Restoring our Living Room to late 1930s/early 1940s glory!
Our house was built at the very end of the Edwardian period of architecture, it is an end terrace with a double bay, a long garden and a traditional Edwardian middle-class layout. We have a long and narrow entrance hallway (A in the below diagram) which leads straight up the stairs. The front room (B in the below diagram), which would have been treated as a Parlour/special occasion room leads off the hallway, then we have a back room (C in the below diagram)- the second room off the hallway, which walks through to the kitchen (D in the below diagram) and finally the garden.
I’ll write a more detailed post covering what the rooms would’ve been used for originally (read it here [COMING SOON]). However we’ve decided the following:
B- Living Room
C- Dining Room
Inspiration for the Living Room
Our vision for the living room was a comfortable, relaxing room. I imagine sitting reading in my rocking chair, or knitting and listening to the wireless. We wanted bare wooden floorboards, painted woodwork and an interesting wallpaper pattern. All our tools are modern, we haven’t tried to source original wallpaper or anything, so we’ve been slightly constrained by what’s available at DIY shops. For some of our rooms, we’ve had a really hard time trying to get our vision and the modern resources to meet! But for the living room, we got exactly what we wanted straight away.
This is what the living room looked like when we bought the house, all our inspiration came from the original fireplace! It is tiled with peacock blue rectangular tiles, there’s a lovely natural variation in the colour which includes lighter and darker blues; and a hint of green. Our favourite colour is British Racing Green, so we decided on that colour for the woodwork. This gave us a spectrum of greens and blues to choose our wallpaper from. While browsing B&Q we came across the perfect paper- I consider it to be a 1930s take on a Victorian style, William Morris/Art Nouveau influenced. To me the floral and fauner, combined with the beetles and bugs is quite suggestive of a curiosity cabinet. The focus on more linear shapes however, give a tip-of-the-hat to the art deo movement, which is why I think it combines both Victoriana and the 1930s- perfect for a couple moving in in the 1940s!
The first step however, was dealing with the floor!
By this point we had already finished the main bedroom, and the hallway was tiled. We felt our next step should be to complete a downstairs room, and plumped for the dining room- considering that we would be walking through that room most often. It would be good for that room to be comfortable, whereas there was no real need to focus on the living room- we could shut that off and ignore it! The dining room is proving to be a bigger challenge than expected though, the floor needs a lot of work… and we can’t agree on how to decorate it! So after a month or so we moved our focus to the living room.
Preparing the Floor
The ultimate goal was varnished bare-wooden floorboards, fitted carpets were not common at this point and even large rugs would have been expensive. In a front room, where we’re taking some inspiration from, a house of this period lived in by a couple of our standing, would probably have had a large central rug and varnished floorboards. My uncle said that his experience of his grandmother’s front room was that only the visible wood was sanded and varnished, leaving the bits under the rug untouched! I’ve also read that the expensive rug would have been rolled up, if the room was being used for ‘ordinary’ activities, to preserve the costly material.
We had pulled some of the carpet back to re-attach the radiator, which had fallen off after we’d bought the house, but before we’d moved in. The floorboards did not look promising.. I was worried it was going to be a tough job! After clearing all the furniture which we’d been storing in the living room, packing it into the dining room, Mr Aviacion and I pulled back the carpet; rolled it away and disposed of the underlay (although I was tempted to keep it for insulation and/or fixing to the underside of rugs). To our delight, what appeared to be potentially rotting wood was actually dirty varnish… and it only covered the outer foot (and bay window area) of the room! The inner floorboards were remarkably free from grub and paint. I was so pleased, this was going to be a much quicker job!
I went around getting the carpet grippers up with the crowbar, using a flat-head screwdriver to prize up the staples and knocking flat any protruding nails. Next I used a paint scraper (sharper and stronger than a wallpaper scraper) to scrape up the carpet glue. Usually this is utterly horrible stuff which previously we’ve had to use a power tool to remove, damaging the floorboard in the process. Turns out however, that removing carpet glue from varnished wood is a great deal easier than bare wood! It pretty much popped off in lumps. I became even more hopeful that this would be an easy job.
Sanding the Floor
After preparing the floor, I set myself to the task of sanding the floorboards. This is incredibly dirty work, and oftentimes unpleasant. I survive it by wearing a full (high calibre) face-mask and mist-resistant goggles along with ear defenders. I put an audiobook on via earphones (during this period I listened to MI9: Escape and Evasion 1939-1945 by M.R. D. Foot and J.M. Langley, The Woman in Black BBC dramatisation and Agatha Christie) and sometimes wear knee-pads too.
Here you can see exactly what the floorboards were like after pulling up the carpet. It looks like I’ve started to sand around the fireplace already. The edges are always the difficult part, because they have all the carpet glue on and because they’re difficult to access (you’re constantly butting up against the skirting board and trying to get into little corners).
I spent three days in total sanding the floorboards, spending probably about 4-6 hours each day. I was relatively relaxed about it and went quite slowly so that we didn’t have to do much patch work. I used a belt sander for the majority, with 80 grit sandpaper for the middle of the room, and 40 grit for the varnished edges. I then used smaller hand-held sanders for the corners, and other bits where the belt sander can’t reach.
It gets very dusty, and the belt sander needs to be emptied every 15 minutes (something I forgot about until about half way through). When I want to stop and have a coffee break, I switch off the sander; shake out any dust that has accumulated in the machine itself; empty the dust compartment; give the whole room a general quick sweep; dust myself down with a dustpan and brush; mist the whole room with water (this helps to clear the dust from the air); then leave the room shutting the door behind me. This helps to keep things as clean as can be possible, and to allow me to see my progress. The dust will cling to the whole of the room, all the fixtures and fittings, as well as the walls and ceiling. It will work its way into the crevices of your windows, and unless you seal off your door- it will undoubtedly work its way around the rest of your house too! For this reason, sanding the woodwork needs to be done before anything else. Then you need to do a deep clean!
Half way through, moving onto the 40 grit sandpaper to deal with the varnished/gummy edges.
When all the floorboards had been sanded, we glued some damaged pieces back down, let them set and sanded those bits again. This has not been overly successful, and after the varnishing has been finished- you can still see the places we’ve patched.
Preparing the Woodwork
In the dining room we’d found out the hard way that you don’t need to strip woodwork completely, to get a nice finish after a repaint. Often the woodwork will be damaged and have flaking paint, this does need to be addressed, but as long as the layer you’re painting onto is solid- you can proceed. So before I started the sanding I went along with the painter scraper and scraped off the top layer of flaky white paint from the skirting boards and the door. We left the cupboard door, fireplace and picture rail as the paint there seemed sound, just giving them a sand with a sanding block and sand paper. Then while I was sanding the edges and corners of the floor, I ran a little hand-held sander along the skirting board. Mr did an excellent job on the door, something I was just too tired for! You can just use the hand sander to get the flaky paint off without scraping first, but it tends to gum up the sandpaper and be quite wasteful.
After scraping and sanding the skirting boards and door, we applied an all purpose primer and let it dry.
Painting the Ceiling
Next came painting the ceiling- oh I hate this job! Mr got the roller out and did most of it himself, I patched the corners with a paint brush and we left it to dry. We had to do several layers, it was so dirty! The paper was a horrible grimy yellow colour (exacerbated no doubt by all the sanding) and painting it afresh made a huge difference.
You can see here the fresh paint along the top and to the side. For this we used a matte ‘brilliant white’ wall/ceiling paint.
Painting the Woodwork
Now we were getting to the fun stuff! We’d chosen a lovely green to paint all the woodwork in, and although it took about four layers- the results were exactly what we’d wanted!
We wallpapered the room in just over a days, finishing the following morning by doing the bits around and behind the radiator. We were lucky that before the previous owners had sold the house, they had had all the walls re-plastered. This makes a huge difference when it comes to wallpapering! As it was the walls were lovely and smooth- perfect for easy paper application. We were doing up to the picture rail, so although the ceilings in Edwardian properties are higher than modern houses (make sure to check the height before ordering wallpaper!) we didn’t need to worry about size differences. The pattern match of the wallpaper was about 10″ and the height of the walls was 76″, in total we used just over 4 rolls and were able to take the fifth one back. Something else that made a big difference was that the wallpaper finished top and bottom against painted woodwork (the picture rail, and skirting boards) so unlike against a white ceiling, any errors in cutting were practically invisible, certainly unnoticeable.
Varnishing the Floor
First we applied a layer of Wood Treatment as there is some historic woodwork and it’s better to be safer than sorry. This is quite a frustrating stage, because you just want to get on with it! It needs to be left for 24 hours, and ideally applied twice. We only applied once, and moved on.
We had used two different colour varnishes for the floorboards in our bedroom and on the landing/down the stairs. The floorboards in our bedroom are best described as a cool toned dark oak. The varnished used on the landing and down the stairs is a much darker, warmer toned colour, comparable to a mahogany. They’re both beautiful colours, but we feel that the stairwell is too dark really.
Consequently we bought the lighter shade from the same range as the landing/staircase, and gave it a go. I did the corners and Mr did the bay, then we worked back-to-back across to the door.
After the first coat we reevaluated, the colour was a bit too light and far too yellow for what we had imaged. The following morning (we were in the Christmas holidays, so I snuck out of bed and left Mr dreaming of bacon sandwiches) I added a layer of the darker shade and it came up beautifully. That evening we were due to go to Mr’s Aunt’s house for a festive gathering and meal, we delayed leaving so that we could apply the final (third) layer of varnish, again in the darker colour. Which meant when we returned the following day, the varnish would be finished and dry, and we’d be finished on the decorating!
Fixtures and Fittings
Although all the decoration is finished, we still have some things to consider:
- Light shade
- Light switch
- Hiding the radiator
- The PVC window frames