Old House Plaster Repair Guide

Plaster repair - for those of you who don't live in an old house or don't watch HGTV, the concept of plaster repair is probably a foreign one. For me, it definitely was, as I only remember living previously in homes that were built with drywall. But prior to World War II, plaster walls were a staple to building any home. They are composed of wall studs (vertical posts), lath (horizontal wood slats, like spread apart beadboard), and three coats of plaster (usually composed of animal hair and gypsum or lime). Here in our house, that's basically all we have and although they are a cool historical aspect, they kind of are a pain in the butt. A lot of times in older homes that have these type of walls, as the homes settle as the ground shifts, cracks appear in the walls or ceilings. That's one of the bigger challenges we faced in updating our house - how to fix those cracks and even out our walls. 

notice the cracks above the window

As we are renovating we are running into two specific issues in terms of plaster repair: 1) cracks in the plaster and 2) fixing loose plaster that has broken away from the wall. At the Old Home Expo a couple months ago, Mikael attended a plaster repair workshop, which helped him immensely in our plaster repair process. After repairing plaster in our living room, dining room, and foyer, I consider Mikael our in-house expert on the process. Although he doesn't agree, I've convinced him to share a rudimentary guide on plaster repair with some tips he's come across in the process. But just a disclaimer, neither of us claim to be professionals and before you start working on this kind of stuff, you should consult a professional, which we aren't! We just hope you find our guide helpful!

To begin, let's look at cracks in the plaster, as that's the most common problem for many old home owners. 

First, check that the plaster around the crack is not loose around it - it shouldn't give to pressure around the area. If that's the case, use a 5-in-1 tool to scrape a V-shaped channel along the crack. Next, using a vacuum remove any debris or dust from the channel. With a damp sponge or rag, wipe the freshly uncovered plaster in the channel to slightly hydrate it. This will allow the patch to better bond with the old plaster, because if the old plaster is still dry it will remove the moisture too quickly from the patch, causing it to fail. With a pre-mixed tub of Dap patching plaster (found at Ace Hardware in the paint section), use a two-inch putty knife to apply the patching plaster to the channel. Use that same putty knife to wipe across the filled in channel to even out the surface and make it flush with the wall. Allow to dry. If it looks like the patching plaster has shrunk after drying, apply another thin coat. Once complete, use a fine grit sanding block to sand the patch and smooth the area.

Now for loose plaster patches, which sometimes happen as the plaster pulls away from the lath behind due to shifting or unfortunate nail holes, etc. 

To fix detached plaster, apply pressure to the area to determine where the plaster has broken away from the wall. With a 3/16 masonry bit, drill holes through the loose plaster and attempt to hit the lath with one hole every 3-4 inches or so. If you do not hit the lath, mark the hole with a pen (it will be obvious when you hit the lath). Using a 1.25 inch spade bit, drill out the top coat of the plaster in the holes that hit the lath (from this point on, ignore the ones that did not hit the lath). At this point, use a spray bottle filled with concrete fortifier (in the building materials section at Home Depot) and spray once or twice in each drill hole and wait 15 minutes. 

Using Loctite Power Grab All Purpose adhesive, inject one or two pumps into the holes. Next, screw plaster washers into each hole while the adhesive is wet using 1.5 inch drywall screws. Make sure that the plaster washer once screwed in is sunken beneath the surface of the surrounding plaster. 

Wait a couple of hours for everything to dry. Once dry, wet the area with a sponge or towel and use patching plaster to fill all of the holes then sand with a fine sanding block once that has dried.

We hope that helps any of you who are wondering how to DIY plaster repair in your home! If you have any questions or comments, feel free to share below!

Front Porch: First Changes & a Vintage Find

When we first saw the house, the ornate custom front door immediately captured our attention. Since then, we've dreamed of making over the front of our house to become a show stopper. Our front porch is beginning to shape up thanks to a bit of elbow grease, strategic purchases, gifts from parents, and a little electrical work by Mikael. 

As we were doing our final walk through for the house, we discovered this antique mailbox in the basement. It clearly was very old and at that moment I was unable to tell what it was made from. I knew it was some type of metal, but it was so tarnished and dirty that it was difficult to immediately know. However, as Mikael and I began working outside, we knew we wanted to hang up the antique wall mounted mailbox because it just fit with the style of our house. So as I went to wipe it off with a damp cloth, I noticed the few hints of copper coming through under the tarnished brown exterior. 

So immediately, I Googled how to shine copper and discovered you could do it easily with only lemon and salt! I took the mailbox outside and started scrubbing and scrubbing... and scrubbing...

The copper began to show through really easily! So here's the lessons I learned from this project: 1) You'll need both a lot of lemon and salt. Don't be afraid to soak the metal! 2) Use an old kitchen dish scrubber. It will save your hands! 3) You'll have to scrub really hard and it's OK! You won't hurt it if the copper is thick enough. 4) Don't try to make it perfect. It's an antique and some of the patina helps keep the piece reflect a bit of its history!

So while I was working on this, Mikael was installing our new doorbell. It had been one of those ugly plastic doorbells that had likely been installed in the 1980s. We looked around on several sites to find historic replicas that would fit with the period of the house. We found the perfect one on House of Antique Hardware!

Isn't it cute?! Color me imPRESSed. (Sorry! I just had too!) It gives a great first impression to our guests and makes a beautiful statement! I absolutely adore our little doorbell.

Whenever I imagine a well-tailored home, I always think of a house with a welcome wreath on the door. So now that I finally have a front door to decorate, I knew I had to get a wreath! I picked up this dried eucalyptus wreath from Target on sale for around $30. It adds a fun pop with Rifle Paper-esque colors that contrast against the warmth of the wood door. I hung it up on the glass using a suction cup hook. (FYI, command strips just don't work on glass!)

My parents donated a wicker couch and chair for our front porch, so this week I'm hoping to spray paint them black and update the cushions. I'll show you that progress as those come along! 

Dining Room & Foyer Tour

These past two weeks became a bit hectic as Mikael and I hustled to finish all of our final projects in the main floor rooms in preparation for my birthday party and our visiting families. We've gotten quite a bit accomplished: we got rid of the yard waste at a local recycling company, sold the ugly dilapidated iron railing in the front yard to a metal recycling facility, completed (for the most part) the dining room and foyer, repotted a bunch of plants, had an electrician update some wiring, and began work on our messy office. We also got an overwhelming response on our last post about researching our house and we've delved even further into its history! I cannot wait to share all of those updates soon.

I just got our house back in working order after the family visits thanks to Spring Break (woot woot!), so I figured I'd show off our completed dining room and foyer before they devolve into messiness again with our next project. 

Here you can see my antique dining table from my great grandmother, which would be fairly period appropriate for the house. It's a cute round table with claw feet that expands out to a six foot length with the leaves. Unfortunately, the table has seen better days. So while it works temporarily, soon I want to take it to a professional for refinishing and replaning of the leaves. We paired it with our original dining room chairs that bring in our midcentury modern style. The last furniture piece we need for this room is a long credenza to sit against the North wall (the one on the right in the picture). The room feels a little big in comparison to the dining set, so that sideboard will help complete the room.

I cannot wait to switch out the chandelier from the foyer into this room. While I love gold, the brass is just too much for this room and the glass chandelier will make much more of an impact above the dining table. This chandelier likely will end up in the master bathroom or master closet. 

This adorable bar cart has found its home in this perfectly fitting nook of the bay window, plus it was the ideal spot for a champagne bar at my birthday party! We adore this little bar cart. It's similar to West Elm's, but since it was from Overstock it was half of the price. The mix of natural wood and matte brass helps the piece make a statement, but not be over the top (like the chandelier). 

I just picked up this beauty from a Craigslist seller for a steal at $50! It's clean lines and rounded back immediately drew me to the chair. It currently has a newly covered seat in a cotton cloth in lime green. It's a bit funky and ultimately time will tell whether that fabric will last or be swapped for another style.

The foyer! It's finally finished! You guys, it was a serious struggle and nearly broke both of our spirits for renovation. Remember how it looked before? The paint was both avocado green and mint green on various walls. I'm not sure what it was with the paint in this room, but it just would not take any new color! We suspect it was outdoor paint and no matter how many passes with the roller, the paint just wouldn't adhere. Mikael finally ran over to Home Depot to pick up some primer and after a few more layers of paint we finally have white walls! We got so burnt out on painting that we decided to just leave the walls with the primer on them and actually we really like the result! The primer is a crisp white, just like we had picked out, and super matte so it hides a lot of the imperfections in the walls. 

I repotted our houseplants into crisp white IKEA pots that continue the airiness of the room. I also picked up those two silver vases at West Elm on sale for just $25! What a steal. 

We've got a final patch we need to complete near that light in the back. We had an electrician relocate the light and rework the outlet so that it is up to code. Mikael just has to finish patching the plaster and we'll just cover it all up with another couple layers of primer and we'll be good to go!

Researching Our Home: Part 1

At the Old Home Expo a few weeks ago I attended a class on how to research the history of old homes. As a history nut, I absolutely loved the idea of looking into our house's past, especially since it is over 100 years old. I mean think about it, this house, which was built around 1900, was standing here in Kansas City when women were fighting for the right to vote, when the Model T Ford revolutionized the automobile industry, when we fought Hitler, when the Kansas City race riot engulfed the city in 1968,... I could go on and on. So needless to say, I've been very excited to look into our home's past - see who was living here and perhaps get a small glimpse into what life was like for them.

The four resources I used throughout the process of research were 1) Missouri Valley Special Collections at the Kansas City Public Library, 2) Parcel Viewer through Jackson County Government, 3) Jackson County Records, and 4) FindAGrave.com. The Missouri Valley Collections is an amazing resource through our local library that has digitalized historical records. Parcel viewer allows you to look up old records on homes and utilize that information to figure out the neighborhood, block, and lot number. That I used in the Jackson County Records through the Recorder of Deeds office to look up the past deeds on the house, which trace back online all the way to 1960. The big bummer though is that the records aren't digitalized before then, so that's been a temporary stopping point for my research. Finally, Find A Grave I used to look up the death records and obituaries of past residents.

old fire maps from 1897-1907 showing our home

As I've researched I've stumbled across quite a few quirks and mysteries. For instance, that photo at the top? It's from the 1940 Tax Assessment photos. That's the earliest picture we've found so far of our house. I think it's such a neat part of the history - to see how the house looked, to see what parts are most likely original (note NO greek statue), glimpse the old carriage doors on our garage (that are now on our shed in the backyard), and for the first time see what the house next door looked like since it burnt down in the 1980s!

our home back in 2005

As I was looking at the Parcel Viewer I saw something that peaked my interest. The Kansas City government notes that our house was built in 1900, not 1902! I know it seems like a small margin for dates, but I had really set my mind on 1902 so the change feels huge in my mind. However, I have no idea why they have that date in their records. 1902 came from the application from Old Hyde Park Neighborhood Association for the National Register of Historic Places. I have yet to find the original build date for our home. Ultimately, I need to investigate the water permit from the construction of our house, which will give us a firm confirmation of when our house was built. Unfortunately, their records are not digitalized, so I'll have to research that in person sometime.

via Jackson County Records

So far I've discovered that Anthony and Regina Hopfinger lived in the house from an unknown date and after Anthony's death in 1964, Regina took possession of the home and listed her two sons as additional beneficiaries. Regina lived in our home until 1987, when she died. I believe the house may have sat more or less vacant until it was sold to Ronald Bertalotto in 1996. Bertalotto lived in the house for just 5 years when he sold it to Lynette Wilson in April 2001. Lynette apparently changed her last name to Parker and began a party planning business out of the residence. However, she apparently fell on hard times and the house was foreclosed on by Capital Federal. Randall Stellinga picked up the house in foreclosure and lived here for quite a few years until he sold it to us in 2015!

our home today

I cannot wait to go back in the records further to find out who lived here before the Hopfingers and when the house was originally built. It's such a fun mystery and one that I'll likely dig deeper into this summer when I can dig through the records in person!

Are you looking in the history of your home or have you already done so? Do you have any tips for us as we move forward? We'd love to hear from you! Write a comment below!