Kitchen Floor Band Aid

Our 1895-ish brownstone was originally designed as a 2-family house.  The rental apartment was on the top floor, with an owner’s duplex occupying the garden and parlor floors. But you knew that already.

This arrangement has always seemed weird to me, because it means that the most ornate floor of the house, the parlor with it’s fancy-ish entrance, is mostly closed-off. When we bought our house, after more than a decade of having upstairs neighbors (and all the fun that goes along with that – water leaks, office chair derby, loud children), we decided it was enough. We set up our house as an owner’s duplex over a garden rental. This means we get to use our fancy-ish entry way, but in return we also have the very small top floor rental kitchen, as the original owner’s duplex kitchens in brownstones were always on the back of the garden level.

Some day when we win the lottery save enough money, we will move the kitchen to the parlor level and create the 1920s kitchen of my dreams. Until then, we make do with tight cooking quarters. How tight of cooking quarters, you may ask? Tight enough that the fridge is in a separate room.

Besides the lack of space (and proper appliances) the biggest problem with the kitchen is the floor. I wrote at length about my hatred of stick on tile, and how the top floor of the house was covered in 3+ layers of wall to wall stick on tile. I HATE STICK ON TILE! That, you definitely knew.

The kitchen and the skinny hallway that leads to it were the only spots where I didn’t pull up the tile, thinking (ha ha) that a new kitchen was in the near future. In the 4 years we’ve been in the house, the stick on tile did what stick on tile does, and it moved around. The trail of adhesive was a magnet for dirt and proved to be impervious to cleaning, leaving faux grout lines of dirt.  It was gross. It had to go.

Because the kitchen is (allegedly) just temporary, I didn’t want to spend a lot of money on the floor. This room is still into play (I want it to be my office, the husband wants to turn it into a bathroom), so there is no sense in going all fancy with a floor that will likely get ripped up. I started looking for options and actually looked at stick on tile (gasp!) but thankfully was able to stop myself before having to sink so low. Turns out, there is a vinyl floor product that is basically a tongue and groove floating floor. Who knew? Not me, since EEEW, vinyl!


It’s a special order at Lowe’s, so I grabbed some free samples (which come to think of it, the kitchen is so small, it would technically be possible to use just samples. Hmmmm…) Anyway, I eventually  swallowed my pride, placed my order for a (yuck) vinyl floor and never looked back. It certainly looks immensely better than the peach sea shell motif we had, and while somewhat flipper grade, it’s a good compromise for something we hope is temporary. When we are ready to remove it, the boards will pull right up and can be re-used elsewhere (or donated to Build it Green). No muss, no fuss, nothing into the landfill.

This is what the floor used to look like. Grossest portion not pictured.



The skinny hallway had some really sloppy flooring installation – the excess flooring was just bent around the baseboard, rather than being trimmed.


We started peeling off the layers, and found this:


Everything came up very easily, and the pine floor was surprisingly not all that sticky.


But nothing is ever easy, and  you know there has to be a catch. There is always a catch. In this case, rotted floorboards by the window. What started as a 1-day project became more like a weekend project.


The rotted floor was repaired, as was the wonky woodwork under the window (you can see the panel removed in one of the photos)


Additional delays included union mandated cat feeding, which meant all work had to stop until the cats were good and ready to move out of the way.

We chose the Platinum Oak pattern, mostly because it hid dirt well and only minimally clashed with the cabinets. Would a darker floor look better? Sure? Does this one looks like something you’d see in a cheap flip? You bet. But it looks clean, most of the time.




Happy New Year

It’s been a while since the last post, a perfect storm laziness, heavy work load at our day jobs and a good amount of House Paralysis. (House Paralysis is a real condition with symptoms including indecision, moroseness, and a general lack of enthusiasm for any and all home projects. Unfortunately there is no cure for this condition, other than time and impending house guests).

After the rush of getting the house ready for guests, the work slowed to a crawl – that is until a few days ago, when our front parlor went from this:

Floor before

Floor before datail

To this:

after first sanding

Work in progress: stripped and sanded (sort of)

We have been meaning to do something about junky parquet laminate for a while. Not only did it give the room a 1970s look, it also was so poorly installed, it kept coming up and getting stuck to our feet. The laminate parquet tiles came off fairly easily. They were glued onto stick on vinyl tiles, which in turn were glued to the painted wood.

(oh how I hate stick on tiles.)

We first pulled up the laminate, which brought with it the stick on laminate. Miraculously, the damage to the wood floor was pretty minimal.

Laminate removal

For some dumb reason, there was one vinyl tile that was glued directly onto the wood with some absurd super-duper glue. This of course was right in the middle of the room (because of course it was):


We then stripped the glue residue and paint using Zip Strip.

Floor stripping

It all came off fairly quickly and easily. The floor definitely shows its age. There are lots of dings and grooves and evidence of some very indecisive furniture placement – “Put that big heavy thing here. No, move it over there. Wait, never mind. Move it back…”

Stripped not sanded

Stripped floor before first sanding. 

There were so many different types of paint on this floor. Strangely, they were not many layers, but different patches of floor, painted different colors. Go figure.

two tone floor

A different section of the floor, before the first sanding

So now the paint is gone and the first sanding is done (it needs one more pass to smooth out some of the rougher areas).  Because the temperature drop just before the New Year, we decided to hold off on the finishing. It’s too cold to properly cross ventilate the house. We have an asthmatic cat, so we don’t want to aggravate this crusty lungs.

Originally we thought our house had hardwood parquet with a two tone border, just like other houses within our row. But our seemingly original baseboards tell a different story. I think our floors were always pine, and perhaps covered with a ground cloth or rugs. Victorians loved their rugs, after all.

Anyway, we think we can rock the pine floors, and have decided to just go ahead and finish them as soon as temps climb a few degrees. After all, we’re pretty happy with how the pine held up in out upstairs bedroom.

Finished floors

To be honest, I didn’t think this day would ever come. This August it will be 2 years since we last occupied our bedroom. The whole bedroom saga started with this, this, then this, this, a little progress here and finally the floors.

The bedroom project has been the perfect example of how things to go for us: wild enthusiasm, followed by huge list of things that need to be addressed before we get to do what we really want to do, followed by a period of moroseness, and finally completion – well, mostly completed.

This is what the floors looked like before we started.

Floor before

Here it is after the broken boards were replaced and the whole thing was sanded.

Floor first sanding

One coat of stain (Minwax Mahogany)


We went with a dark-ish stain because of some damage that a lighter stain might not cover. Also kinda loving the trippy grain pattern that the stain brought out. The floors are far from perfect – and we’re OK with that, after all they are over 120 years old.  Gone are the sprinters, the squeaky boards and the huge gaps between some of the boards.

This is what it looks like after the first coat of wax:


I realize wax is an unusual choice, and may be one that we regret later on, as it’s untested against the formidable adversary that is cat vomit. I grew up in a house where the floors were waxed, and we have lived in plenty of rentals with poorly applied polyurethane. Wax gives the floors a lovely texture and it is not overtly shiny. Compounding the choice for wax is the fact that we put Tung Oil on our floors a couple of years ago. According to people who know more than we do, once you apply Tung Oil, you can’t do Polyurethane, even after much sanding. Why? I have no idea, but that’s what the cook kids say.

Next up, paint!

We are on track to move our stuff back into the room this Saturday, a full day before our guests arrive. Nothing like waiting until the last possible minute…

Floor is starting to look purdy!

While we clearly have issues with priorities, we’re not total slackers. There has been progress on the bedroom project.

This is what the floors look like after the repair and first sanding:


One more round of sanding, then onto staining and finishing it up.


Of course we can’t agree on color, nor can we agree on finish – he wants poly and I want wax. But I suppose we’ll cross that bridge when we come to it.

Baby steps… baby steps…

An ode to our pine floors

(this is long).

(I promise I will make a point eventually).

(or not).

As part of the epic never-ending bedroom restoration, it’s time to tackle the floors.

The third floor of our house was covered with vinyl tiles. Way before we knew better, we had high hopes of peeling back the stick-on tiles and finding beautiful hardwood, just waiting to be re-finished. The reality was a sticky mess of 4 (sometimes 5) layers of vinyl tile and a couple of layers of paint on a pine floor. Pine! Not hardwood: we have pine. Sticky, icky pine.

After pulling up all the stick-on tile, and stripping the paint, we were left with a floor that was in OK shape, except for where it was not. We did some sanding and slapped on a coat of Tung Oil, figuring these floors would eventually get covered up with proper hardwood – after all, pine is soft and does not a proper hardwood floor make. We figured we’d probably destroy it with our chairs, our cats and their never-ending supply of puke. Yet 3 years and 1 2 5 cats later, the floors are still fine (except for where they are not, but that was a pre-existing condition). What I mean is that the pine held up beautifully – no nicks or dings and cat vomit cleans right up. The bigger problem is that some boards are splintering, which is not only unsightly, but also unpleasant to walk on in bare feet. We have splintering boards, broken boards and enormous gaps in some areas.

Floor Pic copy

Please excuse the filthy floor. This was taken in the bedroom construction zone.

Because wood floors will contract and expand, fixing the gaps can be tricky. Some suggest using sawdust and wood filler. A lot of people say to just leave them as is. The problem is that in some spots, the gaps are so wide that you can actually drop things in it – valuable things like heirloom jewels (not that we have any), and of course, the gaps also collect a spectacular amount of dirt (which we do have copious amounts of).  So the problem needs to be addressed.

A few months ago, when the house behind us was being gutted, I asked the demo crew if I could have some of their “trash.” I salvaged a huge pile of lumber (trim, crowns, fireplace mantels, wainscoting, shutters), and also a big pile of pine subfloor. The pine used for sub-flooring in these houses is not your average Home Depot cheap-o pine. It’s old growth/slow growth stuff. It’s the type of wood you can’t get anymore, since all those trees are gone (probably because the Victorians used ’em all up). In order to repair our floor we needed a stockpile of similarly old floorboards, of the same type of tree. This is what old growth pine looks like (this is a piece of the salvaged floor):

Old Growth Pine

Look at all those pretty tightly packed growth rings. This was a slow-growing old tree. The piece above is about 1″ thick.

Overachievers as they were, the Victorian-era builders ran their floorboards from end to end of the house: they go into the walls in the front and back and under all the walls in between; frequently it’s one board running most of the length (some really old, really tall trees). This also means that the demo crews destroy a lot of the floors when pulling them up (the tongue and groove usually gets broken and the boards just get hacked into smaller pieces). We salvaged a good pile, but in hindsight, I wish I had not been so picky and grabbed more. Regardless, we have enough to get us started on the upstairs projects.

The hubs did some research and came across the English way to fix old floors. Given that the Brits have lots of old buildings, we figured it was probably sound advice. So here is what we did (and by we, I mean he – my only involvement was befriending the demo crew, transporting and hoarding all this lumber).

First he took a stack of the salvaged floor to a wood shop, where things whirl and buzz and bigger things get milled town to smaller things, and tongue and grove thing-a-ma-jigs get made (luckily the boards salvaged were wider than ours, so milling them down and shaping new tongue/groove is no problem):

tonge and groove

The re-making of tongue and groove. These became the replacement boards for the broken ones. 

He also made a pile of very thin strips of the same old-growth pine to be used as gap-fillers:


If flooring could be a potato chip, it would look like this.

Back home, he shimmied the strips into the gaps:


Always looks worse before it looks better

He then trimmed off the excess and sanded everything down.

shimming the shims

Gaps gone!


The broken boards were replaced in sections, so that only the bad parts were removed (given our limited supply of replacement parts).

Once all the shims have been trimmed and the bad sections of floor replaced, the whole thing will get sanded and finished.

(we can’t agree on what type to finish to use – but I suppose we’ll cross that bridge once we get there).

About the point I promised to make: floors are usually not too far gone to be brought back. No living trees were harmed in the fixing of this floor. This didn’t really cost us anything, except for some wood glue and sand paper. So there is that.

(I think that’s 3 points – and a whole lot of rambling)

But the bigger question remains: will this be ready in 42 days before our guests arrive?

Thou shalt not be lazy and not tile under the counters.

For the past few months, our focus has been to get the rental apartment in shape and get it rented. As experienced tenants, we focused on changing the things that we would like as tenants (hello laundry!) and prioritized accordingly. Unfortunately our budget does not permit a full overhaul of the place (I’m talking to you ugly kitchen tile).

This is what the kitchen tile looks like. It’s so awful it’s almost amazing. Almost.

One of the major issues we wanted to address was the kitchen. It was too large. Yes. Huge. For a one bedroom apartment the kitchen was enormous. So we set out to make it smaller. As part of this process, we removed a center island that served no other purpose than to hold the cook top, while the oven sat all by its lonesome in the prime stove spot.

Well, surprise surprise, there was no tile under the island. We looked ahead of time, but the hole we cut through the island floor apparently was not far enough in and ta-da! We’re left with this.

The area is 10 sq ft. And a much bigger headache

Great, right? I’m sure this probably seemed like a good idea at the time. But it has put a pretty major cramp in our reno.  And so the great ugly tile hunt begins. As predicted, there is no matching tile to be found.  After much searching around, I found a passable match-ish (I kid. It looks nothing like it, but it’s the same size and thickness. 2 out of 3…)

The background pattern and the finish are kinda similar.

It is by no means perfect, but I think in the grand scheme of things it will work. The spot is right in the middle of the kitchen and it screams for a kitchen table (and I’m guessing a rug).

A lengthy post about (what else) floors

Flooring has been an ongoing topic – like a broken record… The Pink Lady has a ton of original detailing, like woodwork, mantels, intricate plaster detailing on the ceilings. Sadly, the floors are also original, but not in a good way. They are pine. Why? Well, because there was a time when the Victorians felt that wood floors were not fashionable and should be covered with rugs. As such, they used cheap pine as flooring material knowing they would be covering it with rugs and painted floor cloths and whatnots. (The Victorians sometimes painted canvas to look like wood and put that on top of their cheap wood floors. Perhaps they are to blame for the invention of imitation wood vinyl tiles?) A quick Google search revealed that floor cloths (or oil cloths) cost anywhere from 11 to 35 cents a yard, depending on width and intricacy of pattern.

I’m not sure about the top floor, but on the parlor floor, there would have been parquet over the pine. Yeah… we don’t have it anymore. Instead, we have cheap stick on parquet. Yey! Anyway, floor cloth of fancy parquet aside, we have to deal with pine. Splintering pine.

Anyway… back to our pine floors in present day, our progress documented here, herehere and here. The bulk of the work took place on the third floor, which was covered in many layers of sticky vinyl tile over a foundation of splinters. Some rooms looked OK, while others seemed beyond salvaging.

Peeling layers of vinyl tile with the help of my trusty Rival iron. I really hate vinyl tile. A lot.

After removing the layers of vinyl tile, Task #1 was to strip the paint. The amount of residual gunk and glue left behind from the vinyl tiles, plus the thickness of the many layers of paint made it impossible to skip this step. No sander would cut through that mess. Cue the Peel Away 6! Many weeks elapsed, many buckets of paint stripper were applied (and dutifully scrubbed off) and eventually the floor was mostly free of paint. Stripping paint is incredibly messy and unglamorous work, not to mention mind-numbingly tedious. Luckily we didn’t have to worry about lead paint. By some amazing stroke of luck, tests came back negative for lead.  On the subject of toxicity,  while Peel Away 6 is non-toxic and I used low odor/low VOC mineral spirits, I found out the hard way that mineral spirits and my face were not meant to co-exist. Life got a whole lot better once I got a face shield to protect me from spraying chemicals. Moral of the story, wear protective gear even if it makes you look like a demented nerd from a 1980s movie.

The paint stripping process in progress. Working in small areas seemed to work best. 

Most of the paint gone. Woo hoo!

Once the paint was (mostly) removed, Task #2 was to fix the broken boards. Several were lifting and needed to be secured back in place. On a side note, I did peek under the flooring only to find, to my dismay, construction detritus dating back to the original construction of the house. I always imagined the masons and carpenters of centuries past to be very neat and tidy. Apparently not so much.

Hubs fixing the floor. All weekend carpenters wear flannel shirts, yes?

Check out the purdy floors, ready for sanding. 

Once all the boards were secured, Task #3 was to sand. Since pine is a soft wood, and since there was heavy splintering in some areas, we were concerned that a belt sander might be too powerful and do the floor in. In speaking with a friend who recently did his floors, he recommended a random orbital sander. We tried it. The floors mocked it. It didn’t make a dent. Back to the drawing board we went. Still afraid of the belt sander, we went totally low tech with a hand-held belt sander. Yes. Hand held. As in on your hands and knees. After putting a lot of mileage on his knee pads, the hubs finished the three main rooms of the top floor.

Next came what was possibly the hardest decision to make about this whole floor thing: what to put on it? After spending so much quality time with our floors, we really didn’t want to do it agin in the near (or far) future. The no brainer choice would be some type of polyurethane based product. It lies on top of the floor (it’s not absorbed by it) and would provide a layer of protection between our feet and the inevitable splinters. The problem with poly is that it tends to have that gym floor look. Also, it will yellow as it ages and it will require refinishing at some point down the road. In researching options, Tung Oil kept coming up. It’s a natural product made from a nut that is indigenous to China. It is absorbed by the wood and repels water beautifully. The Chinese have been using it as a sealant on the hulls of their boats since more or less forever. Since the oil is absorbed by the wood, it unfortunately doesn’t provide  splinter protection. On the plus side, should the wood ever start looking dull, all you need to do is lightly sand it with some steel wool and re-apply some more Tung Oil.

In my mind, the most serious drawback is that floors treated with Tung Oil will not take Poly later one. Whether this is totally true I’m not sure, but we decided to go with the Tung Oil anyway. The fact that it is non-toxic was a huge plus for me, given that it was the middle of winter and proper ventilation would be a challenge. Thus far it has worked well, with an unexpected side effect: when we clean the floors with a damp cloth, the room smells like almonds!

The floors are now on hiatus. We’re not sure what we’re going to do next: cover with a new layer of wood, since some of the rooms still have some areas of questionable appearance? Take a cue from the Victorians and buy some more rugs? Search salvage place for replacement boards and fix the ugly/uneven ones? We don’t really know, and since the third floor is going to be undergoing some major renovations in the years to come the floor, in its current state, is livable. For now.