So our apt is in an old house - turn of the century - 1902 I think? - which can be interesting. One of the not so fantastic features of the apt are the Calcimine coated ceilings!
From Wikipedia: "Whitewash, or calcimine, kalsomine, or calsomine is a very low cost type of paint made from slaked lime (calcium hydroxide) and chalk (whiting). "
Basically, it was a cheap way to "paint" the plaster ceilings. Unfortunately, modern paints do not adhere to calcimine. Exacerbated by the lack of a venting fan in my bathroom, the coat of flat paint my landlord put on 3 years ago was peeling off pretty badly.
Over labor day weekend I scraped, primed with Zinsser Bullseye primer, (I learned later they have a specific Calcimine coater called Gardz - oh well!) and rolled two coats with a white semi-gloss. I also used some joint compound to try to fix the poor condition of the bottom half of the walls - painted over plastic tiles. The "grout" lines were easy to see, and the old paint had split in certain areas.
It's far from perfect - I couldn't scrape off all the peeling paint, and was unwilling to spend days going through the entire scrape, sand, scrub process that is recommended. I'm hoping the semi gloss will act as a better moisture barrier than the old flat paint, and I'll touch up as new areas flake. The ceiling is now..."rustic", ha ha ha. The only real solution would be new drywall, and since I don't own the place, this temporary solution will have to do!
I'll post about how this fix holds up over time - hopefully this will be good for a while.
For more info on Calcimine: Cures for Calcimine Ceilings
Next step is to coat the white base walls with color! We chose a soft grey, and I'll post pics when we get it done. Bye Bye horrible red and yellow!
Update - here's the finished ceiling - I call it "rustic"