A year ago the parlor in the Cross House looked like this.
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.
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 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.
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.
“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
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!)
A close-up of where wall meets wood mantel. Oh the horror! The horror! This kind of sloppiness freaks me out, man!
I cringe in horror! Old paint glopped on the wood? The horror! Sloppy paint edging? The horror!
EEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEK! Where are my smelling salts??????????
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.
Wait! What is that peeking from behind? OMG!!!!!!!! Is that wallpaper from…1894????????????????
ZOUNDS!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! It IS wallpaper from 1894!
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.
I will leave the fragment in situ so that somebody can find it again in a century.
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.
The whole mantel gone. The parlor looks rather embarrassed by such nakedness.
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.
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.