My 1910 house has canvas ceilings where the original calcimine was removed and the ceiling repainted with latex paint. I like the soft look of calcimine and want to put it back. Can I get the latex paint off? —Catey K., Durham, NH It’s not surprising that you have canvas ceilings, and that they were […]
By Yankee Magazine
Feb 05 2018
My 1910 house has canvas ceilings where the original calcimine was removed and the ceiling repainted with latex paint. I like the soft look of calcimine and want to put it back. Can I get the latex paint off? —Catey K., Durham, NH
It’s not surprising that you have canvas ceilings, and that they were originally calcimined. Canvas ceilings became a popular finish in the early 20th century, when the material used for plastering shifted from lime to gypsum-based products. With the gypsum plasters, it was difficult to prevent small cracks from developing in the surface as the plaster dried. To solve this problem, plasterers would paste lengths of thin canvas onto a base layer of ceiling plaster and then calcimine over the canvas for a smooth, reliably crack-free surface.
It might be challenging, however, to remove the latex paint at this point. If you are lucky, the plasterer who installed your canvas ceilings followed the preferred practice of the time and gave the canvas a coat of shellac. If so, you might be able to carefully remove the latex paint with a wallpaper steamer without damaging the canvas underneath. Then you can add a new coat of calcimine and enjoy its soft, chalky period look.
Sally Zimmerman Senior preservation services manager
I have dingy-looking old softwood flooring in my house but I’d rather not sand it, since that can be really dusty. Any ideas on refurbishing? —Calvin A., Dublin, NH
You should always begin with the gentlest approach possible and progress from there. Softwood floors can be cleaned with a slightly damp cloth (cloth diapers work well) and a mild solution of soap and water. If oily grime remains, wipe the wood with odorless mineral spirits (be sure to ventilate the area well) and steel wool.
If the floors still don’t look improved, you could try screening them. Screening is a process similar to sanding, but it’s less messy and less abrasive. Done with a plastic scrubbing screen on a sander, screening can smooth out the finish without removing as much surface as sandpaper does.
Afterward, treat your floor with a fresh topcoat of whatever finish it currently has. Softwood floors are often finished with tung oil, polishing wax, or polyurethanes (though polyurethane is not a historically accurate floor coating).
Dylan Peacock Preservation services manager
My Greek Revival house still has its original six-over-six sash windows. Will they be damaged if I remove my old aluminum storm windows? —Oree R., Northampton, MA
You can safely remove those old aluminum storm windows. First, run a utility knife along the seam on the interior and exterior of the storm window casing. Be careful that you are just cutting calk and built-up paint layers and not the wood casing of the window. Then unscrew the aluminum casing and pop it out (which may take some elbow grease, depending on how long it has been in place).
It’s important to note that heat loss in windows can occur through the glass but also around the sash or the frame. So even with good storm windows in place, your original windows may need to be repaired. You might even extend this project to include caulking or reglazing your historic windows.
If you still want the insulation of a storm window but prefer something that doesn’t interfere with the visual appeal of the six-over-six sash, interior storm windows are an option. Attached by magnetic strips or small brackets screwed into the window frame, they are effective, minimally intrusive visually, reversible, and reasonably priced.
Gillian Lang Preservation services managerGot a question about an old house you need answered? Submit your questions to Historic New England at: Editor@YankeePub.com. Historic New England is the oldest, largest, and most comprehensive regional heritage organization in the nation. Historic New England shares the region’s history through vast collections, publications, programs, museum properties, archives, and stories that document more than 400 years of life in New England. For more information visit: HistoricNewEngland.org.