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Details. Craft details.

The spirit of the Arts and Crafts movement – the style of my current reno project – is high quality craft in building and finishing. Perhaps that is why I find the poor quality of many of the ‘improvements’ done in my house so frustrating. But frustrating in a good way, because when I fix them, I feel I’ve done a good thing.

The phrase ‘updating your home’ is the bane of renovating old houses. I fear there has been much done to my current house in the name of updating. I understand the spirit of updating. A house decorated in shades and styles popular 10 years past will look outdated. Let it mellow a few decades and it will take on the charm of a retro look, or become historic in a few more decades. 

A couple of rescue examples:

1. Kitchen cupboard reconfiguration. This example is just plain lack of attention to detail, I believe. Times changes, and new kitchen appliances are added which take up different space than the previous ones. I get that. In this case, a bit more care could be have been taken to make room for the stove. 

I acquired a jagged edge between the end of the countertop and the stove opening. At best guess, a jigsaw was taken to the cabinet – two thicknesses of 3/4″ plywood. The cut line went a little off, and was then corrected, leaving this. 

A minor detail, but not in the spirit of good craft. To remedy, I glued a strip of wood (1 x 1/2″) to the edge, and then filled the irregular gap.

First, I tried filling with caulking. Much as I love crown moulding caulking, it wasn’t designed to create a flat surface. So I added drywall compound over the caulking to get the desired smooth surface. The caulking will be useful to stop cracking of the drywall mud.

A couple of coats of paint (first to seal the mud, second to add the appropriate texture to match the rest of the cupboards), and no one will ever know it was poorly cut in the first place.

2. Recess in the wall. Why would anyone create a wall, about 12 feet long, that was 2 1/4 inches deeper for about a third of its length? This isn’t a very good riddle, because I don’t have a snappy answer.

Maybe a favourite piece of furniture fit snuggly into the recess, maybe moving the thermostat was intimidating. Or maybe any number of other reasons. HVAC ducts run through the wider part of the wall, so the indented part may be original and the jutted out bit a retrofit after the hot water heat distribution was replaced with ducts.

To me, a flat wall across the end of the dining room made the room more complete, more intentional, so I filled in the recess.

Notes on the process:

1. 2 1/4″ was an awkward thickness. Most 2x lumber is 1.5″. Adding 1/2″ drywall doesn’t get to a flush surface with the rest of the wall. Fortunately, my local lumber yard’s 2×2’s are 1 3/4″ square, so adding 1/2″ drywall brought the repair to the 2 1/4″. Otherwise a lot of strapping would be required.

2. Finding the studs beneath the existing drywall. Wasn’t all that thrilled that there was a 24″ centre in the wall, but it’s only a partition wall (I think, the structure in this house has been messed with) so I went with this. Added 2×2’s vertically at both sides of the recess and where I found a stud beneath the drywall. 

3. Added a 2×2″ across the top and bottom of the strapping. Fire-stop. The idea is to block wall cavities so that air doesn’t have a path to suck fire up, in the unfortunate event there’s a fire in the house. 

4. One light switch, one electrical outlet and the thermostat needed to be brought forward to the new wall surface. Hired a licensed electrician to do this.

5. Drywall. Being an old house, the opening was half an inch wider at the top than bottom. The ceilings in this house are 8′ 8″, an annoying bit taller than a full sheet of 8′ drywall. From my collection of drywall scraps, and I filled the space with what I had. In eight pieces.

Practicing mudding drywall is good, with the added challenge of no bevelled edge joints. So far, I’ve had good results with rolling mesh tape into a tube and inserting into the butt joints before mudding over. Time will tell if this is a solid enough connection between sheets to avoid cracking. I’ve learned the hard way that the key to attaching drywall is to be sure the screws go straight in (not sure why I tend to put screws in on an angle), and dimple the surface. This allows them to be covered with mud discretely. 

6. Paint. In the past, covering freshly installed drywall has been an issue (the bare paper and the mud show up differently). I tried two coats of primer with a very high pile roller before painting. Always use a high pile roller, I like the look. This got me better coverage than I’ve seen previously. This corner of the house isn’t particularly well lit, either naturally or with installed lights, so despite blending newly painted bits with those done 4 years ago, the result looks seamless. 

Net: Looks like the wall was always a single flat surface. Like the original goal was to put a wall at the end of the dining room. 

Thanks for reading.

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