The Victorian flooring of the front parlor is finished!

The Victorian flooring, showing the refinished border and planks, of the front parlor.

The Victorian flooring, showing the refinished border and planks, of the front parlor.

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.

Close-up of the Victorian front parlor flooring (border and planks).

Close-up of the Victorian front parlor flooring (border and planks).

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.

The Victorian flooring, showing the refinished border and planks, of the front parlor.

The Victorian flooring, showing the refinished border and planks, of the front parlor.

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.)

The Victorian flooring, showing the refinished border and planks, of the front parlor.

The Victorian flooring, showing the refinished border and planks, of the front parlor.

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?

Soft Planks
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.

5 comments to Victorian flooring in the front parlor is finished!

  • Daren

    Again, John the room looks outstanding. Can’t wait to see the finished floor in person. Did you ever find a solution going from the planks to the border? I was thinking a custom milled 3/8″ 1/4 round piece could be fitted there? Just a thought.

  • Regarding the transition from the border to the planks, I ended up leaving the border as is without adding any additional pieces. I ran the honey maple stain and the polyurethane finish along the vertical edge of the border to help darken the edge and to make sure that it wasn’t overlooked when it came to treatments. Now that the planks are stained and finished to be a close match to the lighter wood of the border, I don’t even really notice the edge of the border. There is so much detail to look at in the room that the edge doesn’t appear to be a distraction to me. Also, with the lighting as it is in the room, the raised edge creates a dark shadow that aids in creating a clear transition between the border and the planks: it helps separate the two without any physical material having to be there.

    I’ve also been wary of adding any details to the home that aren’t original. I don’t want someone to come in years from now and try to decipher what’s original and what’s been inserted to fake something original. So for things like the border, I’m thinking that I’d prefer to leave them as they are. It seems like that is more honest to the home.

    For example, someone had recommended that the glass of the front entrance be taken out and replaced with stained glass. But there’s no evidence that the home used to have stained glass in the front entrance, so I’m hesitant to do so. It seems like it is trying to make the home something that it was not.

    Where I would veer off of that course would be when it comes to the interior design of the home (especially wall coverings and paint). I have some scraps of wallpaper that used to be used in a couple of different rooms on the home, but I’d really prefer that wall coverings and other interior decorating reflect a balance between my own taste and the history of the home. I guess that for anything deeper than a paint job or wallpaper covering, I’d prefer it just be the way it originally was. I also did that when it came to staining and finishing the planks in the front room. From what I’ve read, they wouldn’t have been left uncovered. And from all of the gunk on them that we had to remove, they were shellacked and/or painted at least twice before. So the stain and finish I chose were my own interpretation for the floor, but done in a way that brings out the natural character of the wood, matches fairly well with the border, allows the floor to be displayed as is without a floor covering (but still with the option of putting down a floor covering), and brings out the history of the home by revealing marks in the wood that show how people have used the home over the years.

    So in a nutshell, I’m keeping the original detail without adding anything that’s not original, and I’m highlights that originality according to my own taste. How’s that for a guiding principle?

  • Debbie

    I watched the dvd the Booth Brothers released. Very interesting. Have the ghosts of the house had anything to “say” about the renovations? From watching various programs on the supernatural over the years, it appears that when someone makes changes to a house that is occupied by spirits, there is increased activity. I’m thinking that on the dvd there is a reference to Mary’s spirit being happy about what you are doing, but I’d have to watch it again to be sure I am remembering this correctly.

  • The house has seemed more settled since the renovation has begun in earnest. It just feels right to be putting it back the way it used to be. The house, sitting here abandoned and alone, was like a dog that has been cast aside and neglected by the world: once adopted, paid attention to, and shown some love, its coat begins to shine, its tail wags, and its heart beats strongly once again.

  • Pat Hastings

    I am so pleased to find that this wonderful old home is being restored with such tender loving care and attention to original detail. Such a shame for a home like this to have set empty for any time at all. I have been away from the area for over 15 years now and attention was drawn to the home once again by the program. I do hope that more pics of the work in progress will be on your site as you go along in your work because I know that I will not be able to return to the area any more because of health reasons and will never get to see it any other way and would really love to “watch” the work progress. I will be checking your website often in the future for more news of your work.

    I was born and raised in the area and later in life, moved to the mountains of North Carolina. I have always had a deep interest in this home and other old homes in Iroquois County. There is some really beautiful architecture around the county and thanks to you, this lovely home will be around for many more years to come!

    BTW, your floor looks wonderful in the pictures.

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