Editor’s Note: The idea of purchasing and renovating a home is a dream that many carry, but few of us stop to consider the complications and complexities of the process until we are already knee-deep in drywall debris. Lisa Przystup, a writer, florist, and frequent contributor to Front + Main has been kind enough to share her journey of home ownership with us. Check out the first installment here. Enjoy!

west elm - Removing Wallpaper - Illustration by Tallulah Fontaine

Illustration by Tallulah Fontaine

The kitchen: it’s where all good conversations are had. It’s where food happens. It’s coffee in the morning. One of the first things I noticed about ours was the wallpaper—a faded tapestry of some sort of country-themed motif. Chickens? Baskets of eggs? Chickens and baskets of eggs? Charming, but not right for us. The second thing was the (wincing as I type this) acoustic tile ceiling that smacked of a car dealership office from the ‘70s and whispered “asbestos” in a decidedly unromantic way. BUT there was also a butcher block counter, built-in corner cabinets, and a deep sink with a window to look out while doing dishes.

It should also be mentioned that it was (still is) drafty as all get out. Actually, drafty is putting it mildly. When one stands at said picturesque sink doing dishes, the cold that exists to varying degrees year-round in Delhi snakes around your feet and ankles, travels up your legs and chills you to the bone. There’s an honest-to-goodness weather system blowing in from the lower corners of the cabinets—a miraculous meteorological anomaly.

BEFORE

west elm - Removing Wallpaper - Illustration by Tallulah Fontaine

west elm - Removing Wallpaper - Illustration by Tallulah Fontaine

west elm - Removing Wallpaper - Illustration by Tallulah Fontaine

After painting the house floors as well as almost every wall my arm could bear, we decided it was time to tackle the kitchen. We had visions of knocking out two small strips of wall to open up the space and but then a contractor friend told us that it was likely a load-bearing wall—three of the most weighty words in home renovations, second only to termites or mold—so we shelved that idea (for now).

Crossing “knock out wall” off our list of things to do left the wallpaper, acoustic tile ceiling, and a handful of smaller tweaks—changing out the cabinet hardware, whitewashing the whole room, getting a custom made jute rug to cover up the cracked tile in front of the sink, installing shelves in a little nook next to our laboring refrigerator that I’m convinced is on its last leg, and installing a brass sheet backsplash behind the stove.

When you buy a house, you find yourself traversing the black holes of online interior design inspiration, which does two things: 1. Answers the question “How many tabs can one have open on their computer at a time?” (the answer: 27) 2. Leads to wonderful solutions to interior design quandaries you never would have thought of yourself. I found a particularly striking photo of a kitchen that had a beautiful, unfinished tongue-and-groove board ceiling and as I have a tendency to do, pinned all my hopes and dreams to that image—much to the delight of my husband, Jonathon.

The ceiling went from screenshot inspiration to reality thanks to Jonathon and his friend Josh, who had (foolishly) mentioned to two prospective home buyers that he loved doing manual labor one night over drinks. It took two full days of fastidious measuring and cutting, a couple six packs, and a splash or two of mezcal but on Sunday evening at around 6:00 it was finished and it was glorious. The unfinished pine wood smelled fresh and bright and its earthy tone countered the whiteness of the rest of the room, which was the result of Jonathon’s unrelenting determination to rid us of that country charm wallpaper.

A summation of said struggle below:

Round One: Jonathon uses a perforating tool to pokes holes in the wallpaper. He sprays a warm water/soap/fabric softener, soaking the wall with it, which in theory is supposed to loosen the glue that holds the paper to the walls so you can just pull it right off like magic. The results were decidedly un-magical.

Round Two: He gives the mini steamroller perforating tool another more vigorous go, thinking that maybe he didn’t perforate it enough. Still no luck.

Round Three: Buys this stuff called “DIF Wallpaper Stripper,” an “easy to use” gel spray that’s supposed to do the same thing as the soapy spray, but more effectively thanks to the power of chemicals. No dice.

Round Four: At this point the wall is now a defeated landscape of ripped off strips, patches of exposed drywall, streaky blue-soaked stretches (thanks to the DIF), and mottled gouges left from attempts to get the wallpaper off with a pallet knife, so Jonathon decides to leave the wallpaper be and apply a skim coat of drywall compound—first sealing the walls to create a fresh surface then applying a thin coat of drywall compound, performing a loose sanding with a pallet knife, applying another coat, and sanding it again, this time with sandpaper. Every nook and cranny of our kitchen is covered in a thin film of white dust.

After that, we painted the walls my new favorite go-to white—Sherwin Williams Extra White—cool but not too blue, warm but not too yellow…in short, perfect and just this past weekend Jonathon hung a wood screen door that makes the perfect slamming sound—the soundtrack to summer and the crowning finishing touch of our kitchen, taking my open tab count down to 23. We have the rest of the house to finish after all.

AFTER

west elm - Removing Wallpaper - Illustration by Tallulah Fontaine

Photograph by Lisa Przystup

west elm - Removing Wallpaper - Illustration by Tallulah Fontaine

west elm - Removing Wallpaper - Illustration by Tallulah Fontaine

Above 2 photos by April Valencia

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Yolanda

March 20, 2018

Hi Lisa,

I just stumbled upon your series and am enjoying the step-by-step process that you are so patiently and kindly taking your readers through. I’m curious as to where you procured the brass sheet that you used as a backsplash behind your stove. I am in search of doing the same and would love any tips/warnings for buying and installing that you may have. Thanks in advance!

Lisa

March 20, 2018

Hi Yolanda!
We ordered it from a spot online: http://www.onlinemetals.com/ My husband did all the work on this one—here are his tips in no particular order: 1. The thinner the gauge the sharper it is so be careful because it will cut you very easily. 2. Being willing to have the sheet cut in half for shipping purposes as opposed to keeping it full size will save a ton of money on shipping. 3. Don’t hesitate to call the company with any questions. We did a similar treatment to our kitchen table in Brooklyn and they answered all of my husband’s questions throughly, thoughtfully, and professionally. For this particular backsplash my husband drilled pilot holes and then just screwed the sheet into place. I’d also add to the list to not obsess over keeping the sheet shiny and perfect. The patina adds a nice feel to it. Good luck!

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