Name: Dan Bailey
Type of Project: Kitchen remodel
Location: East Boston, Boston, Massachusetts
Type of building: 2nd Floor Condo in a Greek-Revival Row House
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I’m at a point in the renovation where I can clearly envision how the finished kitchen will look. Recently, I’ve found myself staring wistfully into the kitchen, looking past the dusty, paper-covered floors, the exposed plumbing, and the crumbling brick, and instead imagining gleaming appliances, freshly-painted cabinets, clean counters, and blindingly white subway tile. And then I notice the missing walls and ceiling and the emptiness of the room and I’m hit with the enormity of the work required to make this vision a reality.
Before my contractor and I can hang drywall and begin to convert the room from a construction site to an actual living space, my electrician will need to update the kitchen wiring and a masonry crew will need to repair the exterior brick wall. Delays in scheduling this work have been frustrating, but in the meantime, my contractor and I have made as much progress as possible.
This week, we got started putting in a new ceiling. There’s a lot of exposed plumbing and electrical wiring running along the original plaster ceiling. And although it would be nice to repair the original ceiling and open up the full 10-foot height of the room, this would involve rerouting all of the plumbing that’s currently up there, which is not something I have the money or desire to do. So instead, we decided to install a slightly lower, fixed drywall ceiling to conceal the plumbing and make the installation of new overhead lighting easier. The new ceiling will be just over eight feet high, about the same height as the old, foam-tiled drop ceiling.
After a quick trip to Home Depot to pick up a truckload of lumber, my contractor, Gregg, got to work framing the new ceiling. He initially thought he might need my help, but the room is so narrow that he managed to do everything on his own. He used 2x4 studs, screwed into the walls and reinforced with metal joist hangers. Once the framing was up, he tested its strength by grabbing two of the studs and hanging from them with his full weight. Luckily, the studs remained firmly attached to the wall. The framing will only need to support the weight of the drywall ceiling and a few lighting fixtures, so it seems more than sturdy enough.
Since my help was not needed to frame the ceiling, I instead continued skim coating the fireplace surround. For those not familiar with plastering terminology, skim coating is the process of applying a thin finish coat of plaster or joint compound over a wall. Skim coating is one of those things that sounds harder than it actually is. With a little practice, the right tools, and a lot of patience, almost anyone can do it.
The key is using a squeegee trowel, sometimes known by the brand name “Magic Trowel”. Although the name sounds gimmicky, it turned out to be a game-changer. Running the squeegee over a wet coat of joint compound leaves a perfectly smooth surface that requires very little sanding when it’s dry.
I decided to skim coat around the fireplace as a way to cover up the existing textured plaster treatment, which was lumpy and swirly and lent the whole room an air of dumpiness. The process of making an ugly, uneven wall smooth and flat is incredibly tedious and weirdly satisfying. I used lightweight joint compound mixed with a small amount of water and applied it with a 6-inch drywall knife. Once I’d evenly coated a section of wall, I smoothed it out using the squeegee trowel, and then repeated the process until the entire fireplace surround was covered in a single layer of smooth joint compound. Since the wall was so lumpy to begin with, it will take at least one or two more coats of joint compound to achieve a completely flat, smooth surface.
At the end of the week, the custom cabinet doors and drawer fronts arrived from Semihandmade. They’re unfinished, so I’ll need to prime and paint them over the next few weeks. But they’re made to fit onto IKEA cabinet boxes using IKEA hardware, so installation should be pretty straightforward.
Estimated time for project: 18 weeks
Time remaining: 5 weeks
(Images and diary text: Dan Bailey)