The yellow wallpaper

It’s been close to two years now since I bought my first house. It’s a ninety year-old Craftsman-style home on Main Street in a small city in Wisconsin, full of hand-rubbed plaster walls, oak built-ins, and birdseye maple floors. Despite my occasional restlessness and a love for urban life, this is well and truly my home. If I died in this very room fifty years from now, that would be okay. I love this house.

That said, being a homeowner sometimes sucks. Like the time we got seven inches of rain in one night, the entire backyard flooded into the basement, and the Adirondack chairs floated away. Or needing to weed and water the garden on a hundred-degree day in August. Whenever things go wrong, there’s no super to call: it’s your problem to solve. But when things go right, as they occasionally do, the sense of pride and accomplishment borders on the ridiculous.

Home projects generally take about twice as much money and time as you expect them to, at least if you are doing them yourself. And the list of projects is never, ever done. I recently completed a very basic redo of the master bedroom, and the timeline went something like this:

April 2010: Buy house; attack ugly, textured, butter-yellow wallpaper in MBR with righteous zeal.

May 2010: Realize that ugly yellow wallpaper is actually multicolored pastel wallpaper covered with a layer of yellow paint; scream. Rip off paint and paper with a putty knife; discover a thick base layer of paper underneath. Contemplate arson.

June 2010: Rent a steamer to remove base paper layer. Spend the loveliest weekend of the summer sweating through multiple t-shirts. (Thank god for that LCD Soundsystem record.) Discover an improbable amount of wallpaper paste under the base layer, deep in the crevices of hand-rubbed plaster, unscrape-able. Lose mind completely. Return steamer completely filthy; lose deposit.

July 2010-December 2011: Close door and try to ignore the misery that is the master bedroom. Sleep in the guest room. Let MBR become the eventual subject of every marital dispute.

January 2012: Turn over new leaf. Research cleaning techniques for lead-painted walls. Buy mask, goggles, gloves, trisodium phosphate, stiff-bristle brush, and a million drop cloths; get to work. (Thank god for those Gui Boratto and Digitalism records.) Try not to think about all the other, more sane things you could be doing.

February 2012: Begin multi-step process of patching plaster. Prime walls and ceiling (twice). Second-guess long-chosen paint colors. Partner suggests a nice pale yellow; suppress urge to murder partner. Envy couples at Home Depot who seem to live in a much simpler world than your own. (“Hey babe, how about blue?” “Okay, you like this one?” “Yeah, sure, let’s get out of here.”) Settle on your original choice. Paint walls and ceiling (twice.)

March 2012: Move back into master bedroom. Contemplate buying absurdly expensive hand-hammered brass switchplates from Rejuvenation to celebrate. Feel like a complete middle-class asshole for doing so.

April 2012: Still no switchplates. No art on the walls yet. But…it’s done.











10 responses to “The yellow wallpaper”

  1. Thorn says:

    The people we hired to scrape the three layers of wallpaper off our bedroom and dressing room (though I think there was only one layer of wallpaper on the ceiling!) should finish today and I appreciate that this post has made me so grateful we decided we weren’t up to making this a DIY project. Your room looks gorgeous, but what a pain.

  2. FPS says:

    I laughed out loud at the part where partner suggested a nice, pale yellow.

  3. Tim says:

    Congratulations on escaping from the cage of that awful wallpaper!

    “The color is hideous enough, and unreliable enough, and infuriating enough, but the pattern is torturing.”

  4. LP says:

    I love this post! It’s all just so … true. Stella and I had very different tastes in home decor (to say the least), and when we couldn’t agree on how to paint the first floor of our house, we hired a color consultant. Much $$ and many colors later, we had a bit of a mish-mosh. And two years later, our dear realtor asked us to paint the whole thing over in neutral colors when we put the house on the market.

    House fix-up is a thing to be dreaded, but then… it’s so beautiful and lovely when you’re done! Your house looks fantastic, Ms. Berkowitz!

  5. swells says:

    I am SO jealous of your bedroom. Room for a sitting area, and a plant? So neat and such a great color? Green is for envy. Looks fantastic!

  6. LP says:

    This was also brilliant:

    March 2012: Move back into master bedroom. Contemplate buying absurdly expensive hand-hammered brass switchplates from Rejuvenation to celebrate. Feel like a complete middle-class asshole for doing so.

    If we could somehow harness all the angst we collectively feel at becoming those middle-class assholes we used to disdain in college, we could power the globe.

  7. josh k-sky says:

    Is that Medieval Times by Benjamin Moore?

  8. PB says:

    Although I have only managed to visit once (so lame of me), I will attest that your house, lurking lead paint and all, is so lovely. I can see it room by room. It is warm and alive and has this amazing historical style that feels like I am walking through architectural perfection. As for home projects. Sigh. Our untouched house is falling down around us. Character or squalor? In a 1953 split level? Squalor.

  9. Rachel says:

    Josh, I am so overtired that I honestly can’t tell whether you’re joking.

    [brief Google search ensues]

    Oh, you’re not. Wow. There really is a paint color called Medieval Times. I don’t know if I’d be able to sleep in the room knowing that!

    The paint color is a Martha Stewart shade called Beach Grass. The trim is Martha Stewart Bone Folder (who makes up these names?!). The paint line has actually been discontinued, but the shades can still be mixed through the Glidden brand. The Home Depot guy assures me that this is an improvement, as the Glidden paints are better quality to begin with. Now you know some more about paint!

    Thanks for the kind words. It has been an odyssey indeed. When we first started I got an estimate for the bedroom job and learned it would cost approximately what I make in a week. That sounded so outrageous to me that I decided to save that money for a job that I *couldn’t* do myself (like refinishing the floors). Now it sounds like a bargain. But, having made every possible mistake already, I could do a much better job on future projects.

  10. Lisa King says:

    OMG–it’s gorgeous! Why won’t you have my over?????????