Saturday, May 15, 2010

The Floors!

Finally, the Floors!
This project has been by far our most eagerly anticipated endeavor. Before we made an offer on the house, I pulled up a loose corner of carpet in the office, and it looked like this:
I thought, “Hmm, this does not look like a classic episode of Trading Spaces.” I was disappointed and confused. On TV, they just roll back the carpet and the floor underneath is beautiful and breathtaking. Everyone cheers and wonders aloud how anyone could have covered up such a beautiful floor with carpet. Not this floor. After tearing out the carpet, this is how it looked:
We just lived with it until we could find a good solution, which was much more difficult than I expected. I looked online for wood refinishing specialists in my area and found none. The more I talked to people, the more discouraged I got. I heard things like this:

“You can’t refinish fir floors. It’s a soft wood. It just won’t work.”

“Your floors have probably been sanded so many times that if you try to sand them again, you’ll just ruin them. Then you’ll need a new subfloor to put down your laminate and that will be expensive.”

“There is no way someone put down fir as a floor. It must have been a subfloor with a hardwood over it.”

“I go into these old houses all the time where people have refinished the wood floors, but all they’ve really done is refinished the subfloors. They don’t get that what they are walking around on and so proud of is actually the subfloor.”

Talk about frustrating. I thought everyone thought that refinishing old wood floors is pretty much the greatest thing since sliced bread, but au contraire. There are a lot of naysayers out there. They think that if it is not oak over plywood then it just is not worth doing.

Because pretty much everyone was telling me the same thing, I decided to do my own research. What I found is that architectural practices 100 years ago were very local. The way they did floors in Williams, California was not the same as the way they did them in Vinton, Louisiana or New York City. There was no code, and there was no plywood. People worked with what they had in whatever way they saw fit. I had many reasons to suspect that my floor was not a subfloor. The most telling was that I could see that at one point it had been stained. You can see it as the orange spots is this picture:
It made no sense to me that someone would waste their time staining a subfloor. Also, my neighbor has the exact same floor. It did not make sense that the “real” oak floor on top of this “subfloor” would have just disappeared from both our houses without leaving a trace. Even if it was in poor condition, why go through all the trouble of removing it when you could throw a carpet over it as easily as you could the “subfloor.” It just didn’t make sense to me.
But there was still the issue of fir being “too soft.” I researched this as well and found that fir is indeed a relatively soft wood. But old-growth fir is much harder than modern fir which only grows a fraction of the time that old-growth was grown before being harvested. Even so, though wood hardness is something to consider in choosing a flooring material, the more determinate factor in floor longevity is the hardness of the finish, not the actual wood itself. I actually found a company that specialized in restoring old fir floors, which is where I got most of this information that gave me newfound hope, but unfortunately they were located in Oregon.
I went back online and searched for a wood floor specialist, but this time I broadened my search to Sacramento. That is when I found a couple of options. In total we had three people come to our house and give us a quote on the floors. When each person came we asked them an important question and got three different answers.
The question was whether or not to fill the gaps between the boards with wood filler. Our floor was in fairly good shape, but the boards were not as tightly connected as a new floor. Most planks had a small gap between them, about 1/16 of an inch or less in most places. Lots of people (regular naysayers, not professionals) told us that we would have to fill them. When we asked them why, they usually said something like, “Because if you don’t, you’ll have gaps.” We tried to figure out why these gaps were so terrible. They did not bother Richard or me. We thought it looked more authentic and less like laminate this way. At the time, we only had wood filler in one place (put there previously by someone else), and it was cracking and crumbling. We just did not want this all over the house. This is what it looked like:
The first person who gave us a quote told us absolutely not to use wood filler. He said it would crack and crumble within a couple years. He also gave us the highest quote, and was the only one who was not licensed, bonded, and insured.
Initially we only knew of this first guy before I extended my search to the Sacramento area, and we thought he was our only option. We were going to use him because he seemed to know what he was talking about until at the last minute he changed his verbal quote to about 25% higher. We then told him we would need more time to get that much money, so he said he would just come over and start the work and then we could figure out a new price together. That was pretty much our red flag and we canceled the job with him and got the other two quotes.
The second person told us that we absolutely had to fill the cracks with wood filler. When we asked why, we could not really understand his answer due to a language barrier. He gave us a quote significantly lower than the first guy.
Then the guy from Raphael Hardwood Flooring came and explained to us in full detail the pros and cons of wood filler. He did not tell us that it had to be one way or the other, but he did highly suggest not using it. He said that when they install a new floor in an old house, they use washers to intentionally create gaps between the boards so that it does not look too new and out of place with the rest of the house. Ultimately though, he said it was up to us. I liked that. He also put absolutely no pressure on us, whereas the first guy was really giving us the hard sell. Raphael Hardwood Flooring is pretty much the opposite of sketchy.
When I brought up the subject of payment with Raphael Hardwood Flooring, he made it very clear (and in writing) that absolutely no payment was due until all work was completed and that his written quote would be good for a year.
It did not take us long at all to decide to go with Raphael, and we are very happy with the results. Here are a few pictures of the process (these are all from the office):
Before Any Work

Initial Sanding

More Sanding

Bare Wood After Sanding Was Completed

After Clear Coat
Though we initially wanted a darker stain, we decided to go with the clear coat because of all the stains that were found after sanding. Igor (the guy who works for Raphael Hardwood Flooring) explained to us that stains (like from people spilling drinks) will soak up a lot more of the stain (as in color) than the rest of the floor. He said this essentially makes them look black. Because of the heavy staining in the dining and living room, we decided to take his advice. We were afraid of the wood looking too light, but the clear coat actually darkens up the wood a bit, so we are very happy.
Here is the room-by-room before and after:

We will definitely have Igor come back to do the stairs and the second story at some point in the future, though not any time soon. Our next big project is painting all the interior trim. That will probably not start until my brother comes here in a few weeks/months. For now I am still working on the downstairs bathroom. I also need to spray paint all the floor grates because now they look hideous next to the wonderful floors. I am sure I will be posting about that. That’s it for this time, folks. Thanks for tuning in to our lives.

Saturday, May 1, 2010

Our Bedroom

I do not call our bedroom the master bedroom because it is the smallest bedroom in the house. We chose it as our bedroom because it is downstairs, has the most privacy, and only has one window. Though we love the nursery’s bay windows, Richard really likes to sleep in when he gets the opportunity, and a wall of windows would not be conducive to that. The nursery is connected to the dining room whereas our room is connected to the kitchen. I decided to put the nursery in the center of the house and our room in a far corner instead of the other way around. That is why we have the smallest bedroom in the house. Here is what our bedroom looked like on our first day in the house:

This was its view into the kitchen. Note the doorway is slightly blocked by the staircase:

It was the same as most of the rest of the house: textured peach-beige walls, really gross blue carpet, and popcorn ceiling. This room also included butterfly decals. The mattress on the carpet was the setting for the flea attack of 2009. After removing the carpet, smoothing the walls, and scraping off the popcorn ceiling, we did nothing to this room until January when we painted. The first picture is primer:

I chose red because I really wanted a red room in the house, and a bedroom seemed like a good choice. I originally was going to do a red dining room, but I realized that would probably get nauseous after a while. My justifications for such an extreme choice are that we do not spend many waking hours in the bedroom and that I think dark red and gold feels regal. Eventually I will use another color to stencil over the red and make it look sort of like damask wallpaper whenever I get tired of that much red, probably in a couple years. Like the rest of the house, the doors and trim are not yet painted. They will be painted darker than the trim in the rest of the house, most likely either the color of the ceiling (a pale muted yellow), the gold color of the frieze, or a darker ivory. I think what makes it look bad right now is the bright white trim next to the red. It looks like St. Valentine’s Day in there. We will not remedy that for at least a couple months. We hope to be moved into this room sometime over the next two weeks. 

Update: Though all the work is finished on the floors, they are still drying. Expect floor pictures sometime this week. In the meantime, I will probably add a post about our floor plan so that when you do see the floor pictures, you will understand how the rooms fit together.

Thursday, April 29, 2010

The Bathroom Delay

Well, I was delaying posting because I was trying to finish the downstairs full bathroom, but it looks like that will not be happening for a few more weeks.
Problem #1: The mirror I bought to hang above the pedestal sink is too big. I thought the one I was buying in the Target store was the exact one I had seen online and carefully measured for, but it was not. It looked exactly like it, but unfortunately it was about 10 inches taller. But I did not figure this out until I put the whole thing together and tried to hang it on the wall. At that point it had been a couple months since I bought it, and the receipt was long gone.  I really do not feel like taking it apart and trying to return it, so I am going to try to use it in one of the other bathrooms now. Anyway, the new one should be here in a couple weeks.
Problem #2: I came up with a great plan to deal with the hideous/non-existent door frames, but I am intimidated to follow through with it. There are two doors in the bathroom, one to each of the downstairs bedrooms. One of them has a very cheap homemade door frame around it:
 The other door frame is completely missing:
My first plan was to make a very cheap homemade door frame to match the existing one. Then I decided it would be easier to just buy two new ones from Lowe’s which would look a lot better, but the problem with that idea was that it would not match the original door frames in the house, and I was afraid of how much it would cost to get something even comparable. Here is what the house’s original door frames look like:

Then as I was cleaning out the closet in the nursery, I had an idea. I realized that I could just take the original door frames from the interior of the two bedroom closets downstairs and put those in the bathroom. Then I could just replace them with door frames bought from Lowe’s, and it would not matter whether they matched because they are on the inside of closets, and no one will ever see them. Here is what they look like:
Of course after I typed about how great this idea was, I had to go take pictures from inside the closet. And that is when I noticed that a couple inches were taken off the one in the nursery closet to make room for some plumbing. So now my plan is once again more complicated than originally anticipated. I suppose I could just put it up as is and call it “character.”  I guess that will be my back-up plan. I have no desire to even attempt to carve a piece of wood to match it, so…I really think I will be cutting something out of Styrofoam. I know this sounds terrible, but the piece that is missing is at least a foot above eye level, and the whole thing will be painted, so maybe this will work.  Also, Styrofoam is very cheap, so I can buy a large amount to practice and not worry about ruining anything. And if it does not look good after being painted, I can just figure something else out.  So that is the plan. At some point during this plan I will have to learn how to install door frames. I am wondering if I will need a nail gun. I have no idea how to do this. My favorite part of this plan is getting to walk into Lowe’s and tell them I am looking for Styrofoam to carve a custom door frame because my level of craftsmanship if just too novice to be working with actual wood.
Problem #3: The new shower addition to the clawfoot tub leaks everywhere. That will be fixed by the professional who installed it, but he cannot come until we finish the floors because he cannot walk across them to get to the bathroom this week.
Now that I have written about all the hold-ups with the bathroom, I feel a lot less guilty about not having finished it yet. I hope to have it finished and post pictures by the end of May. The floors will be finished soon, but in the meantime, stay tuned for an introduction to our downstairs bedroom.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

The Nursery

Last post I discussed the dining room. The nursery is connected to the dining room through this doorway:

I do not have too many before pictures. It had beige textured walls, blue carpet, and popcorn ceiling like most of the rest of the house. However, the ceiling in this room was much worse. It was crumbling and peeling in many places and had a large crack from wall to wall in the middle of the room. Here are our only before shots:
Like the ceilings in the rest of the house, this job was handled by professionals. Here what it looked like as they were working:

This is what the big crack looked like after removing the popcorn ceiling:

This is what popcorn ceiling clean-up looks like with proper prep work. We had one of these giant bags for every room, and they were very heavy:

After scraping off the popcorn, they removed the crumbling sections of plaster and patched them with drywall. I was really shocked at how much of the ceiling they were able to save. I thought this room would need a completely new ceiling.

After the ceiling was repaired, they skim-coated the walls to cover up the texture. After that, the rest was up to us, so it remained untouched for a few months and functioned mostly as storage and a guest room as we worked on other parts of the house. Here is what it looked like during that time:

Richard could not resist the bathtub temporarily residing in the room:

We primed the walls and ceiling at some point in December:

And then in January we got around to actually painting it:

This is how it looks today. It probably will not start looking like a nursery until June or July. I will be sure to post pictures then. I am currently working on the bathroom that is connected to this room. I should be posting about that next week.

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

The Dining Room Part 2

While pulling up the carpet in the dining room, this happened:


It would seem that the wood stove tile surround was grouted into the carpet, because when we pulled up the carpet, tile went flying. In the above picture you can see pieces of the carpet still stuck to the tile. This really did not bother us much because we had talked about cutting off the corners, re-tiling it, or getting rid of the whole thing altogether. It is manufactured by a company named Efel which has been around since the 1970s. The reason I wanted to get rid of it was because it took up so much of the room, especially the pathway from the kitchen to living room.

Though I would have loved to replace it with something smaller and more antique-looking like this:

It would have cost a couple thousand dollars, so we decided to just cut off the corners of the platform. We edged it with slate, which I think was an improvement over the previous tile. Here is what it looks like now:

This job was actually much easier than I thought it would be. The cement pad had been poured onto a plywood square. I was really afraid that the cement might have been poured directly onto the wood floor because I thought it was likely poured by the same person that grouted it into the carpet. Had that been the case, we likely would have simply re-tiled it. Once we cut through the tile, cement, and plywood, the corners lifted off the floor with little effort.

The two cement cuts that we made produced an insane amount of dust. We sealed off the other rooms but dust still got everywhere because we did not do it before we started cutting. We did it more like halfway through. As a result, the most difficult part of this job was the cleanup.

While thoroughly cleaning behind and underneath the stove so that I could properly seal the tile, I realized there was a lot of junk crammed behind it. Here is what I found:

I wish it would have been something cool like a key to the back door, but no. Just some cheap plastic clamps and a melted screwdriver. When I find stuff like this hidden in dark crevices, I feel like my house will never truly be clean.

So I look at the stove now, and I think, "Sure, we did the best we could with what we have, and it looks okay. And it is certainly functional, but what was there originally?" Something was definitely there. I know this because in the Pearson house next door (with the exact identical dining room wall) there is a missing piece in the picture rail with a small collectible plate hung over the missing piece. This is located exactly where I have a missing piece in my picture rail due to my stove's smoke stack. See below the white picture rail to which I am referring:

At the Pearson house, there is nothing but carpet on the floor and nothing but wainscot on the wall. My house did originally have a brick chimney coming out of the roof around this spot in the house, which would make it seem there was a fireplace here, but that does not make sense to me because of the wainscot. It matches the rest of the house's wainscot identically, so I do believe it was originally there. When I asked the neighbor about the plate hung oddly on the wall, he told me it is where the old oil-burning furnace was. He had lived there since the 1940s, so I believe he might have been talking about that time period. But it does not really make sense to me. Being born in the 1980s in the South, I know very little about oil-burning furnaces. When I google image them, it seems they are rather unsightly and are typically located in basements. I cannot understand one being in a dining room, so right now I consider this a mystery. I have no idea how this house was heated when it was built. Fireplaces and stoves seem the most obvious answer to me. 

Moving on with the rest of the room's are a few shots of the priming process:


And here is what it looks like now in a counter-clockwise rotation around the room:

We have only painted the walls, frieze, and ceiling. We have not gotten to the wainscot or any of the trim. It will all be done in Navajo White, which is sort of a cream color and the color of the ceiling. The dark blue on the walls is called Daring Indigo. I believe the light blue is called Enchanting, but I will have to check that next time I am at the store.

As always I will have to end this post with some before & after.