Peeling back the layers: paint projects at home

By Rebecca Hermance
For the Journal

If you happen to live in an older home, it is almost a guarantee that some of your trim, doors, or built-in furniture pieces have several layers of paint on them.  Even with proper preparation and using thin coats of paint, over time it all builds up.  Our own home is over 50 years old, so you can just imagine the thick layers and gloppy drips that were starting to flake off our hallway linen closet doors and drawers.  The doors actually wouldn’t close unless you lined them up just right, and then pushed them both in at the same time.

After almost four years of dealing with partially opened closet doors hitting us in the head as we walk out of our room in the middle of the night, I decided to fix the problem–I took the doors off.  Problem solved!  Unfortunately, since it happens to be the spot where we store the household cleaners and other not-so-beautiful items, the door removal was only a temporary solution.

I have fond memories of stripping paint from an old piano with my mom when I was a teenager (11 layers of paint!), I decided to give it a try on the doors and drawer fronts.  Instead of the highly toxic stuff we used 20 years ago, I used Citristrip, which is safer, biodegradable, has no harsh fumes and instead smells like an orange Creamsicle.  It says it is safe to use indoors, but since it is really nice out and I am sort of messy, I went outside.  I laid all the pieces on a drop cloth and proceeded to paint on the orange gel.

After waiting over an hour for the gel to work, I eagerly ran my putty knife through the goo, getting a satisfying bubbling of old paint on my knife.  That first run through is always the most fun.  Then I just used my putty knife and scraped off all the rest of the paint! 

Just kidding.  I scraped off the top layer of paint, leaving the next layer exposed.  Then I repeated the process–three or four more times.  Don’t get me wrong, it was totally worth it, but it was a long and tedious journey over the course of several days. 

I always used a generous amount of gel, getting a nice thick layer on the paint.  I varied the waiting time from 30 minutes to 20 hours.  Even though they claim the gel will remain wet for 24 hours, it was super hot outside so the gel was drying within an hour on one of the days I was working.  I am pretty sure it was much hotter than the recommended temperature on the bottle.  I did try misting it with water, which helped a little.  The closer I got to the wood, the easier the paint seemed to peel up, so that was a big plus in the project motivation category. 

After a thorough sanding, it became obvious the doors and drawers were made out of different woods.  After experimenting with several different colors of stain, I elected to paint them again for a cohesive appearance. I chose to reuse the original large square pulls, since they reference the time period of the house.  Removing the paint from them was another test of my patience. 

If I haven’t completely dissuaded you by this point, I will tell you that I would do it all again in a heartbeat.  Just start with a small project and don’t expect it to be completely finished in an hour.  Garage sales and thrift stores have a ton of furniture pieces just begging for a good ‘safer’ chemical peel.

Rebecca is a local interior designer, educator and all-around fun mom. Check out more of her projects at UniquelyYouInteriors.Com.

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