molding off and took with it an entire layer of paper. Thank goodness for that mesh-backed paper from the 70s. This is what that paper looked like, btw (the paint just peeled right off of it):


Underneath that was this (covered in browning glue):


Under that, going all the way up to the old ceiling is this charming print:


Which has a brown colorway twin in our basement. I thought that would be all, but that paper was peeling a bit above the window and below it and another layer of paint, I found this:


Looks like a moorish mosaic pattern. In blues! Since I was descending well into lead paint territory, I opted to stop there.

As I mentioned, the wall by the laundry and bathroom was covered in paneling that Randall made quick work of removing. Underneath was drywall covered in a textured goldenrod paint, and the wall is in pretty decent condition. I was worried that they chose paneling to cover some massive holes, but I think they just liked the style. If I’m not mistaken, the paneling was originally Pepto Bismol pink. The newly naked wall has a spot full of tack-holes where a calendar used to be, and the silhouette of an awesome deco switch plate, but not the plate itself.

switch plate

I’ve got a lot of spackling and smoothing to do. The internet tells me that a skim coat of joint compound will probably work for this, but it’ll be my first time working with the stuff. First I need to sand away some of the lumps of wallpaper paste, but I’m not going near that goldenrod wall with the sander. I’m sure everyone’s favorite lead paint is waiting.


Safety first! If  the skim coat doesn’t go well we can always put drywall over it. In the meantime, lots of dust to clean up.

Into the not-so-great unknown. Our attic.

With the drop-ceiling gone, we can finally get into the attic. Our handyfriend Aaron came over to install a drop-down attic ladder in the kitchen ceiling. Since the ladder is made to be mounted to the joists in the attic, the stability of the ceiling itself isn’t important, and that’s good because several spots look like this:

ceiling holes, explained.

There is no way we could have installed the ladder ourselves, if for no other reason than I lack the upper body strength, so having an Aaron is great. I recommend it. He taped off an area around where he was working, essentially making a small plastic room within the larger kitchen. It didn’t stop the RAIN OF FILTH that came down from somehow getting all around the house (thanks a lot, you dirty cats!), but that’s okay because now we can get in the attic.

We took a short look around. We could see disconnected gas pipes that I believe once lit the house, new wiring and knob-and-tube wiring, something terrifying in the corner (I’ll get back to that), and a thick layer of dirt on every horizontal surface. Have I mentioned the attic is filthy? 100 years of roof dirt waiting just for us! It was serious, so I got out our Dharma Initiative jumpsuits from a few halloweens ago.


That’s my serious face. We climbed the ladder with masks, a shop vac, a lantern and a trash bag and got to work. Taking care to only stand on the floor joists, we picked up large debris by hand and vacuumed the dirt. The debris was lath, plaster, old lumber, a petrified lemon, and a marble! That’s all we found in the cubic yard we were able to clear. Who knows what awaits us in the next 1000 square feet! That area alone took over an hour, and boy was it hot up there. Turns out that’s where all the heat goes! It’s California, nothing’s insulated here.

So the thing. In the corner. It looks like a big (beach ball-sized) lump of spray foam insulation stuck to an outside wall, but it’s not insulation. Nope, it’s organic. You can only really stand up in the center of the attic where the peak of the roof is, so to get over to the lump you have to crawl low along a joist. I creeped over to get a look and got to about five feet from it and turned back when I could confirm that it was not, in fact, man-made. I tried to get a photo of the thing but failed. Then I called Randall in and he smote the giant, papery abandoned wasp nest with a broom. It was abandoned! Hooray!


My hero! His backside. Forgive the photo quality, it was very dark.

After that we both decided we’d had enough and closed up the attic until we had a reason to be there. My apologies to our future electricians.

Next… back to the kitchen.


House genealogy (part 1)

I warn you this post is long, but to me it is fascinating. It started with the humble snippet above that came with our escrow paperwork. It was exciting to know that the house was THAT OLD, and that we knew the name of the (probably) original owner. Saloon?! Was our house a saloon? No, it was just the owner’s stated business. I started searching on and found enough information to get me hooked. Hooked enough to pay for an membership. There’s a lot of confusing information out there* but these are the things I know for sure:

1870: Frederick Brandt was working for his father, Conrad, a grocer at 417 3rd St, San Francisco (less than a block from where I work now). Seems like a successful working-class family.

1881: Frederick is listed as a grocer living (and working?) at the same address. Probably took over the family business.

1884: Alameda directory listings have no mention of Mr Brandt.

1886: Mr Brandt appears on the voter registration in Alameda, but no street address. There may not have been a house here at that point.

1887: Frederick Brandt now runs the Chicago Beer Hall with John Hencken. I’m guessing Hencken was an uncle or cousin – Brandt’s mother’s maiden name was Hencken. The bar is just down the street from the location of his father’s store.

1889: Check out the directory listing for his residence:

He was here on this spot, but this was before there was even an *address*!  Also for the locals, 9th Street used to be called McPherson. If you’re interested in what Alameda had going for it in 1889, check this out.

1894: Frederick Brandt is arrested for murder.


Continue reading “House genealogy (part 1)”

Occupants of times past

I’m so excited! I’ve been researching the original owners of our house and I’ve just had a breakthrough. I think I know how the property first changed hands and who the proud owner of the 1930’s stove in the basement was! I’ve been working on a post about it and it’s not ready yet, but I had to share my glee. I started writing the post more than a month ago, but the more I look, the more I find and I’m not done yet. I don’t know why unraveling this mystery gives me such a thrill, but it does.

A plan has been hatched

It’s not much yet, but I think we’ve settled on a general layout for the bathroom renovation. Is it a renovation when you totally change the layout? I don’t know. You know how it’s laid out now? Let me refresh your memory.

The purple areas are not bathroom space. Closet makes sense, storage makes sense, but the laundry room layout and walled-off closet are CUCKOO. So idea #1 is to remedy the awkward waste of space, idea #2 is to get me a bathtub I can use, and idea #3 is to have a bathroom free of leaks and 60 years of other people’s crud.

  • Big bath and shower area (separate units)
  • Door is moved over (no more 2-door airlock)
  • Stacked laundry closet behind the door
  • Build storage around the sink on the left
  • Another window! There was one in the laundry room
  • Toilet remains in the same place

We’ll lose some storage, it’s true. But we’ll add some on either side of the sink, and we have a lot to begin with. Yes it’s weird that our sole bathroom is right off the kitchen, and that’s why I think they had the 2-door entry, but it’s just a waste of space. And the toilet area is so secluded that it might be able to be made into a water closet.

Now that we have this very preliminary floor plan we can start talking to contractors and see how much this insanity is going to cost, and when we might be able to afford to do it.

Lead paint: Delicious but deadly!

That’s my face after I realized what I got myself into.

You know how we had our house painted six months ago? Well we got the absolute cheapest painters ever, not realizing til afterwards that they didn’t prime the house (we really should have realized for that price). They power washed first and they did a couple of coats, but our little old house needed more. It’s not peeling everywhere, but where it is peeling, it started many layers ago. A little scrape on one of the blisters reveals this: Continue reading “Lead paint: Delicious but deadly!”

Screen Doors

Among the many other bees in my bonnet, I’ve gotten it in my head that we need a new screen door. I mean, we do. The current one is kind of awful and pulls the entryway right back to 1958. I’ve examined the catalogs of Vintage Woodworks and The Gingerbread Man many times, but there is no way, NO WAY we’re going to spend $500+ on a screen door. I admire hand craftsmanship and real materials, but I’m not a person who could justify that. Probably ever. So it finally occurred to me (today) that they must make retro-styled doors out of vinyl. They make corbels and gables and everything else out of it. Sure enough, they do and they’re a fraction of the price (Mass production! Yay?). These two are from Screen Tight.

Here is my question to you, gentle reader: Do you think I could get a door like this with screen all the way down and keep myself from accidentally kicking through it?

Or must I resign myself to a model more like this one:

which looks a little more awkward and is frillier than I’d like. Any other manufacturers or solutions I should know about? Please advise.