Front parlor floor

Our house has many beautiful period details: mantels, moldings, pier mirrors, wainscoting… but the floors are a whole different matter.

When we moved, every single room had some kind of floor covering. The third floor, was all stick-on tile. The parlor floor was mostly parquet laminate and ceramic tile and the same for the garden level. Unlike carpet, removing sticky tiles or glued-on laminate usually leaves behind a trail of destruction and an unholy mess, so we proceed with caution.

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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.

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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: Continue reading

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. Continue reading

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.

Progress in the Garden Hallway

The Pink Lady  has been throwing us some curve balls lately. No, not the doorbell that rings randomly (it seems as we have a ghost that locked itself out and wants back in. I call her Constance). Our biggest problem is that the mechanical systems are organizing a mutiny and a general strike of Greek proportions. Oy!

So let’s talk about something different entirely, shall we? Here is some good before/after stuff that is far more fun that plumbing, BTUs and wiring:

Remember what the floor looked like when we bought the house?

This shot extra dark and gloomy to illustrate exactly how we felt about this part of the house

Looking towards the front of the house (the door leads to the entrance under the stoop)

Well, through the creative use of a crow bar, some elbow grease and the magic of turning round bamboo into flat flooring, we now have this:

Work in progress: the floor is in, just missing the trim pieces

There is still some work left to be done in this area, but one more weekend and it should be done. Woo hoo!

Floor choices….

The floor by the garden level entrance used to look like this:

Crazy tile

Unfortunately, the previous owner used actual cement to lay the tiles over the existing wood floors. His sandwich consisted of original floor/linoleum/wire mesh/cement/ugly ass tile. Once we removed all this, the floors looked like this:

Garden level hallway - minus crazy tile

The floor boards were brittle and dry rotted in many spots. The consensus was that we would repair the rotted spots and use it as a sub floor for a new layer of hard wood. We wanted something durable, economical and environmentally friendly. We pulled some samples

The choices

And decided on this one:

The winner

It’s a bamboo floor in a finish that complements what is already at the house. It is also hardest of all the samples we had and since this will be the tenant’s main entrance, we needed something that can withstand a fair amount of abuse.