Tuesday, February 28, 2012
Who you calling Sisyphus?
Cousin Millie took a swig of her after dinner coffee and said to us, "You guys have such a great old house. I just love old cottages like this. All the charm and the wood work. New houses like mine just don't have the character like these cottages do."
I've always thought Millie was a moron. She's not the one who has to deal with the upkeep of an older home. All these lovely old features take time and money, and there is no such thing as a quick fix.
When I bought the place eighteen years ago, and it was a spry Seventy-Six year old house, I thought I would fix it up and move on. No such luck. The house, as it turns out, suited me and it was affordable. Then the husband came along and it suited him, and that suited me. The house has suited us well and served us well. But nothing lasts forever.
But a lot of the changes have been made in the past are now old enough, and worn enough that they need to be redone. And Miss House celebrates its 95 year this year. So we have lived in my house long enough to find ourselves on the verge of a remodeling of the previous remodeling.
This is where Sisyphus comes in. Oh, he who was doomed to roll a rock up a hill, only to have it roll back down, just so he can start the whole spectacle again, and over and over.
Most of the projects have gone well, and haven't been exciting, in a bad way.
Now, I am tackling the worst part of any old house - the basement stairs and the side hall. This is the part of the house that got the least decorating help in 95 years and bore the brunt of being the cousin of the cellar. So for 95 years, people have been trudging, stomping and climbing the steps to the second floor. After a while, your plaster walls (reinforced with horse hair!) along the basement hall and steps begin to crack, peal and begin to setting and crack some more.
And this house was built before drywall. So those warm plaster walls that give it that character that Realtor sold me on all those years ago? They crack and pop whenever the weather endures great swings in temperature and humidity, and like Sisyphus, I am at it again with the spackle and the touch up paint.
In the stair hall they used canvas as a backing for the plaster, not lathe. There is noting wrong with this old technique, except when the weigh of the paint laid on over the years begins cause "canvas failure". Then you have to rip it all down and start anew.
And its just not old paint you can throw in the garbage - NO! It's lead paint that have to be disposed in a legal fashion. And this is how a twenty dollar project gets turned into a into a $1,000+ project.
So its been: tear this down, spackle this, reattach that, paint, paint, paint and just when you think you are done, "how did I miss that crack?" you start all over again. Up the stairs, down the stairs and back up again. I've been to Lowe's so much I've developed a crush on Stephen, the paint guy. And it disturbs me that I know his name.
And the worst part is that unlike a room that one labors over only to show it off and gloat, no one cares about your cellar stairs. No one cares how much time and effort you have put into it. But if you do it right, you don't have to do it again for years to come.
Tomorrow, I empty out the liquor cupboard and the bar, which happen to be at the top of the basement steps and begin to give it a once over of stripping, sanding and painting. Then I do the flooring and the blasted back hall will be done.
Until someone rolls a bowling ball down the stairs, and cracks the plaster, and it all starts over again.