Love and Plaster

The first stage of any renovation is inevitably going to involve a lot of ripping out. We knew this from our work in the flat.

You spend the first few months demolishing what is already there, and then you can get to the part where you can start making your vision a reality!

In the house, we decided to begin in the kitchen. For us, this is the hub of the home and at that stage, it just wasn’t usable. Cupboards were falling apart, there was no fridge, and I didn’t even want to risk using the oven.

The kitchen had wood panelling on every wall and ceiling which we needed to remove. Think old log cabin or Scandinavian spa – but dirtier and shabbier. Everything was old, outdated or simply falling apart so we completely stripped back the entire room.

We had other plans too – including moving the door from the side to the back of the property (more on that in a later post…)

We knew that we had a lot of work ahead of us, but what we didn’t count for, was how long we’d end up removing what lay underneath the panelling.

Lath and plaster.

For those who don’t know, lath and plaster is a building process used to finish interior dividing walls and ceilings from the early-18th until the early-to-mid-20th century. It consists of thin wooden slats nailed together then covered with a layer of plaster.

You can often spot it in period dramas when walls are crumbling down in poverty-stricken neighbourhoods. I got a little bit too excited when I spotted it in the BBC’s recent adaptation of Les Miserables –much to Luke’s amusement.

Why not just keep it?

Well, the minute we started pulling the wooden paneling off the wall, plaster began crumbling. We were also going to be knocking down and rebuilding walls so, for the best finish, it would just be better to remove the lath and plaster entirely, replacing it with plasterboard and fresh plaster.

At first, we thought it was a pretty fun job – demolition at it’s best. Armed with a crowbar and a hammer, we began knocking through the plaster and sweeping it all into numerous black sacks.

Next, we removed the wood.

It was satisfying, pulling all of this down. Unlike some stages in a renovation project, you could visibly see the progress at this stage which is when things start getting exciting.

But it’s filthy work.

As you can see from the pictures, I chose to wear sturdy boots in case of rogue nails on the floor – a good decision because Luke stepped on one which went through his trainers…

My biggest tip for anyone dealing with lath and plaster though is to invest in dust masks and goggles.

If there’s original lath and plaster, it’s probably around 100 years old and so when you remove it, you’re inevitably going to unleash clouds of dust and dirt. It’s worth having protection even if you feel like a bit of an idiot.

To start with, I didn’t have goggles and I ended up getting an eye infection thanks to getting grit in my eye.

Once equipped with the proper kit, we were shocked to realise that after just a few hours work, our brand new, white dust masks were totally black. You do not want to be breathing that stuff in.

*

The other thing to be aware of is how incredibly time consuming removing lath and plaster is. Once we’d removed the wood, we were then left with hundreds and hundreds of nails.

Every single one had to be removed.

If you look closely, you can see the nails…

When Luke told me this, I laughed. I genuinely thought he was joking.

But once the lath and plaster was gone, we were going to fix up plasterboard sheets, and we couldn’t do that if we had unruly nails sticking out.

It took us countless evenings to remove every nail and needless to say the ceiling was much harder than the walls. Sadly, as these nails had likely been there for almost 100 years, many of them were brittle and the heads just snapped off the minute we tried to wrench them free. We really didn’t want that to happen because if we couldn’t wrench the nails out, we’d have to hammer them in – and that unleashed torrents of dirt (directly onto our heads if we were tackling the ceiling).

Again, the job could be oddly satisfying but, so far, it’s also been one of those moments where I’d slightly dread going to the house. The work was dirty, we had no electrics so were working with builders lights, and we had no heating either – not ideal when you’re working in late December/early January. Plus, who would honestly look forward to an entire evening of just removing nails?

But, it’s better than paying someone to do something you can do yourself.

Once we’d finished, we felt so proud and so satisfied.

The only trouble was, once we’d cleared the kitchen, we started looking at the other rooms and gradually realised that lath and plaster was lurking everywhere. After speaking to our plasterers, we were advised that we’d be better off if we stripped every room back.

Every.

Single.

Room.

At that stage, I definitely sulked. But looking back now, we’re both proud that we got our hands dirty and did it all ourselves.

I remember tackling the third bedroom on my own one day and coming downstairs for a glass of water only to be greeted with laughter by Luke and his parents. Apparently I was so dirty, it looked like I’d been cleaning a chimney.

It was time to invest in even more protective gear.

It’s not a great look, but I was grateful when I realised how dirty it was tackling every single room. Even if I did look like the Michelin man thanks to the number of layers I ended up wearing…

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