For the past two months, Connecticut Country House has been a big work in progress.  Our “resident” craftsman and friend, Mark Kornhaas, has been plugging away at a punch list that was created by a natural domino effect of projects throughout the house.  One key project that started out quite simply with fixing a small wall with a crackled surface in the original parlor of the 1767 portion of the house, evolved into a history lesson and a total re-do on my part.

As Mark sanded away 200 years of layered paint to re-surface the the ailing wall, he uncovered the original plasterwork that revealed the room’s specifications written in pencil!  I took pictures of it (first photo in gallery above) and copied exactly what and how it was written:

2. Door  6,6 x 3

4. Windows  4,6 x 2,6

1. Fireplace + Mantels 5, x 7,

Room size  10, x  14,6

Wall Hight  7,

You see, ten years ago, when I first walked into this house, I instantly fell in love with this parlor. Every rippled surface oozed 18th century authenticity – the plaster walls and ceiling, the random width and nailed pine floor, the bubbly glass panes, and the humble fireplace mantel housing two cupboards.

After Mark meticulously compounded and sanded the wall a number of times to fix the crackling paint problem, he restored it to “not so perfect” condition so that it would seamlessly work into the rest of the room. But it was imperfect perfection.  We followed right behind with a 2-coat paint job of all the surfaces with one of my very favorite tried and true paint colors, Lancaster Whitewash, in a pearl finish, by Benjamin Moore.  It is rich creamy white that works so beautifully with other colors.

You know, it’s funny – when we emptied the room to paint it – I looked at it in a whole new light. The architecture, even as simple as it is, came forward and I could focus in on all the details.  It was the first time that I viewed the painted mantel in a whole new way – noticing and admiring the hand planed door panels with mortise and tenon joinery, and the wood pegs that held it all together.  These original features were not so easy to see with 200+ years of paint.  I asked Mark if he thought I could strip the mantel myself, and what that would  entail.  He suggested a number of techniques and a lot of patience when it came to time.

The center panel, cupboard doors, and lower half of the mantel was stripped with Peel Away – a powerful paste-like compound you spread on the surface 1/8″ – 1/4″ in thickness and cover well with the Peel Away paper.  Leave for 24 – 36 hours, and then lift off the paper and with a putty knife you can gently pull up the paint layers – all at once!  Rick ran out and bought a small heat gun and scraper, and with plenty of elbow grease, helped to speed up the process. The whole stripping project took about a week (I didn’t have the patience for it taking a lot of time – too many projects).

The mantel was made up of various woods, original and newer, with a lot of white paint residue that made the scraping and stripping inconsistent. But we were loving the “messed up” look on the whole, and decided to capitalize on it.  I tied the whole thing together with a little faux touch-up by using a dry paint brush and a small amount of the Lancaster Whitewash wall paint, I lightly dragged the brush onto cleaner surfaces, so they would all have a common thread of white hang-up.  To finish it off, we painted the interior of the mantel cupboards with the wall paint.

The mantel, for the first time in the ten years we have lived here, is the star of the little room.  It looks so much bigger and shows off all of its woodwork details.  It inspired me to re-decorate the room.  After a morning of ‘Murphy Aerobics”, where we switched furniture, art, and accents from around the house – it has a whole new vibe….to be continued…

Tune in Friday for the re-do reveal!




  • mary fellows says:
    July 11, 2012 at 8:28 pm Reply

    You should call the show, “If these walls could talk”….
    My friend Pam in Sandy Hook was on it, and your house
    has so much more to say……….

  • I love your discovery of the room specifications under the finish coats on the walls. When we are in the process of building a house, we are always writing phone numbers, paint colors, door sizes and swing directions, dates etc. on the bare drywall.
    In pencil. A ink pen will bleed through 20 layers of paint !
    I also keep the tradition of having the crew’s names and constuction date written on the wall behind a mantel, or behind the head casing of the entry door, where they will not be painted over… a little time capsule for a different crew that knows where to look.

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