Saturday, July 7, 2007
Le 23 Aouts 1821
We suspect the last time the walls of the deuxieme etage were plastered was around August 23, 1821, by the date etched in the remains of one of a few crumbling patches in a window well overlooking Rue du Four. The walls on our "project room" floor are combination of unrestored stone and mortar, two blackened swaths from long-gone chimneys, and evidence of at least one wall being old colombage construction---timber "X" half-framing in-filled with rock and/or wattle and daub. There are a few places where you can see daylight through the walls where earlier beams and joists have rotted away or been removed, or holes drilled for 20th century plumbing and electricity. When I took a wire brush to the old walls, clouds of soot and loose mortar obscured my vision, but when it settled the walls were already shades lighter and getting ready for plastering.
We don't actually know when No. 14 Rue du Four was built, and won't know for some time. M. Cathala, our Notaire, told us we could not pick up our official copy of the Deed and Title until August. We are hoping this document will track the history of the house. If the deuxieme etage was plastered in 1821, is it possible that it was built 50 or 100 years earlier?
"Le 23 Aouts 1821" will be preserved, but the rest of the stone walls will be lime plastered and limewashed. We already have several full walls that have been pointed with a bien beurre finish, and "pointing" is a skill I am not ready to tackle...just yet. Another alternative to wall-building is constucting a drywall 'wall' and installing it over the stone, thereby creating a faux wall. It also makes an easy way to hide plumbing and electrical.
Before I could start lime plastering, I had to fill up some of the big holes in the walls. In the States, I would have just gone and gotten some concrete patch. That's where it gets complicated. Just like how it is said that the Eskimos have 101 words for "snow", so do the Europeans have 101 different types of concrete and mortar. I'm not sure what all the factors are affecting your selection, but I do know that color of socks is one of them.
After what seemed endless preparation, I finally mixed my lime plaster. Of course there turned out to be several types of sable (sand) and chaux (lime) so I'm experimenting with all of them. After the lime putty (lime powder + H20) sits overnight, I then mixed in sand with the precision of a neanderthal to form the plaster. Carrying the buckets up several flights of stairs is making me think "dumbwaiter". Prior to getting plastered, the walls have to be wetted down or they will suck all the moisture right out and you won't get a good bond. I found a small pump garden sprayer at BricoMarche for 5 Euros and this has saved me hours of sponge-dampening.
Achieving just the right consistency for smooth application is something reserved for the final bucket, I'm sure. In the meanwhile, it's either too runny or too stiff. The pros put it on with trowels, and on a 'flat' wall that works OK for me too. But these walls are far from flat, contouring to the stones with valleys and mounds---true character. So I am using a wide drywall knife, I know it's scandalous. The first (of three) coats contains the most sand and fills in holes, cracks and begins to smooth out the wall. Each application has to be misted several times to keep the lime plaster from drying out (carbonating) too quickly.
This project, for me, is labor intensive. Doug has said that I enjoy the "plastic arts"---anything to do with plaster, caulk, mortar, or concrete. Can't say I include drywall mud in this group. But there's something being created; it's not art, but it's as close as I'll ever get.