20 Dec Jill’s Victorian Office

We’ve just finished restoring Jill’s office. You may remember that our house was a fraternity for ten notorious years. Jill’s office was one of the less-destroyed rooms. It was notable, though, for its wall-sized painting of a rebel flag. It’s also the only room with a big arch, which was crumbling. We had stabilized the room but weren’t sure what we’d do to make it the showcase room that Jill wanted. I wasn’t eager to work on her room because one of the things she wanted was to rehang the door to the porch so that the door would swing from right to left instead of left to right. Have you ever tried to re-hang an old door? Oh my. Our renovation work on this room took six months — three times longer than we had planned. But that’s the way old-house rehab goes. If we didn’t think we could get such work done quickly, we might not be so quick to start it. So, always we dream of things being fast and easy, even though — deep down — we know it won’t be so.

It’s the same kind of hope that keeps people buying lotto tickets. You might get lucky! If our species didn’t believe in luck, there would be too many things we’d never try. So we moved Jill out of her office and into the TV room way back in March. Then I stripped the woodwork in her office. I’ve said this before, and I’ll say it again any time the topic comes up: I’d rather do sit ups, hundreds of them, than strip paint from old wood. That said, I’ve gotten really good at it. And we’ve arrived at a method that works well at restoring wood — which you can learn by watching our very popular Youtube video: “How to Strip Paint From Wood.” Stripping wood is like long-distance running. You’ve got to hang in there.

After stripping, then refinishing the woodwork, including the room’s original oak mantel (Jill’s not allowed to do paint-stripping any more for health reasons), we went after the wallpaper. Victorians loved their wallpaper — and they wall-papered everything, including their ceilings. We’ve got the stuff all over the house. We advise that you don’t go after old wall paper until you absolutely have to. Life is complicated enough.

Then there was lots of plastering, then new electricity, including a pair of antique schones over teh fireplace (don’t forget, the Victorians had very little use for electricity). Then refinishing the floor and the radiator, then hanging the porch door so that it opens from left to right instead of right to left (so that Jill can get a breeze at her desk), and then reinishing and installing antique crown molding (a pile of which we found incredibly cheap at a salvage warehouse). And installation of Jill’s cool library ladder (which she found on Craig’s list, of all places). Then, at last, the fun part: building stuff.

I built two window seats, which Jill helped design. Her designs always demand much more time than I want to take. In this instance, she insisted on having faux doors to make the seats look more antique. I built it to her specifications and, as usual, I must admit that she was right. After that, finally, I got to put together the ten-foot-long, eight-foot-high Victorian display cabinet that Jill had found at a local auction. This is something Jill does to make my life more exciting: she finds interesting architectural artifacts at local auctions, then comes home and says, with much excitement: “Guess what I got today!” At which point, I draw a deep breath, grip the nearest solid object, and utter: “What?”

Once, when Jill and I were at a big outdoor auction, I turned my back for a minute and the next thing I knew she had bought a big, iron-frame Victorian fish tank. It now lies in pieces in our basement. She can’t bring herself to sell it and suggests that we could use it as a terrarium. The Victorians loved terrariums.

The display case is cool but, like the acquarium, it was in pieces. I’ve never been a fan of puzzles but, in the case of furniture, I kind of like trying to figure out how the pieces go together. The display case came together nicely. Jill uses it to show off her considerable Steiff toy animal collection. Seems to me you could display anything in a cabinet like that — old socks, say — and it’d look good.

Now, Jill has a showcase office. And she’s feeling a little pressure because she says she’s got to keep it neat to do it justice. This makes me laugh because we’re not neat people and my little cubby hole of an office, on the third floor, demands nothing of me. Which is why it’s always a mess.

To see more of JIll’s way cool office, click here: Jill’s Victorian Office!