need to fix up my little art studio
February 22, 2011 2:24 PM   Subscribe

No good deed goes unpunished: Gave my lovely little Greenwich Village basement art studio to someone for a few months. I got it back in the most atrocious shape...with my beautiful plaster walls completely hacked to bits from him incompetently drilling screw after useless screw into my wall, taking huge chunks of plaster out, and making occasional giant gouges with long anchoring screws (and even incomprehensibly applying adhesive spray insulation to glue wood boards to the wall. *sob*) The wall is about 11x9 feet. How much should I expect to pay to get this fixed? I'm handy, but know nothing about plaster and feel gutted about letting someone treat this super-old plaster wall so badly.

Should I look for someone on Craigslist? How much should this cost, ballpark amount? Are there terms which would help me find the right person? I'm an artist, and this place is amazing cheap, so I don't have endless resources to fix this. Any ideas about how to proceed? Would it be crazy to consider contacting the landlords and coming clean about what happened, and try to pay their people to help me fix this? Also, it doesn't have to be perfect...I love the quirky nature of the old plastering, so even if someone here has a friend who knows plaster I would be thrilled for some improvement at least. This is in NYC. Thanks.
posted by thegreatfleecircus to Home & Garden (20 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Plastering isn't that hard, especially if you don't mind some lines. I did my entire bathroom with no experience and it looks fine. Just send some time on Google and YouTube and off you go!
posted by fshgrl at 2:34 PM on February 22, 2011

Check with someone at your fav hardware store and ask for a recommendation. Likely you just need a very very good handyman.

You could do this yourself, though.

Wear a mask, sand down the walls, apply the correct spackle or plaster (check with your hardware store pro's), sand again + repaint. Especially for one wall, I would do it myself!

Do not call your landlord for this. Or maybe only call your landlord for a recommendation on a handyman - but leave out the drama - just tell them you previously put up an art installation and now you would be most comfortable hiring someone professional to refinish the wall.

Maybe under $75 to do it yourself, up to $500 to pay someone?

Good luck.
posted by jbenben at 2:36 PM on February 22, 2011

It can be a pain in the ass to match plaster texture, but some days the trowel just flows and it works. At any rate it's not impossible, especially if it wasn't one of those fancy Victorian era plaster sculpture jobs. I've done a few nail patches in the past, but without much more experience than that managed to match a 1940s era troweled texture when replacing the wallboard on a wall in my house with basically two attempts.

If it's really as torn up as you imply, go spend a couple of bucks on a trowel and a bag of plaster and give it a whirl. Any good paint store should be able to give you the right plaster (you're not looking for plaster of paris, you want something harder, maybe a little coarser grit, depending on what you're trying to match), after that it's just playing with the water and the trowel technique 'til you get the right look.

If it's an art studio, that implies you may have some skills that'd transfer to a trowel. Give it a whirl, first. You may find an hour later that you've solved all your problems.
posted by straw at 2:39 PM on February 22, 2011

Oh! I had no idea it might be doable with no initial knowledge. I'll look into it, and maybe I can actually sort this out myself. That would be the best solution.

One more question: this guy completely tore out ALL the plaster on two walls in my bathroom, right down to the bricks/cement-like-substance in some areas. I've repainted that area with semi-gloss latex paint (which looks terrible, sadly). If I wanted to try my hand at re-plastering that as well, would I have to strip that paint first? I'm not sure the crumbling wall could withstand stripping the paint. Any ideas on that? Thanks.
posted by thegreatfleecircus at 2:50 PM on February 22, 2011

Take pictures to the hardware store guys. Also, chunks of the plaster you want to match.

Still, this sounds more and more like something you need to hire someone pro to repair. Without pics I can't be sure, but I am pretty sure the latex paint was a little no bueno.
posted by jbenben at 3:07 PM on February 22, 2011

Yeah, I get the feeling that the latex paint just pushed the bathroom into a much more dire situation. But I still have a feeling that i might be able to salvage the main wall myself. I'll do a bunch of research first to get a sense, and yes, take some pictures into the hardware store. Good idea.
posted by thegreatfleecircus at 3:14 PM on February 22, 2011

I'm very much a "do it yourself" kind of guy, but on the torn-out plaster: Usually you lay down plaster over a substrate. It used to be lath, strips of wood, and then there was a few year period where it was "button board", kind of like wallboard but with regular holes (this is what my house has, built in '47). Then it all got replaced by modern wallboard. Do you have any idea if there was any of this over the brick?

If not, then the rough brick surface is probably sufficient to hold the plaster, but the smooth latex paint definitely isn't. I'd ask for some expert opinion on that.

But, yeah, I'd either find the good hardware store, or find the local paint shop frequented by professionals, and get into a conversation with the staff there. For the patching the screw holes and "huge chunks" it should be no problem, for the completely missing plaster you probably want something that the plaster will stick to better than just latex painted brick.
posted by straw at 3:18 PM on February 22, 2011

One more question: this guy completely tore out ALL the plaster on two walls in my bathroom, right down to the bricks/cement-like-substance in some areas.

Side track: please tell us you are pursuing him for damages in some way shape or form.
posted by muirne81 at 3:19 PM on February 22, 2011 [18 favorites]

I'm not sure the crumbling wall could withstand stripping the paint.

Never go digging in an old building, things can start crumbling in a chain reaction avalanche.

There's a plaster sealant, all I remember is that it was pale blue, (ask at a professional hardware store,) that works as a vapor barrier and holds things together a bit.

You're near Graingers on Hudson and Spring (IIRC). They're a professional wholesaler serving building contractors, but call them, give your made-up business name and start an account. Then you can walk in, and the counter people will help you find whatever materials and tools you might need. They have a computer product index at the desk that's more detailed than their online catalog.
posted by StickyCarpet at 3:19 PM on February 22, 2011 [4 favorites]

I'm going to defend the honour of the professional plasterer. It really does sound like a job that could be knocked off in a day by a pro -- perhaps leaving you to do the finishing work to keep things cheap -- and the day rate is around $200-300.

Bad plastering jobs can come back to haunt you and good plasterers will know the right materials and techniques for the job and the building, even the paint in the bathroom. Additionally, NYC is one of those parts of the US where plastering isn't niche decorating work -- elsewhere, drywall is king -- so you have a degree of price-competitiveness and some room to choose.
posted by holgate at 3:22 PM on February 22, 2011 [4 favorites]

It really does sound like a job that could be knocked off in a day by a pro -- perhaps leaving you to do the finishing work to keep things cheap -- and the day rate is around $200-300.
posted by holgate

If you decide to go that route, you can memail me if you want a recommendation of someone I've used, who is walking distance from you. He's reasonable and very experienced.
posted by StickyCarpet at 3:27 PM on February 22, 2011 [2 favorites]

I'll just add that plaster has been used for centuries and there are some tricks you can use to minimize cracking and contain existing cracks so they don't get worse. Googling "plaster techniques for walls" will provide some useful reading. The raw materials used in this sort of repair are very inexpensive, but there's a lot of skill involved in applying them correctly so that the finished job looks right. The best way to do this would be to practice on someone else's walls first before you tackle your own.

I think this sort of finish work is very deceptive - while a person of average or even less-than-average skill can apply plaster, it takes skill and practice to do it well enough that the job looks good when it's done. I consider myself to be very handy and am confident doing structural repair work myself, but when it comes to finishing exposed walls I like to spend the extra money and hire a pro. I find I am happier with the results, and since the outside of the wall is the part I am going to be staring at for years to come I consider that money to be well spent.
posted by mosk at 4:54 PM on February 22, 2011

Okay, given this further input, I think I may just go with a professional. At least that way I can also get an idea of how much I have screwed up the bathroom walls by painting them. Also, the faster I can get the job done, the faster I can rent my studio for a couple of months to recoup the cost of this guy's extensive damage. Trying to do the job myself would be enticing in any other scenario than this fraught, upsetting, and time-sensitive one.

I do wish I could press charges against this guy, especially since he also ran out without paying the one month of rent he owed me for all that time. But I have nothing in writing, he is now unemployed, and has already gotten defensive in repeatedly stating how he has 'increased the value' of my studio (presumably by destroying my furniture, breaking my window, destroying my walls, scratching the floors beyond recognition, and throwing out various important items of mine.) It's absurd. The best I can do is write a perfectly crafted letter, expressing in a minimal, quietly eviscerating way, how he is a terrible human and deserves terrible things for his needlessly destructive actions to such a unique and beautiful and well-cared for old space. That should help, right? Sigh.
posted by thegreatfleecircus at 6:17 PM on February 22, 2011

Don't even bother with plaster unless you hire a professional. Personally, I have just used 1/2" drywall and done the entire wall. Takes a few hours, the mudding/taping is much easier than plastering, and in the end you have a perfectly even, flat finished wall..
posted by sanka at 6:19 PM on February 22, 2011

I love, love, love my plaster walls. This is a very old building that I feel fortunate to be in, and I want to keep the rounded, soft, deep look of the room. Perfectly flat and even is not what I am looking for (and I could install drywall with my eyes closed), but thanks for the suggestion.
posted by thegreatfleecircus at 6:40 PM on February 22, 2011

this sort of finish work is very deceptive

Agreed. My dad's been in the decorating trade for over 50 years, and while he can handle plastering work, he prefers to leave it to specialists, because it means a faster job with better results. It's definitely one of those "10,000 hours of practice" skills.
posted by holgate at 8:34 PM on February 22, 2011

Before you do anything else, I'd wait for a sunny day and then head over and photograph everything. It sounds like the guy did some major damage, and you may like to consider small claims court once you've gotten some quotes. He's acknowledged he made the changes, right? He just seems to think they're an improvement.

Be sure to save all messages/texts/emails where he talks about how his 'work' increased the value.
posted by Georgina at 9:59 PM on February 22, 2011 [1 favorite]

Definitely hire a pro if you're as attached to the nice plaster as you sound. I've done a ton of plaster repair in my 1899 house using drywall mud, and it's fine but finicky and time-consuming. A pro will bang it out fast and do a much better job than you probably would.
posted by that's candlepin at 7:48 AM on February 23, 2011

The best I can do is write a perfectly crafted letter...

Small claims court. It's made for exactly something like this.
posted by electroboy at 8:05 AM on February 23, 2011

write a perfectly crafted letter, expressing in a minimal, quietly eviscerating way, how he is a terrible human and deserves terrible things for his needlessly destructive actions

and then post it on Craigslist
posted by banshee at 8:27 AM on February 23, 2011 [1 favorite]

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