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Floors Yea and Nay in My Own Restoration

Most people who restore an old house don’t have the pleasure of choosing lots of flooring. With any luck, the floors are already there.

A Note from the Editor:

Most people who restore an old house don’t have the pleasure of choosing lots of flooring. With any luck, the floors are already there. But that wasn’t the case in my last project. Porches and thus the original entry had been ripped from the house. Main rooms had only deal subfloors, laid with simple butt joints that had opened wide, the gaps now filled with (I kid you not) plaster of Paris that broke up into crumbs and dust. Upstairs two bedrooms still had pine flooring in decent shape, but others had green and orange wall-to-wall shag covering all sorts of damage and, in one room, plywood.

So I was able to indulge . . . I was given the kid-in-a-candy-store opportunity to choose finish floorings for their history and appropriateness, their beauty and durability. My 1904 house is what I call Tudorbethan; clearly a remnant of the Shingle Style that informed the New England coast, where I live, it has a steep roof, an attempt at half-timbering and, if you squint, a vague resemblance to houses of Elizabethan England. Call it English Arts & Crafts. Hallelujah, an excuse to indulge my great fondness for encaustic and geometric tiles, like those revived in England during the Modern Gothic art movements, and like the vestibule tiles in fancy Brooklyn brownstones! And so now they are in my sunroom, and in the laundry and mudroom that are entered from the porch.

Upstairs, in the halls and two bedrooms, I went with reclaimed (antique) heart pine laid as tongue-and-groove boards. The floors are a subtle and pretty golden color, and as tight now as when they was laid over a decade ago. Good choice. As for the fir flooring I chose for downstairs, not so much.

You see, the main wood in this old house had been fir, which was used not only for downstairs floors but also for beadboard walls and some cabinets. I was adamant that we should stay with precedent (especially as I preferred the orangey-red color of fir). The beaded boards that I had milled in fir were a perfect choice—gorgeous, and more old-fashioned (with their orange shellac) than pine would have been. The fir floors, however, have not aged well. By which I mean, they were shot within a decade.

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Now, other people have had more luck with fir floors. Admittedly, I had unique problems: the boards, from reclaimed timbers, were not well milled by the supplier; the floor may have been laid with a higher than recommended moisture content; it had radiant heat beneath it, which added to its shrinkage; polyurethane (which I was talked into against my better judgment) did not bond well given the abuse dealt by growing boys and spoiled dogs.

What I did learn is this: The floor you pick is critical to your budget, to the color and style of your rooms, and to your long-term satisfaction. Choose carefully!

Patricia Poore,Editor
10 Harbor Rd., Gloucester, MA 01930

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