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Victorian town house in Philadelphia

Listed under Blog, Painting Posted Oct 03 2008

Updated 2020 The decorating work in this 3 story Victorian town house in Philadelphia was the final part of a $200,000 restoration project. Behind the scenes they installed all new electrical, plumbing and HVAC work. On the surface there were two new luxury bathrooms and a kitchen. The top floor was completely remodelled into a self-contained suite.

Victorian town house in Philadelphia The top floor was originally a single attic space. When I moved in it was a master bedroom, den and ensuite bathroom.

Uplifting beams in a Victorian town house

Philadelphia is full of tradition but many Victorian town houses are stripped of their features. That’s progress, I guess. Not here. The exposed ceiling beams in the den were sanded back to bare wood and stained. The infilled area between the beams is insulation and plasterboard, taped and filled and painted. Quite a process, but it was transformational.

I have specified the same “dry-lining” ceiling treatment on a huge holiday chalet in the Dordogne and a farmhouse in Wales. The “secret” to the really sharp look is to use a caulk gun to create the finished joint between the wiggly beams and the plasterboard. In my experience, if it is a top floor ceiling, it won’t crack along the joints and will look as good as new for years. If people are walking on the floor above the ceiling, joints may crack if the floor flexes too much.

Red pine floors

red pine floor philadelphia
The red pine floors were the main selling point of this house, because that tree no longer exists in America! Almost 2000 square feet of floor boards were salvaged, and stripped to bare wood. When the floor crew left we coated it with a couple of coats of microporous (breathable) OSMO OS Color Wood Wax.

Tips on natural wood flooring

A quick wipe down with a lint- free polishing cloth keeps OS waxed woodwork looking good for years. Any scratches can be sanded out and the wood re-coated.

I always mask up flooring when I paint skirting boards. This is not because I can’t paint a straight line free-hand, but because it is quicker and safer that way.

Ordinarily, with wooden flooring, I would consider lapping masking tape a couple of millimetres onto the skirting.

Whenever there are big gaps between skirting and floor, make sure the masking tape is pushed underneath the skirting to catch any drips.

Ensuite bathroom

ensuite bathroom philadelphia town house
This ensuite bathroom has a glass-enclosed shower and jacuzzi. The furniture is cherry, the floors slate, the tops are marble and there is a satin bathroom paint on the walls and ceiling.

Tips for a painting project

I find it is best to spend time at the start of a refurb job masking and covering everything with paper and plastic sheets. There are several advantages

  • there is no worry about spills or spots of paint on expensive marble etc
  • it is easy to vacuum up dust
  • you can work fast and achieve a sharp finish.
  • all homeowners love it when they see a tradesman cares.


The new Ikea kitchen boasted lots of granite worktops and stainless steel hob, ovens and fridge. All the skirting boards, cornices and frames were new pine, made to a traditional over-size design. I finished them with a very expensive acrylic-based satin enamel, which they claim is as good as oil-based paint.

A big entrance

This traditional Victorian town house in Philadelphia had a pokey entranceway into the lounge. To jazz it up and set the tone, we imported two rolls of anaglypta and paste from the UK. The order cost something ridiculous, like $120 for materials. A far cry from the $50 ticket in the UK. However it looked a million dollars gloss painted in a traditional deep olive green gloss.

Moan about acrylic paint

In my opinion, acrylic paint is brilliant for keeping its colour, it is low odour, quick to apply and dries fast. It is great for skirting boards and frames. On the downside, though, it didn’t seem durable enough for window cills and doors, the two places that get the most wear and tear. Also, after spending weeks burning off, rubbing down and filling the woodwork throughout, it looked good to the locals. However, it didn’t reflect the effort from my point of view. When I think of the finish I can get quite quickly with oil paint, I would say that acrylic paint is a poor product for refurbishment work on a traditional property.

Further update on acrylic paint

I have since worked extensively with acrylic paints. If you focus on the priming and surface filling before applying top coats, there is a lot to be said for working with water-borne paints. This project shows a 5-star paint finish using acrylic gesso as a basecoat. The advantages of quick drying cannot be underestimated on a site where dust is in the air. One less major headache compared to painting with oil finishes.

I hope you enjoyed that trip down memory lane of this 3 story Victorian town house in Philadelphia.

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