If I had a time machine there are things I would do differently, or at least, in a different order. The floors being at the top of that list. First-time homebuyers, heed my warning now! Refinish those floors BEFORE you move in.

We have lived in our house over four years and are just now getting to the floors. Talk about a hassle. All of the furniture, the rugs, the clothes, the knick knacks, the BOOKS, everything tucked in the back of closets or hung on walls, all had to go. Go where? The kitchen, the back room, the basement, the garage. Know what else had to go? My kid. So she and I packed our bags and headed to Laguna Beach to visit her grandmother and avoid the dust. My husband? He dragged the mattress to the basement floor and camped out. He also was tasked the job of documenting progress and keeping me posted.

Disclaimer: I am a huge micro-manager. I can not tell you how difficult it was for me not to be here, standing over the job and overseeing the details. I pretty much had nightly panic attacks. Not to mention, Thora wasn’t napping on the trip, was extremely clingy, I had work deadlines… anxiety recipe.

Thora’s room before. Huge gouge in the middle there.

Four years ago, when we first removed the shag carpet, I suppose by comparison the wood floors didn’t seem that bad. Yes they were dirty, worn in spots, there were gouges, places with no finish left, blah blah blah. But generally they were livable. And we had bigger problems to deal with, like the termites and dry rot, not to mention a landlord chomping at the bit for us to move out. So I cleaned them with Bona, threw a rug down and moved in.

Now toss a baby in there, and imagine her learning to crawl. Dragging her soft baby body on the floor you can never seem to get clean, the floor that snags all of your socks leaving you an embarrassing collection full of holes. Not to mention, that offensive tone of orange. In art school I took Color Theory and learned all about hue, value and chroma. Allow me to say, the chroma of this particular orange was off the charts. Blinding.

Now this is what home renovation should look like!

The time had come, the pennies had been replenished. We actually found the person to do the work through our realtor. She’s a wealth that one, love that I can call her on a dime for advice and references, four years after the fact. We spent the week leading up to the work moving everything out, then Thora and I headed to Laguna. What a drag.

After we left, Mike finished hauling our stuff and taped everything off. Jose was our man and he set to work right away.

Note how the floor is nearly black in the high-traffic zone. Ew.

The floors were in probably average shape giving their age (almost 100 years!) and the fact that they were standard quality to begin with. White Oak, nothing fancy here! (I love my house’s middle class bones.) There were the problems mentioned above, plus some feathering that needed to happen where we removed a furnace…

…and on the other side of the kitchen wall that used to house the laundry, and a pretty serious water leak. I guess all of the floors were original except the bedrooms and hallway, which had been refinished once by some other DIYer. Finished incorrectly, of course. Lots of swirling and something was up with the nails. Jose had to go through each one, dig out dust that had settled under the old finish, and hammer each one down. Egads.

After the initial sanding…

everything was coated in a wood filler…

and sanded again. When I got these iPhone pics from Mike, I about died. This was the exact look I wanted. And here is where I am actually grateful that we waited all these years. Had I refinished the floors in 2009, I would’ve stained them a very dark, almost black walnut. I was super into that look at the time, Jeff Lewis was putting it in almost every house on Flipping Out. Fast forward to now, and dark floors feel dated to me. I’ve heard the backlash about dust and I’ve seen it, over and over and over again. Besides, our house doesn’t get the best natural light. Dark floors would’ve felt like a cave. Yes, a nice, light natural look is the way to go here. And uh, excuse me, isn’t the variation of the wood beautiful?! That would’ve been lost.

And then Mike sent me this picture, and my head almost popped off. WHY does this look orange? WHY is this so shiny? I very specifically remember saying I wanted water-based, matte poly. I did not want oil for two very important reasons. 1. It’s toxic and smelly and nearly everything we have done to this house has been eco-conscious. 2. Oil turns orange over time.

Gratefully, the poly is wet in this shot and the finish is truly matte. Unfortunately, assumptions were made, communication poor, and oil was used. Trapped in Laguna, I wanted to pull my hair out. What ensued was a lot of back and forth and anger between myself, Mike, our contractor and Jose. But with the deadline approaching for our flight back and a child having a hard time adjusting on her trip, we had to let it go. And oil it was. And man, it was smelly.

In the end, the hallway and bedrooms look the most beautiful and the least orange. This is actually pretty close to what I had envisioned.

The main living spaces, and the ones with the most beat-up floors originally, took the poly a little differently. It seems the dirtier the wood was, the more orange it became. I don’t totally understand why that is, considering he coated everything in a white oak filler. But it is what it is, as Honey Boo Boo’s mother would say.

Before and after. Severely less orange.

Know what else they are? Smooth as butter. And easy to clean! It’s like having new floors with the character of old floors. I love the nail holes, the variations in the wood. I even love the feathering because it shows how the floors have evolved with the house. I love that we didn’t have to tear anything out and that hopefully they will be here another hundred years, earthquakes notwithstanding.

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