entryway progress

It’s slow going to fix up your house unless you’ve got a fat purse and a lot of time. Sometimes I feel like I’m buried in the bureaucracy of life admin. Sign an online petition and your email inbox mushrooms with doomsday scenarios. Buy something online and you are attacked daily by 20% off coupons. We now have digital clutter to clear and speak with robots on the phone.

We recently put another dent in the slow moving entryway project. What happens to me is that when we make an improvement, I exhale and exclaim “it looks great”. And so we live with the partially finished project while absorbed in work to put food on the table and tend to our family and friendships.  After the blue venetian plaster work and the teardrop chandeliers went up, I was happy opening the front door and walking into my house for awhile.

Then the novelty of the last phase wore off and so it was time for the next. The doors leading to the girl’s room and the bathroom were filmsy hollow doors. I never liked them. I like the feeling of opening and closing a solid wood door. I shopped around for wooden doors and they were too extravagant for my purse. In New York City, we have a great resource. Build it Green! NYC is a recycling project, a place where contractors can donate excess stuff from construction/renovation projects and others can buy it. I snapped up the two paneled wooden doors for 60 bucks! Then we got molding to frame the new doors with. That was always the vision, a posh entryway with elegant molding. As my friend Linda says “molding brings the eye up and up and up”. It gives the illusion of higher ceilings, a welcome thing in a narrow hallway.

carpenters installing doors and molding

carpenters installing doors and molding

heavy paneled wooden recycled door and molding on my blue venetian plaster walls

heavy paneled wooden recycled door and molding on my blue venetian plaster walls

What’s next? Molding along the juncture of the plaster wall and the ceiling and a good looking and useful spot for hanging up coats and setting down boots now that winter is almost upon us.

stucco veneziano part one

We’re going bold and complimentary to the brick with a teal venetian plaster. I love to create and apply the plaster. The art is ancient, from before the Romans, who as usual, copied it from the Greeks. The mixing is time consuming and meditative. I mix the plaster by hand in the same bucket I was given as an apprentice when we first stucco’d our building’s hallways in the early 1990’s. I’ve kept that stucco bucket all these years and I carefully scrap and clean it and put it away after each use. It is stained with the patina of all the colors I’ve ever mixed in it starting with the first butter yellow of our hallways.

I don’t know where this recipe originated. I’m sure that if venetian plaster artisans ever saw  it, they would either snicker or groan. The ancient recipes include lime and marble dust. This is the recipe that was taught me so that I could help do our building’s hallways and it is the recipe that I have always used. It works, it holds up. The hallway stucco is twenty years old and it has only been refreshed once.

stucco veneziano in our hallway 1996

Here is the recipe: Mix 1 part flat paint and 1 part water. Add a dollop of wallpaper paste (the natural kind, called wheat paste). Mix in plaster of paris little by little as if you were mixing cake batter till smooth. Finish by adding a splash of milk to keep the plaster from hardening too quickly. Only mix a little at a time at first till you get the hang of the time it takes to harden and how fast you can get it up. Use a real stucco knife imported from Italy. You will not be able to get it smooth enough with any other tool. If you want to repost this recipe, please link back to this post. 

It’s really hard to find the old-fashioned wallpaper paste that was made out of wheat. Now what they sell is full of chemicals. I had to make my own. I found this recipe. It was very easy and it is a good recipe to have if you ever need to make papier mache.

adding the plaster to the paint mixture

it feels like a cake batter

add a splash of milk to keep it from hardening too quickly

applying the plaster with a stucco knife

Next up will be the finishing touches and the “after photos”. Stay tuned.

lights and action

There is movement and decisiveness in the entryway re-do. The teardrop chandelier has been installed. The sleek and skinny glass table from Crate and Barrel has been delivered. The wall opposite the brick will be a rich deep blue stucco veneziano. I will experiment with mixing in mica flakes for a subtle shimmer to catch the light.

teardrop chandelier

The stars of the entryway will be the wall of family photographs. Here are two that I’ve picked out for framing. The grandmother (left) as a teenager riding with her cousin in El Bosque de la Habana.  Below, the grandaughter makes the funny face that would send her beloved abuela into peels of laughter every time.

bring on the teenagers

I actually started working on the entryway over the holiday break. It did not work out. I’m insecure about choosing paint colors. I pick colors based on nebulous notions that I think are valid at the time. A friend suggested that in order to tie the hallway together and make it warm and inviting I should pull a color from the exposed brick wall and carry it through to the other wall. I saw it in my head and it made perfect sense. I loved the idea, especially the part where she said I should add beautiful moulding to the doors and paint them a super shiny white. It all sounded so fancy and posh. I carefully photographed the brick wall using my Benjamin Moore Color Capture app and I poured over paint chips so I would get exactly the right color to pull the hallway together. Over two days, I stucco’d the hallway in that lucious earthy color. When I was finished, I tried to talk myself into liking it. I wanted to like it because I liked the idea of it. I wanted the entryway to look warm and posh and pulled together. But it did not look good, and there was no more denying it when my daughter said “Mom, it looks like the before picture”.

In order to redo stucco over top of stucco, you have to sand it with a machine. It is a messy dusty job that I was putting off doing. Then I thought of the teenagers – why not pay them to do it? With so many adults looking for work, after school jobs are a rarity. Teenagers are expensive beings that eat a lot and go to the movies in packs. It’s near impossible to get your own to do anything, but other people’s teenagers are game. Thus my daughter’s friend Will happily stepped up to the plate with the promise of some spending money and lunch.

Will's mom even sent over homemade cookies!