We Exposed Our Ceiling On A Whim And Now Our Kitchen Is Magical
Hello friends, followers, acquaintances, and internet sleuths- it's been a minute. For that, we apologize. As everyone is acutely aware- 2020 was a year. And, at least for us, 2021 is following a similar path. The last time we checked in, we were making a list of home resolutions for the year. And in normal fashion, we've ignored every single one of those resolutions, as is standard protocol. Just kidding- we have ordered the beams for our master bedroom, they just haven't come in yet. So we haven't been completely slacking, we've just been... dealing with other things.
Our kitchen before the ceiling came down.
In fact, this post is one that has come with a few emotional obstacles. The week of this project itself started fairly regularly. Hugh's parents were planning a visit, and since they helped us remediate our war-zone of a backyard a year prior, we were thinking of what sort of project they might want to help us out with this time. In the background, we had just dropped our chocolate lab, Tucker, off for what was supposed to be a minor surgery. Many of you have probably already read our Instagram posts on that subject, so I won't rehash what is still an open wound for us, but needless to say- the aftermath of our dog's surgery did not go according to plan. And while his stay in the doggie ICU was getting extended day after day, Hugh, his parents, and myself were demoing a kitchen ceiling and trying to stay positive and find something else to focus on apart from Tucker's situation. And when this project came to completion, we were elated with the result- only to find out that very same day that Tucker was not going to be coming home with us. So, as one can imagine, there will always be a bit of a dark cloud hanging over our heads when we think of what was accomplished during that time period, despite the fantastic result. Anyway, life is cruel and unyielding but at least our kitchen looks super cute now... right? I suppose that's what this blog post is about, so let's carry on.
The sweetest brown coffee bean chocolate chunk to ever grace your eyes.
First off, I'll address one of the most frequently-asked questions we got when I started posting progress pictures to our Instagram story: how did we know the ceiling would look like that underneath the drywall? Well, we didn't- at least not completely. With the previous ceiling, we had recessed lighting- one of the main benefits of modernizing a space and adding in drywall. When we removed the light fixture, we were able to peek up above. And what we were able to see, for the most part, was one big beam and the tiniest sliver of wood floorboard. That little peek, along with knowing the general age of our home, gave us a good indication that all of that original character was hidden up there. Beyond that, we really couldn't predict what condition the rest of it would be in. But to us, finding out was worth a shot- and wowza, did it pay off.
As with most remodels, Day 1 was everyone's favorite and also least favorite: Demo Day. We quarantined the kitchen and staircase with tarps taped around all edges, hoping it would spare the rest of our home from being blanketed in multiple sheets of dust (spoiler alert: it did not). We also took everything off the top of our cabinets, and shelves- most of those things being plants, which are still recovering from a traumatic few days in the basement. Overall, we thought we'd done a pretty decent job of preparing the kitchen for many a hammer swing, but in retrospect, we could've done better. For one, we should've taped off all of our cabinets and appliances. Even though they were closed, dust is truly the devil and still managed to sliver into every slight crevice regardless. So, after everything was complete and the dust had (literally) settled, every cabinet and appliance and surface received a deep clean (or two) and we ran about eight hundred loads of dishes on top of that. But back to the point. We were now as ready as we could've been to demolish the drywall.
Our attempt at sealing off the room- looks decent, right?
(LOL @ us thinking this was dust-proof enough)
And it was tough, y'all. Not only was there the recently-added layer of drywall installed by the contractors who ~flipped~ our home, the original wood-slat and plaster ceiling (unsure of technical term) was underneath said drywall. So, hours passed. Hammers were swung. Plaster was shattered. Drywall crumbled. Hair fell in knotted chunks. Wait... what? Yes, you read that correctly. Hair. From a horse or a donkey, to be exact. You can read further on the history of that material here, but to save you a click, fiber (read: hair) was used as a binder in old plaster walls/ceilings. Pretty cool, pretty gross, but interesting nonetheless. Unfortunately I was out of the action for this discovery (a guy's gotta work from home and DIY at the same time), so there are no pictures of it. But to be honest, 150-year-old hair from an unknown source doesn't make for the cutest of pictures anyway.
Hugh, wearing an almost-hazmat suit and N95, post demo.
But once the debris were cleared, the floors were vacuumed and mopped, and the newly-exposed beams and floorboards were cleaned and also vacuumed, we were left with the visage below. She was pretty, she just didn't know it yet. Sort of like Anne Hathaway in The Princess Diaries- she needed a bit of a makeover. And beyond that, now was when we had to make a decision on what to do next. Do we drywall in between the exposed beams so we can have recessed lighting again? Do we cut and stain individual pieces of new wood planks in between the beams to match the original wood? What are we doing with all of this excess wire? These were the plethora of questions that we had to ask ourselves and answer, but they could wait until the next day.
Lots of wires- yikes. But looking promising nonetheless.
Days two and three were when things got tricky. It wasn't as simple as swinging a hammer, dodging debris, and bagging trash. We had to re-route electrical, cut out old wires, and install new ones. Which, as what might already be implied, involves electricity- and the potential to get a nice shocking if we weren't careful. Luckily, Hugh's stepdad is an aficionado in his own right when it comes to this sort of electrical endeavor, and we relied heavily on his experience and insight into which breaker to shut off, which old wire wasn't live and could be cut out, and how to route the new electrical. Through a few struggles, disappointments, and minor zaps- it was figured out. All of the fugly grey wires you can see above were (thankfully) able to be removed entirely. That left us with rerouting the live wires, which means we had to make a decision on lighting.
The man, the myth, the legend- Guy Wood himself.
Originally, our thought was to try for recessed lighting again. We appreciated how bright our old kitchen lighting was, and wanted to replicate that. But with the boring-barrier now defunct, we were then able to fully appreciate the rich hue of the floorboards and wanted to do our best to keep them visible. However, that severely limited our lighting options. Initially we were against the idea, the notion, the concept, if you will, of track lighting. There are some horrendous examples of it, and I won't haunt you with those images- not here, not in this sacred place. Nevertheless, it was our best option if we wanted to be able to see this beautiful old wood, and also have easy access to the electrical.
Action shot: testing which wires might still be live.
After scouring the Internet, Lowe's, and multiple Home Depots- we went with this Hampton Bay track lighting. We purchased the tracks themselves and individual lights separately, so we can add lights and move them around as needed. Since they were black, we thought they'd give the illusion of slipping away into the shadows of the ceiling, and we could paint the cords black to match. And since we already had water lines exposed above our sink, we thought it would tie in with the overall "rustic/industrial" vibe going on in the kitchen.
Patience & Hugh putting up the first piece of trim.
Next was what to do about where the walls met the ceiling. We could attempt to drywall up until it met the wood, we could try crown molding, or we could try to make a wood trim that matched the tone of the old wood. As you probably expected (and have seen from our pictures) we went with the last option. We wanted something to cap the ends of the walls that had been scuffed and scraped, and something that would match the ceiling and look like it was originally meant to be there. We went with the Varathane "English Chestnut" stain. We tried to find the Minwax "Provincial 211" shade that we used for staining our floating shelves, but Home Depot only carries Varathane products??? Who knew. I guess us, and now you.
With the trim up and the track lighting installed, we were nearing the finishing point. And, oddly enough, one of our favorite parts of this entire project resulted from installing that little trim: now a portion of the old, river-stone walls is exposed and framed at the back of the kitchen (see below). Most of these Manayunk homes were built with this type of stone, called Wissahickon Schist.
The framed pop of old river stone.
And that wasn't the only neat discovery. We removed all of the original, square-cut nails that were in the beams. You can actually look at this type of nail to determine the age of your house (thanks to Hugh's mom, Patience, for finding this article). Not only that, we also found the Roman Numerals/markings the builders used to differentiate the beams to know where to slot them in. It's mind-boggling to see those and think that they were carved by someone's own hands so long ago- almost like hieroglyphs or cave paintings, but in your house (and much less old, but you get the point). We also exposed a portion by the staircase that shows the old peg and notch way of securing beams together.
The beam numerals/markings.
In the middle center you can see the intersecting beams.
At this point, the kitchen was clean and lit (electrically), and therefore functional. We could've stopped here and been completely satisfied and proud of what was accomplished. But since we had already done all of this work and it turned out so well, we thought we might as well take an extra step and add some pendant lighting over the bar. We knew we wanted an extra line and switch for the bar lights, so we could have them on separately from the overhead kitchen lights- you know, sometimes you just want that ~moody/romantic~ vibe going on. And while we finally caved and hired an electrican to install the electrical for these (hey, Guy Wood had done his job and retired from helping us at this point), Hugh was able to fish the wire down the wall himself to hide it- so kudos to Hugh on learning new skills. And, we even have a dimmer switch now! I know the word "vibe" has been overused in this blog already, but the vibes are strong, y'all. In tune with the rest of our new aesthetic, we chose these unique, sculptural lights from Tala. We matched the brass to the rest of our hardware in the kitchen, and the black cord was in sync with the rest of the wiring we had already painted black. All in all, we think she's looking pretty chic indeed.
(Side note: if you need an electrician in the Manayunk area, we recommend Michael from Mannino Electric. Michael has now helped us with our electric fireplace and this ceiling project, and he's been reliable, responsive, and fairly priced. Phone: 215.783.6419)
Adding these pendant lights on a separate switch was a really nice choice by Hugh.
And that's it. Officially done with the kitchen project. We've come quite a long way from the whitewashed, modern-but-basic kitchen from when the home was first flipped. At this point, I can safely say we're probably done with any other kitchen alterations for the time being. Most likely. Probably. But who knows, maybe we'll change out appliances somewhere down the line. But for now, we have plenty of other projects on our list to complete. Stay tuned on some beams going up in the master bedroom, and an accompanying blog post to match. Hopefully there isn't as large of a gap between blog entries next time. But as I said earlier, it's been a weird, rollercoaster of a year so far. And one more time, muchas gracias again to Hugh's mom and stepdad, they were of endless assistance, guidance, and wisdom throughout this entire project and it probably never would've gotten done without them. Lastly, to those of you readers that made it this far, thanks again for your time and interest and support.