Floor rescue

This may well be my proudest DIY to date. It was certainly the most labor-intensive. What, more than stripping all the wallpaper out of three rooms of the old house? Well, yeah.

craftsman main room with very shiny, fake looking laminate floorsThat’s the before. It looks OK in the photo, but the floors are cheap laminate. And you know, I completely accept that some people think I’m crazy for hating this laminate as much as I did. It was clean and solid and not as offensively hideous as some other possibilities might have been. But I loathed it. It looked fake, it sounded fake, it felt fake, it wasn’t even the right color for the house’s existing Craftsman details. It was understood from the start that those floors would go ASAP.

When “we” closed on this house we actually had no idea what was under the laminate. We just hoped it was something vaguely boardlike and usable. At 9pm on the evening we got the keys, we ran right over, and I brought my putty knives and pry bars and immediately started ripping things up. uncovered old wood floorboards ... with a coat of white paint.Yeah. They’re boards, but they’re covered in what looks like white primer. Every inch of them.

I would love to say I knew how much work it would be and heroically dove in anyway, but the truth is I had no idea what I was in for. I’d stripped some relatively small painted areas of floor in the old house and that was all my experience. I had absolutely no conception of what doing 200+ square feet would be like. Sanding was never really an option, because I wanted old floors, not flat new basketball-court floors. We bought paint stripper and I got to work.

a patch of old wood floors scraped free of paint.the dining room floor, half stripped and half still covered in paint, littered with various stripping tools and materialsDid I mention that we had roughly two weeks to get the house move-in ready? Yeah. So no pressure.) While the mister and some of our friends and family worked in other rooms, I uncovered the 106-year-old clear fir flooring. I got used to chemical burns on my knees every day, because eventually I was always going to put a knee in the stripping goo. I strained my wrists something terrible and wore wrist braces. I felt like my back was permanently cricked. But eventually, it happened: I scrubbed away the last patch of stripper and was able to stand back and see this.

dining room floor completely stripped of paintWe gave it a very light sanding to eliminate splinters and knock the grain back down, and then we finished it with dewaxed shellac. We chose shellac because it’s nontoxic, forgiving, fast-drying and easy to repair.

beautiful antique fir floors, gleaming with shellacWas it worth it? Yes. I cannot imagine this house without the grace and character those original floors provide. I feel proud every time I walk barefoot across the dining room to get a glass of milk at night. Would I do it again, knowing what I know now? Honestly, I’m not sure. I’m not going to jump into a similar project anytime soon (I did some work on the floors upstairs but without the stripping element). I truly appreciate how exhausting floors are, now, but also how important they are to the feel of a room. I feel privileged to have had a hand in restoring this irreplaceable and gemlike part of our house.


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