Have you ever taken wallpaper down? In my opinion, installing wallpaper is the worst design decision one can ever make. It’s like getting a tattoo. You have to fully commit to it because you know that removing it later is going to be a painful and all-consuming process. Three-fourths of our kitchen walls were covered in an oddly patterned wallpaper of tiny eggplants, asparagus, peas and cabbage. I want to meet the person who designed this wallpaper and ask what made him/her want to create a wallpaper featuring the most obscure vegetables to choose from. Like why not broccoli, green beans, lettuce and carrots? Not that we would have kept the wallpaper anyway… just curious. Here is our kitchen in its original state.
Now I’m no stranger to the manual labor required for DIY projects or rehabbing a house. In the town of Odessa, Harpo owns several rental properties. Some would say he is a landlord, but I prefer to call him a slumlord. Harpo buys the most rundown houses he can find (in a town of 5,000 people there are more than you would think) and cleans them up to a rentable state. I mean, the man should have had his own HGTV show years ago. Many a summer day, my brother and I could be found in a borderline condemnable, and certainly rat infested, rental house doing manual labor for our slumlord father. Our assignments ranged from removing carpet to cleaning out the abandoned refrigerator (which was the most disgusting job). I remember one particular house where Dean was hired to help. Harpo figured since this boy was dating his daughter, he’d add him to the labor force. We were around 17 or 18-years-old and had to clean a house after a tenant moved out. This tenant was a heavy smoker. So heavy that all the walls in the house were stained yellow from the nicotine. The stench was potent enough to knock you off your feet. We spent three days in that house scrubbing the walls and ceiling until they were white again. I swear we got second-hand smoke from being in that house, though no cigarettes were actually burning while we were there. Now that is a great way to convince kids not to smoke.
Back to our kitchen – this was not the kind of wallpaper that peels away easily from the wall in full strips. No. We were dealing with the kind of wallpaper that you have to claw at just to peel off a tiny piece. We soaked our walls in every possible wallpaper removal concoction known to man. After the soaking and the scraping, we would come away with a scrap of paper. The rest of the wallpaper would laugh at our effort and say “FOOL! You will NEVER be rid of me!” I kid you not, it took us eight days to remove every last bit of that God forsaken wallpaper. Every night after work, I would cry tears of desperation as we scraped the damn walls like our lives depended on it.
This is typically what Harpo’s rental houses look like when he purchases them. This was the actual state of our kitchen for almost two weeks. You couldn’t walk anywhere without a piece of wallpaper sticking to your feet. Living in this squalor for two weeks almost drove me to the edge…. hence the alcoholic beverages.
During the wallpaper war, we knew that drop ceiling had to go. When we peeked above the ceiling tiles we found a perfectly good ceiling, but no lighting. How the previous homeowners lived with this drop ceiling for ten years, I’ll never know. We lived there for two weeks and I couldn’t stand how claustrophobic it made the kitchen feel. Lucky for us, my cousin Joe (I know – I have a million cousins with many talents) was in town for his daughter’s soccer tournament while all this was going on. He spent many memorable hours in this kitchen with us that I know he will cherish forever. Not only did he peel wallpaper, he helped us tear down the drop ceiling. He is THE MAN and knows how to install canned lighting. He totally earned the “favorite cousin” badge when he spent hours up in the attic sweating his ass off to drop in three glorious lights. After he worked his mad skills on the ceiling we were left with this (cue angels singing):
Unfortunately, the work was not quite done. Joe (that precious darling cousin of mine) skim-coated the ceiling to smooth everything out after installing the lights. But to have a ceiling that is as smooth as a baby’s butt, sanding is required. At first I thought this would be no big deal. I mean, I work out. Joe laughed at this and said “Just you wait and see”.
I had no idea that my shoulders and arms could ever feel the hellacious fire they felt after sanding a ceiling. I wanted to DIE. Joe enjoyed every second watching us smooth the ceiling to perfection. Dust was in every possible nook, cranny and crevice of the kitchen (and our bodies) and we all looked like ghosts. Also, word of advice if you ever do this, turn your A/C off and close off the space with plastic to prevent the dust from coating your entire house. Though sealing off the space and eliminating the air makes it even more of a torture chamber because not only are your arms burning, but you are also burning because it is hotter than two muskrats bleeping in a wool sock. So, protect your airways from dust and make sure you shave your armpits before your mom takes a photo of you going to town on that ceiling.No wonder Joe has the shoulders of the Incredible Hulk – he does this stuff all the time like it’s no big deal. Whereas my shoulders are so weak they could barely lift my arms above my head for a WEEK after this exercise. In the end, the sweat, tears and torture were worth it. If you need help removing wallpaper, do not call me for help. I like you, but I just can’t go through it again. I will, though, bring you a six pack or a bottle of wine because friend, I know what you’re going through.