Part 2 of our 3 Part Series originally published on the "Old House Chronicles" website

© 2001 by Nina Stine

Creating And Furnishing A Perfectly Proper Parlor - Part II

The choice of wallpaper was a long, slow process. Looking through magazines gave me some ideas of how other people had handled their decorating. Visiting and touring old homes was another source of ideas. My first choice of vintage patterns and ceiling sets was way way out of our price range. My second choice was merely way out of our price range. After scouring the wallpaper stores, looking through stacks of sample books, and sitting in front of the computer for hours on end viewing manufactures' web sites, Tom finally got aggravated enough to say "just make up your mind and order it". Time was running out if we wanted to have it finished for Christmas, and the more I looked, the more confused I got. We finally came to an agreement on the papers in York's 101st anniversary collection, second edition, and ordered the wallpaper, ceiling paper, wall border, ceiling border, and medallion and trim sets. This was a way to create a classy look, while still being able to pay for groceries, and I didn't want Tom to go hungry. I needed him to hang the paper.

While we were waiting for the paper to come, we primed the walls and ceiling so everything would be ready when it arrived.

It wasn't long before we came home to find a couple of boxes on our front porch. The waiting was over. It was time to get down to the business of making that wonderful room something special. When Saturday came we were up early, carrying in ladders, planks, sawhorses, an old piece of countertop for a pasting table, and all the knives, razor blades, brushes, rollers, straightedge, tape measure, chalk line, and anything else we would need to get started. The ceiling was the first project to tackle. Many people think that it is too difficult to paper a ceiling, but we have learned through experience that it can be a task demanding more technique than talent, and the finished result is well worth the effort.

We started by snapping a chalk line about an inch closer to the wall than the width of the paper. The walls are never straight in an old house, so this allows us to trim the edge to fit perfectly. We have also learned that if we leave a little on the wall, (about _") when we trim the wallpaper there will be no gap showing. The paper we chose was a random match pattern making this part of the project go rather smoothly. We have also found that the use of pre-pasted wallpaper activator is well worth the additional cost, making it easier to shift the paper into position and smooth while working overhead. There were some corners around the chimney that were a challenge, but all went well and the field was finished rather quickly. We wanted the parlor ceiling to be special since it will be the one surface that will always be seen. The floor will get covered with rugs and furnishings, the walls get pictures and are partly hidden by furniture, but the ceiling stands alone in it's stark nakedness, making the need for adornment so strong. One of the reasons we chose this paper was for the medallion that is available. We have a hanging parlor lamp that Tom got me for Christmas a few years ago and electrified, hanging in the center of the room, so the medallion just seemed to fit. The border that matched the set was the right size to frame the ceiling, but it needed more. Tom designed a star pattern to frame the center medallion and fill the vast empty space overhead using parts of the medallion that he trimmed as needed, and the same border that surrounds the ceiling.

We started on ladders in the center of the room, measuring, snapping a chalk line, measuring, snapping a chalk line, measuring some more, snapping some more, until the ceiling was a mass of intersecting lines. He then started to rub off the lines that were not needed, and slowly the outline of an eight-pointed star took shape. Next he cut pieces of border, pasted them with vinyl to vinyl paste and positioned them along the lines, carefully cutting the corners to make perfect points. The next step was to carefully cut the points off of the medallion and paste these points on the outer points of the star. We stood back and admired his piece of artwork as another day came to an end.

 Another day, another project. That is the consequence of falling in love with an old house. The next weekend it was time to tackle the walls. After finishing the ceiling the walls seem pretty easy if you use a few simple tricks. First we start in the most visible part of the room, and use a plumb line to make sure we start with a straight line since none of the walls are really straight. In this case that was beside the window opposite the door. We worked around the big, blank wall first, being careful to match the pattern and smooth the paper to make sure no wrinkles surfaced. When we got to the corner behind the chimney, we stopped, and then started going the other way. As we came to the windows we again used the plumb line, making adjustments where they would not be noticeable, so when we came to the other big, blank wall everything was straight. We continued around the room, making a final adjustment at the door, and finishing behind the chimney where the mismatched pattern will not be seen.

The next day was border day. This border was going to be a bit tricky since we had decided to reuse all the original trim, including a picture rail that was used in place of crown molding. The shape made it almost impossible to work the border against, so Tom decided the border had to go up first.

Out came the ruler and chalk line again as we measured and marked the ceiling, keeping the edge of the border about an inch from the wall. Surprisingly, the border went up without much trouble, and we knew that the picture rail would hide any small irregularities in the wall, since the top edge is rounded and the border will start slightly beyond the line of sight.

The wall border was another story. We started by measuring and marking, but when the border started to go up we could tell that this was not going to work. The bottom edge of the picture rail is square and the top of the border has to make a crisp transition, but the ceiling was so wavy (due to irregularities in the joists, and settling of the walls) that it wasn't working out that way. We finally decided to use a short piece of the picture rail to space the border, using just visual judgement to keep it straight. We were lucky that Tom's father's cousin was visiting, because we put him to work helping with the border, working on the ladders and planks. (I don't walk on rickety planks with nothing to hold on to!) Just a note of warning; anyone who comes to visit may be pressed into service. Be prepared!

The wallpaper was finally finished and now it was time to move on to reinstalling the trim. I decided before we started the demolition process years ago, that the trim in this room was going to be reused. It is a fine example of the faux graining that was so popular in the late 1800's, and was in relatively good condition since the original family hadn't used this formal room much. We had carefully removed all the woodwork years ago and stored it, knowing that this day would eventually come. Now as we sorted though all the pieces to prepare for reinstallation, we had decisions to make. What do we do about the nails? The window and door casings, base blocks, baseboards, rosettes, and mantle were installed with cut nails, and the holes filled. We couldn't pull them or we would ruin the look we were attempting to save. The solution we arrived at was to cut about half way through the nail on the back side of the piece with a cutting wheel on our rotary tool, so the nail wouldn't get too hot and melt the finish, then bend the nail back and forth to break it off flush with the wood. I then washed each piece and used Kramer's Antique Improver to clean and condition the finish.

  After all the trim was ready, Tom got out the air compressor and finish nailer, making quick work of the reinstallation process. Of course nothing can be too easy. We couldn't find one of the windowsills, but we had one from a window in another part of the house that matched except that it has longer horns. We put it on the center window, knowing that no one would notice if they weren't told. (About a month later we found the lost one, but decided it would be too much trouble to change) Of course, since we replaced lath and plaster with drywall, the dimensions were off slightly, meaning we had to lengthen the baseboards and picture rail. The baseboards were not a real problem since a bookcase had been installed that we were going to reuse, and the piece behind it doesn't show. We cut pieces to lengthen the rest of the baseboards, and patch the spot where someone had cut out to install the electrical outlet. The picture rail was more of a problem because it is all visible. Tom cut one piece to make the shims to fill in the gaps, leaving us one piece short. With a little trial and error Tom was able to make a piece that closely resembled the original, and by combining several kinds of stain we were able to create a color that is hard to distinguish from the original, and by putting it in the lest conspicuous spot, it blends in well.


  Fitting the built in bookcase was an all day job since the floor had settled and the walls were slightly different. The doors had never closed right, and the drawers had to be pried open, so it was important to level and plumb it, which again meant making some filler strips, but the result is well worth the effort.

We feel that we have reproduced the room as one might have appeared in 1890, and were able to do it on a tight budget with a little thought and a lot of hard work.

To be continued;