The neverending floor-y

First of all, please enjoy this photo of mold-eliminating spray being covered in what certainly looks like mold.

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Tony and I initially thought this was clever packaging, but closer inspection revealed real, actual mold. This is just one example of the many small delights you too can find if you spend the equivalent of a part-time job at Lowe’s every week.

Since my last dispatch, much house renovating work has been done to only marginal effect. Part of that is the result of my and Tony’s perfectionist tendencies, but most of it is the hard reality of renovation. I go into nearly every project expecting that minimal effort will yield dramatic pay off. Despite my unending optimism, that has never once happened. Instead, more often than not, the opposite occurs: lots and lots of hard work will move the needle from unsightly to gorgeous only slightly, and at an achingly slow rate.

For instance, you may recall that in my last post I said that, in order to finish the floors, we needed to sand the edges of the floor and put down polyurethane. That sounds like two steps, right?

In reality, we realized after sanding the edges of the floors that there were some streaks in the centers of the floors caused by the big sanders. We felt these streaks could be ameliorated by another couple passes with the drum sander in the direction of the wood grain. For several days, we attempted to convince ourselves that it was fine as is. But that weekend we rented the drum sander again and sanded every floor again, twice, from medium grain to fine grain.

After that it seemed to us that the centers of the floors were fine, but now the edges were the trouble. Weren’t they a bit uneven? Weren’t they rougher now than the smooth and streak-free centers of the floor? We again told ourselves it was fine, but within two days we had gone over all the edges with our handheld power sander.

Now all of the floors were lovely, absolutely gorgeous, except for the one in the kitchen. The kitchen floor had an old water stain and some fire damage (exclusively cosmetic) from one of the old wood stoves. Worse, it seemed to us that the very shade of the bare kitchen wood was different than that of the rest of the house. We credited this to our belief that, unlike every other floor, the kitchen floor had always been covered. Over time, our theory went, the sun and air  exposure had changed the others floors in small but noticeable ways. Unlike the others floors, which had a golden hue, the kitchen wood was lighter and a bit grayer. It was beautiful, but different. Wasn’t the point of refinishing all of our floors at once to make them seamless throughout the house?


Kitchen floor with wood puttied nail holes

Meanwhile, throughout all of the inside floor hemming and hawing, we’d been working to refinish the porch. When the porch wood was uncovered, it was similar  to that of the kitchen. We decided to stain it, and it turned out beautifully.


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Wouldn’t it make sense, we asked ourselves, to stain the kitchen, too? We thought so, and we went ahead and stained. For some reason, though, the exact same stain took much faster and turned out much darker in the kitchen. Wood is a funny thing, we’ve found. We now had golden floors throughout the house, and medium-dark floors in the kitchen. Once again, we attempted to convince ourselves that this was fine. (Somehow we managed to not take any pictures of this step, but several Fawn Log readers saw it in this stage and can confirm it really happened).

Within 24 hours, though, we’d decided to take the kitchen floor in an entirely new and surprising direction. If the kitchen floors wanted to look different, they were going to be different goddamnit. White painted kitchen floor, here we come.

Inspiration 1

Inspiration 2

Even though the above examples looked great, I’d read about people painting their floors with diluted paint, to allow the wood grain to show through. I thought maybe we should do this kind of paint wash rather than a full-on paint. We attempted it and, once again, we spent 10 minutes attempting to convince ourselves it was fine. Then we brought out the full strength paint.

Meanwhile, we applied one coat of polyurethane to the other wood floors. This darkened them considerably. It darkened them enough, in fact, that we had a moment during which we wondered whether the stained kitchen floors we’d just painted over would have been a fine match. Then we put our heads down and kept poly-ing because, seriously, I was not going to sand the kitchen floor again if my life depended on it.

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After-ish. Clothes bar is finished; shoe shelf is in progress.

We’d read that, after one coat of poly, you should lightly sand out any imperfections and remove the fine sanding dust with mineral oil before applying the top coat. We started doing this in the back bedroom, but we quickly realized that there were many areas with a rough-ish texture. So many, in fact, that it seemed to make more sense to lightly sand the entire room rather than focus on any particular area. So we crawled around and lightly sanded every square inch of every room on our hands and knees then cleaned everything with mineral oil and a rag. After all that we’d been through with these floors, this seemed like a logical thing to do.

The insanity was worth it, or almost worth it, or pretty much worth it if I don’t think about it too hard; the second coat of poly went on extremely smoothly and our floors are beautiful. More beautiful than I ever could have imagined, more beautiful than any wood floors have any right to be. It’s not a trip to the house unless one of us says “Damn! These floors are gorgeous!” or some variant thereof.  I would almost be okay with stopping all renovating now and just leaving the house as a museum of/tribute to these wood floors.

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But back to the kitchen, because the insanity can’t stop, won’t stop. After our first coat of paint, we began to feel that the spaces between the boards looked odd. Some of the spaces had been filled with wood putty, but most were left empty. After discussing the merits of cleaning out the existing putty or filling in the holes, we bought more wood putty and I got to filling.

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I had to manage a couple of work events this weekend and today I was exhausted. I tapped out after my wood puttying, but Tony continued at it. He sanded the putty and put down another coat of paint. He just texted me this slightly blurry picture and I’m excited.

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In theory, we only have to do one more coat of paint and two coats of poly and we’re done with not just the kitchen floor, but every floor in our house! If history has taught me anything, though, it’s that a theoretical two step process can in reality entail 5,000 steps. We’ll see what happens.

At this point we have a tentative move-in date scheduled for next weekend. How many times have I written a tentative move-in date on this blog? Maybe Fawn Log is cursed.

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View from our roof of the sunset and the many bats that fly around near our house every night.


Posted in closet, foyer, Kitchen, scandi style | Leave a comment

Floor madness

We sanded our wood floors the weekend before last, and it was intense.

I was incredibly anxious about this project. I’ve said that before about other projects on this very blog, and Tony can tell you that I tend to stew about renovation things IRL as well.  My reaction to the floors, though, was extreme even for me. There were a few moments during the Friday before last, about which I am still deeply ashamed, when I actually cried about the impending weekend of floor sanding. I wasn’t crying because we’d made a mistake or found it difficult since, you know, we hadn’t started yet. I was crying because I thought it probably would be hard and we almost surely would make a mistake. Very logical, you see? Very, very logical.

There are two main types of wood floor sanders: drum sanders and random orbital sanders. The pros always use drum sanders—they work faster and better, but they can also cause ridges or divots in the floor if used incorrectly. Random orbital sanders are less likely to cause damage, and Bob Vila told us that they’re best for do-it-yourselfers. Given that half of our home renovation dream team was already crying about future mistakes, we decided to rent a random orbital sander.

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I recovered by the time we started sanding.

Bob Vila was right: the random orbital sander was easy to use and we never had any concerns about scratching the floor. However, after spending hours sanding our tiny closet and still not getting down to bare wood, we did have many concerns about the time it would take to sand every floor in our house.  Especially because both kinds of sanders require sanding every floor three times, with sandpaper at three grades from coarse to fine. If we exclusively used the random orbital sander, we estimated that we could sand all the rooms three times in maybe six or seven years. Do you think we have all the time in the world, Bob Vila? Do you?!

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At this point, it was late on Saturday night. We woke up early Sunday morning to rent a drum sander. In many ways, having two sanders was a best case scenario. Tony was able to use the heavy but effective drum sander for the first pass of every room at the coarse grade, removing all the stain and getting us down to bare wood.  I then followed him with the random orbital sander for passes two and three.

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You rent sanders by the day, and we had a return time for both sanders on Monday morning. Because we’d essentially wasted our Saturday (screw you, Bob Vila!) we had 800+ square feet of floor to sand on Sunday. And so we sanded, and sanded, and sanded.  I think we each probably walked the equivalent of a marathon that day, pushing the sanders. The sanders were really loud, and—even though they both had bags attached to capture the bulk of the saw dust—they did generate a fine powdery dust that got all over us and everything in the house. We wore earplugs and ear muffs and masks, and we both still felt a little deaf and congested the next day.

If you’ve ever watched HGTV, you might think that when you sand a floor with a drum sander, you have to do only one pass over each part of the floor to get it down to bare wood. Either HGTV lies or our rented drum sander was crap, because Tony had to pass over each part of the floor at least three times. You’re not ever supposed to go perpendicular to the wood grain, but going with the wood grain (which is recommended) seemed to take ten times longer. Tony ended up doing three passes like this, which the guy at Home Depot said was okay:


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Here’s the living room after Tony had done one pass over half the room.

I sanded with the wood grain with the random orbital sander, but I was also using softer sandpaper so it wouldn’t have been as big of a deal if I had gone perpendicular. Is that an interesting fact? I honestly can’t tell anymore.

Anyway, it took hours. Wearing earplugs always makes me feel a little weird, like I’m closed off from the world and very alone with my thoughts. Wearing earplugs while doing a loud, repetitive activity for an extremely long time enhanced that feeling ten-fold. I had about 500 conversations in my head with various people, considered every facet of my job, wondered about certain friends and acquaintances, remembered every dumb thing I’d said or done in the last year, and felt profoundly grateful that I get to work on this cool old house with a cool not-so-old dude.

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Finally, after approximately 16 straight hours of sanding, we finished. It was 2am and we were practically asleep standing up. We went home and collapsed for four hours, then got up, returned the sanders, and went to work on Monday morning.

Sanding the floors was mostly easier than the internet lead me to believe it would be. It didn’t require nearly as much skill as I thought it would, but it was supremely exhausting. Most of that was the result of us sanding for sixteen hours straight, though. If we ever sand floors again, we will make sure to rent sanders for the entire weekend, or take a day off work and do it over three days.

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You can tell in the above picture that the floors aren’t sanded all the way to the edge. The drum and orbital sanders can only get within five or six inches of the wall. We have to rent an edge sander to get the remaining bit close to the wall. We actually rented an edge sander and did the kitchen and back bedroom after these photos were taken, and we’re renting it again this weekend to finish. After that, we’re skipping stain entirely and just putting down a satin polyurethane to protect the wood.

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Isn’t it the most beautiful old wood you’ve ever seen? We’re really excited about it. I knew the floor would look better without the dark stain, but it seems especially spectacular. I mean, look at all those cool knot holes in the floor of the closet up there! Just look at them!

Posted in closet, foyer, Kitchen, scandi style | 6 Comments

I just want brick

I like the look of brick. In fact, I like it so much that I will accept cheap impostors, like this horrific brick wallpaper in the foyer that Tony and I have been unable to bring ourselves to remove.

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I’ve always known we had brick in the house. You see, once upon a time, our house was heated by wood stoves. The stoves themselves have long since been removed, but there are some relics of this bygone era. For instance, the attic contains two brick chimneys at the north and south ends of the house, directly above the closet.

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Looking up from the closet into the attic. Usually that hole is covered up with a little door.

The brick on the chimneys is so cool and old that, after seeing the attic for the first time, I immediately wished the chimneys continued into the main living space. Unfortunately, below the attic, there are strange plaster wall outcropping in lieu of brick.  At the top, these outcroppings are roughly as wide and deep as the chimneys above. But after about three feet, they begin to slope inward to the floor. Here’s a picture:

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When we first looked at the house, I thought the top portion of these outcroppings must be brick. But, I asked the inspector and he told me no– that the bricks had been removed below the attic. I accepted this at the time. In retrospect, though, this makes no since. Why would old-timey people have removed the chimneys brick by brick below the attic? How would they have done that without damaging the chimney above?

In my defense, here’s a before photo from the same angle as the above. We had a couple other things beside brick to think about. Namely, how and why did our closet contain so many different–yet oddly similar– floral wallpapers?

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So, we left the brick  to the beautiful attic chimneys and the faux stuff in the foyer… until Saturday night rolled around.

In addition to the chimneys in the attic, there is one more relic of the old heating system: large, circular holes in some walls where the stove pipes would have attached to the chimney. On Saturday, we revealed one such hole under the living room wallpaper.

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The way the house is laid out (here’s our floor plan, if you need a refresher) this wall is directly in front of the closet. So, when we looked into the hole and saw this, we were intrigued.

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Is that brick in that there hole? Does that mean those weird closet outcroppings have brick underneath, despite what the inspector said? Could we have cool exposed brick with minimal effort?! We’ve watched enough Rehab Addict to know what we had to do:

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Ahh!! Brick! Brick in our closet! Brick on two sides of our closet!

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And then, like a thunderclap, we realized what this meant in terms of the layout of the house: brick in the foyer! BRICK UNDER BRICK WALLPAPER!

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Sunglasses for safety and for being cool.

By the time I started smashing up the foyer in my sunglasses, it was nearly 2am and we had to leave. And by “we had to leave”  I mean “I was hopped up on brick madness and Tony needed to remove me from the house before I went totally cray.”

As soon as the next morning rolled around, though, we were back at it: smashing and sawing some lathe and taking perhaps the greatest picture of all time:

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Life is mysterious and beautiful.

We also sanded and mudded the edges in the closet, which makes the exposed brick look nice and sharp. Once we get a coat of paint on the walls, I’m convinced that our closet is going to be the coolest closet in all the land.

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We’ll eventually clean up the edges in the foyer, too, but we’ll need to take the brick wallpaper down first. We’ll get to that. In the meantime, this seems like a metaphor worth living with awhile.

Screen Shot 2015-09-08 at 9.04.09 PMNow time for an extremely important poll regarding one other brick exposure opportunity. You’ll recall that this picture (posted above) was what started us on this brick journey:

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If we wanted, we could smash through the wall in this room (the living room) to reveal the brick here, too.  What do you think? We’re a bit on the fence because it might look weird to have just 1 foot by three feet of brick on a random wall in a relatively large room (unlike the closet, where we have two exposed sections of chimney; or the foyer, where there are two brick areas balancing out the wall). But it could be that exposing brick is never the wrong choice. Please weigh in with your vote in the comments. Unlike last time, when I completely ignored the majority opinion and betrayed the trust of every Fawn Logger, I promise to follow your instructions. (Unless I really, really don’t want to.)



Posted in closet, foyer | 12 Comments