The front parlor flooring at the Roff Home is finished! (See a video of the flooring on YouTube!)
It was quite an ordeal this summer: taking up the plywood that covered the floor, removing varnish and paint covering the planks, and then sanding and sanding and sanding. (Read more and see photos before varnish removal.)
The biggest decisions in this process were:
- How much to sand both the border and the planks? When was enough, enough?
- Yikes! The planks and the border are made of woods that don’t match. Should I stain the planks, and if so, what color?
We answered the sanding question by figuring out how much to sand the worst areas, and then sanding the rest of the flooring to match. Most of the border could have done with a light sanding, but the area under the arch as well as the entranceway had experienced the brunt of wear and tear over the last 140 years, because that’s what was stepped on the most. We found that the only thing that could plow underneath the dirt, grime, wear and water marks was to get out the belt sander and sand away.
Regarding color, we realized early on that when the planks on the flooring were wet, they took on a red tone that clashed with the border. I’ve read online that these planks were not meant to be seen in Victorian parlors, or at most they would be exposed part of the year and covered with an oil cloth or oriental rug the rest of the year.
Indeed, when we took up the plywood, we found that there were still small grommets along the edge of the plank flooring where an oil cloth or oriental rug could have been pinned down. This probably meant that this plank flooring was not meant to be seen by the public. We left the grommets in place and cleaned them up during the floor renovation. I think that they are an interesting historical detail that helps shed light on how people used to decorate the home.
Back to what color to stain the plank flooring. In a word, I obsessed over it. I didn’t want the planks to overwhelm the border. I discussed the choice of stain at length with anyone who would listen. Some people said lighter. Others said darker. Others said, “stop talking to me about stain.” My initial inclination was to stain the floor a color darker than the border and then the border would appear to float above it. I tried several dark stains and all I can say is, wow, that didn’t work. So then I went for lighter stains. I tried several of those, and the one that seemed to match the best was Honey Maple 117 from Zar.
I ended up doing two coats. When it was wet and still drying, the planks still had some heavier red tones to them, but once they dried, they became a pretty good match with the lighter wood in the border. If you watch the video or look at these pictures of the finished floor, you can still see some of the red tones, but they are not as prominent as they used to be and there is more of a balance between the planks and the border.
(And by the way, I’ve learned to ignore the indications for floor coverage on the back of cans for stain and floor finish. I would read the can at the store, and it would say that there was enough product in the can to cover a certain area. So I’d stand there, imagine the size of the front parlor, calculate out the square footage, and then buy the can that most closely matched the space I needed to cover. Then a few hours later, I’d run out of product with still half the floor to go, and I’d be making a mad dash back to the hardware store. Either my floors are super thirsty, or Zar and Minwax put those numbers on there just for fun.)
Once the stain was dry, I began doing the floor finish. For the planks, I used a Varathane oil-based floor finish. It’s that kind that they just banned. So I got the last cans of it. I did three coats of the Varathane on the planks and three coats of a Minwax polyurethane finish on the border.
I like the way that it turned out. What do you think?
When I was sanding the flooring in the front room, I found that the plank flooring is quite soft. If anything too heavy or too pointed sits on it, I’m left with a blemish. So new rule: no stilettos, no bike shoes, no cleats, or lances in the front parlor — at least until I can find a finish of some kind that will create a diamond-hard surface. After all this work, I don’t want to see the planks get damaged.
The 80-20 Rule: Some Minor Details
I’ve found with this house that the 80-20 rule applies: you spend 20% of your time and effort doing 80% of the work, and then the other 80% of your time doing the remaining 20%. To really completely absolutely finish the floor, I have to find solutions to the following minor to not-so-minor details:
- deal with an entrance to the crawl space through the front parlor (when there is a basement, why is there a need for a big hole in the front parlor flooring?). The big hole is in front of a radiator and is covered with plywood; I’m thinking that an antique metal grill piece could be an interesting way to deal with it.
- deal with a missing piece of border
- deal with the space that had been carved out of the border to put in an outlet
- cover up the hole in the middle of the floor where somebody had the bright idea to put in an outlet.