Trunk room--what happened, what to do?

December 30, 2009

I live in an 1887 Queen Anne. The trunk room on the third floor is one of my favorite rooms in the house. It just feels so...old. The symmetry of the room, the sloping ceiling right under the roof, the treetops right outside the window--it makes me want to curl up with a good book on a blustery day. The room is 8 x 14 and we plan to use it for storage for now, and possibly turn it into a bathroom someday. With a claw foot tub centered right under the window :-).

You can see where the po blew in insulation and covered the holes with duct tape. I plan to patch and paint. The chimney is for an abandoned laundry boiler on the 1st floor. It's gone now, but I have the blueprints or I never would have been able to guess what it was for. The roof must have leaked terribly around the chimney, and presumably to address this, a po had it taken down to below the roofline and the roof patched. I think flashing would have been easier, but the chimney top is gone now. I _could_ restore the chimney and put a fireplace in this room, but it seems kind of a small, out-of -the-way spot to have a fireplace. On the second floor, the chimney passes through what will be the master bath lavatory room (currently a closet). On the first floor, it passes through the laundry area, which will become a conservatory. I can see a fireplace in the conservatory, but since the house already has fireplaces in the DR and LR, I'd just as soon have the master bathroom (there is none currently). But, if someone can make a compelling case to keep and restore the chimney and add fireplaces, I might well do it.

What on earth is the large hole in the plaster for? If you look carefully, you'll see a line continuing off to the left from the bottom of the hole. They cut through all the laths along that line. I'm trying to patch it for now but it's not going to be a great patch. I'm using plaster anchor washers and screws to attach laths to the rafters and anything else solid I can find. I do love this mid-century green, although it seems to have a layer of soot on it.

More of the chimney. lots of efflorescence and patching. Notice how it widens as it goes up, to give a more prominent appearance above the roofline. When it extended beyond the roofline, that is. If I do remove the rest of it, it won't be during the winter, as I wouldn't be surprised if the roof patch was done improperly, and rests on the chimney. That's the thing about old houses; nothing surprises you after a while. We have a partially collapsed masonry wall in our bulkead; po tried to shore it up by stuffing socks and underwear in between the fieldstones.

Here you can see how the floorboards butt into the baseboards. Guess they installed the baseboards first. I wonder why.

Here is another shot of the floor. Old pine boards of varying width, nailed down. I love the way you can feel the grain on these; it's as if they're sunken with age. I love them. A good cleaning and maybe tung oil is all I want to do.

The cracked vent pipe. My neighbor said it was due to the house settling. 3/4" in 120 years is not too bad, right? (shaky laugh). He also said to just get a fiberglass repair kit and wrap the crack. As a sailboat owner, I can roll with that.

The acorn-tipped hooks. Love 'em--keep! Gotta get a push-button light switch to keep them company though.

Here is where they tore out the floor. Watch your step! You can see the 12" x 3/4" rough pine subfloor. Looks like they cut out a joist. That is going to be challenging to address. Why did they stuff insulation in the open floor space?

I don't plan on touching any of the woodwork in the room except to give it a good cleaning. Mostly I just plan to patch the walls, and try to make the torn up corner safe.

Comments, suggestions, and theories welcomed.

Comments (37)

  • calliope

    I had an old Victorian once with a trunk room. I had no clue at that time what a trunk room was, but my father who was born in 1912 sure knew. ;-)

    From your description of where you were placing the Master b'room lavatory and the laundry room, it appears the pipe would be near the old chimney. It's not vented into the capped-off chimney is it?

  • slateberry

    The cracked vent pipe is not associated with that chimney, but other venting might be. Let's see, everything I can think of is in line with the cracked vent pipe, except for the 2nd floor bathtub. Good question!

    Just to elaborate a bit, if you look at the first picture in this post, pretend you're standing in the doorway. The chimney, as you can see, is in front of you and slightly to the left. You can't see the vent pipe in the picture, but it's directly off to the right in the right corner.

  • Related Discussions

    We have wood ceilings in every room; what kind of wood for new kitchen cabinets?


    Comments (43)
    I like this house! Congratulations! For a craftsman house with a lot of wood already, I'd go with painted cupboards. I am picturing a pale turquoise off white--something fresh but with a period feel to it. Look at a colour wheel and stay away from things on the opposite side of pink (such as cool blue). It will make the pink look pinker (which, even if you like the pink hue, will be just too much). To make something look less blue/red/green/whatever, surround it with similar, not contrasting colours, to the blue/red/green/whatever colour. "Kill it with kindness."
    ...See More

    how to renovate my room & what to do


    Comments (14)
    It looks likes it has gotten so out of hand that all three of you don't know where to start, so it's easier to live with the situation than to get started organizing. Been there - done that! lol. I would start with two trash bags and two girls. If they don't want you to help because "you will throw away something important" or they don't want you to " snoop through their private stuff", leave them alone. They have to want to get it cleaned up and keep it cleaned up or it won't ever happen. At 19, it's hard to tell make them to "mind" you unless you are willing to kick them out of the house, which I know you won't do! Been there - done that too! It's going to take more than one day to go through all that stuff. Pick a day, say Saturday, when you are going to start. Start with throw away things. Old school papers, newspapers, magazines, candy wrappers, old makeup and shoes and clothes beyond repair and too yucky to donate or sell. At the end of that day have them make up their beds. Hopefully you will be able to see the floor after the first day. lol. Then set another day to start again. Next time have them collect all their makeup and other toiletries and put those in sturdy boxes or makeup bags (old purses might work). Make each cleanup day a different theme. When they find things that are still in nice shape that they don't care for anymore, ask them if they want to have a garage sale. Have them organize it and run it and they get to keep what they make! As the room starts to empty you will be able to see how and where things need to be organized and stored. With two grown women sharing a room, a hall closet or another place outside of their room may have to be given to them to use. Redecorating should come last. They'll have the time they've spent cleaning to discuss how they want to redecorate. They have to come up with the plan, and as long as you approve, they need to do the work. They are too old for threats and punishment. If they truly want to have a nice room they will have to work to achieve it and work to keep it clean. Keep us posted!
    ...See More

    New living room now what do I do with dining room furniture


    Comments (23)
    Never paint wood furniture that is still in good condition. You'll regret it because what is painted inevitably eventually needs to be repainted and coats of paint begin to look ick. Instead, if you feel the wood needs something to "fix" it, check out the Old English products -- lemon oil and scratch cover -- and similar products. A dining room doesn't need an area rug -- the table and chairs define the area. Your wood flooring looks great; it doesn't need to be covered. If you;re wanting to protect it from the chairs, there are products to affix to the chair legs for that. I recall seeing some that were clear and slip on like a rubber tip for a cane. Use the rug in the dining room for the living room -- try it turned both ways to see which best suits -- and then put the smaller rug now in the living room elsewhere. At the very least, before you invest in a larger rug for the living room, try just turning the rug you have around to serve the sofa without trying to reach the opposite chair.
    ...See More

    Open concept kitchen/living room. What color walls?


    Comments (111)
    I think it will look great with white and dark grey bedding. Maybe pick a neutral that's lighter than Agreeable Gray, but in the same colour group. Something like SW Shoji White. Don't know which white you're using for trim and ceilings? Something that works with that. Would go for an upholstered headboard for a more luxurious, softer look. Maybe a natural linen. And then nightstands in the style of your vanity.
    ...See More
  • macv

    It is not possible to "patch" a cast-iron pipe. Obviously, someone has already tried that and it failed. I suspect the damage is caused by the roof support failing rather than the house settling. The broken portion of the pipe should be replaced with CI or plastic to keep sewer gas out of the house.

  • calliope

    Well, I think it's a fascinating room, and I'd want to preserve it too. Come to think of it, we also lived in an Edwardian era house when I was a teenager and the third floor was partially finished off, still with gas light fixtures. I was into painting then, and begged my mother to let me move to the little room on the third floor, and looking back, it was very like your with windows across the front, and I wanted a room to take advantage of the natural light. It would have been the trunk room. That's why I love homes of that era. Nooks and crannies and little private spaces. And all of them custom built with beautiful flowing lines. Good luck on your renovation.

  • slateberry

    Well, nobody came up with a ten point analysis of why I should restore the abandoned laundry boiler chimney, and the roof patch happily was not resting on it, so here it is coming down.

    Taking it down was surprisingly easy, but MESSY. The only tools I used were a hammer, a large old screwdriver, and a chisel. I was very glad I protected the floor before I started.

    The hardest part was carrying all the bricks down from the third floor and out to the backyard. Grunt work.

    Here is a picture of the patched walls where the chimney came out:

    I know it's a cliche, but the room feels much bigger and lighter now.

    This was my first drywall patching project and I was surprised at how easy it was to cut and shape drywall. I just used my quilting grid (to me, sewing and home improvement go hand in hand) and a carpet knife. Shimming was the hard part, but after a while I just kept doing trial fits until I got it right. Also I used finish nails instead of drywall screws to attach the shims so they wouldn't split.

    Here is my "what happened" hole, before and after:

    It turned out better than I expected.

    So now I am off to scrape out the numerous cracks in the original plaster to prepare for patching, and then I'm going to vacuum and clean like crazy before I start with the joint compound. It will be nice when I get to the skimming step; right now I have to shower every time I leave the room. I've never bathed so many times in a week in my life.

  • alison

    Nice work! Can't wait to see how your spacce progresses.

  • blackcats13

    Thanks for sharing!! Our house is old, AND lacking character, so I live vicariously through other's houses. I also enjoy sharing the pain of comments like "That's the thing about old houses; nothing surprises you after a while. " and "po tried to shore it up by stuffing socks and underwear in between the fieldstones." made me laugh right out loud!

  • slateberry

    Thanks Alison, I'll keep posting back.

    Blackcats, I don't think any house you live in could lack character for very long.

    Here is a link that might be useful: character where there was none before

  • sombreuil_mongrel

    I would fill a garden sprayer with a plaster bonding agent (like Link or Plasterweld) and after the floor was protected, with a sponge and bucket nearby to control drips, would spray the edges of the old plaster, and cracks, and for the heck of it, the new drywall patches. The bonding agent will seal the old plaster so it's not dusty/porous and will adhere the patching compound much better. I would apply a block coat of durabond to fill the seams, and after it's dry, use large sheets or mesh tape to cover the patches and overlay the cracks. If you could find 6" fine fiberglass mesh that would be okay, but the heavy blue fiberglass mesh would be a lot stronger. Then I would skim the whole thing with durabond once more to embed the mesh. After knocking down high spots, I would finish up floating it smooth with easysand. Once all the water had left (no longer felt cold and clammy) I would prime the whole room with oil primer (after taking the normal preparatory steps on the intact plaster areas). Then the work could be further skimmed if needed, or painted straight away.

  • worthy

    Now that sounds like a plan. All those patches--for instance, the nine pieces of drywall where two would do--need some mighty levelling.

  • slateberry

    Casey, thanks so much for your detailed post. I was talking to my neighbor about something to use on the cracks prior to patching them, and he couldn't remember what to call it. Now I know what to look for!

    I'm curious that you recommend starting with durabond and switching to easysand for the final steps. Just guessing, but is the rationale for this to get the benefits of the strength of the durabond, combined with the ease of sanding easysand on the outer layers, which get sanded the most anyway? Also i seem to remember an old thread someone posted on how one common type of joint compound does not get along well with old plaster and lath, and to avoid it. I think it might have been easysand. But it would make sense to use it on the outer layers for leveling and smoothing; at that point it wouldn't be touching plaster anyway. Now I gotta go dig that up to satisfy my curiousity.

    I've got almost an entire gallon of zinnser cover stain oil based primer in the basement, so that should work. This project has been nearly all labor and hardly any material costs. Oof, the labor though! Free, but finding the time has not been easy.

    Worthy, you are right, my patch pieces could have been bigger. My cousin blew out his back working with 4 x 8 sheets of drywall, and since then, I'll only work with the little pieces. I do like to think of myself as an amazon woman (once I had to carry two of my kids down a mountain in AZ bc they had a meltdown, and by golly I was not gonna be late for dinner at mil's), but I have a healthy respect for two things: full sheets of drywall, and any use of ladders beyond 12'. Actually 4, table saws and my mil. But she doesn't figure into my house projects very much.

  • sombreuil_mongrel

    The bonding agent obviates all material-compatability/bonding issues. Lime plaster isn't compatible with a pure gypsum top coat, but putting Link in between makes it okay.

  • slateberry

    Casey as usual you are one step ahead of me in your recommendation to use an oil-based primer. I say this because in preparation to carry out your instructions, I thought I'd go ahead and wash down the walls with TSP, and rinse too. In some places a lot of the color came off onto my cleaning cloths; in others, hardly any. But I suspect calcimine. Now I know why you recommended an oil-based primer! Thanks for lookin' out for me. Not quite pearls to swine, but almost.

    I scaped everywhere with a trowel prior to washing, so I've gotten all the obviously loose stuff off. I don't want to follow a full calcimine protocol at this point because even where a lot of color came off, as I continued to scrub with new cloths, I got to a point where hardly any more came off. If it was calcimine, I'd think it would just continue to wash off. And in no places did I get down to bare plaster just through washing.

    Still, I'd like to play it safe. I've got the zinsser cover stain oil primer, but there's also a Ben moore product for covering calcimine: Moorcraft super spec alkyd calcimine recoater 306. Only thing is, it's a finish coat paint, not a primer, and I really want to prime before I paint.

    I'm on the fence. Any suggestions out there?

  • sombreuil_mongrel

    Moore's alkyd enamel undercoater is the heaviest oil primer out there. It has the most solids (titanium oxide pigment) so it covers really well. It's my go-to for covering most stains, transitions where there are three things going on, like drywall+ new plaster repairs+ wallpaper paste.

  • slateberry

    That sounds really good. Now I just need a warm day so I can work with the windows open.


  • bulldinkie

    never heard of a trunk room,what is it?

  • sombreuil_mongrel

    Trunk room: a dedicated storage room in the attic of an upscale victorian house where trunks were stored between trips abroad. They typically fitted out an attic with a few finished rooms, a trunk room, a cedar closet, and if needed a maids room. A few years later the floorplans changed and along with them the rooflines were simplified and it became possible and therefore popular to have an attic ballroom. People entertained at home instead of taking long excursions by train or ship.
    The trunk room was usually the room that was the oddest-shaped or had the poorest light (smallest window). The cedar closet would have no window, and a very tight-fit dust-proof door, etc.

  • bulldinkie


  • hautinglu

    Slate --- can you school me on the unfinished pine floors? I have an addition on my old house thats 40x20 of unfinished pine that's been under a carpet for the last 30 yrs.

    I'm sort of dreading having to sand down and poly the floors, but I told myself I would do it this Spring.

    Your comment made me curious --- what does tung oil do to the floors? Would it work in med/high traffic areas?

    Here's a pic:


  • slateberry

    Hautinglu, I'd like to comment on your floors (short answer=beautiful!) and answer your question, but would you mind posting your question in a new thread? That way if others chime in, you will get emails notifying you that there is more input.


  • hautinglu

    Will do......I did a quick google search and another GW tung oil post came up. Thanks.

  • sombreuil_mongrel

    If the old pine never had a finish on it, oil will make it really dark. Just a heads-up. When exposed to oxygen, wood oxidizes, and when a finish is applied, the wood gets darker. And tung oil penetrates so deeply that it darkens wood more than other finishes that sit on the surface. My advice would be to test the wood with paint thinner, which will show what oil will do color-wise, but then safely evaporate and not leave a trace.
    A light sanding to remove dirt may be in order. Like hand-sanding with 220-grit with the grain, as you would hand-sand a piece of fine furniture
    The other worry I have, from personal experience, is that the edges may be a different color than the center. I had a closet that I dismantled, and the flooring ran from the room into the closet, and while the room floor had been finished, the closet never was, and the floor was quite a bit darker; I had to stain the rest of the floor to match the closet's color.

  • hautinglu

    sombreuil - its hard to tell from the pictures, but the flooring isn't perfect. The previous owner had a dog and I think some of it's pee soaked through the carpet over the past 30 yrs. Therefore, I was planning on going with a slightly darker stain. I'm still considering going with a farmhouse black (matte or glossy) since this is a farmhouse after all. But if I can get a nice color with Tung oil and protection without all the sanding, poly, and smell then I would still consider it.

    So I guess some question is still -- how well does Tung oil treated flooring hold up in medium/high traffic areas? This is going to be the TV/lounge area, but there will be rugs covering a lot of the flooring.


  • Moccasin

    I have to put this topic where I can find it again, because sombreuil's remarks about mating the surfaces is dead on what I need to do with our Alabama cottage. The walls are a cement plaster and about an inch thick. When I tore out the molded/mildewed old bath and the hall linen closet, the contractor put two layers of new wallboard up to face a new pocket door installation. Mating the wallboard with the existing plaster above is tedious work. Also, the same issue will come up when the changes to the back bedroom are made. The contractor also said to use alkyd enamel primer. But what you describe, sombreuil, is a complete solution and THAT is what I so desperately need.

    Our little cottage in Alabama was built in 1950, not old old like some of the houses of other members. But it 60 years old now, and the plaster was reinforced with wire mesh at the corners and where surfaces meet. No lathing, but some kind of wallboard with big holes in it to give the plaster cement a place to grip. And the exterior is a cement stucco with wire embedded in it too. Hubby says this house is not going down in a hurricane like our other one did. Thanks for the information

  • brickeyee

    "Mating the wallboard with the existing plaster above is tedious work."

    You make sure the wallboard is below the face of the plaster and cover the entire patch with compound to match the old plaster height.

    Nothing (including actual lime-plaster) is directly 'compatible' with old plaster except maybe pre-mixed mud (and that should not be used).

    The old stuff is dry, and will soak up water from any new material. Pre-mixed mud hardens by drying out, so it is unaffected.

    Setting type compound, and actual lime-plaster harden by chemical reaction. If they are allowed to dry out to fast they will not harden correctly, but remain weak and subject to powdering.

    Plaster bonding compounds are mostly just glue, like plain old white elmers (and that can be substituted if diluted with some water for painting on a thin coat).

    It slows the movement of water enough to allow the new material to set up before drying out.

    You can apply patching compounds directly to old wood lath or base coats of plaster, but dampen them or coat with bonding compound.

    I just use a small spray bottle for smaller jobs, and leave the garden sprayer for very large repairs.

    If you moisten the old work you do not need to worry about bonding compound.

    The water should not be dripping off the old stuff, just dampen it lightly.

  • slateberry

    Hey Hauntinglu, I'm dying to post about tung oil for your floors, where is that new thread? (And I do have an answer to your question about durability in high traffic areas.)

  • hautinglu

    On it's way Slate. I was feeling a bit guilty bacause I spent quiet a few hrs yesterday searching about Tung Oil. Figured I might try working today, but guess not ;)

  • slateberry

    You were refueling. Gardenweb is one of my favorite places to refuel before I plunge into whatever I'm trying to accomplish. Unfortunately, the more I read about here, the longer the list grows :-).

    Update on the room: I got the plaster bonding agent. I ended up getting Silpro Weld-o-bond because it was available locally, and it is labeled for bonding old plaster to gypsum materials. If you are in the greater Boston area this may be easier to find than Link or Plasterweld. I tried spraying it but I wimped out on the mess. Plus it was beading and dripping off the plaster, not soaking in. I ended up brushing it into the cracks with a small (1 1/4") Purdy brush. I had to make multiple passes as the first pass would apply, second would break surface tension, and subsequent ones would provide more liquid to absorb. I also thinned it nearly 50/50 with water per label instructions.

    It is fantastic! No more crispy crumblies! I can run my finger down a crack, and it does not rain sand down on me. I wish I'd known about this before; it is great stuff. At $12/gallon, it's a cheap lifetime supply.

    Today I am moving some cabinets around in my kitchen so that the refrigerator can open fully (it has been flush to a side wall since we moved in 2 years ago). Wish I'd thought of this before. Of course, the cabinets are 50 years old and nailed in 50 different ways, so it's a bear to get them out. I'll be using screws to put them back :-). Hopefully I will finish that today and then it's back to the trunk room.

  • slateberry

    Brickeyee wrote: "Nothing (including actual lime-plaster) is directly 'compatible' with old plaster except maybe pre-mixed mud (and that should not be used)."

    Just wondering, anyone know why not?

    Also, here is a link to someone (actually, the mayor of Dayton, OH) who is using traditional lime plaster on his walls:

    Here is a link that might be useful: Scroll down to Aug.2 then read upwards

  • slateberry

    oops, never mind my question about pre-mixed mud. Dh just pointed out that I read brickeyee's post too fast. d'ope!

  • igloochic

    Slate, I have to see if I have a pic on my other computer (which will take a while since it's still packed somewhere) but we almost purchased a house with floor that looked just like yours (floor boards going right to the base...). We only noticed this because the majority of the trunk room had it's original leather floor and some was missing on one end by the chimney where they'd had repair issues way back when. We went back and looked at how the leather was wrapped around the end of the floor board and that butted cleanly right up to the baseboard. GORGEOUS floor...I wanted that damn house...heck I still do and when the old gal kicks the bucket...I may still make a run at it...ok that's rude but still...crazy old woman with a gorgeous house seems to be what we focus on when purchasing LOL

  • blackcats13

    Aw, thanks Slateberry! We actually have some charm coming soon I hope! And thanks for that blog link, I may be able to pull some good ideas from that :)

    Funny note - I clicked your link to your octagon room in the thread about closets and thought - I've seen this house before (which I love by the way)! And then realized that was the same house/person as this trunk room thread. It's fun to link 'people' to houses =D

  • belle_phoebe

    Just saw this post, and my vote was to keep the chimney, at least on the two lower floors. If you want to make this a bathroom, and the same room directly below, you will need a chase to take the plumbing lines down to your basement or 1st floor. Your non-functioning chimney will make this a whole lot easier. We just added a bathroom on our second floor and used an old laundry chute for this very same purpose. It was a lifesaver! Good luck with your work.

  • sombreuil_mongrel

    If, and only if the chimney went down in a straight line, with no offsets, would it be possible to utilize it as a plumbing chase. Even then, it would have to be located where the plumber would need it, and it would need to be open at the bottom so that the 3" stack could be fed up through it in small sections. With all of these limiting factors, it's usually not even possible. Demolishing the chimney the rest of the way to the basement would in fact yield a very useful mechanical chase for plumbing, electrical, heating and air conditioning uses, if properly fire-stopped.

  • slateberry

    Well at last I have some "after" photos for this project. I'd like to thank all of you for your input, I am really happy with the results, and I think the repairs will perform well thanks to the quality of advice I received.

    chimney before:


    and after:

    vent pipe wall before:

    vent pipe wall during:

    pipe wall after:

    window wall before:

    window wall after:

    and my favorite, I got the classic accents push button switch:

    I buffed the brass with a blue (or was it green) scotch pad to give the switch plate a burnished look.

    Incidentally I figured out the extensive cuts and holes near the knee walls were made when the p.o. was thinking about adding hvac ducts and registers to the room, but then abandoned that idea.

  • kimkitchy

    slateberry, thanks for posting your finished trunk room pics! I love seeing how people's projects turned out, and yours looks great! Kudos!

  • blackcats13

    Thanks for the follow up, nice job!!

Need help with an existing Houzz order? Call 1-800-368-4268