To say this post is overdue is an understatement.  We had the original hardwood floors in our 1915 home refinished in November … it’s now almost March.  But it was such a huge change in the house (probably one of the more impactive of the projects we’ve done besides the entry way addition), so I thought it was worth going into a little more detail and (of course) sharing some photos.

Here’s a sneak peak at the results – pretty, right?

Refinished Hardwood Floors in the Dining Room

Refinished Hardwood Floors in the Dining Room

So, let’s start with some background.  From the time we moved into the house (6 years ago), we’d talked about tearing up some (or all?) of the carpet on the main floor and refinishing the hardwoods we assumed were underneath.  We’d never seen them, so we had no idea what condition they might be in.  It was time to replace the rather worn out carpet anyway, though, so we figured we’d start under the assumption that the floors were in good enough shape to be refinished and, if they turned out not to be, we’d just lay new carpet over the top, which would still be an improvement over where we started.

We also decided (after much debate) that we were only going to have the floors in the dining room and foyer refinished, leaving the existing laminate floor in the kitchen and carpet in the living room.  The decision to leave the existing flooring in the kitchen was largely because we expected the hardwood floors in there to be in worse shape (i.e., not refinishable), so we figured we’d choose some other type of flooring for that space (maybe tile or linoleum) when we do a full remodel down the road a bit.  And we decided to leave carpet in the living room since we wanted that space to feel cozier and we felt like the size/shape of the room in combination with our furniture layout would make it hard to add rugs without making the room feel like a rug store.

We also chose to hire someone who knows a whole lot more about refinishing floors than us to do this job.  In theory, refinishing floors sounds like a totally DIY-friendly project, but we just weren’t sure what we would run into and wanted someone who knew what they were doing.  In the end, I have no doubts that we made the right decision for us – the refinisher that we hired did an excellent job and, considering the number of hours he had in the project (which would have probably been at least doubled for us), it actually seemed pretty reasonable cost-wise.

Anyway, here are some “before” pictures of the dining room and foyer with the old carpet still in place:

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The Dining Room

The Foyer

The view from the living room

The view from the living room

We moved all of our furniture out over a weekend, with the hardwood floor refinisher set to start on Monday.  They were going to start the week by tearing out the old carpet and evaluating the floors underneath, but we were curious about what the floors might look like, so we pulled up a couple corners of the dining room carpet just to take a peak.

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Peaking at the Hardwood Floors in Dining Room

We found unfinished oak floors under the carpet – the unfinished part really surprised us, but we thought it would be a good thing since it would be less to sand off.  The floor  also looked (to our untrained eyes) like it was in pretty good shape, although there were a few water marks around the perimeter of the room, which we assumed were probably from when the carpet had been cleaned.  As a side note, the carpet pad was also a little unusual – it was really thick and faced in plastic on both the top and the bottom.  We’d always assumed that the carpet was pretty high quality since it felt so plush, but the carpet guys that came to fix the seam between the living room & foyer said it was super cheap carpet, so it must have been the pad that felt so nice.  Note to self – get a good pad when we replace the rest of the carpet!

When the refinisher showed up on Monday and pulled out the rest of the carpet, we found that the areas we’d peaked at were pretty indicative of the rest of the floor.  There were a few areas that would need patching, but it was basically in good shape.

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Unfinished Oak Floors in the Dining Room

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The Entry Way

With the carpet up, everything looked good for continuing with refinishing the floors.  (That discolored spot on the entry way floor looked like someone must have dropped a bucket of stain from the staircase at some point.  It looked icky, but the refinisher was confident it would sand out with no problems.)  The fact that the flooring was unfinished, though, did make him nervous since that meant it had been unprotected under the carpet for a lot of years and he wasn’t sure what might “show up” if we decided to stain the floor.  So, at that point, we decided to go forward with removing the tackless strips from the carpet, making the few repairs to the floors, and sanding.  The only unknown was whether or not we would be able to stain the floors – we had really wanted a medium brown color, but there was a chance that the stain could react with something in the wood and not color the floor evenly (making it so we’d have to start all over with the sanding process), so leaving them natural would be a safer option.

So, work started on the repairs, which included replacing a few boards where there were holes from old radiators or where previous patches hadn’t been made in a way that would refinish well.  It’s funny how a project like this can show so much of a home’s history.  We learned that there used to be a bell under the dining room table for ringing servants that it was time for the next course of the meal, that there likely used to be french doors hanging between the foyer and the dining room, that there used to be a swinging door between the kitchen and the dining room, and that the house likely had two generations of radiators (probably first steam, replaced later on by a more efficient hot water system).  None of those things would be all that practical for how we live in the house today, but it really makes us wish we could have seen the house (or at least pictures of it) the way it was built.

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An old patch in the center of the dining room floor where there would have been a bell to ring the servants.

Another old patch in the doorway between the dining room and the living room.  We think this was likely from some french doors that used to hang in that doorway.

Another old patch in the doorway between the dining room and the living room. We think this was likely from some french doors that used to hang in that doorway.

The entire floor was unfinished except for the areas around the old radiators, which were stained a reddish-brown color.  We think the room must have been carpeted except for these small areas.

The entire floor was unfinished except for the areas around the old radiators, which were stained a reddish-brown color. We think the room must have previously been carpeted except for these small areas.

For the rest of that first week (and a full second week), work continued on repairing the floor and then sanding it.  While sanding the floor, it became obvious that it was a lot wavier than it seemed when the carpet first came up.  It needed to be cross sanded and then sanded with some extra coarse sand paper to help even things out before proceeding with the rest of the process to prepare the floors for stain/polyurethane.  After looking a little more closely at some of the boards that were replaced with the repairs (and the subfloor in the basement), it really looks like the floors were saturated with water at some point.  There’s no other indication of water damage in the house, but we think there must have been a pretty sizable leak somewhere that caused the floors to warp.  This was probably also the reason why they were left unfinished under the carpet – we think they were sanded down to try to even them out again after everything dried and then they were covered up with carpet.  We’ll probably never know what happened, but that sure would be an interesting story to hear!

The patches in the dining room floor.

The patches in the dining room floor.

The dining room - in the middle of sanding.

The dining room – in the middle of sanding.

Sanding the dining room floor.

The entry way – in the middle of sanding.

By the end of the second week, sanding was just about complete and we needed to make a decision between staining them or leaving them natural.  By this point, we felt like we could get used to the idea of a natural oak finish/coloring, but we were really hoping to be able to add at least a light stain that would help them feel a little more brown and a little less yellow/orange.  So, the refinisher brought out several colors he thought might work well (without going too dark and finding any “gremlins” hiding in the floors) and stained a few samples in the dining room.

Stain Samples

Stain Samples

I don’t remember what all of the specific stain colors are now, but #2 is a natural finish (just polyurethane) and #4 is the one we wound up going with – Gunstock by Varathane.  At the time, we were between numbers 2, 3, and 4.  We both liked #4 the best, but I was leaning a little more toward #3 because I felt like it was a safer bet since it was a bit of a lighter color.  In the end, though, we decided to go with the one we liked best, knowing that we might have to start all over with the sanding process if any nasty splotches showed up with the darker stain.

Staining the dining room floor.

Staining the dining room floor.

The entry way - stained, with no polyurethane.

The entry way – stained, with no polyurethane.

The dining room - stained, with no polyurethane.

The dining room – stained, with no polyurethane.

It turned out that we were super lucky – the stain went down really evenly and there were no nasty gremlins hiding in the floor.  The color does show off a lot of the variation in the grain between the boards, which we really like.  It adds so much interest to the floor.  It was also pretty hard to tell from the small sample how well the floor would match (or contrast) with the stained doors, etc. in the entry way.  We expected that it would be a little lighter and not quite as red, but once the whole floor was stained (and sealed), it really looks like it matches pretty well.  All in all, we’re really happy with the color choice – it’s not too light, not too dark, and matches really nicely with everything else in our house.

With the stain completed, the next few days were spent putting on 3 coats of polyurethane (Duraseal oil-based polyurethane in a satin finish) and installing new quarter round to finish off the gap between the floors and the baseboard.  It must have been at about this time when I started loosing enthusiasm for taking photos, maybe because the floor didn’t look too different day-to-day, because I just don’t have that many photos of the polyurethane going down.  Here are the few I do have – these are of the first two coats of polyurethane:

Looking down the stairs.

Looking down the stairs.

The dining room.

The dining room.

The foyer.

The foyer.

The entire project took a little over 3 weeks to finish (wrapping up the Tuesday before Thanksgiving) – and by the time the work was done, we were REALLY READY for the work to be done, but we were also so happy with the results.  For those wondering, the dust from the sanding process was very minimal – between the drop cloths hung in the doorways and stairway and the dust collection systems on the sanders, we didn’t notice an overwhelming amount of dust in the air or anywhere else (it was more like I just hadn’t dusted for 2 or 3 weeks – definitely no where near like when we had plaster work done).  The smell was also tolerable – I think staying out of the house for the first 4 or so hours after each coat was really key, though, since it seemed to smell the worst during that time.  We definitely had no troubles sleeping upstairs throughout the entire project, but being elsewhere during the days was necessary.  And although it took a little longer than we expected and was pretty inconvenient, in the end, we are so happy with the way the floors turned out.

Here are some “after” photos:

The dining room

The dining room

The wood floors contrast against the molding so nicely in the dining room.

The contrast between the floors and dining room molding is so much greater than with the old carpet.

The dining room, foyer, & stairs.

The dining room, foyer, & stairs.

The view from the living room.

The view from the living room.

Looking toward the living room

The transition to carpet in the living room.

The view from the entry way.

The view from the entry way.

The spot where stain was spilled from the staircase.  It sanded right out!

The spot where stain was spilled from the staircase. It sanded right out!

I just love how the wood floors make other details (like these vents) pop!

I just love how the wood floors make other details (like these vents) pop!

So that pretty much brings us up to date.  We still need to caulk and paint the new quarter-round (it’s just primed white now), which should really make the trim feel crisp and clean against the new floors.  We’re also thinking we might like an area rug under the dining room table (the idea of chairs sliding across the freshly refinished floors really makes us nervous, although probably for no reason).

Just for fun, here are some pictures of these two spaces from shortly after we moved in:

The entry way ... shortly after we moved in in 2007.

The entry way … shortly after we moved in in 2007.

The dining room ... shortly after we moved in in 2007.

The dining room … shortly after we moved in in 2007.

Big difference, right?

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