Piece of History: If Walls Could…Whinny?
A couple of weeks ago when we tore out the kitchen cabinets, we found some pretty cool old wallpaper (which, of course, I took photos of). Well, as we were tearing out the plaster this past weekend, I found yet another pattern of wallpaper that once graced this kitchen.
If your monitor has a high enough resolution to notice something bizarre and a little disturbing about this photo, click “More” to find out what it is.
So my reaction when I first started picking up plaster was as follows:
“AH! What the heck is THAT?!”
Okay, I didn’t say ‘heck.’ But seriously, the hairs were very unexpected. Luckily, the internet was there to solve this mystery. As it turns out, what we’re looking at is called horsehair plaster.
But let’s back up and talk about lath and plaster walls in general. Up until the 1950s, interior walls in the United States were built with lath and plaster. Wood laths, narrow strips of wood about 2 inches wide, were nailed horizontally to wall studs, about 1/4 inch apart. Plaster would then be applied over the lath strips, which in the process would ooze between the lath pieces for a better hold. That oozing is called “keying,” and it is essential to the plaster staying on the wall. That’s where the horse hair comes in.
Plaster was traditionally made of lime, and to reinforce it they added horse hair. These fibers held the plaster together to prevent cracking, and more specifically, it prevented the keys from breaking away from the wall plaster. Fiberglass fibers eventually replaced horse hair as the anti-cracking ingredient.
Now, I have been asked if we will be putting up new plaster, and here’s the situation: the plaster that was in the house when we bought it was essentially destroyed by a previous owner. It looked like someone had taken a baseball bat to most of the walls. The walls that hadn’t been beaten within an inch of their life had been painted (poorly) so many times that the texture was not smooth. Because we do not have the skill nor the money to have the extensive damage to the plaster repaired, we decided to tear it out–what we’ve been doing since Friday. We will replace it with sheet rock because of comparative cost. It’s a shame, but we think that in the grand scheme of things I think it will be okay.
And on the upside, at least we’ll have vegan walls.