This weekend, we revisited our coat closet door; the door that taught us so many life lessons. When we purchased it from our local architectural salvage, we were told that it was old (obviously), and we could see that there were 2, maybe 3 layers of paint we’d need to strip off. We wanted to go much darker (navy or black; more on that after the saga that is this door!), so it was important for us to get every single layer of paint off, which would allow the details in the paneling to shine through once we were done.
Our goal for the weekend? Strip the paint, spackle and fill the dents and grooves and prime it with a dark base. (We’d be painting it once it was framed out with drywall, after the contractor’s work was complete.) But – surprise, surprise! – this didn’t happen. At one point when discussing our stairs, a reader mentioned that it would be a good idea for us to test the old paint for lead. In our honeymoon induced state of love for this house, a thought like that honestly hadn’t crossed our minds, but ever since, it’s all we can think about.
Oops, Scott, before you sand those walls, do you think they’re laced with lead?
Be careful walking down the stairs! We don’t want to cause any lead chips for the kids to inhale.
And now, the closet door. Wait! This door is almost 100 years old. Should we test it for lead?
We did test it. We used this Lead Check kit from the hardware store, followed the instructions to activate the test stick, and rubbed our little goo of testing liquid on a chipped portion of the door. Almost instantly, the stick turned hot pink, which – womp, womp – meant we had a lead situation. (It was at this point that we stopped chewing on the door, thank goodness.)
Now, I read enough blogs to know that it’s smart to check paint on salvaged furniture for lead (just in case, anything from the 70s and prior can trigger a positive result), but with every post I read about safety first!, I never see a test come back positive. Until ours.
So, I did what anyone would do, and I took to the internet! I read article after article aloud to Scott, and I found a few frightening forums that had me thinking we should chuck the door and start fresh. We’ll buy a new door, I thought! We’ve learned our lessons, so it’ll be easier this time! But in the end, I found a handful of reassuring sites that brought me down off my crazy-high, and by properly prepping the workspace, I realized that we’d be fine. Because it’s just one door (and not, say, our entire house), it was manageable enough for us to tackle on our own, but we’d need to be mindful of a few things:
ONE. Protection! We actually have a handful of throw away jumpsuits (we know, how random!), which were given to us by our neighbors. I geared up in one of those, used a dust mask and eye protection, and I swapped out a fresh set of latex gloves between each scraping marathon. TWO. We laid a heavy duty plastic drop cloth (at least 6 mil thick) under our workspace to trap any and all discarded paint. (And by Sunday, we had to move the entire set up to the back deck due to rain.) THREE. Jack and the girls were confined indoors; this was a paws-off zone.
With all the precautions in place, stripping the oil-based paint containing lead was no different than if it was just regular ‘ol latex paint. We used Citristrip and applied our first coat with a cheap paintbrush…
… And by the time I was finished with my first coat, the top of the door had already started to bubble up. The first coat of paint was not oil-based, and using a putty knife and wire brush, this layer came up ridiculously easy.
We were a little disappointed that the Citristrip only pulled up one layer – I suppose we were hoping for multiple layers to pull up at once; not so much – so I spread the paint stripper over the front surface of the door again. After the latex paint was pulled up, every subsequent layer was oil-based, so I covered the door with trash bags to keep the Citrstrip wet. Two hours later, I was able to get off coat #2.
With every coat that was pulled up, it seemed the next coat was stronger and more determined to stick. (They were serious about their lead-laced-paint back in the day, apparently!) This was me, all day Saturday, Sunday and Monday: Strip, wait, scrape, brush, repeat. Again and again and again. In and out of my little jumpsuit I went, waiting hours (and at some points, over night) between each layer, watching the clock and cursing the smell of citrus.
But! Monday! By Monday – after layers of white, ivory, sage and more ivory – we hit wood! I allowed the final coat of stripper to sit for a full 24 hours, and with a lot of determination, I scraped and brushed every last bit of lead loaded paint from that door. Um, well, the front of the door at least.
Over the course of my 3 days of scraping, I would discard the the larger chunks of paint in a trash bin (with a liner, placed on top of my plastic drop cloth), and everything I couldn’t toss right away fell directly to the plastic drop cloth below. I cleaned the door with a rag soaked in mineral spirits, and I did the same with the putty knife I used throughout the process. Once the door had been scrubbed clean, Scott and I moved the door inside, and I folded the entire plastic drop cloth in on itself, trapping every bit of paint. All this fit into the same liner where I had been tossing paint, and I tied everything up – metal scrub brush, paintbrush, jumpsuit, and disposable gloves included.
After a call to the city’s information line, I confirmed that it was okay to drop off my little bundle of lead paint and paint-clogged materials to the City of Chicago Household Hazardous Waste Collection Facility. (Note: Check your own city website for local information; but we bet you knew that already, you smart cookies, you.)
For now, we’ve propped the door back up in place. You might be wondering, wait! What about the back of the door? To which we say, pffft! After our 3 day cleaning spree, we’re opting for the Do-Nothing Option, and we’re leaving the paint untouched. (We stumbled across many articles that actually recommended this as a good bet for a small surface, as untouched lead paint is safer than disrupting it.)
Luckily, the back of the door is coated with latex (non lead) paint, so we’ll fill in any scrapes with spackle and wood filler and coat the whole door in primer before it meets the final color. Speaking of which…
For one hot second, we thought about keeping the wood tone (maybe staining it a bit darker), but we’ll have wood in the stair treads, and we’d been so excited about navy! Or charcoal! Or black! And with all the effort that went into stripping the paint in our best attempt to have the most seamless finish on the door front, we’re sticking to our guns on this one. (Not to mention, the stripper, mineral spirits and paint residue has left a hazy finish on the door itself.)
Eventually, the front door will be completely replaced (we’re in the midst of that agonizing decision right now – doors! Who knew they’d be such a hot topic for us?), and with the help of suggestions from Cait, we’re leaning towards adding a transom window.
Regardless of where we land on that decision, you know we’re going with Behr’s Subtle Touch for the walls, the trim’ll be bright white, the floor will be tiled in a neutral color (we think!) and the front door and closet door will be the same shade of… Hague Blue? Off-Black? Or maybe Intellectual? Hague Blue is the darkest shade of navy (this is probably tough to see on the screen, but we were smitten with it in Em Henderson’s photo), but if we’re going that dark, should we just go all the way? Or should we tone it down a notch with a deep gray? Or, or… what else?