The Cross House

Please, will you join me in the Parlor?

bt
A year ago the parlor in the Cross House looked like this.

 

536
A short while later it looked like this. Today, the parlor and library are the only rooms in the huge house which do not look like bombs have gone off in them. They are not “done” but nor do they have gaping holes in the walls, collapsed ceilings, or dangerous floors open to level(s) below. The parlor got primed white; I cleaned the circa-1950 oak floor, put in a few pieces of furniture to suggest civility, and then the room was put on hiatus while other projects stole my time and focus. All old house owners know just what I mean.

 

A problem with getting a pretty color on the walls of the parlor, which I have been DYING to do, is that the walls are not really ready. They LOOK ready, but a raking light reveals a disturbing reality.

Raking light is a bitch.

In normal light the walls look pristine, and just aching for paint. But raking light from a 1000W work-lamp instantly reveals an alarming multitude of imperfections.

In a previous post I outed myself as being a bit…disturbed. A bit nutty. OK, way nutty. You see, I love it when things are, well, right. I enjoy rightness. I delight in rightness.

 

This is the top of the center window in 2014. It looks kinda cruddy, right? But, it is THREE STORIES UP IN THE AIR and nobody can see crudiness THREE STORIES UP IN THE AIR.
The Cross House has a three-story round tower. I LOVE MY TOWER. There are five small windows at the third level. This is the top of the center window in 2014. It looks kinda cruddy, right? But, it is THREE STORIES UP IN THE AIR and nobody can see crudiness THREE STORIES UP IN THE AIR.

 

Yet, even though nobody can see crudiness THREE STORIES UP IN THE AIR, and even though I know this, I still could not retrain myself from making this trim...right. For, no matter that NOBODY can see that this smalls action of trim in 2014 has been restored to its 1894 appearance, I will know. I will know. And this matters to me. Sometimes I wish such stuff did not matter. My life would be a whole lot easier. Still, I smile looking at these before/after images. And I am satisfied.
Yet, even though nobody can see crudiness THREE STORIES UP IN THE AIR, and even though I know this, I still could not restrain myself from making this trim…right. For, no matter that NOBODY can see that this small section of trim was, in 2014, restored to its 1894 appearance, I will know. I will know. And this matters to me. Sometimes I wish such stuff did not matter. My life would be a whole lot easier. Still, I smile looking at these before/after images. And I am satisfied.

 

You see what I mean? I am disturbed.

And now my disturbed bent is focused on the parlor. So, even though the walls look just fine in normal light, I know that if I paint them a pretty color, a ray of sunlight will one day rake across a wall…and imperfections will show. Or, two years from now I will put a lamp on a table, and it will suddenly reveal sins of imperfection. Or, the fabulous 1890s gas/electric chandelier I happen upon for $80 (a man can dream, right?), once installed, will throw into relief three million imperfections on the walls.

Oh, the horror. The horror.

I had a few friends at the house the other day, and was describing these concerns about the parlor. As their eyes scanned the seemingly perfect walls, they looked to me. “Are you nuts?” they asked. “The walls look great.”

Then I switched on the raking light.

My guests gasped.

The pleasure of my vindication was perhaps a tad more than I should admit to.

 

CLARITY SIDEBAR

A while ago I was giving a tour of the Cross House to somebody I just met. I will call her Sue. When the tour was done, Sue said: “Wow! You are really anal-compulsive.”

I replied that I wasn’t actually.

Sue chortled.

“No, really,” I said.

Sue look upon me with a bit of pity, and I knew she thought I was in full-blown denial.

We looked at each other for a few moments. Me, a little miffed; she, sympathetically. I could hear her thinking: He just doesn’t get it.

“Follow me,” I asked, trying to keep the miff out of my tone.

I walked Sue out to my car, and opened it.

Sue gasped. The interior of the vehicle was a mess. An impressive mess.

Her eyes were wide in shock.

I explained. “I am not actually anal-retentive. Well, I am regarding the Cross House. The house has been so…bruised, and for so long, that I just have this overwhelming desire to nourish the house back to, I dunno, rightness. This seems vital to me, and drives a lot of what I do on the house.”

Sue looked at the Collyer brothers-like interior of my car, and said: “I did not know someone could be anal-compulsive on demand.”

Hey, that sounds like a great name for a band: Anal-compulsive on demand

 

gf
The mantel, delicious, in the parlor. Everything looks really good right? Well, please join me for a closer look. (Wow, the camera actually captured a ghost in the mirror! A bald ghost!)

 

67j6
A close-up of where wall meets wood mantel. Oh the horror! The horror! This kind of sloppiness freaks me out, man!

 

jj7
I cringe in horror! Old paint glopped on the wood? The horror! Sloppy paint edging? The horror!

 

;
EEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEK! Where are my smelling salts??????????

 

l
There is no way to Do It Right without removing the mantel. The over-mantel was attached with a single screw on top, and the over-mantel, to my amazement, pulled away effortlessly from the wall. I had the strong feeling that no one had seen behind the over-mantel since 1894. My excitement grew, and my heart raced.

 

6 - 1
Wait! What is that peeking from behind? OMG!!!!!!!! Is that wallpaper from…1894????????????????

 

9l
ZOUNDS!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! It IS wallpaper from 1894!

 

97;
The over-mantel removed. This is a sight unseen for 120-years. The 1894 wallpaper fragment is to the right.

 

;;
The paper is an embossed damask pattern. The background is a lavender color. The raised pattern is a very pale green, I think.

 

689
I will leave the fragment in situ so that somebody can find it again in a century.

 

;79;
Last year I discovered much larger wallpaper fragments of the same paper behind the two parlor radiators. My excitement was considerable. These fragments, too, will remain in situ.

 

m
The whole mantel gone. The parlor looks rather embarrassed by such nakedness.

 

-;7
All the vertical trim in the parlor has paint glopped on its sides. Ah, no. This affront will soon be removed.

 

;
The base is in two sections. The upper section easily comes off. Thank God. This will allow a perfect edge between PAINT and WOOD. While there is a lot wrong on Earth, it will be a small pleasure to know that, in the parlor of the Cross House at least, a very tiny amount of right will prevail.

 

;7
To the right of the over-mantle is a single nipple for a gas sconce. This is typical throughout the house, which has eight mantles. The nipple is brass, and was glopped with paint. I chipped most of this off, and will polish the nipple to rightness. This image also highlights the imperfection of the plaster walls, which will also be righted. After the room is righted and painted, I will install a period-correct sconce, with a candle tucked inside the glass shade rather than gas flame.

 

18 Responses to Please, will you join me in the Parlor?

    • I have painted five houses and now my current one. I too am anal about smoothing out walls, skimming and priming and painting. The edges have to be perfect and trim all resanded and repaired and sanded and back to smooth perfection. My husband thinks I am nuts about the whole thing. He would just paint over it. But when I am done, my husband does notice the difference. Those little details truly make all the difference.

  1. Hm, I could have sworn that at some point you had taken the mantle off already. I had thought that you had either you mentioned it during a visit or on another post, but I guess that I completely imagined it. Regardless, I’ve got to ask, how DID you manage to last so long without taking a peek back there? It seems very… un-Ross-y… to leave a stone unturned for so long.

    I also have this strange feeling that not so long from now we’re going to see a post detailing your adventures of going through the whole house and pulling off every mantle in search of more ancient wallpaper.

    • Brian! Welcome back!

      You make me laugh. “It seems very… un-Ross-y…”

      I think you may be recalling the mantle in the library, which I did remove to properly paint the room. And there were no discoveries behind it. Poo! The mantle is now back in place.

      However, the discovery today now makes me want to start tearing mantles off all the walls! It is possible that I may restrain myself, but I was thinking: Gee? What if I just remove the mantle in the long bedroom…?

      • Ah, that’s right! I knew that you’d pulled off at least ONE of those silly mantles… And don’t worry, I’ve never left (and in fact I probably check your blog more often than I eat), I’m just terrible at commenting. Now that I think about it though, it’s certainly been a while since I’ve bugged you (and it’s almost been a year since Bailey and I first visited!), maybe I’ll have to stop by again someday soon.

  2. Amazing! All of it! The house, you. Wow! I’m not surprised, but still amazed. Can you do this with every house on Union Street that deserves it please?

    PS: I’ve never seen the inside of your van.

  3. Makes me feel a bit more normal to know that I have a kindred spirit in Emporia, Kansas. Car? Messy. Home details? Not satisfied until things are perfect as I can get them.

    I admit that I said, “Hi, Ross” when I saw the ‘ghost’ in the mantle mirror.

    Your wallpaper discovery is very, very exciting. Perhaps this is inspiration for the room’s color scheme, when you get to that point?

    “Furniture pieces to suggest civility” … you have obviously been peeking into our living room.

    Each of your words in this post, Ross, dear, were as if I had thought them myself. It’s very difficult for me to convince myself that ‘good enough’ is correct for this house. From now on, each time I check a newly repaired wall or ceiling with a bare-bulb lamp, marking any imperfections with a pencil, I will know that I am not alone in my quest to make my old house as good as it can be.

  4. I also said “hey! Hi Ross” when I saw your reflection in the mirror. Nice to see you.

    I LOVE that you found (and left) some original wallpaper behind the over-mantle. Gorgeous paper too, right? Oooh. Very exciting.

    LOVE Brian’s comment “very…un-Rossy of you…”. So perfect. LOL.

    “While there is a lot wrong on Earth, it will be a small pleasure to know that, in the parlor of the Cross House at least, a very tiny amount of right will prevail.” Your ability to succinctly write/say things that I can only feel, continues to astound me and your truths always go right to my heart, because they are also truths for me…and I thank you for this. I am the same as you – I am committed to ” doing things right” in all previous old houses and in my present old house. I too, hanging off a ladder way too high in the air for my comfort (with indents on my knees and thighs that lasted for two weeks because of how hard I was pushing into the ladder rungs to stay ON the ladder), stripped off 100+ old paint layers on 2nd story trim that no one will probably ever notice, etc. etc. I also used to think “You know, my life would be a LOT easier if I wasn’t this demented”, I have since decided that it really wouldn’t be; the satisfaction we get from knowing that we did things right is deeply meaningful. So, rock on – I am happy that you are going to make the parlour walls right before painting them; it’s the right thing to do.

    I also laughed at “Hey, that sounds like a great name for a band: Anal-compulsive on demand”.

    Forge on, dear friend. 🙂

  5. I love how you are doing things the right way. All of those small details add up to a lot of wonderful!

    During these excavations have you ever found any pieces of ephemera (greeting card, postcard, photo, etc.) that may have fallen behind any mantles or in a wall?

    I found an old Xmas card and a photo that fell behind the upper part of a mantle of a house I lived in while working in DC. I felt like I discovered Tut’s tomb! It was very exciting.

    Happy New Year!
    Andrew

  6. What a nice long informative update. Doing it right does take time. I do wish you had help. I think of the Cross House as your patient. Your job is to make her well and do no harm. Not everyone is willing to do that. I know you can only do it the right way. So press on.
    Imagine that the Parlor in that wall paper.

  7. Although I am not the Sue who toured your house, I would love to visit someday! (I’m in KC.) I enjoy your posts and look forward to every one. Your many talents, writing included, continue to amaze me.

  8. This may come as a great shock Ross, but the Cross House was not perfect when it was finished. Oh, the horrors just to imagine that. Plaster is not as perfectly flat as drywall. … I realize this is heresy, but requiring every aspect of the house to be perfect will require $8 million dollars and 30-40 years of work- and by that time you will have to start over, in addition to being dead. I admire your demand for perfection and if you ever get it finished it will be spectacular once again, but at some point you have to balance what has to be perfect and what is good.
    By the way… hurry up. I want to see the finished product before I die.

    • Doug,

      I do not require that the Cross House be perfect.

      Nor do I believe in perfection, or ever use the word in my post.

      But I do like things to be right. And there is NO WAY that you would suggest I leave the sloppy work as shown in the above images alone!

      NOTE TO READERS: Doug and I are friends. Well, maybe not after today!

      NOTE TO DOUG: I would finish a lot faster if you came over and helped!

  9. Ross I just wanted you to know that nothing is wrong with you. Or maybe something is wrong with me too! I do the exact same thing. It doesn’t matter if no one else will see the imperfections, if I see them, then I just have to fix them. If I ever get my old house, I will restore it right too.

  10. Personally, I would have told Sue to go pound sand, but I have a short fuse when it come to that kind of intemperate criticism.

Leave a Response

Your email address will NEVER be made public or shared, and you may use a screen name if you wish.