The master bedroom, which I currently use as a guest bedroom, is large, shabby, and lush with its wood and tile fireplace carved with curlicues, Victorian posts and a built-in beveled mirror. The room also has a separated sitting area dominated by grand windows that face the thicket of an enormous ficus tree that looks like it wants to throw apples at Dorothy. The previous owner had stripped away years of paint from the ornate mantel, but the rest of the molding in the rooms was still painted dingy beige, the eighth or ninth color choice made over the past hundred years.
When I suggested to Joe that I wanted to strip all of the woodworking, he warned of dangers I never imagined from skin burns and blindness to the house collapsing in a flash fire. It was a verbal Red Asphalt and I decided I wanted no part of it, choosing to add yet another layer of paint on top, a color that would be wood-like.
A few weeks ago, I ignored Joe’s cautionary tale and jumped right into the world of chemicals and facemasks. I started with a toxic brand of stripper, one that promised to lift all paint and leave nothing but the original wood intact. That may have been true if this wood had been dusted with a light coat of latex, but not through choice after bad color choice of lead paint. Somewhere in the fifties, the room was a deep pink. It may have been the nun years. I don’t know.
A neighbor suggested a soy gel. It isn’t toxic to breathe or touch, and again the promise was to go straight through all of the paint. After three gloppy coats of “Soy grown in America,” hours of waiting, and the bicep-building use of a plastic strip tool, I see wood. It’s a fine honey pine, and last weekend I worked on the large archway that leads to the sitting parlor. One-third is completed.
At this rate, I’ll probably finish sometime around 2008, perhaps just after the election, and I can stain the bare wood in the bedroom a warm glow with the peace of mind that a new administration is in charge.