We love our small pre-war co-op, but the original moldings and plaster are damaged and gunked with repeated repairs and repaintings. In some cases it appears as if joint compound was even smeared right over parts of the moldings. Ideally we'd restore the plaster and moldings, but the contractor we spoke with balked at the prospect of all that stripping. I'm willing to work on it myself, but am worried I'll make things worse. Does anyone have experience with this? Is a restorer the only route, or could I try to remove and strip the moldings myself before getting a plasterer to recoat the walls?
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It IS a lot of work, but you can definitely strip those moldings. However, you may find the wood underneath is not too pretty, so test it first. It may be easier, cheaper and prettier to use new wood.
We've used Rock Miracle in the past, which is highly toxic, but works great. Many contractors don't like to strip stuff. It doesn't appeal to their "get it done fast" sensibility.
You should do this before you address the walls.
The big issue is your walls, which really need to be replastered. If you do this, your apartment will be BEAUTIFUL, but it is an even bigger job. They will probably have to take all the plaster down and start from scratch.