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Patching patterned plaster ceiling

doublezero's Avatar

Join Date: Oct 2007
Posts: 287

02-05-11, 10:05 AM   #1  
Patching patterned plaster ceiling

There are patterned swirls on the plaster ceiling. There are cracks in the plaster which should be patched up. The problem is, nobody patches plaster these days, they prefer to rip it down and replace it with drywall. I have a contractor working here who is throwing up a lot of resistance to the idea that he should patch up the ceiling and keep the swirled pattern intact rather than destroying the pattern and putting drywall in its place. He is backed up by the taper he brought in to help him. I want the ceiling restored, they are claiming it isn't possible.

If you zoom in you'll see the details.


Here's what it could look like, if they patched it up:


So I'd like to know how to patch up the cracked ceiling, and if it's possible, which method, tools and material do you need. I'll do it myself if it looks like something I could manage.

Obviously it was done with a brush and semi-liquid plaster. If they could do this 100 years ago it can be done today, just people now aren't accustomed to working with materials that aren't already pre-made, and refuse to work with non-power tools.

It gets more complicated. The room in question was one big room when the house was built. Later, somebody put up a wall in the middle, so there were two rooms. I just ripped down that wall to restore the house to its original state. So instead of 2 rooms, there is now 1 big one again. On the other side of the wall I ripped down, the ceiling is flat drywall. There is also 6" strip of damaged wall, ceiling, crown molding, and floor in the middle of the big room where the wall used to be.

Just sticking to the subject of the ceiling damage, the combined ceiling in the room should look the same all over. One way to do that is to cover the swirled section with drywall so it's all flat, as these guys are strongly recommending. Another way is to patch the swirled plaster like I'm trying to get them to do, and give the flat section on the other side of the room the same swirled pattern.

So these guys would stop coming up with excuses, I went out and found wallpaper which is virtually the same as the plaster pattern. (They even claimed it doesn't exist, but see below) I want them to put up wallpaper on the flat section of the ceiling and patch the plaster section. They still refuse, saying they would rather use the wallpaper on the entire ceiling, not just the flat part. But then they would still have to flatten or remove the ceiling and replace it with drywall so the wallpaper will stick to it. And that defeats the purpose of me finding the same pattern for them to use.

Wallpaper: 1 Double Roll (covers 56 square ft) White Brushstroke Paintable Wallpaper

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marksr's Avatar
Forum Topic Moderator

Join Date: Mar 2005
Posts: 42,809

02-05-11, 11:52 AM   #2  
I don't like the idea of hanging wallpaper on just part of the ceiling. I can't imagine anyway that it would like right except possibly with poor lighting.

I doubt you'll get the job you want on the ceiling with your current contractors. I suspect there are some plasterers in your area [not drywall finishers] that can duplicate the texture. I've done some minor repairs with that type of texture using thinned down joint compound but I wouldn't trust myself enough to do an acceptable job on a large portion of a ceiling.

We have some plaster guys here on the forums so hopefully they'll get a chance to chime in later

retired painter/contractor avid DIYer

JohnJohny's Avatar

Join Date: Jan 2011
Posts: 15

02-07-11, 03:09 AM   #3  
I just bought a 1889 farmhouse. All original plaster on lath. Lots of cracks. I intend to patch the plaster myself. If you wish to do the work yourself, I would suggest you read up on this type of repair and get lots of books about restoration. Youtube has some videos on this as do other websites on old house repairs.. Also, go to your local home center/hardware store, and ask about the materials you will need. If your house is vintage, contact the Preservation Society.

I would never hire a pro unless absolutely necessary. I agree with you that pros want to tear down, replace, use different materials, gut and toss out original that are worth something. Mainly this is because there are so few skilled plaster craftsman. Its easier to use the new stuff and slap it all on. This is why new houses are fraught with problems and defects . Houses that have stood the test of time for a century or more do so because of the superior workmanship, care, and materials used. Your contractor is adamant because he loses work if the home owner is a DIYer.

I don't like the idea of the wallpaper. Its nothing more than a cover-up and is remodeling as opposed to restoration. You will deal with peeling eventually so its really a short term solution.

tightcoat's Avatar

Join Date: Jul 2003
Posts: 1,676

02-07-11, 08:47 PM   #4  
If you pull down the plaster there is a risk of destroying those mouldings. A crime. This can be repaired. There are probably some old time plasterers if you just keep looking. I will tell you some things to consider. You need to figure out the tool used to do the work. When the plasterer did the original work whatever he did he did quickly. To texture these ceilings was not a whole day affair. Now it might take you some time to do it but keep in mind it went fast. What I usually do is figure out how it was done, work the field to match then come back and blend the joining

doublezero's Avatar

Join Date: Oct 2007
Posts: 287

02-07-11, 10:35 PM   #5  
Thanks all, for your advice. Unfortunately I'm running out of time. I placed an ad seeking a real plasterer, but only got 1 response, and that response was from somebody describing himself as a 'professional taper'... I have contractors showing up every day and they're ready to do the ceiling. It will cost me money to make them wait while I attempt to learn this old-fashioned skilled craft, starting with zero knowledge and no teacher, and a bunch of guys standing there telling me it's impossible; in a couple of hours - not only without ruining the ceiling and the rest of the crown molding, but also making it look perfect, on the first time I ever try something like this. The chances of that working out are pretty slim. They have even told me that there's no point repairing the cracks because they'll just crack again - it's a lath ceiling and the lath in those sections is not tight up against the joists, they sag and the ceiling moves there if you touch it. On the uncracked sections of the ceiling it doesn't bounce if you touch it. So it looks like I'm going to have to let them do whatever they suggest though if they damage the crown molding further, they're fired. They have my reluctant instructions to skim it with compound, just not tear it down. Because of a few cracks, the patterns on the ceiling will be gone this time tomorrow, never to be seen again. Whether it's a crime or not, it makes me unhappy and angry to have to allow this to happen.

If it weren't for the issue of the flat ceiling on the other half of the room, I might still have forced them to just repair the cracks in the swirls over all their objections. But there's the whole other flat ceiling that has to match the swirled section, or vice-versa.

I did try to get advice from a nearby heritage homes association, but they're only interested in one neighbourhood in Toronto, Cabbagetown. My home is in a neighbourhood with nearly the same vintage buildings, but it's not considered prestigious or historical enough. The snobs refused to even speak to me or give me any hints as to what I should try and preserve here. So I just decided to try and save most architectural and design features which looks like it was here before the 1940s, including some of the windows, which were restored. There's no functioning heritage association for my neighbourhood.

My limited skills mean I am required to use contractors most of the time. But it's frustrating. Their solution for everything is to throw out whatever they're looking at and drive to Home Depot to buy whatever has just arrived from China. 100-year-old framing lumber, heating grilles, actual wooden plank flooring, cast iron, windows, hardware, I have to rip these things out of their hands before they can throw them into the trash bin. The amount of waste is needless and disgusting.

The house didn't require air conditioning in the summer when I got it. It was built like a fortress. Now there have been so many changes and so much old material ripped out and inferior new material put in, it will probably mean I'll have to put in AC. The stacks were cast iron so you couldn't hear water going down them. Now, the stacks are PVC and you can hear everything. You know exactly when somebody on an upper floor has just used the bathroom.

Now that they're going to skim the ceiling, I probably won't use that wallpaper. There's no point now. I only got it as a compromise to convince them to repair the cracks on the patterned section of the ceiling.

Maybe I will get them to just skim and paint the ceiling, get it done, and after they're gone and the house is empty, I'll learn how to use plaster and redo the ceiling with an even better pattern than is there now. But trying to learn this at an expert level in a couple of hours with all these people running all over the place and waiting for me to finish and get out of their way might not be the best thing to do.

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