Sunday, May 31, 2009

A House's History in Plaster

Plaster is a nasty business. Have you ever tried mixing it? The chemical composition is one such that if you get the powder-water ratio incorrect, even just a little off, it is unusable. And if you don't use it quickly once you mix it, it dries up and you'll have a concrete-like mess in your bucket. So my advice? Find someone who knows how to do it. And well. We're presently re-plastering indoor walls in our circa 113 year old house.

We're actually trying to restore and repair our walls, rather than replace. However, in some areas that was not possible. There were walls that were held together by five layers of paint and wallpaper. When they came down, so did most of the wall. In those cases we took down the lathe (the wooden slats which original plaster adheres to) as well as the plaster. We lined the walls with a 'moisture seal'- a plastic sheeting called Tyvek. Those flexible white Fed-Ex envelopes are made of this recyclable material. I've also seen some designers use it as a lampshade material. Once the Tyvek is in place, we insulated. Then we put up a special type of dry wall which is used with plaster. Once the seams are sealed, with wire mesh in our case, then the plaster comes on. It is amazing to watch a plasterer at work. They are constantly working the material, moving it through their fingers and onto the trowel, getting the correct consistency with the correct moisture content. The results are amazing. I'll post pictures when it's all finished.

So some of our house is actually insulated now. It got so much quieter in the hallway after the plaster was back up. And I notice it stays cooler there too. Having an old house is fun 50% of the time, and frustrating the other 50% of the time. Construction is not always fun, but parts of the process can be. It was neat to find pieces of house history in the attic, and walls. A Sunday school teacher must have lived there at one time, we have empty Sunday school report cards from the turn of the last century, among other religious papers. We also have a pile of medical bills. Someone was receiving electroshock therapy, as part of treatment for some sort of mental illness. These papers are circa the 1980's, as I recall. We've also found bits of chandelier, bottles, plates, glass of all sorts while planting in the garden. The most interesting thing we discovered was buried in the garden- a rusted-through 22 caliber revolver. No joke! I thought it was a child's toy- it is so small- but no, several friends confirmed that it was an antique weapon. I guess that explains the bullet hole on the front porch... actually Jim tells me that was from a party on the day of the LA Riots. This is confirmed by our neighbor, who lived around the corner even then. So what does a person do with all that history found in their house or yard? We give it to our neighbor for use in her backyard mosaic, of course! Not the bits paper, but anything ceramic or glass, goes to my friend Pepi. Here is a picture of her mosaic in progress:

Pepi is meticulous about keeping records of who donated what to her mosaic- she gets a number of people who make donations. So our house will be on the list of donors. While Pepi has finished one phase of her mosaic, she has much more cinder block wall to cover. Can't wait to see the next phase. Looks like there is a peek at what she is planning in the picture.

So if you followed this rambling blog, and you are interested in restoration, or mosaics, you might like a book I just finished reading called 'Broken for You' by Stephanie Kallos.

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