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This week was all about installing a piece of trim beneath the cornice we previously installed in the Dining Room.

Weeks before when we were creating the mould for the cornice, we had to eliminate a portion of it. The portion was this small, lamb’s tongue trim. Turns out that while the heavy cornice was essentially the same in the Hallway, Dining Room, Study and Salon, only the Dining Room had the lamb’s tongue trim in plaster. All the other rooms had the trim in wood. I guess this is because the Dining Room is the only room not completely engulfed in oak. Really, I’ve never seen a house with so much wood.

The good thing about installing this trim was that it covered the imperfections and more obvious joints seen in the large portion of the cornice. Due to the weight of the trim, only one person was needed to install it. Ramon was instructed to install the door casements while I installed this trim. It wasn’t a difficult task, but one that I wanted to do differently.

After installing each piece, I noticed that it did not lie completely flush with the larger piece above it. This was because of the fluctuations and imperfections in the walls and ceiling, as well as those found in the cornice itself. Small voids could be seen in between the trim and the cornice and this did not settle well with me. This is where I encountered trouble because I wanted to fill these voids. This task was just too time consuming and we needed to move on, so I left the voids showing.

“No one will see that, but you.” Truly, from the ground, one cannot see these voids, but the perfectionist side of me was screaming. This was a good lesson in facing that side of myself and letting it go. This was extremely difficult.

A small delay on the creation of additional pieces forced me into the Study where I began pointing. Once the pieces did arive and after a fair amount of pointing and finishing, the trim in the Dining Room was installed and it looks great.

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The last days of June and the beginning ones of July were spent installing the cornice in the Kitchen. Although it was a much lighter, simpler piece, it still presented its own challenges.

First, each of these pieces was completely dry, unlike the heavier cornices we installed in the Dining Room and Hallway. This made the pieces lighter, but much more rigid and less willing to bend with the imperfections found in the ceiling and walls. The strike-offs, or the areas of the piece that touch the walls and ceiling, had quite a few imperfections themselves which made shaving and form-fitting the pieces a time consuming task. If a lump of plaster was left by the caster, it rubs against the wall and/or ceiling and create a large void unless shaved. By shaving them, we eliminated the void. We kept telling ourselves, “if only the pieces were straight and the walls straight, we’d be done by now.”

Second, although the room was essentially rectangular, it had many returns which involved more measurements and cuts. These returns were created by cabinets that pushed out from the wall. Each return had at least one interior and one exterior angle. One particular area of the wall had a series of consecutive small returns less than an inch long. Not only does this involve time in measuring and cutting, but it makes the task of pointing that much more difficult. I pointed at least two or three of each interior and exterior angles, but the majority of the pointing was done by fellow plasterers Jose and Borjo. This was because we needed to spend the rest of the week installing the cornice in the Study.

The Study was a lot like the Hallway project, but again, we were presented with a unique challenge—a set of bookshelves that pushed away from the wall. This forced us to reach over the bookshelves when installing. It wasn’t difficult, but just awkward. Nonetheless, we installed twelve of the pieces and completed the room by Friday. I thank Ramon for working on Friday, July 3 while I spent much needed time with my pregnant wife whom I haven’t seen in over seven weeks.

Off to the Dining Room!

We are now installing the same heavy cornice we installed last week in the much larger Dining Room. It’s approximately 25′ x 23′ large with 14′ ceilings. Needless to say, it’s a large room!

The main difference between the two rooms that we’ve worked on is presence of plaster walls. Unlike the silicone adhesive material, PL 400, we used to attach the Hallway’s cornice to the wooden walls, we used good old fashioned plaster. However, included with the plaster is the secret ingredient known to many plaster professionals—wallpaper glue. Instead of using straight water as the plaster’s carrier, a cellulose-based, powdered glue was added to the water. This adds strength, workability and adhesion to the plaster. We also used this mix for pointing. (I was recently corrected about the glue’s chemical nature and its benefits by our shop managed, Nathan. Although I still think the glue adds initial flexibility compared to the straight plaster/water method we learned in school, he is correct in that it seems more rigid and stiff when dry. In my opinion, its application and workability is more flexible and a pleasure to work with.)

We had a rocky start to this room when we realized that there was some confusion as to the vertical dimensions of the cornice placement, but once we resolved this the project really took off. We managed to install 18 pieces of cornice within four days. This may not sound like much, but again, each of these pieces was over 60 lbs. and we were working on scaffolding. We were told even Foster was impressed by our speed.

Now it’s off to the kitchen.

Instead of reporting on my day by day activities during my internship, I have decided to narrow it down to weeks. Since I’ve been working on-site in Long Island, I’ve been concentrating on the installation of just one project. I’ll write more if I think it’s worth sharing. This single, ornate cornice project has certainly been a learning experience, but it’s also been a pain.

Not only are the pieces slightly warped having been dried in a less stable environment, but because of the nature of this old mansion, the walls and ceilings are less than perfect as well. This was to be expected, but several other supervisors of the overall project seemed less than pleased that it has taken so long. The sheer weight of each piece (60 to 80 lbs.) made the job more of a challenge and tested our patience. But regardless of the time taken, we were able to finish the project and move on.

Another new employee of Foster Reeve, Victoria, began the pointing (or finishing) of the work we completed. This included filling the voids, replacing chipped pieces, fine-tuning space and sharpening the edges. She’s done a great job so far and has made the work we’ve done look even better. I’ve expressed that I would like to be a part of the pointing, but they really need me to continue working on the installation of the other rooms. Now it’s off to the dining room.

Two of the installed pieces next to each other. You can see a missing egg in the egg-and-dart ornamentation that Victoria will be responsible in replacing. To do so, several of the other eggs will be carved out and replaced with new eggs and darts.

Two of the installed pieces next to each other. You can see a missing egg in the egg-and-dart ornamentation that Victoria will be responsible in replacing. To do so, several of the other eggs will be carved out and replaced with new eggs and darts.

Today was spent on site at a residential project in Oyster Bay, Long Island, New York. This is a massive house and the largest one that I’ve ever been involved with. There must have been two dozen trades people representing the U.S., Mexico, Jamaica and Poland working on this project. All of them must be well respected and it shows through the work in the house.

I’ve never seen so much custom mill work. Every room seemed to be covered with complex and beautiful oak or maple. Overall, it’s very impressive, but I cannot imagine living in such a large house.

The project at hand is installing the complicated and heavy cornice piece that I casted several times the week before. I assisted the installer, Ramon, and have learned quite a bit in the first day alone. Though, proficient and highly qualified as he is, I can already tell that these pieces are going to take longer than expected. It’s not because Ramon is slow or that I’m slowing him down, but the sheer magnitude of the overweight pieces takes some extra handling and care.

The cornice is first going to be installed in the hallway that connects the parlor with the library. It’s approximately 30′ long and 7′ wide. Unfortunately, one of the obstacles in installing this piece is that no blueprints or dimensions were available when we started the job. I was told that we are normally given such numbers, but we started installing nonetheless because we knew it was going to take a while.

Screws and a substance similar to Liquid Nails were used to install the pieces. That’s it! I thought a series of hanging bolts or burlap and plaster would be used, but it was much simpler than that. I’m anxious to see the complete cornice in place.

The first cornice panel was put into place and screwed into the wooden 2x4s that lined the perimeter of the ceiling. Plastic was covered over all of the custom millwork that lined the walls of the hallway.

The first cornice panel was put into place and screwed into the wooden 2x4s that lined the perimeter of the ceiling. Plastic was covered over all of the custom millwork that lined the walls of the hallway.

Working on a Saturday is a bit of a bummer, but like most of the days I’ve experienced in New York thus far, it’s raining out, so spending the day in the shop isn’t too bad. I’m unable to enjoy any outdoor activities in the City and brushing up on my skills is a good way of spending my time.

The day was spent casting the same ornate piece that I began on Friday. In a little over four hours time, I was able to successfully cast three additional cornices! Unfortunately, most of the time was spent either cleaning or prepping, but that’s all a part of it.

It’s exciting knowing that I will be installing these pieces on site next week.

“The cornice.”

The wooden framework I created yesterday was put into place today. I layer of plaster was poured on the back of the rubber mould, sheets of burlap were applied and the wooden from was secured into place with strips of plaster-soaked burlap. Voilá, a hard shell for the cornice was born!  This shell prevents the rubber mould from moving and gives the mould a platform on which to rest.

Nathan assisted in pouring the first cast of the mould and I was then free to cast them myself. Casting eight feet of such an ornate cornice is time sensitive and challenging. All air bubbles must be eliminated and massive amounts of detail must be present. Two sheets of burlap are added for strength and durability and they must not be seen anywhere on the face of the cornice. I was proud to produce three that day and none were sacrificed.

It was a good day. Unfortunately, I was asked to come in to work on Saturday in order to produce three more for a total of six before Monday. I was then asked to help install these next week. How cool! It’s going to be great seeing the work in place. I’m looking forward to it.

Oh yeah, and I managed to catch a fly in a sandwich bag during lunch. Luckily, I was already finished with the sandwich. Nathan couldn’t resist letting it out of the bag so that it could go on reproducing maggots. Thanks, man.