Archive for the 'Home improvement' Category

Repainted entry

Posted in Home improvement at 20:07

Entry, after
After the preparation mentioned in my previous post, today I was finally able to tackle painting my entry. Above is the nearly-finished product!

There is still more to do. The entry was done oddly by the previous owners, leaving a strange section to fill in above the WC door. I also need to get better-quality paint brushes in order to finish smaller areas where a roller won’t work. The cheap brushes I had worked all right for the primer, but left enough marks that I’d rather wait to buy nicer ones before putting on the finishing blue coat.

I’m very happy with how the main wall looks now. To think, it used to look like this: entry in May 2009, before I’d started removing tile and the textured paint. The main wall looked like this with the textured paint off.

Priorities, priorities

Posted in Home improvement at 16:28

Almost finished
My apartment has been giving me all sorts of opportunities to work on it lately. After the latest water damage (upstairs neighbor’s bathroom leaking into my living room), I discovered that the textured paint in my apartment could be removed by using a wallpaper glue dissolver. I started removing paint in my entry, since its walls have the least surface area of the rooms in my place. The paint removal went quickly and easily, but I discovered that a floorboard was hiding a shallow but long hole in the wall.

This had several implications: I’d also been removing tile in the entry. With the floorboard out and the wall needing repaired, I realized it would be best to finish taking tile off the floor before patching and painting the wall, in case I ran into any other areas that needed patched. I finally finished that difficult undertaking today, as shown in the photo above! Here it is “finished” (all tile removed). I’m glad to say that only the one floorboard area needs fixed, so I should be able to do that and repaint soon.

As for the entry flooring, I may try to remove the old, grey linoleum and restore the original floor beneath it. Easier, though, would be to find some nice-looking carpet tiles. My main criteria for replacement flooring are removability — no more adhesive! — and ease of trimming to my entry’s odd shapes. A floating parquet could do the job too, but would be harder to trim with the limited tools I have. Carpet tiles would be great since they would do double duty as an entry rug, and would be easily replaceable if/when they get too dirty. After all, my feet aren’t the only ones running around on it — my cats love to sleep in the entry, since the building’s heating pipes run under it before reaching my radiators and going to the rest of the building.

Then there’s still the living room! I started removing paint in the damaged nook first, since I’d like to paint it a darker, complementary color to the one I’ll be using for my living room. That way I can finish it first, then move furniture into it to make repainting the ceiling easier. Then I get to tackle painting the ceiling, removing paint from the rest of the walls in my place, then repainting those! And I still have to finish removing tile from the kitchen area. It’s nice to be making progress in the entry though, since it feels better to come home to a tidy entry.

Table restoration

Posted in Home improvement, La France at 20:38

Louis XV table, in progress
A year and a half ago, I fell in love with an antique oak dining table in a secondhand store. Originally it was too expensive, but a month later, the price had fallen to one I could afford — no one wanted its black patina and slight damage. When I cheerily told the secondhand store owner I wanted to buy it, he sighed and said he was sorry about the damage, but that I could always paint over it. I said “oh non, jamais je la peindrais ! Ce n’est pas profond, je vais la poncer.” (“Oh no, I’d never paint it! It’s not deep, I’ll sand it.”) The owner looked at me and smiled, “c’est bien, c’est mieux comme ça.” (“That’s good, it’s better that way.”)

Thanks to a short visit by building management yesterday that required me to take the day off (to document the water damage from two months ago), I had plenty of extra time to do a project. Off to the home improvement store I went, to buy sandpaper and beeswax to redo my dining table. I’d long been ruminating how to restore it, and decided that sanding it by hand would be better than mechanically, since I only wanted to take the patina off and keep some of the table’s history, rather than erase all trace of previous usage. I’d settled on a beeswax finish for several reasons, mainly that oils don’t age well — indeed, linseed oil, which was used often in France (and still is), turns black with age, so it’s quite possible my oak table had been treated with it. Beeswax brings out the natural color of wood, doesn’t cause a patina, and still protects well. Paint and colored varnish were entirely out of the question, since I wanted to keep the table’s character.

Once home I started sanding with nothing more than sandpaper and my hands. The oak’s natural coloring, as shown above, was beautiful, and I was delighted at how the artisan had chosen the different grains for the border and Versailles-style top. It made me feel much better about taking off the patina, since once sanded, it was clear that this was a table whose woodwork was a work of art in and of itself, meant to be seen.

I applied two coats of beeswax (waiting two hours between them), let the table sit all night, then photographed it the next morning. The finished table: from the damaged end (showing how I didn’t sand out damage entirely), a photo with better lighting, and finally, with both extensions out. The beeswax really brought out the oak’s gorgeous coloring.

In a stroke of synchronicity, on my way home from work this evening, I passed an antique store with old books on sale. One of them was a 1967 home improvement book that I picked up as soon as I saw its instructions for reupholstering Louis XIV chairs. It also described some French furniture styles, which finally helped me ID my table, thanks in large part to the very typical legs for its style: it’s a Louis XV, also known as rococo. At home, I made my usual visit to the ApartmentTherapy site, where they had… a retrospect on Louis XV / rococo! I see rococo-style couches all the time in secondhand stores here, and now that I realize they’re from the same period as my dining table, I may well get one!

New building interior

Posted in Home improvement, Journal at 15:10

My front door, after
In January, we copropriétaires (owners of apartments in our building) voted to redo our building’s sad interior. The exterior had been redone just before I moved in, which was a major selling point for me — un ravalement de façade (façade cleaning, renovation and repainting) is very expensive, but doesn’t need to be done often. As for bargaining points, I was able to lower the price thanks to the electrical hiccups along with the downright ugly state of my entrance and the rest of the building’s interior.

It looks so much better now, it’s incredible. I’ve done a couple other small DIY projects inside my place too, putting a glass shelf in my bathroom and, today, getting a new light fixture for the kitchen. With our big summer sales on now, it was half off at Habitat, which always has nice quality light fixtures. I was very glad to replace the flimsy old wood fixture when I took it out and realized that the previous owners — them again — had bolted the fixture directly into the electrical wire hole. As in, they had drilled a metal screw into the same hole as the electrical wires, using a wood light fixture.

I admit I’m increasingly tempted to call them up and tell them never to touch anything electrical ever again in their lives, because every single electrical fixture they’ve done has been a fire hazard. Not to mention the shower (they built a tile-bottomed shower without waterproofing the bottom) and water heater. Water heaters are supposed to be hung on load-bearing walls. The previous owners hung it on a cheap partition wall. And only used one bracket instead of two. Brilliant. I noticed the water heater issue when I first visited; it will be fixed along with the shower once I can afford all that in a few months, which I’m really looking forward to.

Progress on tomettes

Posted in Home improvement, La France, Nice at 09:49

Living room looking towards sofa nook

I’ve continued restoring the original tomettes, traditional southern French terracotta tiles I discovered (and uncovered) in December. As a reminder, this is what the living room looked like before, while this photo shows the tile adhesive I had to remove.

The photo above, tomettes now clean, shows how the sofa nook looks now, and here’s the other half of the living room. Last Sunday I decided to test my theory about a heavy-duty cleaner (décapant in French) that I had used before and that didn’t work so well. Instead of diluting it as recommended, I added only half the amount of water prescribed, making it more concentrated. This worked nicely, and I was able to scrape off tile adhesive residue very quickly. About two-thirds of the living room still needed adhesive scoured off — I finished it all that same day!

What most surprises me is that the floor is in such good shape. The apartment building dates from 1953, so the tomettes are 56 years old, and yet only one of them has serious damage. The rest were so well cared-for that even after being tiled over, then having that tile removed, and being scoured, scraped and treated with a chemical cleaner, they still shine! My apartment has only had two owners before me, with the previous owners having bought four years ago and putting in the tile when they arrived, so it would seem that the original owner truly cared for the terracotta floor.

Some thin spots of residue still need to be scrubbed off with a regular scouring pad, but that should go quickly. After that, all that remains is to seal and wax the floor. Easier said than done since with the furniture, I’ll only be able to do half at a time. And will need to keep kitties from exploring the floor while it’s worked on. They behaved surprisingly well with the ammonia-based cleaner, never once touching it — I’m assuming because it smelled bad.

The joys of home ownership

Posted in Home improvement, La France, Nice at 21:29

Entry, before

In a change of pace from floor photographs, here’s the ceiling in my entry. The previous owners — them again! — had put up a false ceiling with three spotlights. Considering their track record of wiring an extension cord for kitchen outlets and putting in a walk-in shower with no waterproofing, I wanted to check this and redo it if needed.

I took this photograph after removing the dozen screws that held the false ceiling to the walls, looking “behind” it and standing in the shock of disbelief for a few seconds. Behind the large pipe (the one that’s dripping dark fluid), there’s an outlet wired to the ceiling. Plugged into that outlet is a transformer (the black box), which is sitting directly on the false ceiling, which is made of wood. All the white debris is plaster; there were some large chunks on it and who knows why or how they got there. The false ceiling, I kid you not, was simply leftover parquet that the previous owners had painted white. In addition to the transformer sitting on it, the ceiling was touching the three central heating pipes that carry heat to the radiators throughout the building. (As a side note, my apartment is very toasty since, in addition to my two radiators, all the heating pipes that supply the building go through it.) That pipe that’s dripping? Is dripping because a layer of its paint is melting. I guess they didn’t waterproof the shower so that when there was a fire caused by their home “improvement”, the walls would be too damp to burn?!

In the entry, I cleaned up everything, removed the outlet from the ceiling wires, and put in a new light fixture. I chose a simple one that echoes the industrial feel that the pipes give the entry, and it now looks rather nice. While I did prefer the cleaner look of the false ceiling, I’ll take a few visible pipes over death by incineration any day. In other news, I’m still removing tile as part of my tomette restoration project, and have finished about a quarter of the living room. So far I’ve only encountered two damaged tomettes, both of which will be covered (and were probably originally damaged) by furniture.

Work in progress

Posted in Home improvement, La France, Nice at 17:54

Uncovering the living room

This is how I’m spending my Christmas and New Year’s holiday! All of this is the result of “just” three hours of work today. I’m glad that these went much quicker — I should be able to finish a good part of the living room by the end of next week. These are the tools and protection I’m using. Always use face protection when removing tile; I can’t insist enough. No matter how careful you are, the tiles break in unpredictable ways and pieces go flying everywhere. My eye protection and face mask have been hit by flying pieces of tile very often. Along those lines, if you have a pet, either don’t let them near the work area at all, or stop working when they’re nearby. Kanoko rests on his cat tree perch to oversee my work, so he’s been fine. I only worked for three hours because that’s all my arms and legs could take. It’s best to kneel (I used a folded-up blanket as a knee pad), which takes its toll, and it’s tiring to pound and lift all the time.

The thick gray line just above Kanoko’s head is not due to broken tile — that’s originally where the living room wall was. The previous owners took it out and put it further back to create the sofa nook. This is both good and bad: the good part is the tomettes aren’t broken; the bad part is there are no tomettes along that line at all!

While I consider tomettes to be a treasure because of their beauty and soft, silky feel, they are also a treasure in the material sense of the word: since tomettes are no longer made, you can only find vintage ones, and hexagonal tomettes cost from 50 to 70 euros per square meter. My living room and bedroom are 35 square meters in all, multiplied by 60 euros makes for 2,100 euros, or about 3,000 US dollars at the current exchange rate (I use’s currency converter). In comparison, decent-quality modern tiles cost about 20 euros per square meter, or one third of the tomettes’ worth. In short, for 3-4 weeks of tile removal work, I’ll be tripling the value of my floors! (Why did the previous owners tile over these tomettes? Well, since they are “vintage”, there are some French people who don’t like them. I’m assuming that’s what happened, since the previous owners were a young French couple.)

Buried treasure

Posted in Cats, Home improvement, Journal, La France, Nice at 20:45

Bedroom with parquet removed

This afternoon Kanoko was swatting around a broken piece of ceramic. It was dark red and reminded me very much of traditional Provençal terra cotta tiles, called tomettes. My curiosity was piqued — every so often, you’ll hear a story of someone buying an apartment, pulling up the old floor and discovering tomettes beneath. It even happened to my former landlords, whose floor was gorgeous. Since the parquet in my bedroom was badly laid and I thought I needed to replace it due to the water damage from the adjacent bathroom, I pulled on a corner that was already sticking out.

This is what I found. I jumped; I squealed with joy; I bounded into the kitchen to put on eye protection and returned to the bedroom to pull out as much parquet as I could. It hadn’t been glued, merely laid onto a protective sheet covering the floor. The tomettes are in perfect condition. There’s only one exception: the previous owners broke some tomettes to run… a TV cable. Ugh. (By any chance, do any readers have a few tomettes laying around that I could use to repair this? They’re hard to find. Mine are 11.5cm from point to point; 10cm from side to side.)

Pulling up the parquet brought something else into evidence: the tile elsewhere in my apartment is on top of yet more tomettes!!! Tomorrow I’m going to pull up tile in an out-of-the way corner of my living room to see what’s been done and if it’s recoverable — I certainly hope so. I’m delighted since I had in fact dreamt of redoing my bedroom floor in tomettes, but had to set aside the idea since they’re very expensive. Then today I find that it was already done 60 years ago!

Mystery uncovered

Posted in Home improvement, Journal at 14:38

After removing more plaster

As shown here, my deconstructivist bathroom is coming along nicely. This approach brings to the fore images that evoke universal truths: beneath the persona (paint) and ego (plaster) lie hidden yet vital depths of unconscious communications (pipes) and shadow elements (dark hole in the wall). Cleansing and healing elements also come into play (shower). While modern society would have us believe that humans are two-dimensional, able to be classified and “targeted”, we are reminded of the multitudinous facets in every individual, impossible to contemplate in their whole; impossible to reduce to mere words.

Because my bathroom wall needs to dry before it can be repaired, I decided to tackle paint removal in it today. (I had an extra vacation day that needed to be used, so took today off.) The mold damage before, bubbles after putting on paint remover that made me rather nervous since no such bubbles formed on the same paint when I used the remover in the WC, and the wall after removing the paint but before taking on the plaster.

The photo above shows the bathroom as it is now, with a hole in the corner so that air can get back there and help things dry out.

New drape and fixed kitten

Posted in Cats, Home improvement at 14:52

Drape covering storage

Kanoko turned 6 months old two weeks ago, and is at the veterinarian today, getting neutered and being given an ID tattoo in his ear. (Why you should spay or neuter your pet, et en français, pourquoi faire stériliser son animal.) I weighed him while at the vet’s: 4.5 kilos/10 pounds! That’s a healthy weight for a fully adult cat — normal-sized kittens weigh 3kg/6.5 pounds at 6 months old.

I took the opportunity of a mischief-free apartment to put up the curtain wire over my bedroom storage nook and hang a drape (“before” photo here). The difficulty of this nook is that it’s 2 meters wide, while none of the stores I checked had drapes/curtains wider than 1m60. So I hung a drape sideways! It’s not ideal, but with the tall bed frame bringing things together visually, it works well enough. It will probably look much better once I’ve repainted my bedroom a darkish grey. After considering several color ideas over the last few months, I realized that every time I’d seen a grey room, I’d utterly loved it. It won’t be done for a few months though, since budget priority goes to repairing my bathroom, which will be expensive. It is nice to no longer see the boxes and suitcases, in any case.