Do-it-yourself projects, are they friend or faux?
When I was younger, stronger and clearly delusional, I installed the drywall in a stairwell that leads to the garage-top garret here at Clear Creek Ranch. I did an “adequate” job.
OK, I didn’t know drywall sheets are taped together in groups of two when they are delivered, so the ceiling is extra thick. But other than that ….
Lifting, cutting, and nailing 4-foot-by-8-foot sheets of that stuff is fatiguing. It is a 20-foot drop from the ceiling to the base of the stairs. I have no memory of how I managed to hang that portion of the ceiling by myself. It took years before my spine decompressed and I regained my full gnome-like height.
During that time, the project languished, incomplete. Other, more compelling chores beckoned to me, with the stairwell always rescheduled for “next week,” or “next month,” or “next year.” And since we are talking several years here, in late 2000 I was actually able to push it forward to the “next millennium.”
A millennium, I have found, is a lot of time to fill. Only three years in and I ran out of excuses. Do-it-yourself taping and texturing seemed inescapable.
I tried to hire it out, but few contractors bothered to return my calls. Those that did demanded five years worth of certified, notarized, double-audited financial statements and an escrow account funded in full with gold bullion before they would consider bidding. And then they weren’t interested in “small” jobs. Perhaps my mention of the 20-foot ceiling was a bad idea.
I bought a bucket of drywall “mud” and assorted putty knives and went to work. If I had it to do over again, I’d develop my technique at ground level instead of perched on a swaying extension ladder two stories above the floor. The stairs soon looked like a herd of incontinent heifers had plopped through. The wider putty knives were excellent for scraping the pancake-sized splats of mud that hit the treads during my learning phase.
After things dried out and were sanded smooth and the dust cleared, one thing stuck out. In truth, everything stuck out. No two pieces of drywall had been hung on precisely the same plane. A couple of coats of paint weren’t going to hide the imperfections, no matter what eye-blinding shade I slapped on.
Luckily, Martha Stewart has her own shelf in the redecorating wing of the ranch library. I can’t part my hair like her, so I’m always peeking out from behind it, but that allows me to read with both eyes. I soon discovered my bad job was actually trendy. A fake, distressed finish was to be desired. Faux became friend.
I experimented with all the styles: stippling, dribbling, dappling, marbling and sponging before I settled on the rag method. You apply two different colors of paint at the same time using a split paint roller covered in old gym socks.
My gym socks never looked (or smelled) so good, but the resulting riot of incompatible colors was disorienting. It certainly confused my eyes into not seeing the walls’ imperfections, or maybe the paint fumes did that. Or maybe it’s an inner-ear thing. Visitors who use the stairwell fix their gaze on the stairs’ tread to keep their balance. No one comments on the paint job at all.
We’ll see what they say when I get around to reattaching the handrail and they don’t have to fight the vertigo alone.
But I won’t be getting to that for a couple of years.
Mike Drummond is a Nevada County writer whose column appears on Tuesday. You can write him in care of The Union, 464 Sutton Way, Grass Valley, 95945; or e-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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