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.


Judy said...

So, are you going for lime plaster on all the walls or will you do some in "dry wall' so you can hide electrical stuff? I'll bet you really fall into bed each night after doing all this labor-intensive " art". Judy

nancy said...

Yes, there will be a few "drywall" or "plasterboard" faux walls. All the interior walls will be either this or the more typical construction here---"skinny brick" which is a hollow clay brick that comes in various thicknesses and is mortared together---no 2X4 walls!

And YES, I am really ready to fall into bed, at least my arms are. They're almost as tired as when we were peeling logs for a month straight up at the cabin. I'd climb into my sleeping bag in the tipi and didn't even care that the mice were scampering just inches away up and down the tipi lining. Our conditions now are pure luxury in comparison, except that we're 10 years older.

Anonymous said...

Luke is incredulous that you know so much about these various methods of construction and drywalling...and I'm even more impressed that you have the strength and fortitude to accomplish so much! I am "utterly exhausted" just from looking at the pictures!

Are you going to find a little spot to put a 2007 date that will let the "next set of intrepid souls" know when some work was done...hopefully it won't take another 186 years for "home improvements" to happen!

There is a big wildfire in UT...I looked on the map and it appears to be far away from Moab...but I can't help but worry on your behalf. I hope your insurance premiums are paid! HA!

Keep up the good work...I mean that literally.

Luc est tres' impressionne'!

nancy said...

It's been 102 in Moab, which is pretty normal for July. But what is really out of whack is that it was 106 degrees F in Bozeman MT the other day. Unheard of! On the flip side, people in France are commenting about how cool this summer has been---only a few days barely reaching 90.

And, Luke, even having a grasp of how these construction methods are done doesn't mean I'm good or efficient at it by any stretch of the imagination. But I keep plugging along. Peu un peu.

Anonymous said...

The weather really has been bizarre this year...such heat (hence the forest fires) in the west and such drought in the south...Charleston is 10 inches down on our rain and Alabama is 20 inches down. The vegetation is getting browner and browner...not to mention what's happening to crops. And, it's the 2nd week of July and no hurricanes...I hope this isn't the "calm before the storm"...literally!

I'm assuming a cooler summer is good for you since you are doing so much manual labor...since I don't think the original builders of your humble abode planned for central air-conditioning! Is your house situated in a manner that gets a lot of cross-ventilation to keep you from melting?

On another subject...Bastille Day is this coming Saturday...are there any big celebrations planned by the locals? If hearty!