Sunday, March 23, 2008

Bathroom (still in) Progress

The familiar bathroom corner with tile finished, but many other details still in progress

A Fleeting Glimpse
While the tile was being installed in the bathroom, we had a great sense of progress and thought we caught a glimpse of the finished room, but the sense was fleeting. A long list of steps remains before we can call this renovation complete. Since I last wrote about the bathroom, the tile has indeed been completed (although there are a few voids in the grout that Harry says he will come back to rectify once everything else is finished). We are very happy with the look of the tile. It looks fresh and clean and at one with the house. We have met twice with the excellent furniture maker, Erik Van Miltenburg, of Metrik Studio who will be building our bathroom vanity in white oak veneer (we chose veneer over solids because of its greater stability in a moist environment like a bathroom). We went to approve of our veneer choice at A&M Wood Specialty last week.

We also painted the bathroom with Farrow & Ball Modern Emulsion paint in White Tie for the walls and Pointing on the ceiling. (Watch a YouTube video critical of Farrow & Ball paint colour names here.) We have used Farrow & Ball Estate Emulsion on the uneven plaster walls in other rooms of our house to good effect. The Modern Emulsion formula has slightly more sheen, but will stand up better to the moisture in the bathroom. We were a little surprised by how quickly the paint dried on the walls, which were well-sealed with three coats of primer, but it may have had something to do with dry winter air.

Window & Trim Refinishing
We stripped over 100 years worth of accumulated paint from the bathroom window frames and the wooden windows using a product called Peel Away 7, which is available in Canada from Sherwin Williams. It is a caustic but largely benign product which encapsulates the paint, breaks its bond with the substrate, and allows you to scrape off the residue without creating dust or chips. It worked, to a point. After several applications, we are down to the initial layer of primer which is so much a part of the wood that it doesn’t want to budge. Intitially we were hoping to reveal clean wood so we could stain it to match the window trim, but we’ve decided to paint the windows and window frames and stain only the trim. Because of the layout of the room, we need to finish and install all the window trim before we can move the tub into place. Last week I finished stripping the windows and repairing the window putty where it was chipped. Now we just need to prime and paint them before reinstalling them in their frames.

One of the painted windows about to be stripped with Peel Away 7

Our neighbour, who happens to be a fantastic wood worker and a builder of finely made woodworking hand planes, is milling a window sill for the new smaller window in the bathroom. The rest of the wood trim will be the original ash moulding, refinished. Two weeks ago I bundled up the trim and took it to a furniture refinisher who stripped it of its century old shellac and grime (using a water-based stripper and a ‘flow-over’ method as opposed to the destructive ‘dip’ method). The wood came out looking so beautiful that we are loathe to finish it, but of course we will. The man who did the stripping phoned me to demand that I never paint the trim. He was good natured, but quite adamant. He said that the wood came out too clean to be painted and he insisted that if I were set on paint (which I’m not) then I should first seal the wood with Benjamin Moore one hour finish, which would allow the trim to be more easily restored in the future.

Our wood trim--stripped filled and sanded (left), and stained (right)

What is it with men and wood? I agree that the natural wood is beautiful, but I don’t feel an affinity for it in the same visceral way some men do. The debate over how to refinish our never-been painted wood trim is bound to come up again and again over the course of our renovations. It’s a big decision because light is scarce and wood, though beautiful, can really darken a room. I spent much of the last two weekends on the newly stripped trim—sanding or scraping off bits of residue, pulling or hammering out old stubs of nails, and carefully filling all of the old nail holes with water based wood filler. It is a tedious job, but necessary. We also tried out our stain—a water-based wood stain from Minwax in White Oak. It looks good in the bathroom—light like the rest of the room, but clearly showing the wood’s open grain.

Most of the next steps pertain to trim, fixture installation, shower glass, and stone slabs. Last weekend we went to a stone slab warehouse in Toronto where we fell in love with a Calacatta marble, which we plan to use for the vanity counter, backsplash, and and shower bench.

A slab of Calacatta marble

Today we were going to install our light fixtures in the bathroom—just to cover up all the holes in the walls and ceiling and make it look more finished, but we discovered that the drywallers had cut the holes a little too large. So today I patched the edges with sheetrock. These little unanticipated details of home renovation cause the most frustration because they cost so much time.

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