A new piece of equipment was recently purchased and brought into the Finch house – metal scaffolding. Assembled from a kit, this tool has enabled me, at five foot six inches tall, to work on 11 foot high ceilings upstairs and 12 foot ceilings in the entry hall.
Armed with a short crowbar, a hammer and a ventilator mask, Scott and I have taken down ceiling tile in two bedrooms, two halls and our upstairs bathroom. Clank, yank, drop is the sequence, and pillows of black coal dust fall along with the tile onto the floor. It’s a mess, and our faces and arms turn black with the inky dust. But it doesn’t take very long to reveal long, lovely beadboard ceilings that are original to the home. The beadboard is in pretty good shape, and mostly intact. It does need to be cleaned and hammered back into place, and then painted.
Where did the coal dust come from? Two of the fireplaces were coal fed, and along with the heat also arose the soot, settling into the boards and cracks of the ceiling, and nestling in long parallel strips atop the ceiling. I see these stripes of black soot atop the false ceiling tiles as each comes down, two long horizontal stripes on each one. It’s a strange pattern, but present on every tile! The Finch house is located two blocks from the railroad tracks, and with a railroad transporting coal, in a town heated with coal, the dust had settled everywhere. The old railroad depot station is long gone, but was just three blocks away.
The old tile removed from six inches to a foot of ceiling height, an adjustment considered an improvement to the home’s look in the seventies or eighties. The former owners who made these changes
probably believed the falsehood that shorter ceilings saved energy and made the home easier to heat. This was a common falsehood in the late 70s and 80s. White ceiling fans and big box store brass fixtures were added then also, and these are no longer adorning our rooms. We also took a crowbar to remove false mouldings which adjoined the dropped ceiling to the walls. We’ll add back Victorian era mouldings to adjoin the beadboard once we work on our walls.
In the upstairs bathroom, the 70s look prevailed as navy quilting fabric adorned the walls, and the bottom woodwork was painted navy blue. Underneath all this was a bright yellow ceiling (what happened to the beadboard in this room?) The yellow magnifies the sunlight streaming into the bedroom and makes it look like a light is on in the bathroom. Wooden country style mirror, light switches and towel bars are quickly taken down, the room regains some of its dignity.
Small portions of the hall upstairs and downstairs needs to be finished once we figure out a revised scaffolding method. A 10 foot section of upstairs hallway lies above our stairs, with a 24 foot drop to the bottom floor and beyond the metal scaffold’s reach. I’m not afraid of heights, but this task seems a bit daunting to me for now.
Once we’ve finished the ceilings in most of the upstairs rooms, stripped off ceiling tile and mouldings, I can almost hear the house settle in and breathe again. The rooms seem larger, brighter, less confined. Did the house just thank me or did I image it?