Signed, Sealed, and Delivered – Another Exposed Brick Wall…

It isn’t really another brick wall…

It is the original exposed brick wall in our old house. After 21.5 years, our dining room exposed brick wall is finally finished!

Yes, you read that correctly – 21.5 years! It should not have taken that long. Why did it take so long? I don’t know. I don’t have a simple answer. I don’t have a complicated answer. I don’t even have a story. It just never got done…

The point today is that it is now done! We can all move on with our lives. Our exposed brick dining room wall has been cleaned up, repaired, tuck pointed, sealed, trimmed out, and finished.

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This exposed brick wall is a focal point in our house. I love exposed brick walls. Tad not so much. People tend to have a lot of questions about exposed brick walls. I have discussed our exposed brick walls in the past. Click here to review the detailed story of our exposed brick walls.  Yes, we have more than one exposed brick wall :0 !

Here is the abbreviated version of the exposed brick wall story in our dining room. This brick wall had been exposed before we moved in 21 years ago. It was never finished properly. There were missing bricks. There was missing mortar. The bricks and mortar were a bit fragile and sandy so it was constantly dropping debris onto the floor. There was a sizable gap between the wall and flooring. There was also a big gap along the ceiling where the plaster had been removed. At some point over the last 2 decades, we did a temporary fix for the gaps in the floor and ceiling. I also added some plaster back around the windows so we could trim out the windows.

Dining room floor

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Weirdly, I had not planned to finish the dining room wall during our recent renovation. Though, at some point, I realized I needed to at least clean up the brick wall a bit in preparation for future completion. I sanded off a bunch of insulation overspray and chipped the plaster off the brick at the ceiling (so the drywall guys could get the drywall as close as possible to the brick wall). I ended up with a few more holes in the wall and a lot of really loose bricks.

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Still, I thought I might do the brick wall repair myself – eventually, but it wasn’t really on my radar with everything else going on. Then, Tad mentioned that we should probably just get this done before the new flooring was installed. I think he was nervous seeing a bunch of brick pieces sitting there…

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Getting the exposed brick wall tuck pointed seemed like a decent idea. However, there was a definite flaw in that suggestion. I had less than a week to get it done. That seemed impossible given the fact that I had to work most of those days, and I had no prearranged resources to get this done.

I decided to give it the old college try. I left messages with a bunch of masons. Most never returned my calls. Others declined the job immediately (too small of a job, too old of a house, too detailed, etc).  I had started to research how I was going to DIY this thing between my 12 hour work days. Then, I got a referral from one of the masons I contacted – about a guy who works just on historic houses.

Long story short – the guy ended up being the same guy who did our outside tuck pointing 20 years ago, the price was reasonable, the missing bricks were replaced, the loose bricks were reset, tuck pointing was done, and he was able to complete the job in 2 days – before the new flooring went in!

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Next up was sealing the wall. If you reviewed my previous post about our exposed brick walls, you know that I debated whether or not to seal the walls and, if so, with what. You also know that the debate ended with me sealing our other wall with some stone and grout sealer that I had also used in our shower. It worked great, but was very time consuming and a bit messy to apply (I had to spray on 6 or 7 thin coats with a spray bottle.)

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So, back to the dining room wall – At this point, the new flooring had already gone in, so using a spray bottle to seal the wall didn’t seem like a good idea (with the possibility of drips and overspray onto the floor even if I tried to protect it). I discussed the situation with the guy who repaired the brick wall. He suggested a product that could be neatly brushed or rolled on and would yield the results I was looking for (no sheen, no darkening of the bricks, and would keep the sandy stuff on the wall behind the sealer). It worked pretty well. I was able to neatly brush the sealer onto the bricks without a huge mess. The sheen is matte/low shine. It has done a great job at keeping the sandy debris up on the wall. Not one piece  of rogue debris has been spotted on the new flooring. The one thing that wasn’t completely optimal about this different product was that I think it did darken the bricks slightly. Though, it is difficult to be certain.

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The bathroom/bedroom exposed brick wall seems to be a bit less vibrant. It seems to be a bit more subtle and subdued…

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Though, now that I am studying the photos, I think it is because there is some residual plaster left on the bathroom/bedroom wall. The dining room wall is clear of any residual plaster…

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Hmm. Had I noticed that prior to sealing, I may have tried to do some sort of white or gray dry brush technique on the bricks to tone down the red. Heck, I still might actually try that in the future – when I’ve got nothing better to do!

Anyway. With that mystery solved, I am going to say that I would definitely recommend the later “hydrasheen” product for sealing exposed brick walls due to the ease of application and the stellar performance of keeping the debris off the floor and behind the sealer.

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Next up on the road to a finished dining room wall was caulking. The flooring guys had done a nice job of scribing the flooring to the brick wall. However, being that the wall is an even brick surface there was still a small gap – and Tad suggested that caulking would provide a more finished look.

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I used backer rod behind some of the bigger gaps and taped off the the edge of the flooring.

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I caulked the joint with some gray caulking that closely matched the mortar (or so I thought).

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Once the tape was removed, I realized that the caulking was most definitely not a good match to the mortar…

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Tad thought it looked ok as it was. I didn’t like it. I tried to live with it for a while. It was distracting. It was totally the wrong color. It wasn’t even close. Finally, I did a faux painting experiment with wood stain, acrylic craft paint, and latex wall paint – to get a closer match. I am a freak (we already know that). It isn’t perfect, but I think it looks pretty good now – a little less dark industrial gray – a bit more soft antiqued gray/brown…

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The next step was to paint the plaster around the windows. I was dreading this. I knew it would be a total time suck with all the taping required. Last time I painted this plaster it took a good eight hours to tape off around the three windows. I considered procrastinating this part of the project. Tad kept bugging me to get it done. His persistence paid off. I sucked it up and just got it done.

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Again, it took about 8 hours of my life to tape off these windows. I did space out the taping task to 2 or 3 evenings – while listening to some podcasts. So, the task seemed almost bearable this time around. Painting was quick in comparison to taping off – it took about an hour. I am happy it is done. I am happy I was pressured to just get it done. I vow to never do that again!

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The final finishing detail was wood trim along the top.

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I like it.

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Here are the before and afters.

Back in the day…

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A work in progress – before repair…

Dining wall pre-tuckpointing...

Still a work in progress – after repair and sealed, but before paint and wood trim…

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Finished (except, maybe some future white wash to tone down the vibrant red of the bricks)…

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Why can’t I just leave well enough alone???

A Return To All Its Old Glory – The Front Door…

Our front door is old and original to the house. We know this because our house is old, our neighbor’s house was built at the same time, and our neighbor has the same front door.

I had not planned any sort of restoration or redo on the door. I assumed it would stay as is. I didn’t even think of protecting it during our renovation. One of our contractor’s guys suggested that we remove the door during the project – to protect it from damage. That seemed like a good idea. They removed it and installed a slab construction door for the duration of the project. The old door was placed in the garage.

Front Door...

Tad and our contractor started to talk about getting a new front door. As I walked by the old door the first few days, I realized how sad and downtrodden it really was. I began to resign myself to the fact that, maybe, the old door was done for. As the days passed, I would stare at it for a few seconds as I walked by.  I was kind of bummed about giving up on the old thing. I thought about the guy that hand crafted it over 100 years ago. I appreciated the quality of the materials. I appreciated that it was over 100 hundred years old – and still technically doing it’s job. I thought about how we had just sort of taken all that for granted over the years. I started to really take in all the previously overlooked details. Suddenly, I decided the door needed to be saved for all eternity! I decided the door could and should be restored. Our contractor thought I was crazy – and declined to take it on. Tad was skeptical, but offered some suggestions. I didn’t want to give up on it. The poor thing had been through some rough times over the years, but the details were intact, and it was still beautiful – in my opinion.

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I made this my project! I became slightly obsessed. Both Tad and our contractor put a time limit on my getting the door restored. They both stated that it couldn’t delay the project timeline. At the time, I kind of thought they put a deadline down hoping that I couldn’t get it done – so we would be forced to get a new door. That only made me more obsessed with getting it done. The old door was staying!

Here is the abbreviated story of the door – as I know it…

Some previous owner had dogs that scratched the wood and the window. A repair had been attempted at some point. That repair was, obviously, less than optimal.

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We had a break in, at some point, where the inside panel was forced in. We repaired it by just nailing the center panel back in place.

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We suspect that the hardware was replaced a number of times over the last century. We replaced it with an egg knob sometime during the last decade or two. As well, Tad had done a bowtie repair on the knob area.

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Some of the veneer at the bottom was splintering off.

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There was a piece of trim around the window that was missing.

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Over the last few years, there seemed to be a lot of expansion and contraction of the door, making it somewhat difficult to close or open depending on the seasons and/or humidity in the air. Come to find out, upon closer inspection, it was coming apart at the seams…

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The finish was flat and inadequate. The door was dull and stained in some places. Simply put, it was not pretty.

In need of door restoration...

I had my hands full. I knew I couldn’t do this on my own as it was way too extensive given it needed more than a little refinishing. I started the search for someone to restore the old door. I contacted 5 or 6 people. I either got no response or they didn’t want to take it on given the repairs that were needed. I was getting nervous. Tad, then, pulled out a name from his phone. It was a company that had done some old window restoration at his work. At first this company, too, wasn’t sure about taking on my project, but they agreed to at least come look at it. I was 2 weeks into my deadline at this point. I had to get this going!

Initially, I think the guy wasn’t sure I was serious about this restoration. Despite his reservations with me and/or the project, he seemed excited. I could tell that he had a passion for his craft. He showed me picture of old doors that they had restored. He told me about our door. He said that it was likely chestnut or mahogany – probably from a southeastern forest that was completely obliterated in the early 1900s due to logging for building materials. Fortunately, he said that there is recent work to re-establish the chestnut forest in our country.  This information made me want to save the door even more!

He pointed out that the details on the door were pressed into the wood rather than carved – and, of course, all done with hand tools rather than machines. Pretty amazing to think about the skill and hard work that went into this door a hundred years ago!

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I practically begged the guy to take on the project. They kind of reluctantly agreed – stating that they would have to put their “best guy” on the project. In the end, I think the initial reluctance was because the majority of people wouldn’t spend the extra money or effort on a door that could be replaced for 25% of the restoration cost of this door. They didn’t realize they were dealing with a crazy person at the time. I desperately wanted to save something from the old house. I wanted to show that new isn’t always better than old (in people and things). Plus, I had to prove that I could win the deadline competition (yes, I viewed it as a competition at the time). Finally, I felt an obligation to save a little part of what used to be a forest that was eliminated back in the early 1900s :(

They would take the door completely apart, remove the past/failing repairs, replace the veneer as needed, replace the trim around the window, put it all back together, and finish it properly – all within 4-6 weeks.

They delivered as promised!

Before restoration…

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After – completely restored and note how the details pop!

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The other side – before restoration…

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The other side – after restoration – beautiful, warm, rich, velvety, and well sealed!

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This company employees true craftsmen. They took pride in their work. They treated this project like it was going into their own home! It was refreshing!

Updates were provided via text during the process. I loved that!

The veneer was replaced as needed.

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The window trim was recreated and replaced.

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I even got to stop by the shop and approve the stain color/finish – in the finishing room.

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The place was huge with tons of amazing restoration going on with old beautiful windows and doors. It was encouraging to see how many other projects/people are restoring old stuff! It was totally fun!

Shortly following the field trip, the newly restored door was safely delivered back to our garage. It was successfully rebuilt, re-veneered, restored, redone, and refinished. It was re-energized! The deadline was met. It was ready for installation.

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Then, the contractor decided the old door jamb needed to be completely rebuilt. I couldn’t argue with that. A new (custom) door jamb was ordered.

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A few weeks later, the front door was in place! Some finish work was needed – a return visit for some fine tuning of door fit, some work to beef up the exterior trim so the security door could be rehung, filling of nail holes, firming up of the threshold with foam, caulking everywhere, paint on the exterior, and oil on the inside.

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The door restoration guy also suggested that nicer door hardware would be icing on the cake (my words, not his). We considered the whole gamut of style and functional options. Basic knob and deadbolt versus all out ornate periodic specific handle set, and basic lock with separate deadbolt versus mortise locksets. We settled on a something in between. A simple design with a little bit of egg and dart detail that complements the egg and dart pressed wood detail on the door.

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I am happy we took the door restoration guy’s suggestion. It definitely adds that little something. It completes the whole look and feel.  It highlights the details of the door even more!

Egg & Dart Door Hardware...

I love that the door is beautiful. I love that it should last at least another 100 years. Tad loves that it functions properly. It is strong, solid and straight. It opens and closes as it should. It stays in place when open (rather than drifting back to the closed position as it used to). The front door has been returned to all its old glory!

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Totally worth it!

Lesson learned – old things (doors and people) are amazing!

Lighting – vintage and not…

We did a ton of recessed lights in all our rooms because we like light. We like to see without squinting. We are getting old. We need more light. We are happy with our recessed lighting. We have more light than we have ever had. We also have the ability to dim the recessed lighting as desired. Recessed lighting is very, very functional. We like recessed lighting. Though, recessed lighting definitely doesn’t do much for the decorative element in a space…

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Initially, Tad was happy with just recessed lights in all areas except the dining room and for bedside lighting. I was happy with just recessed lights in all areas except the entry and hallway. We both agreed that bathroom vanity sconces were a necessity. I could go on for days about the bazillion discussions we had about lighting and light fixtures. I am guessing it would bore you to death. Heck, it bores me to death just thinking about it. I am going to do both of us a favor and just get to the exciting part.

We decided we were all in on the decorative lighting adventure!

Yippie ki yay!

Yes, we decided to get hardwired (rather than table lamps) decorative lighting for all the above mentioned areas – bathroom, bedside, dining room, entry, and hallway. This is a bit surprising for us. Neither of us gets overly excited about decorative lighting. So, it was definitely a new scene for us.

The new bathroom sconce decision was easy. We had chosen some sconces for our master bathroom a few years ago, but were unable to use them due to layout and space limitations. We looked around briefly to see what was new out there, but ended up still liking the old sconces. The sconces are simple and sleek. The lighting is great (LED for Tad – he is obsessed with LED). The finish is lovely in polished chrome. I like polished chrome in the bathroom. I have always liked polished chrome in the bathroom (and kitchen for that matter). I will always like polished chrome in the bathroom (and likely in the kitchen too). It’s my thing.

Bathroom Sconces...

The story is similar with our bedside lighting. While looking at lighting for another project several years ago, we saw these bedside lights. When the opportunity for bedside lighting came about with our current project, we were happy to see that these fixtures were still being made. Tad likes that they are LED (again, with the LED obsession) and very contemporary. I like that they are very minimal in size and appearance. We both like that they are easy to adjust, dim, and brighten.

Bedside Lighting...

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The rest of the lighting story was a bit more circuitous. Our permit approval wasn’t dependent on the rest of the lighting, so there was no real deadline to get the decorative lighting decision done. What? No deadline? A lovely, relaxed, non-pressured process? I am not used to that!

However, despite the opportunity for procrastination (because there was no deadline), this whole decorative lighting thing came together pretty quickly. It was quite a surprise!

We had some informal criteria for our decorative light fixtures. Tad wanted simple and minimal. I wanted simple but unique. Tad wanted LED and contemporary. I wanted something inspired by the era of our house (1910s – 1920s), but not antique feeling or looking. I did some research. I found that some 1910-1920’s lighting was a bit industrial in style and feel. I like industrial, so I went with it.

Tad had previously chosen a dining room fixture that could be considered “contemporary industrial.” It met the requirements of simple, minimal, unique, and LED. The style didn’t quite meet the “inspired by the era of 1910-1920”, but I liked it. I was on board.

fullsizeoutput_1144To complement Tad’s chosen dining room fixture, I started the search for entry and hall light fixtures that were ”updated industrial”. I wanted the 1910-1920 inspired thing.

Tad liked the classic schoolhouse fixture.

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While the schoolhouse style fixture met most of the criteria, I thought it was too simple, too basic, and not unique enough. After a couple of back and forth ideas, we settled on the idea of an “acorn” shaped fixture. An internet search for acorn lighting brought me to a company in Milwaukee. Immediately, I knew I had found my decorative lighting groove – amazingly cool vintage fixtures electrically reworked for current times with clear crystal glass shades of precisely cut prism type designs called holophanes.

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Holophanes are a light fixture with a story, and I am a sucker for a good story – https://www.vintagebrasslight.com/Articles.asp?ID=236.

Tad ended up choosing the Ellipse rather than the Acorn for the hallway.

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I chose the Edison for our entry.

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I love these light fixtures!

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  • Beautifully simple and minimal – no fussy scrolls, candles, or hanging crystals.
  • Definitely unique – you can’t find these babies at the chain/internet lighting sources.
  • Wired for incandescent bulbs, but compatible with LEDs.
  • Complements Tad’s chosen dining room fixture – these felt similar, cohesive, and lovely next to the sleek, simple dining fixture.
  • Inspired by the 1910-1920s designs – the holophanes are circa 1920 to 1950s – not quite the exact time period of our house, but pretty darn close!
  • Industrial – salvaged from amphitheaters, naval yards and other industrial buildings.

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When it came time to order the dining room fixture, Tad wanted to see it in person before committing. We went on a field trip to a store that had one in stock. This is where the initial dining room decision went awry. The sizes and shapes were limited and none seemed quite right for our space. We, sadly, scrapped it.

Back to the drawing board :(

You are probably thinking “Uh Oh – but every other light fixture in the place was chosen based on the fact that it worked well with that dining room light!” You aren’t alone. I was thinking the same exact thing.

The clouds, then, parted. Across the store, I saw a better version of the scrapped light fixture – a little prettier, a little more sparkly, a lot more interesting. Perfection!

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It keeps the view from the front of the house to the back of the house open and airy.

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The style is contemporary with an industrial vibe with all the exposed “wiring.”

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The little glass crystal cut bulb covers are the modern, mini version of the vintage holophane fixtures – making it vintage inspired (at least in my mind).

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I was pretty excited about finding light fixtures that I love! I am still excited! I think Tad is probably less excited than I am about the whole lighting scene. Though, I do believe he is still quite surprised that it all came together in perfect harmony!

Pretty together...

I think next up will be the front door restoration. It kind of goes along with this whole updated vintage thing. It also sort of started my 2017 is “the year of using what you have.” Yes, last year was the year of just getting stuff done. This year will be a continuation of that by using what I already have to pull together, organize, decorate and enjoy my little spot on the planet.

Happy New Year!