laurapants: Craft, Cooking, Creativity

Downstairs Office Makeover

Posted on February 5, 2018 by

I was ambitious when we first moved in, and started our first re-decorating project within two weeks.

Here is what this room looked like on the day we moved in:

A bed with bare mattress and bed skirt in a purple wall papered room.

On the wall to the right of the camera lens, picture a large, built-in oak desk and some old off-white pleated curtains with a pleated valance. Please note that the stripes on that wallpaper aren’t just stripes. They are floral stripes. Take in that sickly green carpet that must be at least 30 years old. The other rooms had their problems, but this one had incurred my special displeasure, and I couldn’t wait to strip the 80s away and make it new.

There is a crazy amount of wallpaper in this house, so I investigated methods for removal to try to identify the best one. But I found very little agreement in the world of DIY about how to remove wallpaper. Some people swore by steamers, others used liquid fabric softener. Some lucky schmucks were apparently able to just pull the wall paper off with little more than hot water and a rag. I decided to go hard-core chemical. I bought a giant bottle of DIF wallpaper remover, some rubber gloves, and some tools that proved indispensable.

We tried a few different scraper tools, and determined that this Zinsser scraper was the best option.

Long-handled zinsser wallpaper scraper with angled flat head

The blades can be replaced (and they will need to be replaced at least once if you have a lot of well-glued wallpaper going on. This tool was decidedly NOT the best option, and I would not recommend it.

Orange curved wallpaper scraper from wp chomp

The angle of the blade was all wrong, and because of the design of the handle, you can’t try to get it against the wall at a different angle. The handle was easier to hold, but alas, that made it almost useless.

We went through a few of these scoring tools, and I would highly recommend using these.

Round, red plastic wallpaper scoring tool with serrated wheels

The little serrated wheels score the wallpaper so whatever you’re using to loosen the glue can penetrate through the paper.

This took a lot longer than I anticipated.

A room with green carpet and maroon papered walls; part of the wallpaper is stripped and the floor is littered with scraps. There are tools scattered around and a garbage bag full of wallpaper.

See all those teeny, tiny scraps of wallpaper on the floor? That is how most of it came off the walls. I’m whimpering as I write this just thinking about how frustrating that was. And it stuck to EVERYTHING. Especially the bottom of my feet, so we ended up finding sticky scraps of wallpaper all over the house. I would recommend removing any wallpaper before you replace flooring. It’s a good thing I didn’t care one whit about that carpet.

My mom came up (with my two adorable nieces) for the last week of March to help finish this project. My mom is a tireless worker. She did SO MUCH when she was here, and nothing ever seems too daunting for her. I, on the other hand, am lazy, and get discouraged kind of easily, so by the time she got here, my motivation for this project was flagging. I don’t know if it would have gotten done without her so Mom, if you’re reading this, THANK YOU!

We had to remove that built-in desk to get to the wallpaper behind it, and that was its own challenge. It was bolted to the wall and we couldn’t quite figure out how to get it out without damaging it. We knew that it had been built by the former owner’s son, and we just happened to have his phone number. Lucky for us, he gave us a very detailed explanation of its assembly and we were able to pull it away from the wall, and even better, put it back together when we were done.

We also removed that atrocious green carpet, which was easier than I expected. I just started at a corner with a pry bar, and (while wearing gloves), pulled it up, cutting it into strips with a box knife as I went.

Rolls of green carpet and a small pile of dirty, white carpet pad piled up outside on a concrete pad, surrounded by other debris.

It’s still satisfying to look at this picture of discarded carpet. Ahhh.

What we discovered underneath wasn’t as satisfying. I believed, perhaps foolishly, that there would be hardwood flooring under that carpet. The owner said there was! But there wasn’t. Instead, we found some weird brown tile that was etched with the markings of the carpet pad that had lain on it for so many decades.

Closeup of dark brown tile marked with a faint chevron-like pattern.

We were a little baffled by this tile. What was it? It seemed almost like cork in appearance, but was way too hard to be cork. It wasn’t ceramic, and it didn’t look like vinyl or linoleum. We aren’t 100% sure, but we slowly came to realize that it could very well be asbestos tile.

Gasp! Cue screams of terror. We both knew there was a decent chance: the house was built in 1961 and we found contradictory information about when the use of asbestos tile really ended. We were never able to definitively determine what the flooring was made of, but we did see that it wasn’t broken anywhere, which seemed to be the real source of any danger with asbestos. We read pretty extensively and learned that as long as the tile was in good condition, and was going to be completely covered with another kind of flooring, it would in fact be better to leave it in place than have it removed.

So the maybe-asbestos tile stayed.

After what felt like years of wallpaper and carpet removal work, spackle-ing, and dry wall repair, we were ready to paint. We tested a few different whites, and decided on Behr’s Spun Cotton, a kind of warm white. Describing white paint is hard. Here.

A nearly empty room with painters tape marking the ceiling, light plates and wall fixtures removed, painted white.

We decided against painting the ceiling, mainly because it seemed like a huge PITA and the ceiling was already white. There are a few spots where I accidentally painted the ceiling, and you can see that there is a big contrast between the two whites, but it’s not that noticeable except in that spot. White paint is so weird.

I did learn something about painting trim and doors: It sucks. Because the paint on trim and doors is usually a higher gloss paint, you can’t just paint over it with another high gloss paint. It will peel off. We learned that the hard way. You instead have to sand it, and you have to sand it by hand because a power sander will apparently melt the paint. Wah wah. We actually still have to re-finish the trim in this room, which is peeling and chipped. I haven’t gotten to that yet because it sounds like torture.

But after a month of wallpaper removal, carpet removal, and painting, here is the halfway finished project:

Mostly empty room with a wooden shelf on the wall, wicker and wood chair, sisal rug, and basket with a yoga mat in it.

It stayed like this for a few months until we could get to our next big project: installing new flooring. I’ll talk about that adventure next time…



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