Infest the Waters: A Blog About Design, Life and Making Stuff

About a Bedroom

Finished bedroom

Earlier this year–okay, much earlier this year–I embarked on renovating my back bedroom.  I live in a three bedroom house, and this bedroom was the final one to be renovated.  I’m making my way through renovating the rooms in my house at an average rate of about one every two years.  I know that seems like it takes a while, but in my defense, I do pretty much all the work myself with the occasional help from friends and family when I do something stupid like break my wrist (but more on that later).  I also had a renovation hiatus of about two and a half years while my sister was occupying one of those bedrooms.  So figuring that in, it’s probably more like I complete a room every 1.33 years.

As I mentioned in my post about my wedding anniversary, the completion of the back bedroom is the final piece in the cohabitation puzzle for my husband and me.  I had been aiming to finish it in time for our anniversary, but somewhere in mid-September I realized that I was going to fall short of my goal.  It was looking like I’d finish it only a couple of weeks late, and then I broke my left wrist playing frisbee.  I was really bummed out, but Ben agreed to complete the rest of the work, which consisted mainly of running electrical and reattaching the baseboards.  And then he tore a ligament in his right index finger.  October was a tough month for the Wittzlers.

I love doing renovation work for many reasons–you get to use your hands, it’s easy to see the progress you’re making, and as I mentioned in an earlier post, it makes me feel a connection to the history of the house.  However, as much as love it, I always reach a point somewhere in the process where I am convinced that I am never going to be finished.  Then I push through, and I fall of the impatience cliff, where I can see the light at the end of the tunnel and just want the damn thing to be done.  It happens every time.  At the end of the project, I inevitably vow to hire someone to do the work the next time, but within several months, I suffer a blow to the head from a large, blunt object and start scraping wallpaper again myself.  (What’s the definition of insanity again?)

But really, in the end, the work is immensely rewarding.  The satisfaction of being able to walk into the room and say, “I did this,” is hard to describe.  And when it’s your own house, you get to experience that joy over and over again for years.  It’s probably why I keeping picking up that stupid wallpaper scraper.

So back to my room.  I thought I’d share a little bit about the process (and some pictures, of course) in the hopes that you might be inspired to wield the wallpaper scraper, floor sander or needle-nose pliers yourself.

Post-wallpaper scraping

I started in January with the wallpaper scraping.  There’s a lot of wallpaper scraping in my house because everything has wallpaper on it, ceilings included.  (I am still incredulous about this point.  WHO WALLPAPERS CEILINGS?)  By mid February, I had managed to divest the room of all its wallpaper, including the closets.  (Note: I tried to find a true “before” picture of the back bedroom, but alas, I didn’t have one.  You’ll just have to trust me that it looked pretty similar to this, except with wallpaper that had been painted over with white paint.  Yes, really.)

SpacklingAfter scraping wallpaper, there’s the spackling phase.  This is a fairly long and relatively boring phase where I repair the walls and ceiling (because they inevitably get nicked by the wallpaper scraper or have cracks in them) and tape and spackle all corners.  The corners get three coats of spackle, and the walls get as much as it takes to make them smooth.  During this phase, Ben also relocated the electrical box for the ceiling fixture (Thanks, Ben!), so I had to patch the hole where the box used to be.  You can kind of see it in this picture. The new hole is in the foreground, and there’s a patch of white spackle on the ceiling closer to the window.  You can also see some spackle where the ceiling meets the walls.

Then there’s the sanding phase.  This is where I’m usually convinced I will never finish and want to flush my head down the toilet.  The spackle gets sanded (and sanded and sanded), but so does all the trim.  Each day I worked on sanding, I would look like a very large bag of cocaine had exploded on me.  Except with none of the benefits of it actually being cocaine.  And let me tell you, you haven’t lived until you’ve blown your nose and the product is doughy and gray.  Oh, and if you happen to sweat while sanding, well, let’s just say I hope you like feeling like your 4th grade papier mâché project.

But here’s the awesome thing.  As soon as you’re done sanding, you get to start doing things that make the room look better again.  Up until then, you’ve just been making it look worse.  It’s very unrewarding.

Priming  Post-painting

Priming (left picture) and painting (right picture) is next.  I caulked around the window trim before painting so it won’t leak air, and this was the first room where I did the edges between the ceiling and walls without taping.  They came out pretty well, so I think I’m improving at cutting in.  I always paint before I refinish the floors because then I don’t have to put down dropcloths or be especially careful while painting the walls.   So after the painting was done, I moved all the crap out of the room and sanded the floors.  Thankfully, Ben helped move the floor sander (rented from Home Depot) up the flight of stairs in my house (that sucker’s heavy!), and save for a near-death experience involving the floor sander trying to eat an extension cord, everything went well.  (We’ll just leave it at that, shall we?)

Post-sandingAt this point, I’m starting to feel like I might actually finish the room someday, and then I start to become impatient about getting it done.  I also never cease to be amazed at how beautiful the floors are in my house.  The wood is in great shape, and the color is beautiful.  All I do to finish them is use polyurethane–no stain.  The key to getting smooth floors is to make sure that you prep the surface really well before you put the first coat down, and then you sand in between coats.  I always wipe down the sanded wood with water to get any gritty bits up, and I apply the poly with a brush.  Before I brush a section of floor, I do a final wipe with a cloth to get up any last loose pieces of whatever.  Then I sand lightly (by hand) in between coats with a fine grit sandpaper and wipe down the floors again before applying the next coat.  Usually two coats is fine, but yours truly managed to buy the wrong kind of poly for the first coat, so I ended up doing three in this room.


So at this point, I’m so close to being done that I can taste it.  And that’s when I remember how much it sucks doing the last step–running electrical. Now, if I were running electrical in a new house where the wall cavities were open, this would be a completely different story, but running electrical in my house means chiseling out space behind baseboards for wire and electrical boxes and using that godforsaken product they call Wiremold to run wire over doorways.  And of course, it’s right at this point that I managed to break to my wrist.

Sarah and caulk gunLuckily, my cousin was either kind enough or foolish enough to offer her help in finishing the room.  Here she is, expertly wielding a caulk gun after putting the  finishing touches on the baseboards.  I think that when she agreed to help with the task, she didn’t realize just how much Wiremold sucks.  For those of you unfamiliar with Wiremold, it’s a metal conduit that you can cut to various lengths that you then run wire through so that they aren’t exposed (which is a fire hazard and definitely not up to code).  You basically use it when running the wires through a wall, ceiling or floor isn’t an option.  I use it to go up and over doorways, as you can see in the picture below.  The biggest problems are that it’s unwieldy and threading wires through it is a tight fit, although it does have the perk that when you cut it with a circular saw, it’s like having the 4th of July in your basement.

WiremoldAnyway, it proved especially difficult to thread wire through it, and it took two people with the use of only one hand each, one person with the use of both hands and part of a bar of soap to get the wire through the conduit.  The other tasks proved equally difficult, as the baseboards are always tricky to reattach to the walls, and the outlets are hard to push into their electrical boxes.  (Thank God for rubber mallets!) However, in the end, Sarah cut the aforementioned Wiremold, ran wire through it, mounted it, installed electrical boxes, connected outlets, reattached baseboards and caulked like a champ.  In short, she was a renovation rock star.  And at the moment of truth when we switched the power back on, everything worked!

So that brings us to the end.  The room’s done, save for building shelves in the closets, which will have to wait until I’m healthy again.  I have a guest bedroom for the first time ever, and Ben has started moving stuff over.  As soon as his desk is set up and he brings his clothes over, we’ll be cohabitating again.  Come visit us!  Or maybe grab that wallpaper scraper and get to work!

Finished bedroom

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