A Detroit-area contractor hosts Walls & Ceilings on a walk-thru of his latest project.

A 6,000-square-foot addition to their 4,000-square-foot home is transforming the Captina family's residence from domestic to cosmopolitan. Every assortment of contractor is making a mark on the renovation. And somewhere in the mix, something has to has to happen to those walls and ceilings.

Beyond the basics, a notable job of woodwork is featured in a winding staircase that leads to a dome and gallery, the former being a complex geometric layout and the latter a memory lane of sorts highlighting family portraits and moments. The Captina family wanted a classy finish that would complement its pictorial history.

Subcontracted in the fall of 2000 to begin work on the dome area is Derek McDonagh, owner of McDonagh's Paint & Design, of Taylor, Mich. McDonagh's practices on mostly residential homes with a strong emphasis on historic and unique units.

"Since the dome was part of the original construction of the home, there was an existing finish on the walls that needed to be replaced," says McDonagh. "Considering the scope of the dome, prep work had to be done to the space. This entailed the scraping of the deteriorating sand finish off of the unorthodox frame."

First-round knockdown

Beyond the removal of the existing finish, a great many corners had to be replaced. Seams were split. Thankfully, not all had to be repaired. When Walls & Ceilings visited the job site, the dome had been completed and the gallery process was about to begin. Since the gallery was the next destination, precautionary set-up began for the memory lane.

Knockdown texture, like different finishes, is not so much material as conceptual. It does not matter if plaster or joint compound is used--it is the process that creates the term. It is commonly a plaster technique with crevices and concave appearances. For this job, the application was applied very subtly using joint compound, however greater dramatics could be created if desired. McDonagh's team used USG's Durabond 90 for this job.

To a freshly hung landscape of drywall, even without doing beveled edges, knockdown is a technique of wonder; it requires a minimal amount of patience and touch. These walls in particular were not flush. McDonagh is relieved that the drywall portion of the job wasn't his contract--because the job left something to be desired in the way of quality--but considering the circumstances, the knockdown procedure worked in everyone's favor.

"Not only did the drywall contractors hang board that wasn't flush, the electricians had steamrolled through the ceiling, cutting up drywall all around," McDonagh says. "With knockdown, the crew was able to go in, do the job (along with some minor repair to the drywall), and take care of the texture.

"You don't have to be perfect at troweling because this is knockdown," he goes on to say. "I'm not trying to achieve any mill depth with the compound."

Extra texture

McDonagh and crew are not immune to the obstacles that tend to plague contractors. Fortunately for McDonagh, a system for dealing with what the industry termed "rat holes" was discovered and presented long ago: There's no way out of the repair, so to figure out the best and easiest method makes the set back of a schedule very minimal. So with this scenario of the electricians littering the ceilings with holes looking for cords and boxes, McDonagh just grabs waste rock lying around.

"We know it's a hassle to repair this, but since it has to be done, we know a good way to fix this, and, conveniently, we don't have to spend a lot of time with it," explains McDonagh. "Since this ceiling calls for knockdown, not a great deal of attention has to be placed to sanding and finishing the repair patches. Sure, it has to be flush, taped and mudded, but finishing isn't a concern--we can place the texture right over this."

Like many contractors that find themselves on the job without patch products, McDonagh cut the damaged hung drywall to rounded off, even inches. He then takes the scrap drywall that was to be pitched as waste (in matching thickness) and cuts it roughly 2 inches larger than the other cut. Then he cuts the rock inside the scrap stock to match the dimensions on the ceiling, and cuts it without cutting the paper on any given side. The cut drywall should slide snuggly into the ceiling, with the paper flapping on all sides, ready to have mud applied over the borders to make it a better secured repair.

When it came time for the knockdown to begin, the duo crew of McDonagh and employee Brian Meade followed each other, McDonagh slopping gobs of joint compound on the ceiling, and Meade following closely with a damp rag. The company is fond of this type of texture because it is a process that, if done right, can offer owners a classy veneer, while the work for the contractors goes quickly. In fact, the team finished in enough time to illustrate the last step of sanding the finish (the ceiling had to dry overnight before the blanket of compound could be worked on).

"Knockdown is desirable on all levels," enthuses McDonagh. "It's economical, aesthete, not too complex and doesn't require the labor time that using traditional plaster warrants. The possibilities of creating this type of organic finish with joint compound should be inspiring."

McDonagh's Method for Drywall Repair

Step 1: Cut and even out damaged drywall to nearest inch.

Step 2: Match damaged drywall stock in both type and size, but leave paper 1 to 2 inches greater than hung board.

Step 3: Fit cut board into hung drywall, applying mud over paper flaps.

McDonagh's Method for Knockdown Texture

Step 1: Apply Durabond 90 (or any joint compound that can dry quickly) to fill gaps between the drywall and the molding.

Step 2: With a large-sized trowel, apply generous portions of the mix and spread it without any particular care to style.

Step 3: Continue to spread it around the ceiling.

Step 4: Use a damp cotton rag to moisten up the compound that?s beginning to set. In place of a rag and different styles of knockdown, a trowel, sponge or even a corn broom are options for the aesthetically ambitious.

Step 5: Take the damp rag snug against the ceiling and pull down gently to produce a texture that resembles a cave or stalagmite look.

Step 6: With a wide trowel, smooth over all the protrusions on the ceiling created from the rag. This takes away any brittle or protruding surface from the ceiling but leaves indentations that create a hollow-like veneer.

Step 7: Take a low-grade sander and gently brush off any existing protrusions on the texture.